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Biotech Science

Is Neurostim Becoming a Reality? 249 249

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the implantable-happy-sauce dept.
destinyland writes "There is a current mass market for 'cognitive enhancement' products — and arguments about the black market potential for neurostim. 'The same neurostim device that uses electric impulses from a brain implant to treat people with Parkinson's Disease can be tweaked by a few millimeters and pulse rates to make cocaine addicts feel like they are high all the time... Mix the glamour of surgical self-improvement with the geekiness of high-tech gadget fetishism and you have a niche cosmetic neurostim market waiting to be tapped...'"
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Is Neurostim Becoming a Reality?

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  • by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:03PM (#30545050) Homepage

    You are suggesting do-it-yourself brain surgery? I guess that would be "glamourous". If it works. And if it doesn't, it might win you a Darwin award.

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:17PM (#30545194) Journal

    There was some work on electrical stimulation on spinal injury patients, and one slightly wrong setting would give women orgasms. Oops.

    I believe that there are a whole lot of people who would not consider this an "oops" by any means.

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:18PM (#30545206) Journal

    Or a “wrong” setting.

  • by d474 (695126) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:27PM (#30545276)
    Yeah, it's good way to brick-your-brain. Let the weirdos of the underworld test this out on themselves. There are a lot of humans (usually of the clubbing type) that are perfectly willing to act as guinea pigs because they buy into the idea that the "next thing" is going to open their mind to a whole new world. Let the successes rise out of that mountain of failures (bricked brains) and in 20 years we might actually have some functional neurostim products.
  • by lattyware (934246) <> on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:30PM (#30545314) Homepage Journal
    Are you suggesting sensible behaviour from the war-on-drugs crowd? Please. If they were capable of that, then we'd already have legalised drugs. Let's face it, we can't stop drugs, and if we could control them at least they'd be clean, and the profits could go to making drugs for ill people or whatever rather than crime. It's not perfect, but it'd be better than the current situation. Of course, everyone has it beaten into them the current stance is the only good one.
  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:37PM (#30545370) Journal

    Even if cocaine and other drugs were completely harmless, their ability to give serious but unearned pleasure would seriously warrant their banning.

    And who are you to say what does and what doesn’t constitute legitimately “earning” a form of pleasure that someone chooses to experience?

  • Not DIY (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kagato (116051) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:40PM (#30545400)

    Who needs DIY when you could get your local Dr. Nick Riviera to do a little neurosurgery! Perma Coke high? I can see some rich folks paying to have that done.

    Look at something like steroids. For professional athletes that have to go to the black market it's illegal. But if you're an actor that needs to bulk up for a movie you can get a doctor to create a roid regiment and prescription for you. Perfectly legal.

  • suicidal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gearloos (816828) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:46PM (#30545454)
    I can see it now in the police blog..."His batteries died and he commited suicide before they could be replaced"
  • by Duradin (1261418) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:50PM (#30545474)

    "Consider sex (yes, I said it) -- the intense pleasure most participants derive from it is the reward for the excruciating pains of childbirth and hardships of the childrearing. Contrary to the wide-spread misunderstanding, the mainstream religions want us to have sex -- as much as possible. They just want it all to be for the purpose of reproduction, rather than simple self-indulgence."

    Pleasure isn't the reward, it's the enticement to get people to do the act and possibly make babies.

  • by mi (197448) <> on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:51PM (#30545484) Homepage Journal

    And who are you to say what does and what doesn't constitute legitimately "earning" a form of pleasure that someone chooses to experience?

    Had you finished reading my post before replying to its beginning, you wouldn't have asked this question... In short, I'm not advocating legal ban on such undeserved pleasures, but express my disapproval of people indulging in them, for they will — and quickly — stop being helpful members of society or even family.

  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:51PM (#30545488) Homepage Journal

    I don't know about anyone else but every person I know who uses drugs on a regular basis is a complete moron

    You, of course, include caffeine in those drugs.

  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @01:59PM (#30545558) Homepage Journal

    Consider sex (yes, I said it) — the intense pleasure most participants derive from it is the reward for the excruciating pains of childbirth and hardships of the childrearing.


  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:02PM (#30545592) Homepage Journal

    I don't know about that. I was a teenager in the 70s when it was almost socially acceptable among people under 30 to smoke pot. I've known plenty of people who indulge fairly regularly (say on the order of once a week or even a bit more) who probably weren't much different than if they'd never used at all. It's dangerous to make such generalizations as "dope makes you a dope", because practically no generalization of that sort is *always* true. Often they can be true enough to be worth paying attention to without being *usually* true.

