We Sent Our Writer to Get High Online. Here Are His Results.
The practice, known as "i-dosing," has apparently become so prevalent that some parents and school administrators have felt compelled to take action. A few months ago, the superintendent of one Oklahoma school district even wrote a letter to parents, in which he claimed that kids who "took" digital drugs "exhibited the same physical effects as if they were under the effects of drugs and alcohol." Such reckless students, he said, often experienced involuntary eye movements, heightened blood pressure and quickened pulses.
The idea behind binaural beats sounds complex. Believers claim that certain sound waves, when arranged in specific progressions, can have a physiological effect on our brain waves. Binaural engineers reportedly spend their days synchronizing different sound waves with our neurological waves, trying to create a heightened, drug-state of awareness within the listener.
Naturally, I was intrigued, yet somewhat wary of diving headfirst into the lion's den of binaural hallucinations. (It'd been weeks since I'd last hit the streets in search of a score. Was I really prepared to get back in the game so soon?) Ultimately, I decided I had no choice. This article, after all, wouldn't be written for me, but for the children. Today's youth, my conscience gently reminded me, is at serious risk. They're frying their brains with the psychosomatic lasers of devil's music. If I didn't get to the bottom of this insidious force, who would?
I took a resolute breath, exhaled, and began digging around the Web. It wasn't long, though, before I ran into some obstacles.
The HuntThe first problem I had was figuring out which doses to take. There are tons of binaural beats and digital drugs out there, covering everything from weight loss and addiction treatment to -- of course -- psychoactives. Many, though, had ambiguous names that seemed better-suited to a yoga studio than an opium den. I didn't know what an "Astral Projection" experience entails, nor did I care. Equally mysterious were the psychoactive qualities of "3rd Eye Float" -- but it definitely sounded more late-90's cover band than late-night contraband. No thanks. Names like "marijuana," "nitrous" and "acid," on the other hand, are ideas I can understand (via, of course, third-party accounts).
With that in mind, then, I set about scouring the street corners of the inner city Internets for whatever high-grade binaural beats I could find. No hippie-dippy, transcendental meditation. No baking soda-infused hybrids. And, most importantly, no brown acid. No, sirree. Only the absolute purest of explicitly labeled products would be entering these ears.
Finding the purest of goods, however, wasn't exactly easy. As I slouched through back alleys and abandoned GeoCities, I saw and heard things no sentient being should ever experience. Did my bank account take a hit? Oh, most definitely. Was I forced to barter my body in exchange for a quick fix? On more than one occasion. But, through it all, I persevered, bolstered by the assurance that at the end of the tunnel lay my pot of digital enlightenment. Or something.
Without further ado, then, I present my findings.
DAY 1: GREEN
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Green is a binaural beauty from i-Doser, one of the more popular (read: marginally credible) digital drug vendors on the market. i-Doser's products can be ingested either via desktop or iPhone app. I opted for the latter, in the unlikely event that I felt compelled to move during the following 20 minutes.
According to i-Doser, 15 minutes of Green would provide me with the following: "mood lift, philosophical or deep-thinking, increased appreciation of music, pleasant body feel, and that HIGH that only GREEN could bring!" The language is subtle, but I'm pretty sure I just scored some herb. I rifled through my pockets, pulled out a wad of $3.99 in cash, and handed it to my i-Pusher in a not-so-subtle handshake exchange. Here's what happened next:
Preparation, 7:00 pm
Per i-Doser's meticulous instructions, I begin constructing my ideal baking environment. Normally, this would include the following: my wool slippers, a Sigur Ros playlist, a box of granola, a cup of oolong tea and a copy of the film 'Baraka.' With i-Doser, however, I knew a change of routine was in order.
The app, you see, calls for absolutely no distractions. My eyes are to be closed and I am explicitly instructed not to move. Obviously, this rules out the playlist, DVD, and, for all intents and purposes, the tea-granola snack combo. I turn off my iPhone, close my MacBook, and cancel an anniversary dinner with my girlfriend. (Priorities, after all, are priorities.)
Out come the pillows, on come the slippers. The lights are dimmed. I strap on my noise-canceling headphones, slip into a blindfold, and recline on my couch. The journey begins...
