As technology advances, it is hoped that newer, more effective treatments for mental illness are developed. One newer treatment option that has been tested is that of Low-Field Magnetic Stimulation (LFMS). It has been found that low-field magnetic stimulation is capable to provide both immediate and significant improvement in mood with zero reported side effects.
Reports of this therapeutic option have been spreading due to the fact that it was featured in the Aug. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry. This could prove to be yet another (more promising) high tech way to treat depression without drugs.
What is Low Field Magnetic Stimulation (LFMS)?
LFMS is unique and not similar to any other treatment on the market. It uses magnetic fields that are of significantly less strength, but higher frequency than those utilized in TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Researchers behind LFMS suggest that it yields an immediate antidepressant response with minimal (or zero) side effects. This treatment could prove advantageous over traditional SSRI medications which many complain take too long to work.
The lead researcher, Michael L. Rohan suggests “LFMS appears to have an immediate effect on mood and thus has the potential to provide relief in emergency situations.” He’s absolutely correct since the antidepressant effect appears to be immediate. This means that people who are suicidal could be brought in for this type of treatment and temporarily remedied of their depression. Rohan clearly has expanded upon his first major breakthrough study regarding LFMS in 2004.
Low-Field Magnetic Stimulation for Depression: LMFS Preliminary Research
Researchers used a portable LMFS device on 63 participants ranging in age from 18 to 65. All of these individuals had been diagnosed with either bipolar disorder or major depression. Additionally all of these participants had been on an array of antidepressants and/or mood stabilizers for the past 6 weeks.
Thirty-four (34) participants received the LFMS had received the treatment, while the remaining 29 went through the entire process, but didn’t receive any stimulation. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew which individuals had received the actual treatment, which allowed for most accurate results. Mood was reported prior to the LFMS session with a visual analog scale and a positive/negative affect schedule.
It was found that the individuals who actually received the treatment experienced significant improvement in mood, while individuals who didn’t receive the stimulation didn’t report any change in how they felt. This research shows that those receiving the stimulation were experiencing improvements in mood from the actual treatment and not a placebo effect.
At this time however, further research is warranted to verify results found in smaller-scale studies. Researchers need to get a better understanding on how long the antidepressant response is sustained following the stimulation. Additionally since the LFMS was only given as a single treatment, it will be important to take a look at the effects of multiple stimulation sessions.
Professionals (Mouhsin Shafi, Philip Stern, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone) shared their thoughts by stating that “LFMS would be a welcome addition to the clinical armamentarium in the treatment of depression” – assuming results are replicated in larger studies. He went on to further state that this treatment may “find application in other psychiatric and neurologic diseases” as well as “guide us toward future directions in neuromodulation.”
Antidepressant potential for Low-Field Magnetic Stimulation
This preliminary research suggests that there may be significant antidepressant potential for this type of stimulation. Mood improvement was immediate, side effects were minimal to none. At this stage of the game though, much larger studies need to be conducted. We cannot assume that it is a utopian treatment because it was statistically significant in a small group of 34 people.
However, we can have some hope that perhaps it will end up being a solid monotherapeutic option and/or antidepressant augmentation strategy. This may prove to be a much-needed treatment option for those with depression as many do not respond well to modern day antidepressants. Is this really a big breakthrough? It could be, but it is important to remain skeptical until further research is conducted.
Currently, low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) is in Phase II clinical trials for treatment-resistant depression. The Phase II trials are slated to end sometime in 2015. Will this treatment be a game changer for those with depression? What are your thoughts and opinions on this new type of brain stimulation? Feel free to share what you think in the comments section below.