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Addiction to cell phones. Are there neurophysiological mechanisms involved?

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Addiction to cell phones. Are there neurophysiological mechanisms involved?

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Acknowledgments: Claudio Gómez Perretta and Paqui Bonet Translation from Spanish: Patricia Garcia At first glance we could consider the addiction to cell phones as belonging to those addictions that are substance-free, also called psychological addictions. Yet, unlike these, cell phones emit microwaves that reach the brain, making investigators wonder if there could be a physiological base for such addictions. The following article gives a brief overview of the studies made that analyze the effects that these radiation produce and that bring us closer to the possible addictive effect, similar to those provoked by conventional drugs. In them, the authors dare to sound the alarm of the abuse that young people, whose brains are still in the process of maturing, could be prey to the risks derived from their improper use, and consider that there should be specific education of the responsible use of cell phones. Investigation about addictions to new technologies and especially about the abuse of cell phones is scarce, due in part to its great complexity and to the novelty of this social phenomenon. There are frequent difficulties in distinguishing between normal use of a substance or a modern technology, and the abuse of, or addiction to it. In general, one decides if such abuse or dependence exists, firstly by the intensity and frequency of use, secondly and more objectively by the amount of money invested in it, and thirdly by the level of interference that this process has on family, social and work relationships of each individual involved. In this manner, the interference, or significant restriction in the integral development of the individual would co-react with the level of compulsion or the partial or total control of its use, as a common trait described in any implicit activity would reflect in limiting the freedom or dependence of the individual. Furthermore, when we speak of addiction, we are referring to the existence of compulsive behavior or of behaviors that aren’t controlled by the individual, and that distance them from their normal actions. The methods most commonly used to classify and diagnose mental and behavioral disorders (DSM 4,CIE 10) coincide in considering ‘substance dependency’ as a group of behavioral, cognitive and physiological phenomenon that develop after the continuous use of a substance that typically include: an intense desire to consume the drug, difficulties in controlling its consumption, persistence in this
Proyecto, Vol. 61: pp. 8-12, March 2007
1
Addiction to cell phones: are there
neurophysiological mechanisms involved?
Maria Paz de la Puente1, Afonso Balmori 2
Published in Proyecto, Vol. 61: pp. 8-12, March 2007
Acknowledgments: Claudio Gómez Perretta and Paqui Bonet
Translation from Spanish: Patricia Garcia
At first glance we could consider the addiction to cell phones as belonging to those addictions that
are substance-free, also called psychological addictions. Yet, unlike these, cell phones emit
microwaves that reach the brain, making investigators wonder if there could be a physiological
base for such addictions.
The following article gives a brief overview of the studies made that analyze the effects that these
radiation produce and that bring us closer to the possible addictive effect, similar to those
provoked by conventional drugs. In them, the authors dare to sound the alarm of the abuse that
young people, whose brains are still in the process of maturing, could be prey to the risks derived
from their improper use, and consider that there should be specific education of the responsible use of
cell phones.
Investigation about addictions to new technologies and especially about the abuse of cell
phones is scarce, due in part to its great complexity and to the novelty of this social
phenomenon. There are frequent difficulties in distinguishing between normal use of a
substance or a modern technology, and the abuse of, or addiction to it. In general, one
decides if such abuse or dependence exists, firstly by the intensity and frequency of use,
secondly and more objectively by the amount of money invested in it, and thirdly by the
level of interference that this process has on family, social and work relationships of each
individual involved. In this manner, the interference, or significant restriction in the
integral development of the individual would co-react with the level of compulsion or the
partial or total control of its use, as a common trait described in any implicit activity
would reflect in limiting the freedom or dependence of the individual.
Furthermore, when we speak of addiction, we are referring to the existence of compulsive
behavior or of behaviors that aren’t controlled by the individual, and that distance them
from their normal actions. The methods most commonly used to classify and diagnose
mental and behavioral disorders (DSM 4,CIE 10) coincide in considering ‘substance
dependency’ as a group of behavioral, cognitive and physiological phenomenon that
develop after the continuous use of a substance that typically include: an intense desire to
consume the drug, difficulties in controlling its consumption, persistence in this
consumption in spite of the harmful consequences, prioritizing consumption of the drug
above other activities and obligations, increased tolerance and sometimes signs of
physical abstinence. Other concepts, such as amount of use (occasional, frequent), abuse
and addiction complicate and qualify the diagnosis.
