New trend sees teens getting high -- on sound

LAKE CHARLES, LA (WCSC) - A new trend is emerging on the internet that has the attention of teens in various parts of the country, but it's flying under the radars of most adults.

Teens are trying to get high using nothing but sound.

They don't need a street dealer or to drive through dangerous neighborhoods; the new so-called drug can be procured with a computer, a credit card and a pair of headphones.

I-Doser, an online retailer of the binaural sounds, sells the digital drugs. I-Doser claims with just a few dollars, their service will alter peoples' moods, making them feel uplifted, confident, or even more relaxed.

Other sounds, however, promise to make listeners feel like they are on strong mind-altering drugs, from strong prescription painkillers like oxycontin -- a $4.50 download -- and Demerol to illicit drugs like cocaine and crystal meth.

These digital drugs are nothing more than binaural beats, which have been used since the 1970s by the military and by doctors to help patients with hearing problems. The sounds are created when two different sounds are plated at slightly different frequencies in each ear.

The differing frequencies create a pulse sensation, or beats, which some people believe give them the illusion they are on drugs. Each sensation is created by focusing the sounds within a certain frequency range. As the chart below indicates, "relaxing" beats would have a lower frequency and those associated with greater mental activity would have a much higher frequency.

Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40 Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
13–40 Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition
7–13 Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness
4–7 Hz Theta waves Dreams, deep meditation, REM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Sreela Pulakhandam, with the Institute of Neuropsychiatry in Lake Charles, La., said not many studies have been done over the long-term effects of casual use of binaural beats. However, constant exposure to binaural beats does give Dr. Pulakhandam some concerns.

"Even though this is safe, it has been noted that it could be a precursor to actually start using the real drugs," said Dr. Pulakhandam.

He went on to say that the beats should not be used by children.

In a non-scientific test conducted with two volunteers, the test subjects had dramatically different responses. Trevor* remained relaxed and calm throughout the entire process, but the reaction from Charles* was erratic.

"All of a sudden I just felt sick. I just felt really sick and I knew I couldn't keep it up," said Charles, who started laughing at one point uncontrollably.

Many teens have posted videos of themselves listening to binaural beats to YouTube. The reactions range from visible boredom to over excitement.

Dr. Pulakhandam said the best way to prevent any behavioral changes in teenagers is for parents to monitor their children closely.

"Just being careful and monitoring and understanding what the children are on is the best thing," said Pulakhandam.

I-Doser does list several disclaimers on its website and said its products should be used for entertainment purposes only.

Listen to several sample binaural beats (All sounds in mp3 format):

Copyright 2010 WCSC. All Rights Reserved. Raycom News Network partner KPLC-TV initially filed this report.