In 2010, an Oklahoma school district banned iPods to keep students away from it. In 2014, Saudi Arabia convened three federal agencies to make sure it didn't cross Lebanon's border. So what is this insidious new drug? Well, it's actually not clear whether it's a drug at all. "Digital drugs" are sweeping the Internet, prompting comparisons to everything from marijuana to heroin. But are they a passing trend, an invention, or a real risk to substance users?
Binaural beats, binaural tones, digital drugs, whatever you call them, they are sound files carefully designed to change your brain (at least temporarily). They create a relaxed, creative, or pleasant feeling in the listener by exposing each ear to a slightly different frequency. You perceive it as one sound, but your brainwaves detect the difference and behave accordingly.
This effect has been documented since the 1840's, but thanks to sound-mixing programs, YouTube uploads, and stereo headphones, it's finally gaining global traction.
When you think of drugs, you probably think of tangible substances that you can see, touch, and/or consume. Most drugs meet this basic standard, including pharmaceutical drugs like painkillers, herbal drugs like marijuana, recreational drugs like alcohol, and performance-enhancing drugs like caffeine. However, do binaural sounds actually belong to this category too?
It all depends on your perspective. Technically, a drug is a chemical that causes distinct, often mind-altering effects as it interacts with your brain and blood. Digital sounds are data files, not existing chemicals. However, they do produce chemical changes in your brain, because that's technically the only way to relax you or change your perception of reality. Some have even reported hallucinations because of these sound frequencies.
If you're particularly sensitive to sound, you may experience a tingling sensation in your head or back when you listen. Only a fraction of the population can experience this autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), and sounds aren't the only triggers that produce it — all five senses can be stimulated. However, ASMR is particularly significant in the "digital drugs" community because it amplifies the short-term rewards of digital drugs.
Others don't feel they experience any reaction, physical or otherwise. If you have trouble meditating, you might have trouble inducing a similar relaxed state with sound frequencies. Hearing differences also affect the way these sounds work together, so if one or both of your ears is clogged or damaged, you might not hear the intended frequencies.
Digital drugs aren't "addictive" but some people can begin to rely and even become dependent on them. If you prioritize your sounds above everyday needs and responsibilities, your behavior pattern is problematic, and it's wise to consider other options.
Of course, everyone has slightly different preferences and perspectives. The benefits that make "digital drugs" seem interesting aren't appealing to everyone, so it's difficult to make a sweeping analysis of the risks they pose to any particular person.
Whether it's digital drugs, pharmaceuticals or drinking, becoming dependent on any substance limits your options and can have consequences. If you or a loved one are looking at changing your substance use habit, call one of our friendly and knowledgeable Guest Services Consultants for information on how a Cognitive Behavioral Learning (CBL) program with Saint Jude Retreats may be a good choice for you.