1 Psychologist, Director of Aldaba Foundation Project Man (an organisation
working with drug addicts; helping them to overcome their addictions.)
2 Biologist investigator of the effects of radio frequencies on living organisms.
Proyecto, Vol. 61: pp. 8-12, March 2007
2
News and polls
With increasing frequency the media brings up news about ‘addiction’ to cell phones.
Studies based on polls and observations made in different countries reach the same
conclusion: young people in particular have become inseparable from their cell phones.
According to the latest studies, one of every three teens admit to being ‘hooked’ by their
cell phones.
The conclusions of a study elaborated by the office of Defense of the Minor of the
Community of Madrid in the year 2004, by the organization ‘Protégeles’ (Protect them),
based on a poll taken of children and adolescents between 11 and 17, are that ‘Separated
from their cell phone, the syndrome is a confirmed and measured reality, not an
exaggeration. 38 percent of those young people from Madrid were said to feel ‘upset’,
‘overwhelmed’ or that they ‘felt awful’ if they couldn’t use their cell phone, normally as a
result of punishment or fault with the phone. According to the specialists, the abuse of the
use of cell phones could be typified as a disorder of addiction that has to be stopped as soon
as possible’ (Paniagua, 2005).
The Consejería de Sanidad de la Comunidad de Madrid (Social Security Office in
Madrid) through its anti-drug agency, has recently introduced, within its program of
preventing drug addiction destined for schools of this region, a pilot project entitled,
‘Preventing addictions to New Technologies’.
A study by the University of Navarro affirms that young people between 15 and 19
admit being addicted to their cell phones (Naval et al., 2004)
Another study developed far from Spain, in South Korea, demonstrates that the youth of
that country suffer dependency on technology, and that 30% suffer from confusion and
transitory depression when they can’t use their cell phone.
Last but not least, British scientists have decided that more and more people are getting
addicted to their cell phones, causing stress and irritability (BBC, 2006).
Dr David Sheffield, from the University of Staffordshire, has found behavioral problems
related to the use of cell phone among the 106 individuals studied. About 16% of those
interviewed had a behavioral problem due to the use of cell phones. The results
demonstrated that when there is a reduction in the use of cell phones, there is a lowering
of blood pressure.
Similarities with the conventional addictive process
Although the accepted international classifications that are habitually used in clinical
psychology consider addictions and those disorders of the control of impulses as
independent entities, they have many similarities between them, as a matter of fact, many
authors consider obsessive gambling as a substance-free addiction. (Tirapu et al., 2004)
It may at first glance seem complicated to speak of a cell phone addict as we speak of a
drug addict, but if we stop to analyze this situation, it is not difficult to establish
similarities between them.
Comparing those that use the cell phone with moderation, the ‘addicts’ present a
permanent state of vigilance or alert, focused on whatever signal that may come from the
phone, which in turn provokes the almost compulsive and uncontrolled necessity of
checking the cell phone constantly, independently of what they’re doing.
It almost seems as if they need to dedicate more and more time to it (tolerance perhaps),
and this instrument begins to occupy a very special place in their lives. Recent studies
have also shown that those ‘addicts’ that stop using their cell phones show a syndrome of
withdrawal that is both physical and psychological. This syndrome is characterized by
Proyecto, Vol. 61: pp. 8-12, March 2007
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observable symptoms of anguish, anxiety, nervousness, irritability etc. These manifestations
disappear once the ‘addict’ can use their phone again. The ‘addict’ also seems to have
problems of insecurity, low self-esteem, difficulties in establishing inter-personal
relationships, isolation and other emotional factors. We have begun to see actual cases of
people who look for rehabilitation for cell phone addiction in drug treatment centers
(Bononato, 2003).
