Everyone understands that the brain is the command center of all our functions. We are truly dead only when the brain is dead. We are at our peak when our brain is at its peak. At the elite level of sports performance, the difference between winning and losing depends on the mental state.
Needless to say, success or failure in life is largely contingent upon the quality of ones cognitive or mental state. Hence the value of being able to improve brain health and performance, which explains the growing interest in the tools to do this, especially so-called “nootropics”.
So, we experiment with brain exercises, meditation and mindfulness, natural substances such as magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, synthetics such as Modafinil/Provigil, Piracetam/Racetams, along with ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin, many of which I discuss in this article on smart drugs vs. nootropics.
Admittedly, there are reliable cases of these chemical substances helping to enhance mental performance (although controlled empirical studies have questioned these on larger controlled studies. See studies here, here & here). However, all of them have some reported forms of side effects, many quite serious if consumption is not controlled. Shockingly, I’ve heard some prominent biohackers in the industry go on record to say that they would continue to use Modafinil/Provigil even if it shortens lifespan. The recent float tank death of extreme biohacker and self-injector Aaron Traywick provides caution for the need to be aware of the limits of our physical tolerance to process substances.
So are there ways to stimulate the brain without synthetic chemicals, injections, IVs or smart drugs? You bet. You’re about to discover one of my favorite such methods – photobiomodulation for the head, which I discussed in this podcast with Dr. Lew Lim and visit in detail here.
Brain-Boosting Alternatives To Smart Drugs
Neuroscience has long understood that most brain functions are a combination of chemical and electrical processes. As I alluded to above, changing the brain chemistry with stimulants can be effective, but the risks are potentially high. Safer options may instead involve influencing the electrical processes of the brain. For example, you could do this by inducing low energy electrical and magnetic stimulations such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – two groups of well-researched non-invasive brain stimulation methods that I discuss in this podcast.
All of these are promising in their own ways and have been shown in research to have brain enhancement qualities. However, the science and reproducibility of the electrical-based stimulation methods have also been questioned.
In the world of brain enhancement discussion, photobiomodulation (PBM), also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) has attracted little attention but is quickly becoming a popular topic, particularly with the type of cognition-enhancing “laser light helmets” and full body light panels I discuss on the podcast “Shining Laser Lights On Your Balls & Beyond: Photobiomodulation 101 – How To Use Near Infrared & Red Light For Collagen, Thyroid, Muscle, Skin & More“.
From a technical standpoint, PBM involves delivering light to the cells (including neurons) to modulate specific tissue functions. The cellular mechanisms of PBM have been well researched. Animal studies have shown cognitive improvements and recovery from brain insults of various kinds, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussion. Most of the human studies have not been well controlled and to many serious scientists, have not shown sufficient reasons to be headlined or taken very seriously.
However, this is starting to change with a host of newer studies that you’ll find linked in this article, and PBM is building its cache of merits to be recognized as a novel method to enhance brain functions, almost as a new kind of technological “nootropic”.
How Photobiomodulation Works To Enhance Cognitive Function
There are a few factors that support head-worn devices like this Vielight PBM unit for brain enhancement:
- Its fundamental mechanisms of action based on photons modifying mitochondrial functions have largely been borne out in outcomes as expected. Mitochondria health is increasingly recognized as fundamental in medicine, and PBM, specifically on the head or nasal regions, is a very potent way to deliver this light in a targeted fashion to neural tissue.
- A photon of light is non-chemical, non-synthetic and non-mechanical. When activating the mitochondria in small doses, it modulates tissues without major side effects. The life-harnessing activity and interplay between mitochondria and light appear to be a legacy from early life on earth that started with photosynthesis. The effects of transcranial PBM have been found to be systemic and generally agnostic in treating the different types of brain insults, meaning no matter the brain issue, there appears to be a positive effect.
- Emerging evidence are presenting the effect of PBM on the electrophysiology potential of the brain, as well as enhanced blood perfusion, filling some of the earlier gaps in the understanding and validation of brain PBM mechanisms.
