Editorial note: Towards the end of 2015, we launched a new Complex Withdrawal section dedicated to exploring protracted withdrawal and Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction (PSSD). We presented a new hypothesis about the underlying physiology of withdrawal and persisting side effects, and we asked for others to help explore and research the issues. Someone who has been doing exactly that over the last few months is RxISK volunteer and PSSD sufferer, Brooks Witzke. His research led him to a type of treatment called Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM). Could it have potential to treat PSSD?
Brooks underwent the treatment himself to find out. Here we present his story along with a contrasting experience of FSM from another PSSD sufferer.
I’m a male in my 20’s, and have had PSSD since 2012 after a two and a half-year streak of taking fluvoxamine. I have degrees in law but no medical training. Since developing PSSD, I’ve been actively researching the condition in an attempt to find treatments.
There is increasing suggestion that PSSD may involve dysregulation of ion channels. A paper by Waldinger et al in 2014 hypothesized that the genital anesthesia that can be experienced in PSSD might be a peripheral problem located within the genital area itself, driven by disruption of Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels.
RxISK have also been increasingly working towards a peripheral model. They recently published a theory via a new website suggesting that protracted withdrawal itself, including various persisting legacy effects such as PSSD, might originate in the peripheral nervous system – basically, a widespread peripheral neuropathy caused by antidepressants that might also be driving other problems that would normally be expected to reside in the brain eg. reduced libido and sexual feelings, emotional numbness, cognitive issues, etc.
My own research has focused on voltage-gated sodium channels which is where I hypothesize that PSSD is mainly based. I discussed this in an article on RxISK dated October 13th 2015.
A device to treat PSSD?
While looking for ways to manipulate these channels, I discovered a treatment called Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) which was developed by Dr. Carolyn McMakin. It involves passing a small electrical current through the body at specific frequencies for different types of health problems. The level of current is extremely small and unnoticeable to the person having the treatment. From what I found online, it appeared that FSM may influence voltage-gated sodium channels, particularly in relation to treating neuropathic pain.
I contacted Dr. McMakin for further information. She advised that FSM does have an effect on sodium channels, but she had no experience of treating PSSD, though she was interested in trying to help. After a few e-mail discussions between myself, RxISK and Dr. McMakin, it increasingly sounded like this treatment might offer something. Dr. McMakin advised that she would be traveling to my area within the next couple of weeks to run a seminar and that we could attempt a session.
When I traveled to the place where Dr. McMakin was running her seminar, I saw her treat one man with chronic Lyme Disease who could barely walk. By the end of his treatment there was a noticeable improvement. He still used a walking frame, but he could stand right up and had significantly better movement. I noticed that Dr. McMakin was brutally honest about the treatment and said it may only last a couple of days, but she set him up with an FSM practitioner in his area that can perform more treatments that may become semi-permanent.
I decided to try the treatment with the understanding that it might do nothing at all, or could potentially make my PSSD worse.
I was hooked up to the machine – one contact was attached at the neck, the second on the spine, and the third on the genitals. When treating the brain and nervous system, the contacts are usually applied at the back and abdomen, or at the neck and feet. However, there are some applications that require current to flow directly along or through the affected tissue, like nerves and joints. In the case of PSSD, we agreed that it might be worth adding direct contact to the genitals.
I didn’t even notice the treatment – there was no pain or side effects. After about 25 minutes, I felt my genitals to check for any improvement. There was a subtle, but definite increase in sensation. However, I was secretly disappointed that the effect hadn’t been more dramatic. Various drugs and health supplements have been reported to produce very small effects on some aspects of PSSD, and this seemed no different. I just figured that “now I can add Frequency Specific Microcurrent to the list of things that doesn’t work for PSSD”. Dr. McMakin was very nice and I thanked her and left.
Upon leaving the treatment session, I decided to stop in Bethesda Maryland at the Chick-fil-A for some dinner. When I got out of the car, something amazing happened. I could actually smell the streets, smell the air, and was “actually there”. The brain fog that constantly affects my ability to think clearly seemed to disappear. No longer did it feel like I was an invisible ghost, with a cloudy brain. I was actually thinking normally again.
I went into the Chick-fil-A and ordered a meal without the normal confusion. I was able to clearly understand how to order and was able to tell the person with me where to pick up the food. I was standing in line and was carrying on a conversation with two pretty girls, and was feeling alive again. When the meal arrived, I found that for the first time in years I could actually taste the food, taste the drink, and actually felt like I was present in my body. The drive home was amazing. I was carrying on a conversation and even turned on the radio to listen to some music (I don’t ever think to do that anymore).
For a short while, the chronic fatigue and sleep problems also improved.
Over time, the cognitive/memory benefits dwindled away to the way they were before, but the benefit in sexual function continued to increase over the following month. I had slightly better penile sensitivity, and when taking a stimulant I had partial return of sexual desire and arousal, though I was not nearly close to being back to normal.
Unfortunately, after about a month of improvements the benefit in sexual function started to disappear, and it has now returned to how it was before.
I attribute my slight improvement in the past month to be as a result of my trial with Frequency Specific Microcurrent. Even the prominent but temporary taste and smell improvement I experienced suggests that the condition may be at least partially due to ion channel dysregulation.
I don’t live near an FSM practitioner, so I’m not easily able to have any follow up treatments. However, I hope that with the involvement of other sufferers, we might learn more about the potential benefit of FSM in PSSD. In the meantime, I’m continuing my research into the condition.
But the story doesn’t end here.
