There’s little question that music can have a powerful influence on the way we feel. The right song can motivate us to perform at a higher level or help us comfort ourselves in times of tragedy. But did you ever think it might also trigger a cerebral high? According to some researchers, different musical tones presented in asynchronous fashion might just accomplish this. Known as binaural beats, millions of people throughout the world are experimenting with this new phenomenon. And based on some reports, the effects of these digital drugs could be quite powerful as well as therapeutic.
In the past decade, many researchers are exploring how psychedelics treatments might help a number of conditions. Magic mushrooms and synthetics are chemicals that have the potential to beneficially alter neuronal networks in the brain. But interestingly, binaural beats might be able to accomplish similar effects without the chemical component. While the actual effects of these digital drugs are not yet known, some scientists suggest they may have therapeutic benefits. In fact, there appears to be a variety of health conditions where binaural beats might be useful.
“We’re starting to see digital experiences defined as drugs, but they could also be seen as complementary practices alongside drug us. Maybe a drug doesn’t have to be a substance you consume, it could be to do with how an activity affects your brain.” – Dr. Monica Barratt of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia
Explaining the Effects of Digital Drugs
The best way to understand how binaural beats creates its effects is to first appreciate normal sound localization. Whenever we hear a sound, it naturally reaches one ear before the other. The slight discrepancy that exists is something to which our brains have become accustomed. Therefore, it can routinely localize a noise or sound effectively as a result based on this familiarity. But with binaural beats, two different tones that are close in frequency are used. These tones then oscillate in and out of synchronous frequencies, confusing our brains. The end result is a third tone that’s perceived by our brains, which is completely new.
While this may not sound too impressive, it’s this new tone within our brains that has psychedelic and therapeutic potential. The new tone encourages some neurons in the brain to vibrate at its same frequency. This phenomenon is known as entrainment, and entrainment is what causes neuronal function and networks to change. It is precisely this change that might cause positive effects on our mood, thoughts, attention and perceptions. And it is these effects of digital drugs that are stimulating the greatest intrigue among scientists.
“Binaural beats combine two slightly different sound frequencies to create the perception of a single frequency tone. When each ear is exposed to two different frequencies at the same time (one in each ear) the brain actually hears a single tone that is the difference between two separate frequencies, and your brain tunes into this new frequency.” – Melissa Gentry, Life Coach and CEO of Healing the Love
Recent Research on Binaural Beats
Believe it or not, there has been several studies conducted exploring the effects of digital drugs as of late. Some studies have examined usage among the population. Others have tried to determine whether or not binaural beats influence attention, focus, perceptions, and even sexual arousal. The most comprehensive one to date involved a metanalysis that summarized data from 22 studies. It stated there was statistically significant evidence that these digital drugs had a positive influence in all these areas. But not everyone is convinced, especially given the variations in protocol among different studies.
Other researchers evaluated the use of binaural beats instead of the actual effects of digital drugs. A recent study out of Australia surveyed over 30,000 people from 22 different countries. In their research, they found that about 12% used binaural beats as an adjunct or replacement to psychedelics. Others used them for sleep, relaxation, and anxiety effects. And still others used them as a way to achieve deeper levels of meditation. Interestingly, about 16% of the entire population in the U.S. surveyed had tried them. Thus, regardless of the actual effects of digital drugs, it’s clear many people are showing interest in their use.
“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.” – Dr. Monica Barratt
Embracing the Potential of Binaural Beats
The original discovery of binaural beats dates all the way back to 1841. Heinrich Wilhelm Dove was the first to describe the effects of altered tones on the brain’s perceptions and mood. But since then, the phenomenon has fell in and out of favor. In fact, there was significant concern over the effects of digital drugs a decade ago prompting several countries to ban them. Specifically, UAE and Lebanon outlawed their use. But such approaches are not only shortsighted but highly biased. Perhaps, given the stigma associated with the word “drugs,’ labeling these as digital drugs was a bad idea. Like cannabis and psychedelics, the stigma might be enough to delay us from seeing their real health benefits.
The bottom line is that much needs to be researched and learned about binaural beats currently. But the existing research looks incredibly promising. Imagine being able to using auditory tones as a way to improve sleep, mood, and creativity. Imagine using this as an inexpensive treatment for pain without all the nasty side effects and risks of medicines. And consider the implications and effects of digital drugs on creativity and innovative ideas. Without question, we need to embrace the potential that binaural beats have before we close the door on them prematurely. Whether it’s an elevated mood or actual mental health benefits, this could be an easy way to help millions.