Investigations into the enhancement of normal human brains with PBM are relatively recent, which is why I wanted to publish this article since there is now a host of good, new research.
- With PBM delivered to the forehead in a controlled study using a Vielight head-worn unit, subjects demonstrated significantly improved memory and mood. The treatment method also showed the subjects improving in executive functions.
- When the right forehead was treated, it improved attention biased modification (ABM) in people with depression.
- Directing near infrared (NIR) light to the brain also improves reaction time.
- Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has measured increased cerebral oxygenation in the brain after a single transcranial PBM, which provides an explanation for the increased performance observed.
- Quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) maps have also shown increased electrophysiology power.
In summary, PBM appears to have a positive effect on both diseased and healthy brains. This now leaves us to determine what else may be possible with PBM!
Profound Brain Modulation Observed with Selective Pulses Of Light!
Vielight and its collaborators are finding that by invoking a specific pulse rate at 810 nm wavelength, they can significantly influence brain oscillations. In one recent study, inducing a gamma pulse rate at 40 Hz using the Gamma model of the Vielight can consistently and significantly increase the power spectrum and connectivity the higher oscillations of gamma, beta and alpha; and reduce the power spectrum of theta and delta.
To put it simply, the higher oscillations are called when the brain needs to perform a task, calling for contributions from multiple brain areas. The slower waves of theta and delta are called when one when one sleeps. The effect of induced 40 Hz is presented in the diagram below (the best way I can describe this is that after wearing the Vielight Gamma unit on your head for as little as 5 minutes, you enter what can best be described as a meditative state of calm).
What does all this mean?
The process of photobiomodulation delivered to the head via a head-worn device makes the brain more alert, have better focus, process information better and reduces the tendency of dozing off – outcomes that synthetic nootropics seek. But in the case of PBM, these outcomes are more reliable, non-dependent on nutrition supplementation and seem to be more significant, without the negative side effects.
As discussed, delivery of NIR can improve reaction time and improved performance. Higher power in the beta and gamma ranges have been associated with memory and mental performance, although it could be temporary.
High-level meditators also present persistent gamma at high power. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that entrainment with gamma frequency pulses can modulate the brain for high-performing mental states in mindfulness. This opens the door for experiments on the effect of varying different pulse induction of light into the brains of high-level meditators. The company Vielight has produced prototypes that enable such experiments. While the experiments are ongoing, they are already observing some profound revelations on what is possible. Dr. Sanjay Manchanda reveals in one compelling presentation what he has been observing in these experiments.
There is of course also great potential for cognitive enhancement with PBM. Recent experiments with inducing 40 Hz pulse into the brain at the University of New Mexico have produced significant real-time enhanced cognitive performance. The performance was repeated and at the time of writing, the investigation is being repeated under robust controlled conditions. Compared to other methods of brain stimulation, PBM with the Vielight device has demonstrated far more enhancement without any side effect. This was also mentioned in the Sanjay presentation.
Data from various experiments with brain PBM are coming in rapidly, repeatedly touting the potential of PBM as a simple nootropic tool that is rising in prominence. This modality may just be the answer that biohackers have been searching for as a technological alternative to smart drugs and nootropics. The use of light to stimulate the brain is effective, significant and without the worries of major side effects.
However, there is much to be discovered. Because the brain seems to respond to PBM delivered in specific ways, it is possible that in the future we may be able to personalize PBM parameters that meet specific desires in mental performance. The gates are just opening to realizing what is possible with PBM. It is exciting, so watch this space!
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Vielight, you can click here to check out the Alpha model (10Hz frequencies good for relaxation/stress/alertness) and the Gamma model (40Hz frequency good for meditation state/TBI/concussion/Alzheimer’s/dementia). Use code: GREENFIELD at checkout to get 10% off your purchase. I personally own both an Alpha and a Gamma and use them both about two times per week (more is not better, and you only need to use them about every 48 hours to get the lasting effects discussed in this article).
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about the Vielight, photobiomodulation or more? Leave your comments below and I will reply!