Safety of AVS

AVS is safe with very few provisos. Countless individuals have made use of the technology without a moment’s concern. The wonderful thing is that AVS uses the “standard human inputs” (ears and eyes) that have evolved over millennia to safely channel audio and visual information to the brain. There is little about AVS to distinguish it from the multitude of other sounds and lights that we routinely encounter in the ordinary world.

Most products include some form of medical waiver. Let’s look at the concerns raised and see what they mean to the average person.

Seizure risk is the big one. A small proportion of the population are predisposed to photically induced seizures. This may be due to epilepsy or brain injury. If there is no history of head injury or epilepsy there should be no problems whatseover. Most epileptics are unlikely to have problems, as photic triggering of seizure is the exception rather than the rule; in fact AVS and neurofeedback have shown promise in teaching epileptics how to control the brain activity that leads to seizures. For those who are predisposed to seizures, good results can still be obtained using audio only – the risk is only associated with the flashing lights.

Pregnancy is often listed as a contraindication. This relates to primarily seizure risk. The susceptibility to and consequences of seizure in pregnant women are greater than for the general population. Information on these risks is inextricably tied to epilepsy and its medications, so the best advice for anyone considering the use of AVS is to discuss it first with a medical practitioner.

Head or brain injury also places an individual at higher risk of seizure, so again, professional advice should be sought.

There is commonly a warning against the use of AVS if suffering from mental illness. This is a bit of a contradiction, in that much of the research has applied to just this area. There would appear to be two eventualites that may arise. One is the case of psychotic disorders which can be triggered by any number of stimuli. Dissociation (sense of detachment from the everyday world) is a commonly reported effect of AVS and this may be alarming to those for whom dissociation is a major symptom of their disorder (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorders, dissociative identity disorder, etc.) The other is that low alpha and theta sessions have been known to bring repressed or distant memories to the surface, which in the case of traumatic events can be quite alarming. It is, however, this very fact that makes AVS such a powerful tool in dealing with mood and anxiety disorders, but vulnerable individuals should ensure that they have suitable psychological or psychiatric support available.

Use of AVS in conjunction with mind-altering substances, including alcohol and prescription medications (antidepressants, anxiolytics, hypnotics and tranquilisers) can have unpredictable results. There don’t seem to be any specific contraindications, however I would venture that the risk of psychosis is somewhat increased by lowered psychological inhibition in the highly relaxed and suggestible states. Another remote possibility relates to increased seratonin release associated with alpha sessions. Many of these substances act on the seratonergic system and although I have found no reports of it occurring in conjunction with AVS, the serious condition of excess seratonin, Seratonin Syndrome, would be a worst case scenario.

AVS can help to reduce high blood pressure, however those using medication for hypertension, or who have unusually low blood pressure need to take special care.

A common question is whether the bright lights can harm the eyes. Most AVS devices are used with eyes closed and the eyelids provide a very effective filter. Even with eyes open, the light levels are well below those required to cause lasting damage – the worst most people could expect is a black patch in their vision for a little while. Blue light has been implicated in some forms of retinal disease, specifically macular degeneration. The blue content of AVS lighting is no greater than is commonly found elsewhere, such as fluorescent lighting or television, so those with retinal disorders need only take their usual precautions. Blue light is also significant in the seratonin/melatonin conversion within the circadian cycle, and excessive exposure can lead to sleep problems. There’s a wide range of glasses available featuring a variety of colours and LED configurations so it is easy to avoid any colours that may be problematic. The few glasses designed to be used with eyes open all have the LEDs positioned outside the main field of vision or use a diffuser so there is no more risk, possibly even less, than with closed-eye glasses.

The final consideration comes from structural changes to the brain through the  increased bloodflow and synchronised activity that AVS can produce. In adults this is completely beneficial. The effects on children, whose brain is not yet fully developed, are not yet adequately known. AVS is acquiring a good track record in dealing with ADD/ADHD, so it is in common use with children, however it would be wise not to use it with young children without prior discussion with a professional familiar with juvenile neurology.

The one warning that is not to be ignored is… DO NOT USE AVS WHILE DRIVING OR OPERATING MACHINERY. This seems so obvious that it barely seems worth mentioning, but you’d be amazed at how often I’ve been asked if sessions can be used in the car on the way to work. All sessions, including generally energising beta, can induce extreme relaxation and dissociation. These are the same effects that drivers often encounter on long trips – driving on “autopilot” and suddenly becoming alert to wonder what happened to the last 15 kilometres. This is a very real risk and the consequences could be lethal!

