Getting high with chemicals is old school, according to the results of the most recent Global Drugs Survey. Presenting their findings in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers have revealed that people across the world are attempting to alter their consciousness using binaural beats, which can be streamed from YouTube, Spotify, and other media platforms.
The sound-based brain hack requires nothing more than a pair of headphones and an internet connection. According to the study authors, the effect “occurs when presenting two tones separately to each ear that slightly differ in their frequency.”
“The listener will then hear a modulating dyad at a frequency equal to the difference in tone pitches, that is purported to ‘entrain’ brain waves and incite cognitive and mental effects.” In other words, listening to different frequencies in each ear purportedly causes one’s brainwaves to become tuned to a frequency that is equal to the difference between the two tones.
Supposedly, this technique can be used to trigger delta or theta brainwave states, which are associated with dreaming, meditation, and drug-induced trips. “Research investigating binaural beats has detected positive effects for pain alleviation, anxiety reduction and memory,” write the researchers. “However, there have been conflicting findings around its effects on concentration.”
After assessing over 30,000 responses to the 2021 Global Drug Survey, the study authors found that 5.3 percent of participants had used binaural beats, with the majority of these coming from the US, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Romania, and the UK. Almost three-quarters of these digital trippers said they used the technique to relax or fall asleep, while 34.7 percent said they did so to change their mood and 11.7 percent hoped to use sound to replicate the effects of other drugs.
Over half of binaural beat users also said that they sought to “connect with themselves,” with 22.5 percent aiming to connect to “something bigger than themselves” through the experience. A smaller number of respondents stated that they consumed digital drugs to facilitate lucid dreaming, astral projection, and other out-of-body experiences, while others said they listened to binaural beats to enhance the effects of psychedelic drugs like DMT.
The majority of respondents accessed binaural beats through video and music streaming sites on their mobile devices, though the amount of time people spent listening to the sound frequencies varied greatly. Around half said they listened to these trippy tones for under an hour at a time, while 12 percent did so for over two hours.
“The mere existence of this phenomenon challenges broadly held assumptions about what drugs actually are,” write the researchers. Elaborating on this point, study author Dr Monica Barratt explained in a statement that “we’re starting to see digital experiences defined as drugs, but they could also be seen as complementary practices alongside drug use.”
“Maybe a drug doesn’t have to be a substance you consume, it could be to do with how an activity affects your brain.”