Can how you perceive audio get you high? Last month, the academic journal Drug and Alcohol Review published a survey that proposed listeners have used audio files with binaural beats as "digital drugs" to try and experience intoxicating effects. And reporting around the study is suggesting it actually worked.

A binaural beat is an auditory allusion one can achieve when different tones are played in each ear, as shown in a 2020 Science Daily study. That paper indicated binaural beats didn't affect mood.

But the results published on March 30 in the new study from Australia's RMIT University, titled "Who Uses Digital Drugs? An International Survey of 'Binaural Beat' Consumers," show that respondents in the Global Drug Survey 2021 most often used binaural beats to relax or fall asleep (72 percent), to change their mood (35 percent) or, as underscored, to get a similar effect to that of psychedelic drugs (12 percent).

Indeed, such beats are frequently labeled with the drug name for the kind of euphoria they're meant to produce, the survey illustrated. For example, meditation and mindfulness tracks might be named after ingestible drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.

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"Digital drugs, or binaural beats claimed to elicit specific cognitive or emotional states, are a phenomenon about which little is known," the survey's outline says of the study that aimed to "describe demographic and drug use correlates of binaural beat use, patterns of use, reasons for use and methods of access."

Lead author Dr. Monica Barratt explained, "Much like ingestible substances, some binaural beats users were chasing 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, "It's very new, we just don't know much about the use of binaural beats as digital drugs. 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."

The results posit the use of binaural beats to experience altered states was reported by five percent of the total sample. In the U.S., 16 percent of respondents said they had tried it. Binaural beat users were overall younger.

"We're starting to see digital experiences defined as drugs, but they could also be seen as complementary practices alongside drug use," Dr. Barratt said. "Maybe a drug doesn't have to be a substance you consume, it could be to do with how an activity affects your brain."

Per the study, the highest rates of reported binaural beat use, in order, was in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Romania and the U.K. See the full results here.

In the end, it implies that perhaps we don't know the full psychedelic power of audio after all. Maybe Pearl Jam had it figured out two decades ago on Binaural.

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