Neurophysiological bases for addiction
Looking at this problem through the psychobiological perspective, different investigations
have been based, since several years ago, on the neurophysiological base of addictions in
general. (Snyder, 1996). They want to determine which neurotransmitter intervenes, and in
which parts of the brain they act, when a person presents a disorder because of the use of
addictive substances. Dopamine seems to be the most active, although it’s not the only
one. Although each drug possesses its own mechanism of action, all of them intervene to a
greater or lesser measure on a neuronal reward circuit known as the mesolimbic
dopaminergic system, that favors, by means of pleasurable sensations, adaptive
behaviors. Those systems of reward are located in the primitive part of the brain, where
the processes of survival are inaccessible to the conscious or voluntary mind. We know
that several natural substances and activities touch this system, and that show properties
of positive reward (food, drink, sexual behavior etc.). The opiate receptors in the
mammalian brain especially are concentrated mainly in this limbic system which regulates,
among other things, emotional behavior. Because of this, the need to consume is produced
in apparent absence of conscious, rational behavior, hence the difficulty of leaving the
vicious cycle of drug abuse. The drugs that are abused have in common the ability to serve
as a positive reinforcement, and of controlling behavior in a way that is similar to the
natural positive reinforcement. The difference lies in that the natural reinforcement
normally enters this system of reward through the senses, while drugs stimulate this
circuit directly. The drugs that are being used create a false signal in the brain that
indicate that a beneficial adaptive has arrived. This cerebral signal then produces an
increase in the frequency of consumption, putting to one side the adaptive behavior.
(Tirapu et al., 2004)
The effects of cell phone radiation on the brain
As mentioned above, addiction to cell phones could be counted among those considered
substance-free, or psychological addictions; perhaps we could include compulsive
gambling, compulsive use of video games, or the Internet. Psychological addictions don’t
have chemical substances in them, but there is a degree of dependency and a certain
amount of loss of control by the one who has it. (Echeburúa and Fernandez-Montalvo,
2002) And yet, in contrast to these, cell phones emit microwaves, high electromagnetic-
modulated radiation also known as radio-frequencies, that interfere in important bodily
systems (nervous, reproductive, endocrine, immunological) as well as in the processes and
structures characteristic of living organisms, brain waves, the blood-brain barrier, the
pineal gland, and DNA (Salford, 2003; Kramarenko, 2003; Navarro et al., 2003; Reflex,
2004; Balmori, 2004).
Dependency or addiction to cell phones could have a physiological base, due to the
interruptions that the microwaves provoke in the neurotransmitters in the neural synapses
of the reward system of the brain. These effects are still under investigation and it is too
soon to understand the neurophysiological basis of cell phone addiction.
In this brief review we will analyze the reported effects that this radiation has on
neurotransmitters and post-synaptic receptors that could help us understand the possibly
addictive effect similar to that produced by conventional drugs.
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Henry Lai, the American scientist, of the Bioelectromagnetics Research Laboratory of the
University of Washington, discovered that microwaves increase the activity of brain
endorphins or endogenous opioids (the biological basis of addiction to opium and its
derivates as well as alcohol) in similar ways to morphine. Even Dr Lai (in a personal
communication) commented how Russian doctors used microwaves with patients with
‘cravings’ for heroin, although with inconclusive results. There could also be a suggested
existence of an opiate-like action, similar to actual opiates and alcohol, as being partly
responsible of its pleasurable ‘craving’ and of the positive reinforcement observed in cell
phone addicts. In another study by the same author, the effects of radio-frequencies on
the hippocampus were blocked by a pre-treatment in rats with opiate antagonists,
naloxone and naltrexone, which suggests that radio frequencies activate endogenous
opioids in the brain (Lai et al., 1989a). He also found that the receptors for
benzodiazepine (BDZ) related to anxiety responses and stress in animals, were activated
after being exposed to radio frequencies, probably related to the reinforcement of those
euphoric properties of opiates. (Braestrup et al., 1979; Lai et al., 1992b;Walker and
Ettenberg, 2001). Besides, during the same conditions of irradiation, different regions of
the brain can have different sensitivity or vulnerability to radio frequencies and provoke
different responses (Lai et al., 1991), but it seems that the long-term effects depend on the
length of exposure (Lai, 1997). In this way and in general, the effects of radio frequencies
on addiction imply several biological processes that are similar to other agents, such as
certain psychoactive drugs: alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines (Lai, 1999).
