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Shades of ‘Reefer Madness’ — or The Onion! Beware ‘digital drugs’ and ‘binaural beats’

We are a gullible bunch.
And easily whipped into a frenzy over nothing.
I mean, really. Digital drugs?

We are a gullible bunch.

And easily whipped into a frenzy over nothing.

I mean, really. Digital drugs? Kids are getting a cocaine- or LSD-like high simply from strapping on earphones and listening to specially engineered dissonant tones (“binaural beats”) downloaded from the Internet?

Apparently, some people think so. Reporter Ryan Single wrote a very funny (intentionally so) article in Wired Thursday about officials in an Oklahoma town who are worried, worried, worried that this Internet phenomenon may be leading their children Pied-Piper-like to a life of drug addition. [Single cites as his source a hilarious (unintentionally so) Oklahoma News 9 report that aired this week. Some of the Internet images inserted into that report reminded me of that old classic, “Reefer Madness.”]

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Writes Single:

Oklahoma’s Mustang Public School district isn’t taking the threat lightly, and sent out a letter to parents warning them of the new craze. The educators have gone so far as to ban iPods at school, in hopes of preventing honor students from becoming cyber-drug fiends. … “Kids are going to flock to these sites just to see what it is about, and it can lead them to other places,” [said] Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward.

When I first read about digital drugs (aka I-dosing) this week (I’m way out of the loop; despite this week’s flurry of news reports, the use of  and fretting about  I-dosing has been around for a while), I thought the story must be an Onion spoof.

It should be an Onion spoof, for there is absolutely no scientific evidence that I-dosing produces any kind of brain-altering high. Nor is there any evidence that I-dosing lures kids into experimenting with the real stuff.

But it will definitely put a depression in your (or your child’s) wallet. Reports Single (tongue firmly in cheek) about the websites that are peddling digital drug products:

Teens are listening to such tracks as “Gates of Hades,” which is available on YouTube gratis (yes, the first one is always free). Those who want to get addicted to the “drugs” can purchase tracks that will purportedly bring about the same effects of marijuana, cocaine, opium and peyote. While street drugs rarely come with instruction manuals, potential digital drug users are advised to buy a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s.

By Wednesday, the digital drug frenzy had reached such a peak that National Public Radio apparently felt the need to weigh in with some reassuring words from a researcher in the field, Dr. Helane Wahbeh, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University. The interview, conducted by NPR’s Michelle Norris, definitely gave me an out-of-body experience. Here is its most sublime moment: 

NORRIS: So if we decided to play some of these binaural beats right now, other than freaking out our listeners who turn to us for news and information and perhaps a little bit of enlightenment, would we cause people to drive off the road or enter into some other kind of spooky altered state?   

Dr. WAHBEH: Not at all. I mean, first of all, you have to listen to it with stereo headphones; and second, I just don’t think that there is enough evidence showing that it really does create those altered states.

NORRIS: So for parents who have lots to worry about when it comes to raising teenagers, I guess we might be able to take this one off the list?

Dr. WAHBEH: I would think so.

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NORRIS: Dr. Helane Wahbeh, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Dr. WAHBEH: You’re very welcome.