Have we reached the point where we can actually get high with music?
Do you remember those days when people believed that rock music was demonic and pushed people to a life of excess? Well, it looks like this is now a children’s fairytale, if the claims of this new digital way of getting high are actually true. A few years ago, parents in the US were concerned about a new kind of drug after a couple of kids in an Oklahoma high school were reportedly intoxicated. This new method to get high, called i-dosing, has become a huge trend in social media. The question you're probably asking yourself right now is: does it work?
According to the websites that offer these new and absolutely legal digital drugs, they work through binaural beats. What in the world are binaural beats, you may ask? Well, these are beats designed to stimulate the brain with different beats and rhythms. The main idea of the binaural beat is that one specific frequency enters through one ear and another one through the other, meeting in the brain and creating an altered state of mind. By altered I don’t mean really high, but an abnormal state that’s also said to help reach meditative and relaxing states.
Now, this isn’t new. Binaural beats were actually discovered in the nineteenth century by a man called Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in his wave frequency studies, but this “innovative” use was only developed recently. The idea of these designed beats is that through different frequencies they can stimulate certain parts of the brain associated with pleasure. In the particular case of these drugs, they allegedly affect the same parts of the brain that are activated when consuming a particular kind of drug.
In fact, the names of the tracks you can download are named after popular drugs like opium, cocaine, marijuana, among others. These are sold by a company who claims to be the leader in research, creation, and distribution of these famous binaural beats. I-Doser (most likely where the kids in Oklahoma got their digital drugs) even has a message warning users that theirs are the only legitimate and effective beats in the market.
It all sounds so logical and innovative, but does it really work? The whole idea is that this new frequency created in the brain is so powerful that it’s capable of inducing you into a hypnagogic state (a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep). So, if it’s capable of that, it would ideally alter your brain like a real drug would, without the risk of consuming real drugs. If you browse around on the internet, you’ll see many reviews of people talking about their experiences with binaural beats, and how high and intoxicated they felt when using them. I listened to some "songs," and although I think that the beats can be quite hypnotic, I really don’t see how they could make you reach that state of consciousness they claim.
According to a study by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University, when we listen to some kinds of music, especially those we find really pleasurable, our brain releases dopamine (the neurotransmitter that makes us feel satisfied when we eat, have sex, or consume drugs). However, this is just the rewarding system our brain gives us when we give our body something we like, not exactly the feelings we get when actually consuming drugs.
For Brian Fligor, director of Diagnostic Audiology at Boston Children's Hospital, there doesn’t seem to be any logical or scientific reasoning behind the claims that these beats can actually stimulate or alter our brain. For him, there are two possible explanations. One of the possibilities is that people experience an auditory perception that makes them feel strange, funny, and even euphoric, but more on a superficial level rather than an internal and deep alteration. The other possibility is that they actually experienced a placebo effect, which makes a lot of sense, if you ask me.
As much as I want this to be true, I don’t see how this can really work. It would be so great; imagine all the problems the world would be spared from! I mean, no cartels, no violence, no murders, no dangerous overdoses... But there’s something that doesn’t add up. If these are so effective, why aren’t they used to treat drug addictions? If they are really capable of altering our brain, why aren't they being regulated? There are many obvious and easy questions that, in my opinion, aren’t answered because they would make it evident that it's not really legit. Still, you’re welcome to give it a try and prove me wrong.
If you want to know more about the effects of music on the brain, take a look at these:
Cover image by @melaniabrescia