Transcript for DIY Brain-Shock Devices Jump Start Users' Day
Tonight, how far would you go to gain a mental edge or lose an addiction? Would you strap electrodes to your scalp it's the hottest new answer to what ails you, whether your problem is poor concentration or chain smoking. How does it work and is it too good to be true? Here's ABC's Neal Karlinsky. It's 3:30, and this will be my third cigarette of the day. Reporter: Jesse is a smoker looking for a way out. This is my fourth cigarette of the day. Reporter: How bad does she want to quit? You might be surprised. The 24-year-old is at the university of New Mexico, where she is willingly going through a low grade form of shock therapy, a combination of meditation and what's called brain stimulation, powered by a simple nine volt battery. We'll jump right into the meditation if that's okay with you. Sure. Reporter: And in California, J.D. Has given up his morning jolt of coffee for something a bit stronger. His morning boost almost sounds like he's jump starting a car. He takes an actual jolt of electricity straight to his brain. This simple device placed on j.d.'s skull. Could it be a real life thinking cap? I definitely think it's effective. I've stopped drinking coffee although. I used to drink two, three, four cups a day. Just one short session in the morning is just to carry me throughout the entire day. Reporter: It's called tdcs. Its users believe it can help sharpen focus and improve memory, coordination and learning. Even though this form of brain stimulation is totally unregulated, youtube is filled with people -- I feel very good, very calm. Reporter: Posting their own DIY videos. There's definitely current going through my skull. Reporter: Claiming it's a miracle treatment that can make people smarter and more focused. Reduce anxiety and ease pain. Among them, video gamers. I do feel focused. Reporter: Who believe their skills have improved by hooking themselves up to tdcs kits. J.d. First heard about tdcs in college and used it as a super charged learning aid. I went in to take the test, I thought I was going to fail. I got an a. I would remember looking at the questions on the test and remembering concepts down to the very paragraph they were in the book. Rrl scientists in controlled studies around the world have been researching tdcs's impact on the human brain for years. The military wants in on it. Funding some of the cutting edge research now being done at the university of New Mexico's clinical neuroscience center, to figure out if brain stimulation can make soldiers sharper. We're going to do this for 30 minutes. Running a weak current through two moistened electrodes. Reporter: In this experiment, students run through a series of assessments on a computer monitor. Similar to what soldiers train with. So see if they perform with their brains hooked up to nine-volt batteries. It feels like when your leg goes numb. Not that bad at all, though. Oh. Now I can feel it. Now I can feel it. Reporter: Is it freaking you out? Are you snok. I'm fine. It's interesting, though. Just a little electrical stuff can make you feel that way. Reporter: Unlike traditional shock therapy in which a patient is put under general anesthesia and a seizure is intentionally triggered, tdcs is very low power and for many, hardly noticeable. Are you feeling smarter? No, not so far. Reporter: Less marsmart? If anything, slightly uncomfortable. Nothing major. Reporter: Dr. Vincent Clark is heading up the research in what's become ground zero for some of the most come prohencive studies into tdcs. We can double learning rate in people. Reporter: Hold it there. You really believe you are doubling learning rate? We have a number of studies we've replicated a number of times. Each time, we're able to at least double learning rate in people. Reporter: It's so interesting. In describing this, you almost make it sound like a performance enhancing drug. It can be used to enhance performance. It influencing brain function in a way that might produce benefits. I came up with this design here. Reporter: Which brings us back to J.D. At 25, he founded the brain stimulator, a business he started in his mom's garage. I put the first device that I ever built up on Ebay and it sold overnight and the next one I put up sold within an hour. I figured I might be onto something. Reporter: Today, he's expanded into a factory. This is where everything gets wired up and quality control tested. Reporter: He claims he ships between 25 and 50 devices a day for $90 a pop. Demand is so high, he needs help from his mom, uncle, even his grandmother. Alaska, Texas, New York, two in New York. Brazil. Reporter: That's despite the fact that his website comes complete with a warning, the brain stimulator is not a medical device. And the results are from our finding and may be incomplete and/or completely wrong. Do not view this data as absolute fact. He says he isn't worried about being called a modern day snake oil salesman and believes the market for brain stimulation is only growing. Probably a good 20 orders here. It could turn into a wearables market. Or it could stay at more of something that people like to do in their house or in private. Reporter: But k0ucould he be playing with fire? These devices have been shown to be in safe when they are done in controlled trial, but no one's studied home devices to know, is it safe to let them use it at home? That's very different. Reporter: We asked ABC's Dr. Richard Besser, can't all this home brain stimulation be dangerous? The studies that have looked at this haven't found any harm. It's a safe thing to do. What we don't really know is, short-term, long-term, does it really work? Reporter: Following her session, Jesse, so desperate to quit smoking, says she feels a bit better and craves cigarettes less. It's the day after my treatment and I have still yet to have a cigarette. Reporter: But it is the brain stimulation? She thinks her results might just be from the meditation, not what came out of that battery. You're a skeptic. I am. I am definitely a skeptic. Reporter: She's not alone. I have to be a skeptic and wonder, if it's so great, why isn't there more research being done? Why is it just a lab in new Mexico thats that had secret? I think part of it is, it's so new that nobody's heard of it yet. A lot of the big studies that need to be done, safety studies and large clinical trials haven't been done yet. Reporter: Dr. Clark says buyingbuy ING a homemade skit might be risky because no one yet knows if there could be long-term effects. And while he is a believer when it comes to easing pain and helping with learning, even he is cautious. Do you stimulate your brain? I have in the past but I don't typically. I don't need it. I don't drink coffee, either. I don't feel like I need it, you know? Reporter: I'm Neal Karlinsky for "Nightline" in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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