People Are Seeking 'Altered States' With 'Digital Drugs,' Says New Study

People are turning to "digital drugs" to alleviate anxiety and pain or change their mood without having to consume any substances, such as ketamine, psilocybin, or most recently toad venom, according to a recent study.

Researchers analyzed the 2021 Global Drug Survey to gather information about the types of individuals who utilize binaural beats—a type of sound that's processed by the brain when two different frequencies are introduced in each ear.

The researchers also wanted to see if there was any correlation between individuals who listened to binaural beats and those who used or experimented with traditional psychoactive drugs.

They found that out of the 30,000 individuals surveyed from 22 countries, about five percent reported listening to binaural beats at least once this year. Most of these users were in their late teens or early twenties.

They also noted in the paper that binaural beats are often purported "to elicit a drug-like state" and that about 72 percent of respondents said they listened to binaural beats to "relax or fall asleep."

Other common responses were "to change my mood" and about 11 percent reported they were listening to binaural beats to "get a similar effect to that of other drugs."

Back in August, researchers in Sweden discovered that ketamine employs antidepressant properties and is a possible treatment for chronic depression. Clinical trials have also shown that psilocybin found in "magic mushrooms" might be more effective than traditional antidepressants.

But many individuals wanting to reap the benefits do not feel comfortable ingesting a psychoactive substance.

"Maybe a drug doesn't have to be a substance you consume, it could be to do with how an activity affects your brain," lead author Monica Barratt said.

According to the study, listening to binaural beats can have positive effects on anxiety reduction, increased memory, and pain alleviation. Researchers did mention, though, that there have been conflicting findings citing that binaural beats do not affect concentration.

"Much like ingestible substances, some binaural beats users were chasing a high," Barratt, said. "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."

In the study, researchers also found that nearly 60 percent of respondents reported using it to feel connected to either themselves or something "bigger than themselves."

The majority of individuals said they accessed these "digital drugs" through various video streaming sites such as YouTube, while about 35 percent said they listened through an audio streaming service such as Spotify.

More than 80 percent of listeners reported using their mobile devices to search for binaural beats, while some said they listened on their laptops; few listened on desktops or tablets.

However, there is speculation about the consequences of using binaural beats, and researchers say they can't say definitively yet that they work.

"While some have expressed concern about binaural beats as a 'gateway' to ingestible substances, these concerns remain speculative and empirically untested," researchers wrote. "Neither is it clear whether binaural beats are similar in effect to the psychoactive drugs they are promoted to simulate."

They remain positive, though.

"Evidence is mounting but it's still unclear, which is why more research is needed into any possible side effects," Barratt said.

Newsweek contacted Monica Barratt but did not receive comment in time for publication.

People are listening to "digital drugs"
A new study showed that many people who listen to binaural beats do so to alter their mood or alleviate anxiety. opolja/iStock