Last year at an Oklahoma High School, two kids came to the nurse complaining of headaches. The students reported they had listened to tones they downloaded off the Internet that were intended to create the same effects as using drugs such as marijuana.
This incident had area parents concerned, as well as drew attention from news outlets in the area. However, Mark Woodward, PIO and education officer for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control for 15 years, says it was a false cry for concern.
Earlier this year, National Public Radio's All Things Considered program did a brief story on i-dosing, confirming with a professor, naturopathic physician and clinician researcher that the tones -- also called binaural beats -- do not create "altered states." The NPR story concluded that parents need not worry about their children getting audio highs, but I don't think the lure should be so readily dismissed.
I think this (false) trend sounds a lot like another narcotic-free trend that's meant to create a drug-like high: the choking game. That phenomenon, which communities have seen catch on overnight and crops up every few years regionally, creates a rushing sensation when one intentionally cuts off oxygen to the brain. The choking game can be viewed as an early warning sign of interest in drugs. Similar to the choking game, spotting an interest in drug-like tones can help recognize and interdict a child in trouble.
Woodward explains if you've got a kid exploring getting high on a tone, you probably already have a kid getting high or exploring "How do I get high?" That can certainly lead the child to other things.
Woodward says the best way to describe what it's like is "it's kind of like if you're sitting at a red light and some guy pulls up next to you and he's blaring his bass full blast and it vibrates your car and it's just a loud, bass-y hum.
"So I can certainly see why these kids complained of having a headache." However, the bigger concern is that it can lead these kids to get drugs because there's no shortage of Web sites that will direct them to things like K2 (a brand of synthetic pot) or prescription drugs or toward a similar pathway to drug abuse.
For the most part, Woodward agrees with the professor on NPR that any reported effects the tones have as far as replicating a drug-induced high can likely be dismissed. Woodward goes a little further saying the claims of feeling a drug-like reaction are more prone to be the result of the placebo effect.
"There's no way a tone can mimic the effects of being high on drugs," he says. "It's the placebo effect. Some people said they didn't feel anything, others said well, I downloaded the tones and listened to them, and I kind of felt something but it's probably because … I was expecting to feel something."
If there are folks who are going to a Web site to download tones that claim to mimic the effects of marijuana or being high on other drugs, then you probably already have a kid getting high and he's looking for a new, simpler, easier way to do it.
That's the law enforcement value here. I-dosing itself is not actually a problem, but it's reasonable and realistic to suspect that succumbing to the temptation of these benign tones can be the early warning signs of one who is susceptible to using illegal drugs, or could indicate one who has already participated in drug use.