DIY Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. Who wants to go first?

by Dustin1 min read14th Mar 201235 comments


Personal Blog

There's been a bit of discussion about TDCS here on LessWrong.  If you don't know what TDCS is here's an article from Technology Review.

Here's a company (soon) selling a DIY kit to build your own.


tDCS is one of the coolest pieces of health/ self improvement technology available today. The US Army and DARPA both currently use tDCS devices to train snipers and drone pilots, and have recorded 2.5x increases in learning rates. This incredible phenomenon is achieved through a very simple device called a tDCS machine.

Today if you want to buy a tDCS machine it's nearly impossible to find one for less than $600, and you are typically required to have a prescription to order one. We wanted a simpler cheaper option. So we made one. Then, because we're all egalitarian like, we thought others might want one too.

The GoFlow β1 is a full kit of all the parts and plans you need to build your own tDCS device. $99 will get you one of the first β1's and will help us develop β2!

Here's a video from Journal of Visualized Experiments on how to administer TDCS.



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The β1 comes with everything you need to built your own tDCS. No soldering, no worrying about frying your brain, no stress. A purposefully simple device, it is easy to setup and use. We are in the design an prototyping phase right now, and the final design is yet to be determined.

I'd be very willing to try this out once it has been demonstrated that there is, indeed, no need to worry about frying your brain.

Same here.

You go first!

I've been looking into this, and have commented about it briefly here. I think I may hold off on future experimentation until I get this kit.

The takeaway is that there definitely appears to be an effect. Getting that effect to be positive seems more difficult, however. For example, a problem with this kit is going to be getting the electrodes in the right spots- see all of those dots on that image they have? It may be that missing the correct placement by a centimeter gives you a significantly different effect, and so I'm sort of leery of doing this more without finding a training video for EEGs or something.

(Also, going off the diagram they have, we did have the current going the right direction in our setup.)

What effect could misplacing the electrodes have besides stimulating a different part of the brain? I'm honestly asking, I have no idea about any of this.

That would be it.

One of the other things, that I haven't seen discussed much but seems to be going on, is that TCDS works by altering local ion concentrations. But those ions have to come from somewhere- and so it may be that TCDS lowers action potentials in one part of your brain but raises them elsewhere. (Brains are big, though, and so it seems plausible the effects elsewhere would be tiny. Ions would also be small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so many they just get pulled out of your bloodstream? It's times like this that I wish I had taken more biology.)

After watching the video, though, I'm much less pessimistic about electrode placement (or size- it looks like ours were reasonable).

Neurons near the cathode a depressed. Read this

Impaired learning, IIRC - one study I read about recently mentioned that when the setup was reversed on the head, learning was not enhanced compared to baseline but damaged.

What effect could misplacing the electrodes have besides stimulating a different part of the brain?

Nausea and apparent bright flashes of light. ie. What it looks and feels like to stimulate certain different parts of your brain. From what I understand this isn't a particularly big deal, just unpleasant.

I wonder if shaving your head would improve this treatment? I remember when I was getting an EEG. my thick hair made it difficult for the electrodes to read my mind.

Good advice, but my head was already shaved for cosmetic reasons.

Speaking to a guy who has done some research, you just need to use heavily soaked electrodes. Although he did say he had problems with Afros.

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Thanks for the link- I hadn't noticed it was in the post either.

Sorry about the redirection.

I'm a nerd for data, so I usually run my links through my own redirection scripts so that I can collect statistics.

I want to hear gwern's research into the Algernon problem for it, first.

edit: Since both gwern and wedrifed thought I was asking for reassurance--I want to be reasonably confident that there isn't an as-yet unnoticed Algernon problem with this entirely new type of brain hacking before using it on myself.

I have none so far. Without a mechanism of action, I can't assess what criterion it might satisfy to avoid Algernon's law. The speculation about it upregulating NMDA to change plasticity is not enough to go on - at this point I can only offer the generic observations that there are probably metabolic limits to learning in the ancestral environment but they would not apply to ours and this may be why our learning is regulated below its peak.

EDIT: For example, there's a whole theory of sleep ("synaptic homeostasis") which says it exists solely to reduce overall synaptic potentiation: the more learning you do, the more synapses fire more, and the more energy the brain needs just to function. The effect isn't small: something like >10% by nightime in one study the author cited.

