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Forget Coffee, Techies Giving Brain An Electric Jolt To Stay More Focused

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - The latest gadget promising to revolutionize your life is a gizmo that zaps your brain to make it smarter and more focused. Doctors definitely aren't convinced, but some Bay Area residents swear by it.

It's called transcranial direct current stimulation, or TDCS. It provides a constant, low current charge to the brain.

"It's applying a voltage through certain parts of my brain," says Alexander Jason, showing off the device.

Jason was one of several people we caught up with after hours, plugging in their brains in a huge Bay Area warehouse.

"It is using electric current to activate the cells," says Sean Batir, a backer of the device.

Proponents say that process will make your brain more focused.

"The effect is to improve learning and memorization and overall brain function," said Jason.

Several studies actually back that up. For example, Air Force pilots who used it did better on training tests. However, the devices aren't approved by the FDA.

Even so, people have been buying them online or making them at home using 9-volt batteries.

"Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, where everyone is a hacker of some type or the've got a lot of people who don't have any qualms about hooking some electrical thing to their head where they may not know how it works," said Jared Seehafer.

But before you scrounge around for parts...

"I sure wouldn't put anything I made for $25 on my head and turn on the switch," says Stanford Law & Bio-sciences Director Hank Greely, who specializes in the ethical, legal and social implications of these new technologies. "Before you run volts through your brain, um, I think it's really important to try to make sure that it's safe and it's effective."

That's also on the mind of Neuroscientists at U.C. Davis Center for the Mind and Brain.

"We really think of this brain stimulation as being like kind of giving somebody a drug. Now would you really want to let people cook their own drugs and take them in whatever quantify they want?" says PhD. Steven Luck.

Luck and colleague Emily Kappenmen see promise, especially with debilitating brain disorders. While it appears save, to date, there are no regulatory guidelines.

"You're basically modulating your brain processing and if you're not sure what you're can essentially cause some damage," said Kappenmen.

Those at the meeting we visited aren't waiting for federal approval.

"If I have to wait for FDA approval I don't think I'd live that long," said Jason.

One Silicon Valley Startup - called THYNC - hopes to have its device on the market within a year.

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