The Experience, 7:05-7:20 pm
The dose lasts 15 minutes, but feels like 5 -- which, I suppose, is already a good sign. From the opening seconds, my head is immersed in an almost uncomfortably alien sound: undulating waves of minor chords, punctuated by the occasional, resonant heartbeat. At first, the combination is unsettling, but, after a few minutes, the progression begins to exert a strangely palliative effect on my psyche. About a third of the way through the dose, the sound of flowing water begins trickling into my eardrums. For the first time in my life, I find myself seriously considering whether or not I should get a catheter.
Surprisingly, I have no trouble keeping my eyes closed -- but that can easily be chalked up to the fact that I have no computer screen in front of me, and my eyelids, on this evening, happen to be especially soporific. My thoughts wander to my childhood, but stop short of the full-blown bizarro land to which real substances usually lead.
Oh, and wasn't I promised a "pleasant body feel?" It's there... sort of... maybe not. It's hard to tell. My stomach does feel a bit tingly, and my legs feel heavier than normal. Then again, I'm laying on a couch, encased by pillows. Heaviness is sort of par for the course.
The Come Down, 7:20 pm
No grogginess, no 13-hour sleep, no munchies. Dazed? Slightly. Confused? Only about the legitimacy of i-Doser's strain.
But does one disappointing session give me the authority to dismiss the entire phylum of digital drugs? I drink some oolong, munch on granola, and consider my binaural future. The investigation, I decide, must go forward.
DAY 2: ECSTASY (MDMA)
Price: $5 per drug
With the jury still out on digital marijuana, I turn my attention beyond the gateway. "Maybe I need something harder," I think to myself. "Maybe I need a FULLER EXPERIENCE!" (Note: This, of course, is exactly what every young person thinks after trying marijuana for the first time. Fact.) I flip through my little black book of digital dealers, and call the pager of DigitalDrugs.info.
DigitalDrugs is like the Walmart of binaural drug peddlers. Its digital shelves boast everything from cocaine, to gingko, to orgasm. I'm tempted by the latter, but remind myself of my mission statement, and limit my gaze to the drug catalog. Am I in the mood for some crack? Heroin? Too soon. Ketamine? Too scary.
No, what I need is a half-measure, a magic bullet that won't leave me wanting more but won't strand me on the wrong end of a K-hole, either. Three minutes later, I find it: Ecstasy. It's gotta be 5 p.m. somewhere, right?
The Preparation, 2:19 pm
DigitalDrugs advises that I drink plenty of water beforehand, which, in this case, goes without saying. It also recommends that I pump up the bass on my iTunes equalizer. Check-eroo. Otherwise, the instructions are pretty much the same: sit back, relax and get transfixed.
Based on what I've heard about ecstasy, I decide to pad my surroundings with a few tactile goodies. Extra pillows, a down comforter, a brigade of stuffed animals -- they're stationed all around me, ready to jump into action if and when I feel the urge to bury my face in them. I also have a pacifier on hand, and have placed my dog well out of my libido's reach.
Headphones on, slippers securely fastened. Time for takeoff.
The Experience, 2:20-2:35 pm
The last rave I attended involved a lot of strange sights and sounds, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve chirping birds, or waves crashing on the beach. Both, however, are featured prominently on this track, and the combination somehow struck me as viscerally dissonant.
I'm no ornithologist, but the bird calls on this track sound like they belong to sparrows. Or orioles. Or something small and forest-dwelling. They sure as hell aren't seagulls, and, for the first five minutes or so, I try to imagine a set of circumstances under which a flock of sparrows would ever storm a shoreline. The only thing I can think of is Omaha Beach, and, before I know it, I'm reliving the opening scene of 'Saving Private Ryan.' Only with armed sparrows, instead of American GIs. It's neurotically unpleasant, and feathered carnage floods my imagination.
Underscoring this sparrow offensive is a frenetically-paced low hum that sounds to me like the beat of a hummingbird's heart. ANOTHER BIRD! I abandon all attempts at rational thought, and instead focus on this utterly strange amalgam of sounds -- soothing ocean waves, a hyperkinetic bassline and those godforsaken sparrows.
My stuffed animals, pillows and pacifier have all gone unfondled. I'm not in the mood to party, or grope a shag rug. All I wanna do is kill sparrows. Lots of them.
The Come Down, 2:35-2:40 pm
Heeding DigitalDrugs' guidance, I spend a few extra minutes in complete silence, in order to let the vibes burrow their way into my body. My eyes are still closed, and I notice that my heart-rate has markedly accelerated. I'm still several miles away from Tweakville city limits, but my body seems to have psychosomatically responded in some way.
