Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that had crippled people throughout history. Before humans began really studying psychology, people associated schizophrenia with demons and possession. Thanks to the advancement of cognitive sciences, we have a greater understanding of this mental disease.
Common symptoms of this disease include:
- Hearing voices with no external sources
- Severe paranoia – e.g. believing other people are plotting against them
- Twisted sense of perception
- Using made-up words that make sense to them
- Sociopathic behavior and self-isolation, often due to aforementioned paranoia
There are patterns to the disease, but schizophrenia can be unpredictable. The harder part is that there’s not much reason nor rhyme to the disease. A person can appear functional until they start talking, or have their episodes.
Schizophrenia currently has no “cure” as we don’t know the exact cause the illness. Thankfully, it’s manageable, allowing a person to live a functional life. One such treatment is through the use of antipsychotics.
We used antipsychotics since the 1950’s, but these drugs have side-effects. One of them, Clozapine, is an effective antipsychotic drug but can cause low white blood cell count, which can put a patient’s health at risk. Eventually, we developed drugs that don’t negatively affect the body as much. These “atypical” drugs are effective but can cause increased weight gain and metabolic changes, which can lead to a host of other risks.
Long-term use of these medications may cause involuntary twitching of your muscles. Called “Tardive Dyskinesia”, the body sends errant signals to the muscles, commonly around the mouth or the fingers.
How “Magnets” can Help
For people who want an alternative method of treating schizophrenia, magnets may have something to offer.
TMS or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation can affect the brain in ways that are beneficial to schizophrenic patients. The effect can be witnessed during the “mapping” part of the procedure, where a patient’s hand or leg would twitch when the electromagnetic “coil” is activated on top of a patient’s head. Since the cells of your body are affected by electricity, precise and harmless electromagnetic waves can trigger neurons to fire.
This essentially “retrains” areas of the brain to activate better by stimulating them. TMS could also be used to enhance certain brain functions using the same stimulating effect. It has uses in treating depression and migraines, with more conditions already in clinical trials. The key on how TMS can help treat Schizophrenia is through “Cortical Inhibition”
Put simply, cortical inhibition is your brain’s way of calming down brain activity with GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), a chemical responsible for helping you calm down from excitement or anger, among other things.
Researchers saw that an aspect of schizophrenia had something to do with the lack of cortical inhibition, which itself was caused by an impairment of a region of the brain. By using TMS to stimulate certain parts of the brain, it could potentially “retrain” those areas to activate during schizophrenic attacks and help patients more easily manage the symptoms on their own.
While clinical trials are ongoing and are so far inconclusive, there’s still a tremendous amount of speculation that TMS will widely recognized as an excellent treatment option for schizophrenia.