June 15, 2024

My Experiment with "Digital Drugs"

The latest scare meme is “digital drugs” or “i-dosing”, in which kids listen to audio tracks that supposedly induce altered mental states. Concerned adults fear that these “digital drugs” may be a gateway to harder (i.e., actual) drugs. Rumors are circulating among some kids: “I heard it was like some weird demons and stuff through an iPod“. In a way, it’s a perfect storm of scare memes, involving (1) “drugs”, (2) the Internet, and (3) kids listening to freaky music.

When I heard about these “digital drugs”, I naturally had to try them, in the interest of science.

(All joking aside, I only did this because I knew it was safe and legal. I don’t like to mess with my brain. I rely on my brain to make my living. Without my brain, I’d be … a zombie, I guess.)

I downloaded a “digital drug” track, donned good headphones, lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, blanked my mind, and pressed “play”. What I heard was a kind of droning noise, accompanied by a soft background hiss. It was not unlike the sound of a turboprop airplane during post-takeoff ascent, with two droning engines and the soft hiss of a ventilation fan. This went on for about fifteen minutes, with the drone changing pitch every now and then. That was it.

Did this alter my consciousness? Not really. If anything, fifteen minutes of partial sensory deprivation (eyes closed, hearing nothing but droning and hissing) might have put me in a mild meditative state, but frankly I could have reached that state more easily without the infernal droning, just by lying still and blanking my mind.

Afterward I did some web surfing to try to figure out why people think these sounds might affect the brain. To the extent there is any science at all behind “digital drugs”, it involves playing sounds of slightly different frequencies into your two ears, thereby supposedly setting up a low-frequency oscillation in the auditory centers of your brain, which will supposedly interact with your brain waves that operate at a very similar frequency. This theory could be hooey for all I know, but it sounds kind of science-ish so somebody might believe it. I can tell you for sure that it didn’t work on me.

So, kids: don’t do digital drugs. They’re a waste of time. And if you don’t turn down the volume, you might actually damage your hearing.


  1. Sean Lind says

    i-dosing is the dumb-as-f*&k name for binaural Beats.

    The original article did a great job at giving the major strokes of how they are supposed to work. I’m not a scientist, and have no feelings either way, but I’d like to point out one thing that may have an effect on this review.

    When two sounds of similar but different frequencies are played together, it creates an oscillation, the same idea is used to tune a guitar from ear, you can hear when the two frequencies match.

    Now, your brain runs at different hertz depending on what you’re doing. I.E your brain is running at a different frequency if you’re sleeping, then if you’re doing string theory math.

    The idea with binaural beats is to change the frequency of your brain. Thus, anyone expecting to get “high” like you would on a conventional drug, like caffeine, alcohol or marijuana, will be disappointed.

    The goal is to change the state of your mind, I.E “force” your brain into sleep mode, while awake, or the other way around.

    I don’t know if this actually works at all, but where there’s smoke, there is often fire.

  2. I’ve read that beatniks experimented with closing your eyes in front of a strobe light to induce hallucinations. Another technique is to put halved ping-pong balls over your eyes and lie down and listen to a radio tuned between stations. William Burroughs had alot of other ideas, which probably do not work.

    The strobe light was used in psychological research done at universities, for what that’s worth.


    first learned about it here:
    “A Number of Scenes in a Badly Cut Film’: Observation in the Age of Strobe.” In Histories of Scientific Observation, ed. Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (forthcoming).

    another academic article:
    ter Meulen, B.C., D. Tavy, and B.C. Jacobs. 2009. “From Stroboscope to Dream Machine: A History of Flicker-Induced Hallucinations.” European Neurology 62:316-320.

    link: http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=ShowFulltext&ArtikelNr=235945&ProduktNr=223840

  3. Anonymous says

    This sort of thing appeared on my radar in late 80s. Some (trademarked?) contraptions called Mind Machines emerged. The idea was that the brain would “hear” a resultant frequency produced by two different sine waves piped to each ear, and this resultant frequency (“beat”) would somehow tune the brain to the desired state of excitation, particularly in the 4 to 12 Hz range – the Theta and Alpha waves in EEG. Of course, wanting to try this out, I programmed a small utility on my Amiga in the early 90s to play preprogrammed recipes that “brought” you gradually from alert state into Theta range. A friend of mine claimed to have fallen asleep while testing the app, although I assume that was placebo.

  4. The higher audio frequencies can have harmonics which are understandable by the subconscious mind but not the concious mind. You won’t even know you are hearing “a message” in the audio. I have to wonder if and when these music distributions you speak about will be used for some illicit purpose. Because subliminal suggestion has been proven to work, someone can and will abuse this technology. All I can say is make sure you know where the music came from, or you may wake up one morning with a sudden urge to do something very very stupid.

  5. Phillip K Dick – “We Can Build You” –

  6. There are free tools that generate such sounds and allow you to set up and fine tune the output however you want. SBaGen and Gnaural are two such tools. The I-Doser tracks may actually have been generated with SBaGen.

    The whole “digital drugs” thing is just a marketing ploy to get teenagers to throw away their money, and the news reports about it completely miss the point because of the whole “drugs are bad, mmmkay” aspect. Protecting your hearing is far more important.

    Actually, the purported effects of these sounds have a fairly long history in the New Age movement, with some folks saying that certain frequencies augment psychic ability or energize the chakras or other such stuff. Other folks simply believe that it has effects not too far different from hypnosis or meditation through entrainment of brain wave patterns to various frequencies that the brain exhibits during normal behaviors such as sleep.

  7. When I was a frequent traveler, I would relax by focusing on particular frequencies and perceiving melodies in the noise. Maybe a few of these files are just what I need…

  8. I wonder if any of these digital drugs involve playing Beatle’s tunes backwards.

  9. Ken Houghton says

    Gavin Bryars, judging by your description, is too melodic.

  10. I guess all those Baby Einstein zombies are reaching their teens and are now exploring the age-appropriate logical extension of the Mozart Effect.

  11. Crosbie Fitch says

    The most psychoactive music I ever permitted to enter my brain was Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre. Equinoxe was pretty good too.

  12. batticus says

    Once I saw the “advice” to pay 40$ for a pamphlet to help you use the “drugs” it was clear to me this was a lame internet meme with dishonesty tossed in. I would encourage all kids to try them so they can learn to identify obvious stupidity in the future.