Laughter To Treat Anxiety And Depression
Laughter may indeed be the best medicine. Research has shown laughter may be the key behind the treatment of epilepsy and depression. Findings also suggest laughter to be exceptionally effective to calm patients while performing awake brain surgeries.
Unfortunately, in our competitive world, laughter doesn’t come easy. Instead, there are countless depressed people who are unable to cheer themselves up even with multiple anti-depressants. It is also unreasonable to expect people undergoing brain surgeries to laugh while having their brain probed and scraped.
Thanks to Neuroscientists at Emory University School of Medicine, stimulating laughter through electric stimulus to the brain might be a possible alternative. The neuroscientists at Emery have discovered a technique to initiate immediate laughter by using electric currents to stimulate the cingulum bundle, a white matter tract in the brain. The laughter thus stimulated was followed by a sense of calm and happiness.
The first stimulation: Successful stimulation of the Cingulum bundle was observed when electric stimulation was done on epilepsy patient while undergoing diagnostic seizure monitoring.
The second stimulation: The same stimulation was done a second time two days later while the same patient was undergoing awake brain surgery.
Similar effects were elicited when the Cingulum bundle was electrically stimulated in two other epilepsy patients.
Videos of the stimulation and their effects are available while keeping the patient’s identity hidden. The detailed findings of the study will soon be available when published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The potential applications of these findings
1. For awake brain surgery
Brain surgery can have unpredictable complications when performed on a sedated patient. The preservation of the brain functionality cannot be accessed on a sedated patient, which is why awake brain surgery is essential to assess the critical brain functions such as speech and cognitive function.
The main issue behind awake brain surgery is keeping the patient calm and refrain them from panicking. Assurance can only work so far while calming a patient undergoing brain surgery. In such cases, electrical stimulation to induce laughter can calm a patient and curb their anxiety. Assessing brain functionality is much more accurate and easier in a calm patient.
2. For depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders
In patients with chronic depression or anxiety, prescribing anti-depressants and mood calming agents can be effective but has other side effects. In all these cases, the patient remains calm only while on medication. Long-term use of such medication can have serious adverse effects. In such cases, inducing laughter via electronic stimulus might become the first line treatment if approved for use.
3. For chronic pain
Numerous diseases and conditions still exist which cannot be cured and has no effective treatment. In such patients, the goal is only to manage the pain or provide palliative care. Electric stimulus can not only uplift the mood of these patients, but it may also be used to alter the way pain sensors send signals to the brain and thus reduce the sensation of pain.
“The patient described the experience as pleasant and relaxing and completely unlike any component of her typical seizure or aura,” the authors of the paper write. “She reported an involuntary urge to laugh that began at the onset of stimulation and evolved into a pleasant, relaxed feeling over the course of a few seconds of stimulation.”
“We could be surer of safe boundaries for removal of pathological tissue and preservation of tissue encoding critical human functions such as language, emotional, or sensory functions, which can’t be evaluated with the patient sedated,” Bijanki, one of the researchers says. “In addition, although substantial further study is necessary for this area, the cingulum bundle could become a new target for chronic deep brain stimulation therapies for anxiety, mood, and pain disorders.”
The research is one of the first of its kind and still requires substantial further extensive analysis to explore the full benefits and the scope of the discovery.