Under the right circumstances, it's easy to see how this pebble of physical reaction could snowball into a boulder of placebo. But I'm not buying it. I insert my pacifier, and curl up on the couch with Audubon's 'Birds of America.'
DAY 3: COCAINE
Price: $17 for 14 drugs
It's late, I'm exhausted, and I still have to finish up this already-overdue investigative report on digital drugs. But, for some reason, I can't muster up the energy to power my way through the rest of the feature. "What's the use?" I ask myself, between sucks on a (different) pacifier. "All I'm doing is wasting time that could be devoted to doing real drugs."
I come dangerously close to sending my blogging resume to 'High Times,' when, all of a sudden, a bolt of divine inspiration strikes my binaurally battered brain. Like a vision in white, the word flashes across the teleprompter of my subconscious: Cocaine.
Yes, the hour has arrived. I've done all I can in the sandboxes of digital marijuana and ecstasy. Now, it's time to graduate to the monkey bars -- where the Big Kids play.
I frantically call all my male friends who lift weights and all my female friends who don't eat. Their MP3 pantries are bare. With my teeth gnashing and my gums already tingling, I serendipitously bump into a site called DownloadDigitalDrugs.com.
Preparation, 1:27 am
Once I fill my order with DownloadDigitalDrugs, I'm instructed to return to my inbox, and await the delivery. One PayPal payment, a couple of clicks and a WinZip download later [Ed. note: Those still exist?], the potent powder arrives. I'm already on edge, and the unexpected delay doesn't help my mood.
The site's pretty light on instructions and heavy on promotion. As with my other sources, DownloadDigitalDrugs reminds me that it's absolutely critical that I wear headphones, since "each headphone is actually sending slightly different frequencies to each ear." It also recommends that I don't operate heavy machinery while under the influence, so I immediately abandon the oil rig I was erecting in my living room. Hopefully, I'll return to it in 35 minutes, with renewed vigor.
The Experience, 1:27-2:02 am
The track opens with an irritatingly buzzing bassline, which almost sounds as if one note was caught in some viciously severe earthquake. As the dose progresses, I begin to realize that's exactly what this experience is. It's just one note, stretched out over 35 minutes. Over time, though, I recognize that the frequency of the note is diminishing, thus lowering its pitch. What begins as a teeth-grinding buzz eventually dies down into a strangely energetic calm.
Sounds pretty authentic. Problem is, it doesn't translate into any sort of physiological change, whatsoever. My body doesn't feel energized, and my thoughts are still moving along at their usual, pachydermal speed. I certainly don't feel confident enough to start a barroom brawl, nor do I feel especially motivated to finish my oil rig construction. The ultimate litmus test? A career on Wall Street seems as revolting as it ever did.
The Come Down, 2:02-2:38 am
DownloadDigitalDrugs adds that I should end each session with a reset track, which is supposed to return me to normal. I do, and I still feel as normal as I did when I was allegedly coked out of my mind. My appetite hadn't noticeably diminished, and I certainly wasn't feeling like the king of the world.
Verdict: BuzzkillIn fact, I was crestfallen. If there was one digital drug I was expecting to exert an effect on my body, it was the White Lady. But the Lady let me down and left me staring at the blank ceiling for nearly a half hour. "What have I done with the past three days?" I whispered to myself. "Maybe the world is right. Maybe all drugs really are just demonic leeches that drain our souls of vitality. Maybe the wizards behind binaural beats are just trying to make a clever statement on the stupidity of drug users and the gullibility of anti-drug paranoiacs. Have I been a pawn in all of this?"
The answer, I concluded, is yes. I was a pawn, not in some subtly executed social statement, but in a profit-driven scam of mind-blowing simplicity. In plainest terms, I didn't get high, after paying to get high.
That's not to say that all digital drugs are completely ineffective. By engaging my mind alone, they distracted me from whatever I was doing beforehand and forced me to temporarily relocate my thoughts to new vicinities. Besides, I only scratched the surface with three doses. Perhaps one of the orgasm apps actually work. Maybe music can have a more subliminal effect on our psyches -- without overwhelming them in the way that chemically enhanced substances do.
At the end of the day, though, they certainly didn't deliver as advertised, and didn't even come close to whetting my appetite for more. If I'd seen just a tad more substance or tangible results, I may very well have drunkenly downloaded a few more, out of sheer curiosity. Instead, I think I'll leave digital drugs for those who treasure them most highly... kids.