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Some Olympic athletes are using electric brain stimulation to boost training

While the Olympic sporting federations scramble to test Russian athletes for performance-enhancing chemicals, other athletes are using brain stimulation to get an edge. Four track and fielders from the U.S., one from Sierra Leone, and one from Trinidad & Tobago have added transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) to their training in Rio. The tech, provided by Halo Neuroscience, was also used by U.S. athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Players from the NFL, NBA, and MLB—as well as U.S. soldiers—have also trained with the company’s $749 Halo Sport—which look like beefy headphones retrofitted for a sci-fi movie. (In fact, they also play music.)

The first headsets for consumers went on sale in February, and a second round of orders starts today (with a $100 discount). The concept behind tES is pretty simple. Neurons transmit signals as electrical impulses when ions move from one side of the cell’s membrane to another. The tES electric field nudges the ions so they are more likely to move—a condition called hyperplasticity. “We ask athletes to feed the brain repetitions while in this state of hyperplasticity,” says Daniel Chao, the company’s cofounder and CEO.

Is this a new form of doping? “You have to still put the training in….So, there’s nothing for free here,” says Chao, listing other legal activities, such as training at high altitude or drinking a lot of coffee. “There’s more performance-enhancing tools, and techniques, and additives to our diet that are legal than are illegal,” he says. (by Sean Captain)

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