NeuroElectric Therapy
is a form of electro-medicine developed by Dr Meg Patterson, MBE, MBChB, FRCSE, her colleague and son Lorne Patterson, RMN, and others, over decades of clinical and research work in several countries, into such fields as drug and alcohol detoxification, acute and chronic pain control, and certain affective disorders.

In 1972 MA Patterson was Head of Surgery in the Tung Wah Hospital, Hong Kong. One of her colleagues was Dr H.L. Wen, a Consultant to the Neuro-Surgical Unit. Wen was extremely interested in investigating the potential of electro-acupuncture analgesia within the Neuro-Surgical Unit. President Nixon's 1972 visit to China opened up the closed country again, and Dr Wen used the opportunity to visit and study the application of electro-acupuncture. At that stage, the Chinese, who believed in the concept of 'walking with both feet'—utilising both Western and traditional Chinese medicine—had treated over half a million patients with acupuncture-analgesia, with a 90% success rate. In spite of this notable success, they could not explain how the treatment worked.

After six weeks Wen returned to Hong Kong and asked Patterson, as Head of Surgery, to select some patients willing to have electro-acupuncture analgesia instead of the orthodox nitrous-oxide anaesthesia. Unknown to the doctors a number of the patients under treatment in the hospital were addicted to drugs, particularly the easily available heroin and opium. After receiving a preliminary session of stimulation (to assess individual response), some of these patients volunteered that either they felt like they had had a dose of their drug or that they had lost their desire for it. Two to three hours later withdrawal and craving would return, to disappear with another 30-40 minute electro-acupuncture treatment.

It was Wen who first suggested a possible connection between the electro-acupuncture stimulation and the withdrawal symptoms of drug addiction. However, when Wen, Patterson, and Dr S.Y. Cheung, Dr Wen's senior assistant, investigated the background of acupuncture for addiction, they were informed by Chinese acupuncture experts that this traditional modality had been found to be largely ineffective in dealing with acute withdrawal symptomatology in China’s opium and heroin addicts, and in nicotine withdrawal. For this and other reasons, Patterson rapidly came to believe that it was only the electrical factors involved in the treatment that carried therapeutic potential.

Using modified standard-electro-acupuncture techniques, uniform results were obtained about 10-15 minutes after stimulation began. The patients' eyes, nose and mouth became dry; the aching, shivering and abdominal pain decreased; breathing became regular, and they felt warm and relaxed. Over a period of three months, from January to March, 1973, 40 cases of drug addiction were treated in the Tung Wah Hospital (Wen and Cheung, 1973). Thirty of these patients were opium addicts, 10 heroin. Of the 40 cases, 39 were discharged free of drugs. No formal rehabilitation or social support was available.

In February of 1973, the neurosurgeon and neurophysiologist Dr Irving Cooper of New York, visited Hong Kong and gave a series of lectures. Dr Cooper was internationally recognised as a pioneer of several new operations and techniques in cryogenic surgery for involuntary brain disorders, including Parkinson's Disease. At his lecture to the Tung Wah Hospitals he revealed that he might have discovered a possible means of treating epileptics and spastics by implanting electrodes in the brain by surgery, and then stimulating them by means of a receiver planted in the chest and a pocket transmitter. His theory was that prosthetic stimulation of the cerebellum gradually led to enduring neurochemical changes.

NeuroElectric Therapy

Meg Patterson wondered if acupuncture might be a form of electrical stimulation to correct a metabolic imbalance, and the modern practice of electro-acupuncture stimulation simply a more intense form of the 'twirling' practice. Returning to England in 1973, she quickly discontinued using needles, electro-acupuncture techniques and electro-acupuncture equipment, developing her own treatment and technology based on her belief in the electrical theory and electro-medical research conducted in the West and Russia. She named her highly specific application of transcranial electrostimulation, NeuroElectric Therapy (NET).

Dr. Patterson's most significant early clinical discoveries, were:

1. That different classes of drugs, and sometimes even within a class, responded to different and highly specific pulse frequencies.

2. That any supportive psychopharmacology considerably degraded the efficacy of the stimulation. Furthermore, that giving continuous stimulation over the treatment period gave rise to a faster and more effective overall detoxification.

Minute electrical currents, self-adjusted to a comfortable level of sensation (average 0.9-3.5mAmps), are passed across the head via self-adhesive electrodes attached on the mastoid process behind the ear. Continuous stimulation is given over the acute withdrawal phase (except for showering and the daily changing of electrodes). Automated detoxification-programmes, based primarily on highly specific selections of pulse-frequencies, are utilised according to the individual substance or combination of substances of abuse. Other frequencies are integrated into the overall programme, specific to alleviating withdrawal insomnia, craving, and dysphoria (ie. depression, anxiety, and agitation). The electrostimulator is pocket-sized, leaving the patient completely mobile and able to engage in therapeutic and rehabilitation activities.

Over three decades, it has become clear that the potential of NET lies in the following areas:

1. The ability to rapidly and safely detoxify from all the substances of addiction without having to resort to support or replacement psychopharmacology.

2. The degree of withdrawal relief provided by NET (between 50-75% for the majority of patients), is substantial enough to maintain the addict in treatment—NET has a reported Drop-Out Rate of only 1.6% (Patterson et al., 1984).

3. In 102 consecutive patients, treated for opioids, cocaine, tranquilizers, barbiturates, alcohol, and nicotine dependencies (including poly-substance detoxifications), 95% claimed that they were free of craving by the end of treatment, 75% that they were free of anxiety (Patterson et al., 1984).

4. The rapidity of physiological and psychological improvement. The substantial improvement in depression and anxiety assessments within the short treatment period is unique to this modality.

5. The low Relapse-Rate found with NET (80% of addicts, 78% of alcoholics drug-free up to eight years after treatment, Patterson et al., 1984). The physical well-being, emotional stability, and mental clarity imparted by NET's non-pharmacological regimen, suggests enhanced ability to benefit from integral counselling and relapse-prevention programmes.

With a drug-free treatment process, it becomes possible to recover a positive working relationship without the battle of will and wile that is the basis of the patient/physician relationship when pharmacology is involved. It also becomes possible to involve the family and/or significant others from the very beginning of care: as a support group prior to detoxification; a control and monitoring group during the vulnerable stage of detoxification; and the basis for follow-on psychotherapeutic activities. Structured rehabilitation is utilised where possible, but if such options are unavailable a support network based on family, significant others, and close friends is considered essential for on-going support.

If a detoxification is not offered that leaves the patient feeling physically and mentally well, then is it any wonder that treatment is so unattractive to so many addicts, and that drug-taking is so frequently resorted to by those driven to enter into treatment? That so many experienced health professionals consequently consider addiction to be a chronic disease of little hope while addicts despair of becoming drug-free?

What is of paramount importance—what shouldbe of paramount importance—is the hope of treatment effecting change: in the individual under care, with their family and important relationships, and within their social and work life. We believe electrostimulation's potential stems from its ability to effect significant change starting with the most fundamental and potent of changes: the return to physical well-being and the subsequent realisation that it is possible to feel good without recourse to chemicals. With such transition comes a profound consequence, a belief that further change is possible. With change everything becomes possible; without it, there is no hope.                                                                     Back to top


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