(ORDO NEWS) — Humans have an amazing ability to find new and interesting ways to have fun. Usually this is sniffing, sniffing, licking, chewing, or even the introduction of various substances.
In a new study, scientists have explored a relatively new mind-altering technique that uses digital sounds to deliver contrasting frequencies to each ear. By tuning in to these “binaural beats”, some people report that they can switch off, reduce pain, improve memory, relieve anxiety and depression.
To determine what kind of intersection there might be between more traditional substance use and binaural beat experiments, a team of Australian and UK researchers dug into the 2021 Global Drug Survey, which included more than 30,000 people from 22 countries.
They found that about 5 percent of those surveyed had tried binaural beats over the past year. Of these, just over one in ten did so purely for entertainment purposes.
Most of the users were in their 20s and 20s, used illicit substances such as MDMA or cannabis, and hailed from the US, Mexico, the UK, Brazil, and Poland.
Aside from looking for a high, their reasons for experimenting with binaural beats were as varied as they were.
“This is a very new phenomenon, we just don’t know much about the use of binaural beats as digital drugs,” said study lead author Monica Barratt, a sociologist at RMIT University in Australia.
“This study shows that this is happening in many countries. We had anecdotal information, but this was the first time we formally asked people how, why and when they use them.”
The phenomenon of binaural beats is not new, it first appeared in the literature in the middle of the 19th century. But thanks to the ease with which people can now create trippy tempos from conflicting frequencies and share them online, binaural beats are becoming an increasingly popular art form.
Theoretically, binaural beats are thought to cause changes in the brain due to how our sensory system interprets different low frequencies when they are fed separately to each ear.
For example, listen to 400 hertz in one ear and 440 hertz in the other, and your brain interprets it as a single 40 hertz hum somewhere inside your skull.
Such an interpretation requires not only a peripheral auditory apparatus, but also a complex of brainstem hardware located deep in the head, inducing neurons far and wide to synchronize into wave patterns associated with relaxation.
That’s the theory. While some studies call for further study of binaural beats as a means of relieving acute anxiety, others argue that the benefits of binaural beat therapy – at least when it comes to changing mood and consciousness – have not yet been explored.
Scientific skepticism aside, there is no shortage of experimenters willing to try binaural beats. For 12 percent of those who reported having listened to them recently, this means trying to replicate the psychedelic experience.
“Like substances taken by mouth, some users of binaural beats were chasing highs,” says Barratt.
Any potential concerns that listening to mind-altering music could be a stepping stone to later substance abuse were not supported by the study. For that matter, most of those who hoped for a change in consciousness were already using other illicit drugs.
Moreover, according to Barratt, there were many other reasons why people explored the binaural soundscape.
“Many people saw them as a source of help, for example, to treat sleep or relieve pain,” she says.
Whether so-called “digital drugs” are causing more hype than good remains to be seen by future researchers. In the meantime, the statistics give us a good starting point for tracking the behavior of those who self-medicate – or seek pleasure – through alternative means.
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