Potential beneficial effects? Well, yes. All the study found when it tracked 47 mobile-toting participants for one year was this: brain metabolism in a small area nearest the antenna was 7% higher when they were on a 50-minute call. So cell phones boost brain activity. (Specifically, they raise glucose levels.) Doesn’t sound so bad when put like that, does it? For all we know, blasting your brain with focused radio waves could be the mental equivalent of going to the gym. Glucose levels rise with just about any complex brain activity. For comparison, that 7% metabolism boost is less than the amount of energy it takes to process images via your eyes.
Of course, for all we know, the long-term effects could be pretty scary. Tumor cells need a lot of glucose, too. But that may be no more than coincidence. Researchers were careful to tiptoe around the C-word. And with good reason: as Ars Technica points out, in biology, there is absolutely no known mechanism that could lead from low-energy, long-wavelength radiation to cancer. A giant, 13-nation study begun in 2000 still hasn't found any proof linking the two. Cell phone users, science is on your side — for now.
Bottom line: we know relatively little about brain science and even less about cell phone use. Decades of further study is going to be needed for a definitive answer. We’ve all heard anecdotes from friends about how calls give them headaches, or a buzzing sensation. They could be right, or they could be hypochondriacs. Maybe cell phones affect each brain differently. At the moment, there’s just no way of telling.
If you’re concerned, be like Dr. Volkow — who told TIME that she’s started using a $5 headset so she doesn’t have to hold her phone to her ear any more. “Maybe at the end of the day cell phones aren’t damaging,” she said. “But it’s only $5.”