    I've also seen the other side, the people who effectively rewired their brains and lives around dope. It's very easy to do, because so much of what we as animals do is avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. As *humans*, we are driven by something more as well: dissatisfaction. The Pali word "dukka" which is often translated when discussion Buddhism as "suffering" might better be translated as "dissatisfaction". Most of the "suffering" in our life is not grand enough to be called "suffering". It's a niggling, persistent dissatisfaction with the things we thought would make us happy. The very low intellectual standards of people who are stoned are a consequence of easy satisfaction. They laugh at jokes that aren't funny because their standards of funny are low. They don't mind physical squalor because they are beyond dissatisfaction.

    It's a funny thing; pain, pleasure and dissatisfaction drive us as individuals, but they aren't there for *our* benefit. They improve us as a *species*. We may wish to subscribe to a philosophy of ethical egoism, but we're still constructed neurologically so the quality of our subjective experience serves the species. Surely it would be to our benefit to live a life devoid of pain and full of pleasure and satisfaction. Any counter argument to this is bound to rest on the benefit to society or to the species, not to us as individuals.

    It is conceivable that we could, in a sense, take charge of our lives, truly live them for ourselves, by using biomedical technology to control pain, pleasure, and over time even *dissatisfaction*. But I doubt in such a world read books. Why would we?

    When you see a book, you anticipate the pleasure of reading it. Why bother reading it if you can get pleasure at the push of a button? Oh, at first you would make a distinction between "earned" and "unearned" pleasure, but one day you'd be a little tired and instead of picking up the book you'll push the happy button, and sooner or later you'll be going for the happy button because you won't tolerate the effort of reading. In fact it's a kind of intellectual lust that drives us to read, isn't it? And lust is kind of a pleasurable pain; a deficit we imagine in ourselves that is pleasant to fill; an itch that we scratch. If we can eliminate the itch and get the pleasure of scratching, we won't be any kind of lust, physical or intellectual, because we won't accept any kind of discomfort.

    I remember working on the early Arpanet, and the amazement of seeing text from a computer appear, printed line by line on a printing terminal. The equivalent of a Slashdot article and its comments would probably have taken fifteen or twenty minutes to "load", but to *us* this was information traveling at amazing rates. Now we consider *any* perceivable delay as intolerable; there is no sensation of speed, only of varying degrees of slowness.

    People adjust their feeling of what is pleasurable and satisfactory to what they experience on a day to day basis. Read about how people lived a few centuries ago. YetI suspect people were just as happy or unhappy as they are now, even though the conditions they lived in -- even the aristocrats -- were miserable by modern standards. Our modern threshold of suffering is extremely low; of satisfaction extremely high. When we can control suffering and satisfaction biomedically, the process will not only have reached its logical limit, human life as we know it will cease to be, because that life is organized around the imperatives to seek elusive pleasure, to elude inevitable pain, and to suage unavoidable dissatisfaction.

  • Re:The real high (Score:4, Insightful)

    by XDirtypunkX (1290358) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:15PM (#30545728)

    Or make for happily motivated super criminals with a sense of entitlement because they think everyone loves them.

  • Re:Normal State (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:16PM (#30545744) Homepage

    I think that would tend to be the case for chemical stimulation, but when it comes to other means of stimulation, matters of tolerance and resistance are different. For example, when applying electric potential to cause muscular contractions, they happen every single time. And barring tissue damage, the effect never goes away or decreases.

    When chemical balances are at play, the tendency to move to balance at "center" is normal. This is not such a thing.

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:19PM (#30545770) Journal

    Had you finished reading my post before replying to its beginning

    I did. The fact that you’re not advocating a legal ban doesn’t make you seem any less a self-righteous jerk for looking down upon anyone who, in your opinion, didn’t earn something that they got.

    For instance:

    Consider sex (yes, I said it) — the intense pleasure most participants derive from it is the reward for the excruciating pains of childbirth and hardships of the childrearing.

    Says who? So can I assume that you think masturbation is also an undeserved form of self-indulgence, and you wouldn’t want one of “them” to marry your daughter? Even if that habit didn’t “interfere with others”, because you’d still be “wary of such people”?

    Because, as you say, a man who masturbates may some day just suddenly decide to stop caring for your daughter. Yeah. Why not just go a step farther and claim, since every man who cheats on his wife also has masturbated at some point, that all men who masturbate will cheat on their wives?

    I'm not advocating legal ban on such undeserved pleasures, but express my disapproval of people indulging in them, for they will — and quickly — stop being helpful members of society or even family.