Physiology professor W Ross Adey, recently deceased from the University of California
explained that the union of neurotransmitters GABA, Acetylcholine and Glutamate
(closely related with the reward system) to its specific receptor, is sensitive to weak
modulated microwave fields (a characteristic found in cell phone radiation) (Adey, 2003).
A Working Hypothesis, Conclusions and Recommendations
Bearing these discoveries in mind, it is plausible to deduce that the morbidity relating to
the use of cell phones could have a neurophysiological basis in common with some
conventional drugs, through acting on neurotransmitters – like the response to
electromagnetic exposure described above and having similar effects on the cerebral
reward circuit.
In this way, it could not really be considered an addiction ‘without substance’; we could
take this idea further, considering its own behavior ‘per se’ because it shares mechanisms
similar to conventional drug addiction. Lastly, the radiation emitted by the cell phone
would be a positive reinforcer that not only acts through conventional sensory channels
but also through the reward circuit, acting directly through microwaves on the brain.
We find all the requirements of DSM4 in the street, in the polls as well as in laboratory
studies that show certain effects that radiation in the brain could justify the addictive
behavior. So then, what are we waiting for to take steps with the general public and
especially with young people, who comprise the most vulnerable section of the
population? We must teach people to be autonomous, with a sense of judgment, capable
of choosing and of using responsibly those means that are available, but in order to do
this, we must inform and educate. We are facing new phenomena in which there are
hidden risks (purposely hidden?) with negative consequences for everybody’s health.
Young people, once again, are in the most vulnerable age range. Clearly they are also big
consumers – in this case of cell phones – but since their brains and bodies are still
maturing and developing, this shows how unwise the risks are of undue use of cell phones.
While the scientific view progresses and becomes more clear, it is urgent (under the
precautionary principle) that adults be informed, have a hands-on attitude and be
capable of incorporating facts that can help us educate (or re-educate) especially the
young in the responsible use of the cell phone.
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A health survey was carried out in Murcia, Spain, in the vicinity of a Cellular Phone Base Station working in DCS‐1800 MHz. This survey contained health items related to “microwave sickness” or “RF syndrome.” The microwave power density was measured at the respondents' homes. Statistical analysis showed significant correlation between the declared severity of the symptoms and the measured power density. The separation of respondents into two different exposure groups also showed an increase of the declared severity in the group with the higher exposure.
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Cell phones emitting pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) may affect the human brain, but there are inconsistent results concerning their effects on electroencephalogram (EEG). We used a 16-channel telemetric electroencephalograph (ExpertTM), to record EEG changes during exposure of human skull to EMF emitted by a mobile phone. Spatial distribution of EMF was especially concentrated around the ipsilateral eye adjacent to the basal surface of the brain. Traditional EEG was full of noises during operation of a cellular phone. Using a telemetric electroencephalograph (ExpertTM) in awake subjects, all the noise was eliminated, and EEG showed interesting changes: after a period of 10-15 s there was no visible change, the spectrum median frequency increased in areas close to antenna; after 20-40 s, a slow-wave activity (2.5-6.0 Hz) appeared in the contralateral frontal and temporal areas. These slow waves lasting for about one second repeated every 15-20 s at the same recording electrodes. After turning off the mobile phone, slow-wave activity progressively disappeared; local changes such as increased median frequency decreased and disappeared after 15-20 min. We observed similar changes in children, but the slow-waves with higher amplitude appeared earlier in children (10-20 s) than adults, and their frequency was lower (1.0-2.5 Hz) with longer duration and shorter intervals. The results suggested that cellular phones may reversibly influence the human brain, inducing abnormal slow waves in EEG of awake persons.
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Rats and mice were exposed to several different stress situations to investigate whether brain benzodiazepine receptors were sensitive to altered external or internal environmental circumstances. All stresses were applied for several days. Electrical foot shock and post-natal isolation of newborn pups resulted in small (7--25%; P less than 0.05--0.001) decreases in benzodiazepine receptor binding in some cerebral cortex or hippocampal areas while immobilization stress resulted in a small (9%; P less than 0.05) increase in frontal cortex. Other brain areas (i.e., striatum, cerebellum, pons-medulla, and occipital cortex) and other stress forms (isolation of male mice, forced swimming in cold water, or chronic amphetamine intoxication) did not change receptor binding. The effect of prolonged stress on benzodiazepine receptors is complex and not very pronounced.
