Once upon a time a man was tasered by police. He found it invigorating and helpful.
Describing the event, he said words to the effect of, “I have never felt more alive!”. He explained that for the duration of event and for a fair while after experiencing the pain of a taser, he stopped thinking about the pains and concerns that usually preoccupy his thoughts and feelings. Because he found being tasered so helpful, he asked whether we – the mental health service – would administer ECT.
We thought he was joking.
He told us he wasn’t.
The conversation lead to me to do some… ahem… research* which yields this interesting comparative data:
Brief Elaboration + Data Sources
▶️ ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) delivers somewhere between 180 to 480 volts to the body [source]. ECT is only administered after the person has been given a short-acting general anaesthetic (eg: propofol) and muscle relaxant (eg: suxamethonium).
▶️ Although Taser generates up to 50,000 volts in an open air arc, it is thought to typically deliver approximately 1200 volts to the body [source]. People who are “treated” with Taser are not administered anaesthetic or muscle relaxants beforehand, However, it is thought that at least some of the people who are zapped with a Taser have been self-administering substances that may convey some anaesthetic and/or muscle relaxant properties.
▶️ AED (automated external defibrillator) delivers 3000 volts to the body in a short, sharp burst [source]. As with Tasers, those treated with AEDs are not usually administered anaesthetic medications or muscle relaxants beforehand.
What does this data tell us?
On one hand, not a hell of a lot. An AED discharges its high voltage very quickly (about a tenth of a second), whereas a Taser will stay active for anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds, depending on the model/voltage. Over a course of ECT treatment the comparatively low voltage dose will be usually repeated at least half-a-dozen times, sometimes twice that number. So, despite the discrepancies amongst the voltages delivered at the body, because of site, anaesthetic, duration and repeat-dose differences we’re not actually [cliché warning] comparing apples with apples.
What is interesting to note is that there’s not much contention about using electricity as medicine in an AED. In fact, there’s great support to have AEDs more readily available in shopping centres, on commercial planes and in airports, at sporting grounds etc. By comparison, there’s a whole lot of contention regarding the use/misuse of Tasers and ECT, despite them using much lower voltages than AED.
I don’t feel confident enough in the facts to wade into an argument about ECT, other than to note that I’ve met some people who tell me it’s the only thing that has stopped them from staying so profoundly depressed that they wished they were dead. Not everyone who has a been treated with ECT describes a positive experience, of course – I believe them too.
What about the Taser bloke?
We let Taser-bloke down easily. It was good to be able to tell him about the differences in voltages. We explained that nobody administers ECT without anaesthetic anyway, so he would not get the distracting alternative pain that he was seeking. We thanked him for the interesting question. He seemed to be OK with our answer.
By “research*”, in this instance I actually mean “googling for a couple of minutes”. The “…ahem…” prefix is the international signifier of this not-so-scholarly research approach. That is, for god’s sake, please don’t take this blog post too seriously. Store it in the #FunFacts/trivia/let’s-have-an-argument-for-the-fun-of-it part of your brain, not in the scholarly/clinical/sensible part of your brain.
As always, your feedback/thoughts are welcomed in the comments section below.
Paul McNamara, 28 February 2019
Short URL: meta4RN.com/zap
I’m happy for this – or any of the above – to be cut and paste into your work, but please include the URL so people can read the explanatory notes; it’s a bit deceptive otherwise.
▶️ ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) 180 to 480 volts
▶️ Taser approx 1200 volts
▶️ AED (automated external defibrillator) 3000 volts
Zap! by Paul McNamara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at meta4RN.com/zap.