    Right... just like everyone who enjoys alcohol, gambling, tobacco, etc. also invariably stops being a helpful member of society.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:34PM (#30545920)

    I don't know about anyone else but every person I know who uses drugs on a regular basis is a complete moron and doesn't have anything better to do than getting doped up and hanging out and talking with their friends for hours about nothing.

    Most people you know who you say "do drugs" are probably doing pot, which yeah, is not very conducive to doing much productive in most fields anyway. Caffine is the most widely used stimulant, so I'd argue that most of the people you know are people who do mild stimulants.

    It's worth pointing out that according to one poll 20% of our scientists [] already take "brain enhancing drugs," like ritalin. From personal experience I can tell you at least 20% of graduate students in the sciences and many more senior scientists do recreational drugs too, That portion that uses recreational drugs doesn't completely overlap with the portion that use brain enhancing drugs, and neither are the least productive portions of scientists.

    So that's probably why we're stuck in the stone age, our scientists are too busy being morons and getting high. Or maybe you just don't really know what you're talking about.

  • MMJ (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Turbo_Button (1648215) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:49PM (#30546036)
    God forbid the terminally ill miss out on reading one last novel before they die Medical_cannabis []
  • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @02:57PM (#30546088)
    I don't know about anyone else but every person I know who uses drugs on a regular basis is a complete moron and doesn't have anything better to do than getting doped up and hanging out and talking with their friends for hours about nothing.

    Aside from the doped up part, this describes almost every non geek I know. Oh boy, hours of talking about the weather, american idol and gossiping about the neighbors!
  • by FreelanceWizard (889712) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @03:00PM (#30546112) Homepage

    I admit, that this sounds religion-motivated, but that's hardly a drawback of an argument...

    Sure it is. Arguments typically need to be backed up by evidence. An argument based on religion, which is by its very nature a construct of faith that's not backed up by evidence, is fundamentally an appeal to authority (the religion's higher power) or an appeal to the populace (lots of people believe it, so it must be true). Appeals to religion as evidence for an argument are especially problematic when discussing governmental policies in the United States, where a law must have a secular legislative purpose (as per the Lemon test []). If the only justification for a law is religious, then it fails this prong of the Lemon test and is unconstitutional.

    At any rate, I would have one bit of advice for you: please consider whether your desire to frown upon or ban such "unearned" pleasures is a function of some actual, real harm you can perceive, or is just a gut reaction to something you personally find distasteful. If it's the latter, I would implore you to consider that banning things you personally find abhorrent is the exact reason why we get laws like the CDA (and, more broadly, censorship laws in the US in general) and why we from time to time end up with attorneys general attacking "smut peddlers" in the courts.

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @03:46PM (#30546430) Journal

    the sense of pleasure is, probably, a result of the electrical signals aligning just right (even if, in turn, caused by the right mixture of hormones and other chemicals).

    So is the sense of hearing, but you’ll quickly grow used to familiar noises to the point where they no longer register consciously. (Similar phenomena are exhibited by the senses of sight, taste, and smell, although in these cases the acclimation may also be due in part to the senses not registering the stimuli consistently over time.)

    Just because the same neurons are being stimulated in the same way doesn’t mean the rest of the brain, or your conscious mind, will continue to react or perceive the effect in the same way forever.

  • by DriedClexler (814907) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @03:53PM (#30546488)

    Obligatory xkcd [].

  • by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation@gmail.cREDHATom minus distro> on Thursday December 24, 2009 @04:02PM (#30546542) Journal

    I don't know about anyone else but every person I know who uses drugs on a regular basis is a complete moron and doesn't have anything better to do than getting doped up and hanging out and talking with their friends for hours about nothing. I fail to see how this will be useful for anyone else because I doubt you would want to sit around and read a novel while you are high whether its from drugs or some brain simulation. Now won't you kids get off my lawn so I can sit here peacefully and read a book on my vacation.

    Do you live in the bible belt, perchance? Maybe that's why you equate drugs with "doped up". As others have pointed out, caffeine is a very widely used stimulant and unless you're a Mormon (or was it Jehovah's Witness?) you likely partake of it as well. There are drugs that give you razor-sharp concentration. It's the same stuff that your body naturally produces, the only difference is that most peoples' bodies aren't consistently producing them. Would you want to read a book if you took concentration-enhancing drugs? Many students use those drugs to facilitate studying. The military uses other drugs to keep pilots alert -- I've heard it's the drug commonly referred to as "speed", but I'm guessing it's either a specific enhancement drug that acquired that name or, at the very least, probably not the street-level stuff.

    Other drug users partake because their body doesn't produce (or utilize) sufficient levels of dopamine, serotonin, and so on. You'll have heard of them: those who have been diagnosed with depression. It's not their fault their bodies produce insufficient amounts of the substance. Using drugs to enhance their body's ability to generate them (or increase utilization of existing levels) makes them not want to kill themselves.

