A lot of us love a change in perspective. Whether that’s an adrenaline surge from risky behavior or someone taking a trip with magic mushrooms to explore their deeper selves, people are always coming up with new ways to shift their state of mind. The latest trend in mind-shifting isn’t in taking a substance or risking your life, though.
A new survey, carried out by researchers in Australia and the UK, of over 30,000 individuals spanning 22 countries discovered that around five percent had dabbled in “digital drugs.” These are binaural beats that make use of conflicting frequencies into each ear to alter the mind. This concept may sound strange, but its use actually dates back to the mid-19th century.
Some people report that these audio files can reduce pain, ease anxiety and depression, enhance memory, or act as effective sleep therapy. Of course, some tried these binaural beats for a mind-altering psychedelic experience.
“It’s very new, we just don’t know much about the use of binaural beats as digital drugs,” says lead author Monica Barratt from RMIT University in a press release. “This survey shows this is going on in multiple countries. We had anecdotal information, but this was the first time we formally asked people how, why, and when they’re using them.”
Theoretically, binaural beats can alter the brain and sensory system just through the cancellation of the differing frequencies. For example, by listening to a 340 hertz tone in one ear and a 300 hertz tone in another, our peripheral auditory machinery translates this into a 40 hertz sound inside the skull. This part of the brain is responsible for synchronizing sound and is associated with relaxation.
There is a mixture of scientific opinions on digital drugs in regard to their effectiveness in easing acute mental illnesses. Some skeptical studies dismiss their merit, while others argue their benefits. While more research certainly needs to be carried out to fully understand how impactful they are, many samplers of binaural beats already praise their therapeutic benefits.
This survey acts as a solid starting point for widespread research on the topic, compiling statistics on their commonality and self-proclaimed effectiveness. Researchers now have the job of discerning if this is all hype or can we really treat mental illness with something as accessible as one’s own headphones.
Source study: Drug and Alcohol Review – Who uses digital drugs? An international survey of ‘binaural beat’ consumers