I had no idea.
Devices that literally zap the brain with electricity – a therapy known as cranial electrical stimulation – have been around since 1960.
And active-duty service members can even get them for free.
And in an era where people suffering from pain and anxiety want to avoid dangerous Pharma solutions such as opioids and benzodiazepines, CES treatment is burgeoning in popularity.
A new study published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine concludes the devices are safe and that there is some evidence to show they are effective in treating anxiety and depression.
However, fibromyalgia, headache and joint pain sufferers typically don’t find relief with CES, the paper concluded.
The research, a systemic review by Veterans Administration doctors, analyzed approximately three dozen previous studies.
But, the researchers admit those studies were less than sound science, and therefore their research could be flawed, too. “Most trials had small sample sizes and short durations; all had high risk of bias due to inadequate blinding,” they listed under ‘Limitations.’”
In an accompanying editorial, a doctor in a military hospital expresses surprise at the study’s findings. He explains he has seen great efficacy with the CES devices.
“We need more nondrug approaches for these conditions. I work in a military hospital, where active-duty patients can get a CES device for free and those not on active duty can get one with a $300 copayment. The machine costs the hospital about $1,500. The justification for this policy is that the FDA has cleared CES devices for marketing and a federal survey reported that they are useful. That survey of more than 1000 military patients had less than a 20 percent response rate, but most reported improvement (>25 percent effectiveness) in depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, insomnia, or pain.”
“As a result, our clinic contacted the company for a demonstration, purchased 2 machines, and trained our third-year residents in their use.
“Although some were skeptical, many patients and physicians liked having a nondrug option that, at least on the surface, seemed safe. When one of my patients, who had chronic pain, depression, and insomnia, finished her first CES treatment, she said she loved it. “I felt really relaxed,” she said. “Can I have one of these at home?”
“Our policy is to have patients try the treatment in the clinic at least three times. If it improves pain, depression, or insomnia, the patient can apply to get a home machine.”
Dr. Wayne Jonas goes on to say he expects his hospital will continue to use the machines despite the researchers’ findings, but with less vigor.
“After being trained on the CES device, one resident at our clinic said, “Oh, I get it. This is sort of like forced mindfulness.” He may be right. We do not know the mechanism of action, so the effects may be achievable with self-care approaches that are less expensive and less passive.
“Clearly, we need to know more on how it works, not only compared with sham CES but also with other approaches, both drug- and nondrug-based. Who will pay for that research is uncertain.”