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We studied the effects of single (45 min) and repeated (ten daily 45-min sessions) microwave exposures (2450-MHz, 1 mW/cm2, average whole-body SAR of 0.6 W/kg, pulsed at 500 pps with pulse width of 2 microseconds) on the concentration and affinity of benzodiazepine receptors in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum of the rat. We used a receptor-binding assay with 3H-flunitrazepam as ligand. Immediately after a single exposure, an increase in the concentration of receptor was observed in the cerebral cortex, but no significant effect was observed in the hippocampus or cerebellum. No significant change in binding affinity of the receptors was observed in any of the brain-regions studied. In rats subjected to repeated exposures, no significant change in receptor concentration was found in the cerebral cortex immediately after the last exposure, which may indicate an adaptation to repeated exposures. Our data also show that handling and exposure procedures in our experiments did not significantly affect benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Because benzodiazepine receptors in the brain are responsive to anxiety and stress, our data support the hypothesis that low-intensity microwave irradiation can be a source of stress.
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We performed experiments to investigate subtypes of opioid receptors in the brain involved in the effect of acute (45 min) pulsed microwave exposure (2,450-MHz, 2-microseconds pulses, 500 pps, average power density 1 mW/cm2, peak-power density, 1 W/cm2, average whole body SAR 0.6 W/kg) on cholinergic activity in the rat brain. Rats were pretreated by microinjection of specific antagonists of mu, delta, and kappa opioid-receptors into the lateral cerebroventricle before exposure to microwaves. The data showed that all three subtypes of opioid receptors are involved in the microwave-induced decrease in cholinergic activity in the hippocampus. However, the microwave-induced decrease in cholinergic activity in the frontal cortex was not significantly affected by any of the drug treatments, confirming our previous conclusion that the effect of microwaves on the frontal cortex is not mediated by endogenous opioids.
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Rats were irradiated with circularly polarized, 2,450-MHz pulsed microwaves (2-microseconds pulses, 500 pulses per second [pps]) for 45 min in the cylindrical waveguide system of Guy et al:(Radio Sci 14:63-74, 1979). Immediately after exposure, sodium-dependent high-affinity choline uptake, an indicator of cholinergic activity in neural tissue, was measured in the striatum, frontal cortex, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. The power density was set to give average whole-body specific absorption rates (SAR) of 0.3, 0.45, 0.6, 0.75, 0.9, or 1.2 W/kg to study the dose-response relationship between the rate of microwave energy absorption and cholinergic activity in the different areas of the brain. Decrease in choline uptake was observed in the striatum at a SAR of 0.75 W/kg and above, whereas for the frontal cortex and hippocampus, decreases in choline uptake were observed at a SAR of 0.45 W/kg and above. No significant effect was observed in the hypothalamus at the irradiation power densities studied. The probit analysis was used to determine the SAR50 in each brain area, i.e., the SAR at which 50% of maximum response was elicited. SAR50 values for the striatum, frontal cortex, and hippocampus were 0.65, 0.38, and 0.44 W/kg, respectively.
Adicciones y nuevas tecnologías. Informe Inédito
  • L Bononato
Bononato L (2003), Adicciones y nuevas tecnologías. Informe Inédito. Asociación Proyecto Hombre
Juego patológico y adicciones sin drogas: tratamiento'
  • E Echeburúa
  • J Fernández-Monta Lvo
Echeburúa E, Fernández-Monta lvo J (2002), 'Juego patológico y adicciones sin drogas: tratamiento'. Revista Proyecto Hombre, 44: 13-16
Electromagnetic fields, the modulation of brain tissue functions – A possible paradigm shif t in biology
  • Wr Adey
Adey WR (2003), 'Electromagnetic fields, the modulation of brain tissue functions – A possible paradigm shif t in biology'. In Smith B, Adelman G (eds): International Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. New York