The Surprising Pairing of tDCS and Medication / by David Myers

It’s clear that there are many benefits to tDCS, especially when it comes to applications of learning and memory. However, no brain is ever the same and many people often need a push in the right direction.  There are a slew of drugs which are designed to shift chemical imbalances in the brain in order to alleviate symptoms and get the brain backl on track towards good mental health.  These kinds of drugs treat an array of symptoms and disorders anywhere from OCD-like behavior, ADHD, or depression.  While tDCS is not a drug, it does temporarily tip the balance of neurons towards firing more or less often and some people may be concerned about the combination of tDCS and medication. As it turns out, researchers have thought the same thing.

One of the most commonly prescribed groups of drugs are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which help to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.  These drugs work (in very simplistic terms) by prolonging the amount of time serotonin spends in the synapses of neurons which leads to increased signaling.  What you probably didn’t know was that serotonin also increases the ability of neurons to form new connections.  The increase in neuroplasticity as a result of even a small dose of an SSRI is well documented. [1] This neuroplasticity is the same process that is increased in tDCS, so what happens when an SSRI and tDCS are applied in combination? Researchers have demonstrated that the pairing of various SSRIs and tDCS actually significantly increases the effect of tDCS and prolongs the aftereffect of stimulation. [2&3] Perhaps what is even more interesting is the flip side coin where scientists have found that the application of tDCS and an SSRi in conjunction resulted in better clinical scores for depression than either treatment alone. [4] The synergistic effect of the two yields hopeful results for future therapies.

While more research still needs to be done on combinations of drugs and tDCS application, the current research is promising.  And if you’re one of those people taking an SSRI, don’t worry you’re already ahead of the curve.