All this said, I am not aware of a single reported case of anything seriously untoward happening as a direct result of AVS use. The bulk of this information is provided to protect vendors from liability and does not reflect results in the field. Many users have reported sore/dry eyes, headaches, anxiety, disrupted sleep or other minor discomforts, however these effects are short term and pass quickly of their own accord. More often than not, adverse effects are the result of a combination of factors and cannot be directly attributed to the AVS session.

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  • Mark  On August 29, 2009 at 9:54 am


    There may possibly be some correlation between mind altering drugs and increased risk of seisure with AVS, which you don’t touch on in your very through post on the subject. .

    I personally witnessed a seisure suffered by a girl who had returned home after a dance party. I can’t remember what she had imbibed on the night but most likely LSD and MDMA . She suffered a fit within a few minutes of donning a pair of flashing glasses. She swallowed her tounge and started to turn blue. Only quick action by one of the onlookers saved her. Given the age of her friends she was very lucky to survive . She had no previous history of fits.

    A recent post on the Transparent forum was made by someone who had been running AVS sessions at dance festivals where the majority of people would have been consuming recreational drugs and wondered why one of the 1500 people ( who had taken a number of substances over a few days ) he had exposed to AVS , had ‘fitted’ !.

    Allowing AVS access to people under the influence of drugs who may not be in a position to make sound choices about risky behaviour, could, in the event of serious fit open the provider to exposure to legal action, and at the very least a big weight to bear .

    I would implore anybody experiementing with this gear in the context of recreational drugs to exercise extreme caution particularly when undertaking to share the experience with others, and ideally if you must do it in reliable company who can assist in the event, no matter how unlikely , that something goes wrong . The event I observed 15 years ago enforced on me that a fit can be an extremely dangerous thing particularly if you are unnatended and they can even cause brain damage if severe enough and obviously death from choking.

    I love your AVS blog . You are making a great contribution to the field by tackling all the `grey areas ‘ and emerging fields, head on.

    • craigtavs  On August 29, 2009 at 10:25 am

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for raising a very good point. I never quite know how far to go in providing cautions. I’m making something of an assumption that people reading this blog are intelligent adults on a personal journey, rather than thrillseekers, and won’t be mixing and matching completely indiscriminately.

      I make the point that I am unaware of any adverse event directly attributable to AVS – I have seen any manner of bizarre responses to recreational substances, and I’m aware that almost anything can trigger them.

      Anyway, your point is well taken, and I too would suggest that anyone wanting to mix AVS with psychoactive substances have a baby-sitter, at least until familiar with the combination. I would also add that AVS substantially increases the impact of some substances, so experiment gently.

      Thanks for your words of encouragement.


  • Leste  On August 29, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Craig:

    Thanks for your blog and posts at the transparent forum. I have enjoyed reading them for quite some time.

    I am a clinical social worker/therapist and have begun using AVS with some of my clients (low-income, chronically mentally ill) and have had some amazing success in a relatively short period of time. At some point, I’ll write more about that…I’m really just beginning this professional “experiment” but am really incredibly excited by its promise.

    I did however have a disturbing experience while showing AVS to my brother, his wife and daughters. My 13 year-old niece, with no history of seizures, had a full blown seizure about 11 minutes into a NP2 SMR session with Proteus hooked up for audiostrobe. This just happened last weekend and she is fine now, but it was a bit disconcerting. I’m assuming she’s one of the rare photosensitive people out there who can have seizures doing this. She’ll be having and EEG and MRI to determine if she is a photosensitive epileptic. It has definitely made me a bit gun shy about using it with children.

    Anyway, just thought I’d chime in as this just happened and after subsequent research I found no other documented case of this happening to a child…hard to believe this is the first time though.

    Anyway, thanks again for your efforts. Your blog has become a regular stop on my nightly web trolling.


  • craigtavs  On August 29, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Lester,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about this. Not having heard of a single reported case certainly doesn’t mean they’re not out there, only that they’re not well reported. Hopefully others who are considering AVS, particularly with persons under 18 whose brains may not yet be in their mature configuration, will stumble upon this post and your comments. Unfortunately there’s no way I’m aware of to readily predict photosensitive epilepsy, so in many ways it’s quite useful to have it occur in a relatively controlled environment.

    I sincerely hope your niece will be no worse for the experience.

    It’s great to know you’re enjoying the blog – do stop in and have your say any time.


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