Since both gwern and wedrifed thought I was asking for reassurance

No I didn't - and I gave neither reassurance nor the the reverse. I questioned and attempted to correct emphasis on finding Algernon based 'research'. We don't have anything of the sort when it comes to specific techniques like this, such research would be difficult to the point of implausibility and not of much practical benefit if we had it. It would satisfy our historic curiosity but little more. Research on the actual effects of the technique on humans screens off questions of why our brains don't have equivalent methods in place.

My apologies for misreading. Yes, Algernon's Law motivates the research (in addition to "my brain is important and this is weird," and other motivations); but research shouldn't be focused on whether the mechanisms were available in the EEA unless that evidential node is among the low-hanging fruit, as far as ease of research and large likelihood ratios go.

I want to hear gwern's research into the Algernon problem for it, first.

I hypotheses about why things avoid the Algernon problem generalize and attributing a specific technique or tool to any given Algernon bipass is largely a matter of telling just so stories. Far, far more interesting (or failing that more useful) is what research gwern can find whether this stuff works and is safe. We don't need him to find an excuse for it to work and he doesn't have enough information available to make strong credible claims about Algernon's law as applied to TDCS.

Here's a company (soon) selling a DIY kit to build your own.

I'll believe it when I see it. It currently looks like a market research page scouting for interest.

I'd definitely use this if I could get it. It is far less invasive and even potentially cheaper (over a reasonable term) than the cerebrolysin injections I give myself.

Would you mind going over your cerebrolysin injections a bit?


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I'll begin to build such a device together with a friend in two weeks earliest. We planned on it before, and I'm quite certain he's capable of building the circuit necessary for this (he has good experience with soldering, a solid understanding of the underlying physics and is curious enough to get the thing done). I'll let you know when I achieved something interesting.

[-][anonymous]9y 2

It might be worthwhile to set up a dead man's switch that posts a comment if you don't disable it. In the event that something like this goes badly, you might not wind up in a state capable of warning others.

Making these would be a fun activity for a meetup.

[-][anonymous]5y 0

I've tried it, administered by JARRYD HORVATH, they guy who ironically authored the meta analyses showing TCDS doesn't do a whole lot or it's inconsistent. It was a weird experience

If anyone is interested, a list of tDCS clinical trials can be found here

I've got several prototype devices for doing this. I'm having someone else sort through promising abstracts. If anyone has any experiments to try or any other questions let me know. I don't have the facilities to do proper studies of any sort, nor do I have an licensing or legal authority to conduct any studies. But I'll gladly answer things from a guy-in-his-basement perspective.

So, can I get the benefit of this stuff by getting a 9v battery, wiring it to my head and maybe adding some salt water for conduction? Or does it require a different voltage?

There doesn't seem to be too much risk. The threshold for damage is higher than the threshold for pain, at least from what I can understand.

My building of one is going slowly. I want to read more of the literature first. I'm documenting my build here.

No thanks, but I'll volunteer for the DYI transcranial magnetic stimulation if there's such a thing.


You are being invited to participate in a research study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. Your participation is voluntary which means you can choose whether or not you want to participate.

The Laboratory of Cognition and Neural Stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania is involved in research using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In recent years this technology has increased in popularity, and evidence suggests that some individuals may be constructing their own stimulators for personal use. We are interested in examining the reasons behind this. Please answer the questions below, and email them to to give us insight into why people make their own tDCS machines.


  1. Where did you first learn about tDCS?
  2. Have you built your own tDCS machine?
  3. Where did you get the information to build the machine?
  4. Why did you want to try brain stimulation?
  5. How long have you been using tDCS?
  6. What were your experiences with this technology?
  7. Did you ever experience any side-effects?

The research team may use information about you collected from your responses. By completing the questionnaire, you are giving your consent to participate in this study. Once you email us, your responses are not considered confidential since emails do not protect confidentiality.


Research Specialist Laboratory of Cognition and Neural Stimulation University of Pennsylvania

I would trust this much more if the email address had the domain.

Or if it demonstrated a modicum of context-awareness, i.e. not posting "you are being invited" on a public forum. Or if Research Specialist had a name. Or if it got the name of the laboratory right. Or...