Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation – An Introduction

[NOTE: This post is still in process, but I've been fascinated by this treatment methodology, so I've done quite a bit more development of it from the original article and while I will continue to revise it, I think it is fairly sufficient. Next step is for me to get my hands on one of these devices and try it for myself...]

Introduction

I’m frustrated. It is 4:05 am and I haven’t been asleep for more than 10-15 minutes at a time yet. Bouts of insomnia like this are an occasional and frustrating occurrence for me. Usually I can’t fall asleep until 6 am – and then what? Sleep through the next day? Gahh!

Image courtesy of OpenClipart.org and laobc.
Image courtesy of OpenClipart.org and laobc.

I decided to Google “what to do the day after insomnia” and came across an ad for a Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation[1] device. It allegedly works with insomnia, anxiety, depression, pain, etc. Sounds too good to be true right? Yeah, probably, but I figure I’ll do some research and share here what I find out…

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • General Claims / Specifications
  • Products / Manufacturers
    • Electromedical Products / Alpha-Stim
    • Fisher Wallace Laboratories / Stimulator
    • Neuro-Fitness / CES Ultra.
    • Other Vendors.
  • Similar / Related Treatments.
  • Recommended Reading.
  • Annotated Bibliography.

General Claims / Specifications

In this section I’ll discuss various claims that are generally made across device manufacturers and then look at some specific claims from various device manufacturers in separate sections below.

  • The devices provide electrical stimulation to the brain in a similar way to Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT).
  • They are very safe and have been in use since the 1960’s.[2]
  • They are much more cost effective over time than antidepressant medications.
  • Rare side effects are headache, dizzines, skin irritation.
  • CES has never been documented causing a seizure.

Products / Manufacturers

Below you’ll find a list of products/manufacturers. The three main manufacturers appear to be Electromedical Products with Alpha-Stim, Fisher Wallace Laboratories with their Stimulator, and Neuro-Fitness’ CES Ultra. Other vendors – still present or defunct are listed below these companies.

Electromedical Products: Alpha-Stim

  • Product introduced to the market in 1981.
  • Company founded by Dr. Daniel L. Kirsch.
  • Warranty: 5 Year Manufacturers Warranty.
  • Current: 0-600 mA.
  • Frequency: 0.5, 1.5, or 100 Hz w/constant 0.4 Hz.
  • There Alpha-Stim M product is meant to treat pain, anxiety, insomnia, and depression – while the AID does not treat pain.
  • Largest customers are the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
  • Advocates: Dr. Daniel L. Kirsch (President, American Institute of Stress)[3], Dr. Brian Earthman, Dr. Larry R. Price, Dr. Jeffrey A. Marksberry, Dr. William Wong, Dr. Regina McGlothlin, Dr. Norman L. Dykes, Dr. Harry Nakata, Dr. Richard H. Cox (Research Consultant, Duke University Medical Center; Associate Fellow, Georgetown University Medical Center), Dr. Margaret M. Waddington (neurologist), Dr. David J. Fair (Chaplain),

Fisher Wallace Laboratories: Fisher Wallace Stimulator

  • Price: $495-$715.
  • Returns: 60 Days (claim less than 10% return devices).
  • Warranty: 5 Year Manufacturers Warranty.
  • Can be used safely with any medication.
  • Functions by stimulating the brain’s production of neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, beta-endorphin).
  • Usually used 2x daily for twenty minutes.
  • Symptom reduction occurs within 1-4 weeks.
  • Based on acquired technology from Dr. Saul Liss, formerly known as “Liss Cranial Stimulator.”
  • Offers the contact info. for a “licensed healthcare practitioner” who will provide “over-the-phone” authorization to appropriate individuals for $50.
  • Advocates: Dr. Richard Brown (Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center), Dr. Andres San Martin (Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center), Dr. Karen Hopenwasser (Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell College of Medicine), Dr. Paul Fauteck (Psy.D.), Dr. Robert Cancro (Professor/Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine)[4], Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, Dr. Ronald Podell, Dr. Kelly Brogan, Dr. Lauri Liskin (Clinical Assistan Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell College of Medicine), Dr. Bruce Johnson (Staff Psychiatrist, Crozer Medical Center), Dr. Stephen J. Press, Dr. Sandlin Lowe (Faculty, New York University School of Medicine).

Neuro-Fitness: CES Ultra

  • Price: $349.
  • Returns: 30 Days Unconditional Money Back Guarantee.
  • Warranty: 1 Year Parts/Labor.
  • Advocates: Dr. Charles McCusker, Dr. Eric Braverman (Director, PATH Medical), Dr. Jonathan Douglas.

Other Vendors

The three vendors above appear to be the main competitors in this market. The companies below did / do sell CES devices, but when we are talking about electrifying one’s brain, I’m going to stick with the market leaders – especially when most of these companies seem to be defunct.

  • Orion Medical Group. Magnetic Black Belt – Couldn’t find much info. on this company.
  • Health Directions. HealthPax – Difficulty finding info. related to this product, though it appears to still be sold. Wondering if it is related to the NutriPax that was scathed by QuackWatch?
  • Neurotone Systems. Neurotone – Not much info. available, found a company called Neurotone, but doesn’t sell CES devices, unsure if related.
  • Kalaco Scientific, Inc. Transcranial Electrotherapy Stimulator-A – Little info. available, it appears a business with this name experienced legal troubles and is probably out of business.

Similar / Related Treatments

  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).
    • Fisher Wallace suggests that TMS treatments cost around $8k-$12k and aren’t covered by insurance.
    • Fisher Wallace states that TMS has only been cleared by FDA for treating Major Depressive Disorder, while their device is cleared for depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain.
    • TMS is performed at a doctor’s office with expensive equipment.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).
    • Has a very bad reputation due to its portrayal in movies and its historical abuses within psychiatry.
    • Delivers 800-1000+ mA of electricity, compared to 1-4 mA for Fisher Wallace.
    • Cost is significant, though can be reimbursed (sometimes) by insurance.
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).
    • Approved by FDA for other purposes (“lontophoresis”) not for depression, anxiety, etc.

Recommended Reading

Annotated Bibliography

[Note: I've barely touched the available research, Google Scholar is returning 2,190 results relating to the query "cranial electrotherapy stimulation]

  1. [1] Outside the United States it is oftentimes referred to as “electrosleep.” In the past was known by terms including “transcranial electrotherapy (TCET)” and “neuroelectric therapy (NET).”
  2. [2] Alpha-Stim claims “no serious adverse events reported” since launching the product in 1981.
  3. [3] He has numerous other credentials.
  4. [4] Dr. Cancro has numerous other credentials.
  5. [5] I say this very tentatively, I really could be reading these results backwards.

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