For the last three years, I’ve had the typical low testosterone that often accompanies PSSD. I have it checked several times a year, and the only time it increased was when I tried testosterone treatment after first developing PSSD. Like other sufferers have found, this increased the levels but it didn’t help the PSSD symptoms.
I’ve now had my testosterone checked again, several weeks after undergoing FSM treatment. There has been a sudden and substantial improvement. I don’t know if this is due to the FSM or whether it’s something that would have happened anyway. If it’s due to the FSM, I don’t know if it will be long-lasting or whether it will fade like the other improvements.
Comment from Dr McMakin
Brooks’ treatment was powerful and it took about an hour. I think a few more treatments might help further.
I am always cautious when working with a new diagnosis or condition. The frequencies chosen and the protocol provided was based on Brooks’ history and description, and gave us only an indication of what might end up being effective in a larger group. The goal in a first time patient is to not make things worse and to find out what might be helpful. In this, with Brooks we were successful.
In general, I find it takes 10 or more patients to solidify the protocol and discover the exceptions or expansions to the basic, identify potential side effects and determine the limits of what can be achieved and how many sessions it will take to do it. With PSSD we are at the very beginning of that process.
Comment from RxISK
Going forward, we need to see if this same result can be replicated or even improved upon in other PSSD sufferers. We therefore need other sufferers (both male and female) to undergo this treatment, ideally carried out by Dr McMakin at her clinic in Portland, Oregon. It would also be interesting to know what effect multiple sessions would have over a period of time.
We also need more people to follow in Brooks’ footsteps and get involved in researching ion channels, C-fibers and peripheral neuropathies in relation to PSSD and protracted withdrawal. There may be other possible treatments that could be used separately or in conjunction with FSM. As Brooks has proved, you don’t need to be a scientist or have any medical training to make progress in PSSD research.
Update – 28th Feb 2016
In order to explore this further, RxISK made contact with an experienced FSM practitioner in the UK. A PSSD sufferer was interested in trying FSM so we put him in touch. Here is his story –
I had my session of FSM, and I am sad to say I didn’t feel any relief in my PSSD symptoms. There was a slight technical problem so there was not enough time in our 90 minute session to use every frequency in Brooks’ protocol, nor did we place any electrode pads on the genitals, only 2 big ones and 2 small ones both below my abdomen and on my lower back.
During the treatment, depending on the frequency, it created a slight prickly sensation on the skin. Some frequencies were felt more strongly than others, which I was told was a good sign, as it meant there was an underlying problem (eg. Some frequencies suggested I had an inflamed prostate). We spent approximately 1 minute on each frequency before quickly moving onto the next one.
At the end of the session, I was told it would be unusual not to feel anything at all from the treatment. I didn’t feel anything immediately afterwards, the same as Brooks, but was hoping that I might feel some after-effects from the treatment. That night, I did sleep a little bit better than usual, but it’s difficult to discern whether that was directly because of FSM. I believe it’s because of the travelling that made me tired which resulted in better sleep. With regards to the core PSSD symptoms of sexual anhedonia, loss of taste, smell, etc., absolutely no change 48 hours after the treatment.
After speaking to my FSM practitioner, I decided to try a second session in order to receive the remaining frequencies from Brooks’ protocol as well as some additional variations suggested by my practitioner. Unfortunately I didn’t feel the slightest change in my condition, positive or otherwise.
We went through the remainder of the frequencies that Dr. McMakin had done on Brooks and also a few extra ones afterwards, albeit with slight changes to the equipment used and also to the positioning of the pads. In this session, I had 2 small pads attached to the lower back and 2 small pads attached to the front of my upper thighs. We also incorporated wet cloths attached to electrode wires, one of which was strapped around my forehead (which towards the end of the session was taken off and strapped around my belly instead) and also another around my neck.
As with the first session, I felt a very mild prickly sort of sensation on the surface of my skin from both the pads and also from the wet cloths. I was told to give a number out of 10, each time a different frequency was being passed though the pads and cloths, 0 being nothing felt at all, 10 being a very strong sensation, which my FSM practitioner would take a note of. It appears that the sensation I have felt in some of the frequencies and not others, is pointing towards a problem in the neurological area.
Additionally, I was asked to hold 2 palm-sized metal rods, one in each hand, which intermittently sent strong electrical frequencies in waves. The sensation felt was much stronger and I could literally feel the current travelling down my wrists. I would say the sensation is like the shock you get in those old fashioned children’s toys, where you must guide a hoop along a metal frame and avoid touching it, except the shock was a lot more powerful, widespread and prolonged.
After the session was over, I was keen to observe any changes in my condition, but sadly I felt no different. There were no immediate changes, nor were there any changes 48 hours later, so for that reason I’ve decided not to pursue FSM any further.
My closing thoughts
To sum up, I think FSM may have its uses in other conditions like pain management etc., but personally I’m not convinced FSM is a viable treatment for more complex conditions like PSSD. Although my FSM practitioner was kind and had my best interests at heart, there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding its practice in general. During my treatment, I’m not entirely sure why certain things were being done, nor do I completely understand the science behind it. Honestly it feels very experimental, with a lot of faith required on the patient’s part.
It makes me question whether positive effects felt by others were nothing more than a placebo effect. I may be wrong but it could well be that the improvements were related to another factor like a change in lifestyle or diet that coincided with the FSM treatment. Also I have learnt that practitioners will have their own individual way of doings things, due to limitations of equipment available, personal preferences etc., so it will be difficult for those hoping to have a treatment that is completely identical to that of Brooks. Whether that will affect the outcome I do not know, as results will vary from person to person regardless.