Deep brain stimulation involves the implantation of electrodes in the brain. These electrodes are then able to provide continuous electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain. The introduction of an electrical signal is used to disrupt the naturally occurring electric signals between neurons, allowing for the alteration of brain activity. Deep brain stimulation has been used with success for many disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, and chronic pain. Deep brain stimulation is able to change the amount of dopamine present in the brain, an important factor in addiction. As a result, deep brain stimulation is able to curb cravings caused by dopamine dysregulation in addiction.
Deep brain stimulation has been used in several cases for addiction treatment. The brain circuits believed to be involved in addiction have been identified, allowing the precise placement of electrodes in the brain. In animal models, deep brain stimulation prevented rats from increasing their dose of self-administered heroin, indicating its possible role in preventing or treating addiction. In another study, rats who were treated with deep brain stimulation were less motivated to obtain heroin. Although deep brain stimulation does show some potential for addiction treatment, clinicians remain cautious due to its invasive nature.
New research in mice has shown the effects of non-invasive deep brain stimulation on addiction. Traditional deep brain stimulation requires surgical insertion of an electrode. However, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found a non-invasive deep brain stimulation technique, called temporal interference, to be effective. This new technique involves two beams of high electrical frequency. The two beams are directed through the brain, such that their paths cross. The frequency of each individual beam is much too high to affect neurons, but when their paths cross, their frequencies cancel each other out, creating an area of energy equal to the difference in frequency between the two beams. At the intersection, which can be precisely positioned, the electrical frequency is able to alter the activity of neurons.
This non-invasive deep brain stimulation has many benefits. No surgery is required, making complications less likely. In a structure with such dense functionality as the brain, a minute adjustment during surgery can cause major damage. The electrical signals used in non-invasive brain stimulation are precisely controlled, and only affect the area where the two beams intersect. This method avoids the possibility collateral damage present during the insertion of the electrodes.
If this new non-invasive deep brain stimulation technique is able to elicit the same effects as traditional deep brain stimulation it is a fantastic candidate for future research as a drug addiction treatment. As with any treatment, it will be important to use in it combination with psychotherapy. Therefore, providing both non-invasive deep brain stimulation and psychotherapies at a drug rehab centre may be the new treatment of the future.