Digital drug peddlers target teens with iDoses
Spaced-out adolescents in headphones litter YouTube, some panting and others wincing as they listen to droning, pulsating soundtracks known as iDoses.
They have fallen victim to an insidious new digital drug culture that preys on vulnerable young teens with money to burn.
With nothing but an mp3 player and an internet account they can can legally download 'binaural' audio downloads that claim to deliver a "high" that can mimic drugs like LSD and Crystal Meth.
The prices of iDoses range from $US2.75 for a standard "heroin" track to $US199 to open up the "Gates of Hades", which promises listeners an enticing package of "Smoke and torment. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Death. Destruction".
While there is little scientific evidence to back up some of the outlandish claims on iDose websites - some schools in the US have written letters to parents and banned iPods and phones to block students from accessing them.
National and NSW education officials say they have not yet seen any reports of school children downloading "digital drugs" in Australia, but drug abuse experts say it is only a matter of time before the craze catches on here.
"Safe, effective, and legal alternative to recreational and prescription drugs," is how one i-Doser website describes its wares, but drug abuse experts are not concerned so much with the content of the downloads as the drug culture they promote to young and susceptible minds.
"We are seeing drug culture seep more and more into the youth market, where people can make a quick buck. That is a very sad part of this that they are targeting the group most vulnerable - the young who see this as being a cool thing to do," said Paul Dillon, founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia.
Loaded full of drug lingo, and images of pills, the iDose downloads contain warnings like this: "Not for the new doser, this dose should be considered advanced. As one user puts it: like I just inhaled 3 tanks of nitrous and passed out."
The iDose website also gives subscribers the chance to become dose "dealers" to on-sell their own downloads to their circle of friends.
"The earlier you find yourself in that culture the more problems you are likely to have in the future," Dillon said.
Historically the droning binaural beats based on alpha and delta waves have been used to support some meditation and relaxation activities - but the scientific consensus seems to be that they simply impact your mood in the same way relaxing music might.
Indeed, away from the enticing product blurbs, even the I-Doser website backs away from claims that its products might have any tangible effect.
"I-Doser makes no medical, psychological, physical, or otherwise, claims to the effectiveness of the I-Doser Application or it's included or purchased doses. The use of the I-Doser Application and included or purchased doses should be used for entertainment purposes only," it says on the website.
Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal who studies the effect of music on the brain recently told the Washington Post that there was no mechanism for binaural beats to mimic the effects of drugs.
"Binaural beats are a real thing, in the sense that they exist ... Musicians often use binaural beats to interesting effect - there's a whole minimalist genre called "drone music" - but that's for aesthetics, not for mind alteration.
"Our neural chemistry is soothed or uplifted by music the same way that it's affected by looking at puppies or sunsets. Our brains are in constant dialogue with our surroundings, and not just when high," he said.
Helane Wahbeh, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University, has done several studies into binaural technology, and recently told US National Public Radio there was insufficient evidence showing that it could create altered states.
"We did a small controlled study with four people, and we did not see any brain wave activity shifting to match the binaural beat that people were listening to," she said.
Steve Allsop, director of the National Drug Research Institute said: "From an historical point of view, humans have always sought ways alter their consciousness - from children spinning around and holding breath to those that expose themselves to enormous extremes of temperature or starvation. Music has been used in that way as well - there were all those claims about rock 'n roll in 1950s and there is an element of that fear about the new sounds around today."
Sydney Morning Herald