    So enjoy your lawn. I hope your concentration isn't too distracted by everyone trampling all over your lovely grass. Maybe between distractions you can get some reading done.

  • Re:Normal State (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 24, 2009 @04:50PM (#30546852)
    I dunno what the hell you're ranting about philosophy and such, but...

    As pointed out by another post in the original thread, electrical stimulation eventually results in a wide array of complex interactions, including many chemical reactions. Therefore it certainly is possible that electrical stimulation can result in chemical tolerance-like situations.

    Or, alternatively, the brain tissue that is being electrically stimulated can become less sensitive to electrical stimulation, and thus result in a withdrawl-like state (wherein the normal electrical functions of your brain cease to provide adequate stimulation, resulting in less euphoria than normal -- i.e. a "low state" when not subjected to the external electrical stimulation)

    Anyways, if you have to keep "upping the dose," as you mention, you probably will hit a dosage ceiling just like with chemical substances. There's no difference between electrical and chemical stimulation in that sense (you DO understand that neurons work with BOTH chemical and electrical signals, right?).

    If you're gonna try to debunk arguments, bring some actual counter-arguments, preferrably with citations, or at least knock off the pompous, tangential speculation about philosophy and other unrelated arguments (e.g. "prove space is Euclidean")

  • by shawb (16347) on Thursday December 24, 2009 @05:34PM (#30547088)
    A single nerve cell carries electrical impulses... sort-of kind-of. It's not like electricity flowing through a wire, the impulse is far more complex than that. What happens is that during rest the axon builds up a gradient of negative ions on one side of the membrane and positive ions on the other side. An applied voltage to an area of an axon opens channels which allows the ions to flow through the membrane, causing a change in voltage further down the axon which opens up ion channels there and so on. So, while there is indeed a measurable voltage difference as a nerve impulse travels down the axon, it is not a direct correlation with the concept of electricity as electrons flowing down a wire, even theough the initial nerve impulse can be initiated by an electrical pulse.

    However, BETWEEN neurons the communication is completely chemical. Neurotransmitters are released from one neuron and travel across the synapse between it and the neighboring cell, possibly triggering an impulse in the next neuron. A sense of pleasure is achieved by certain neurotransmitters (primarily seratonin, dopamine and endorphins) being released in certain concentrations from certain neurons, which in turn triggers a related pattern of impulses in the neighboring neuron, which causes that neuron to release neurotransmitters in a particular way... and so on and so on. So while, yes, there is a sort-of kind-of analogy to an electrical current, the actual mechanism is nowhere near the kind of electrical current we have in a wire or microprocessor, but it is the easiest way to model the communication. The processing, however, occurs largely at the synapse, and that processing is "driven" to achieve equilibrium (the physical functioning of the brain, and actions taken by a person to chance the functioning of their own brain can work at cross purposes, such as in a drug addict. This is not a contradiction... the mind and brain are distinct entities.)

    More to the point, the neurons surrounding those activated by the pleasure spike would soon add more receptors. Larger numbers of receptors means a larger amount of neurotransmitter would have to be released into the synapse to effect an impulse. Eventually the brain would operate normally only when the spike is active. The practical upshot to this is that a stronger and stronger signal would have to be sent through the spike to achieve the desired high. Eventually the user will get to a point where the levels needed to cause a high would damage neurons, preventing return to even the "functioning addict" mode. The user would then become chronically depressed, as this is the state pretty much defined by inadequate serotonergic, noradrenergic, and dopaminergic activity. It would require long term abstinence from the pleasure spike for the receptors to re-regulate to the point where normal pre-usage thought patterns can occur (I would assume 3-9 months, as this is the time-frame in which nicatonin receptors re-regulate after tobacco cessation.) Once spike addiction is broken and neural receptors return to normal levels, it would again be possible to get high from a spike, but it may have to be positioned in a slightly different place and effect different neurons if the original signaling neurons were damaged to the point of causing permanent lesions or scarring. However, the neuroreceptors would adapt much more rapidly to the presence of the pleasure signals, so the initial high would be much shorter and the return to a "functioning addict" state would be very quick indeed. A spike user would end up "chasing the dragon." They would never be able to return to the pleasurable state of their first high. Partially because their brains have rewired to be prepared for the action, partially because that first high wasn't as immediately pleasurable as they thought. One of the effects of dopamine release is that memories of related events are given rose tinted glasses... the memory of the event is happier than the event itself. Therefore, a user never actually experienced as much pleasure as they remember.

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