Can the way you perceive audio get you high? Last month, the academic journal Drug and alcohol review published a survey that found listeners used audio files with binaural beats as “digital drugs” to try and experience intoxicating effects. And news reports around the study suggest it actually worked.
A binaural beat is an auditory hint one can get when different tones are played in each ear, as shown in a 2020 Science Daily study. This article stated that binaural beats did not affect mood.
But results published on March 30 in the new study by Australia’s RMIT University, “Who Uses Digital Drugs? An International Survey of ‘Binaural Beat’ Consumers,” show that respondents in the 2021 Global Drug Survey used the most often binaural beats to relax. or fall asleep (72%), to change mood (35%) or, as highlighted, to achieve an effect similar to that of psychedelic drugs (12%).
Indeed, these beats are often labeled with the name of the drug for the type of euphoria they are supposed to produce, according to the survey. For example, meditation and mindfulness tracks can be named after ingestible drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
“Digital drugs, or binaural beats believed to induce specific cognitive or emotional states, are a phenomenon about which little is known,” the study’s abstract says of the study which aimed to “describe the demographic correlates and drug use of the use of binaural beats, patterns of use, reasons for use and modalities of access.”
Lead author Dr. Monica Barratt explained, “Like ingestible substances, some binaural beat users were looking for a high. But that’s far from their only use. Many people saw them as a source of help, such as for sleep therapy or pain relief. “
She added, however, “This is very new, we just don’t know much about the use of binaural beats as digital drugs. This survey shows it is happening in several countries. We had anecdotal information, but it was the first time that we formally asked people how, why and when they used them.”
The results postulate that the use of binaural beats to experience altered states was reported by 5% of the total sample. In the United States, 16% of respondents said they had tried it. Binaural beat users were younger overall.
“We’re starting to see digital experiences defined as drugs, but they could also be seen as complementary practices to drug use,” Dr. Barratt said. “Maybe a drug doesn’t have to be a substance you use, it could be related to how an activity affects your brain.”
According to the study, the highest reported rates of binaural beat use, in order, were in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom. See full results here.
Ultimately, this implies that we may not know all the psychedelic power of audio after all. Maybe Pearl Jam figured it out two decades ago Binaural.