The human brain is capable of producing a staggering variety of hormones to regulate everything from appetite to pain resistance. Among the most potent of these neuromodulatory lipids is endogenous μ-opioid, a pain-killing chemical on par with morphine but produced naturally, in minute amounts, by our motor cortices. And, thanks to a study in transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), researchers can induce the brain to release μ-opioid on command.
tDCS is a relatively new form of neuroscience wherein a constant, low current is delivered directly to the targeted region of the brain using dermal electrodes. It was originally developed for rehabilitating stroke patients though researchers quickly discovered that, when used on healthy adults, tCDS can lead to significant improvements in "language and maths ability, problem solving, attention span, memory and even movement and coordination," according to a report by the BBC.
In a paper recently published in the journal, Frontiers, researchers from University of Michigan discovered that a tDCS device, when generating a 2mA current on the scalp directly above the motor cortex will cause the brain to release μ-opioid -- and lots of it -- resulting in a 36 per cent increase in patients' pain thresholds. The team hasn't figured out how to get it to work of chronic pain like migraines or stomach ulcers yet but they're confident that they will.
While this discovery probably won't lead to an electrically-stimulated Utopian society, it could significantly reduce our reliance on pharmacological painkillers and help prevent the estimated 15,000 deaths they cause every year in the US alone. [Extreme Tech - Frontiers - CDC]