New trend: Drugs of a digital nature

New trend: Drugs of a digital nature

It seems drug taking has now caught up with the rest of the world by going digital. The act of getting high off music may invite total skepticism to most but some claim that’s exactly the kind of effect digital drugs is having on users.

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By Kelly Clarke/staff Reporter

Published: Wed 12 Nov 2014, 12:54 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:46 PM

Referred to as i-Dosing, the intention of digital drugs is to get you high by listening to carefully designed sound tones. According to manufacturing company i-Doser, these sounds help you “achieve a simulated experience through the use of binaural audio doses” by “synchronising your brainwaves”.

An apparent emerging drug trend which is causing some concern in the Middle East, many are describing digital drugs as a hoax, but claims that i-Dosing can get people high or induce a state similar to that brought on by real physical drugs have spread of late.

So, how concerned should we be about this new phenomenon?

So far no cases of i-Dosing have come to light in Dubai. Director of Awareness and Protection Division at the General Department of Anti-narcotics at Dubai Police Dr Juma Al Shamsi said there are no reliable medical studies proving these audio tracks can cause a ‘high’ when listened to.

“There have been no recorded cases relating to digital drug use in Dubai and there are no official studies from doctors anywhere in the world supporting the effects digital drugs have on people.”

He said until such a case is brought to the attention of the Dubai Police, they will not speculate on the impact of digital drugs on users.

State of mind

Though Dubai-based psychologist Dr Valeria Risoli has not had any patients reporting to her with this type of behaviour, she is aware of the little-explored drug trend.

Not just a hoax

Executive director of scientific affairs at Takeda Middle East Dr Hisham El Ezaby said the idea of digital drugs is not new at all, and though clinical research is still sparse, it should be taken seriously. “The effects of binaural beats on the brain have been described as early as the 19th century as a form of alternative medicine. Back then, such beats were claimed to induce relaxation, help meditation and boost creativity.”

A study published inPhysiology & Behaviourin 1998 by Lane et al from Duke University USA concluded that binaural beats can impact mood and vigilance. Another study published in 2005 in Anesthesia by Padmanabhan et al from Sunderland Royal Hospital in the UK concluded that binaural beats can significantly reduce pre-operative anxiety, El Ezaby said.

However, clinical research around the topic is still sparse and definitely far from conclusive. At this point there are many questions that still need to be answered, El Ezaby said. Since medical evidence is not yet solid enough, some claim that the effect is just a kind of hoax. Others are fearful of potential for addiction similar to that seen with physical drugs.

“In my view, there is some reasonable evidence that this is not just hoax however it is too early to make any concrete conclusions. We don’t know what we don’t know and there is no way to gain more knowledge about the real impact of these tunes on the brain other than further clinical research.

“We need to be very cautious until we have a better understanding of the effects of these beats on the human brain. The issue now is that these beats have been made commercially available on the Internet. The initiative taken by the Dubai Police to block sites commercialising these i-Doses is a very wise approach, but we still need to explore and investigate how these beats can influence a person if used on a regular basis and what could be the potential hazards. Till this level of knowledge is available for us I believe we all have to refrain from using it,” El Ezaby added.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on Monday, she said people who turn to digital drugs are looking for new and strong stimuli that can make them think or feel in a different way.

“Any action that makes us feel in a way that we like (for example, happy), even if the effect is brief, it is likely to be repeated. This is an alteration of our behaviour and habit and this has for sure a psychological impact on us.”

Though she said she is not aware of any scientific data to prove that this is a new addiction, she does not rule out the possibility of treating patients affected by digital drugs in the future.

“I don’t know how many will come forward as I don’t know how much of a problem it is yet, but I am aware of people using these types of binaural sounds and images to alternate the brain.”

Currently working at the Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Clinic in Dubai, Dr Risoli said despite a limited amount of i-Dosing cases being reported worldwide, she can see it as a phenomenon which will increase over the years.

“I am not sure if it is considered a real problem yet as it’s not a drug you consume physically, but it can put people in a state of mind which alternates the brain, so there is a psychological effect to using digital drugs,” she said.

Who will get hooked?

On first hearing about digital drugs, Community Development Authority’s (CDA) Social Programmes and Services Expert Dr Hussain Al Messah immediately questioned who would be most attracted to experimenting with these drugs.

“Most people who use drugs have polysubstance dependence. They are psychologically addicted to being in an intoxicated state and will use a variety of different substances.”

Despite not treating any first-hand cases himself in Dubai, Dr Al Messah hypothesises that people with an addictive predisposition will be more inclined to trying the drugs, and said today’s fast-paced lifestyle has a lot to answer for. “In the digital era we live in, I think digital drugs will sound appealing to many. The fact that it is not illegal and is easily accessible add to my fears.”

With little known information about the long-term effects of these new-age drugs, Al Messah said it has become a catch-22 situation. “The consequence of using digital drugs is not clear. Do people get hooked after listening to one or two tracks? We don’t know this.

“To see if a drug is harmful we need to see results. But at the same time we don’t want to see results because that means the drug has taken hold and become a societal problem. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.”

Easy access

On Monday, Khaleej Times’ reporter successfully downloaded a mobile application called ‘Binaural Beats Music’. Its ‘Main Features’ list had ‘Hypnosis, Out of Body experience, Stimulation, and Meditation’, which are mood trances which can often be associated with taking physical drugs.

Though the app itself was free, the audio tracks were being sold for as little as $3 which is another concern for Dr Al Messah.

“Digital drugs are very accessible. In fact, they are more accessible than any other drug, but the upside to this is it can be traced through various paths including the ISBN number. Essentially this may become a new war we need to fight, but as of now, it hasn’t invaded Dubai,” he said.

Khaleej Times contacted i-Doser for comment on the use of digital drugs, but received no reply at the time of going to print.

It seems drug taking has now caught up with the rest of the world by going digital. The act of getting high off music may invite total skepticism to most but some claim that’s exactly the kind of effect digital drugs is having on users.

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