Hide the children.
Lock your doors. Kiss your loved ones goodbye.
There's a new drug craze in town.
You've probably heard about it by now. It'd be hard not to, with the media in such a tizzy over it. They call it i-Dosing: a "digital drug" that people claim gets you high solely off the sounds on an MP3.
Videos of headphone-wearing kids supposedly under the influence of an i-Dose — giggling wildly, falling off of couches, breaking down into sobs — have become a hit on YouTube. And, of course, concerned parents and law enforcement are already demonizing it as the new gateway drug into, well, real drugs. (Never mind the fact that more people seem to be talking about i-Dosing than actually doing it.)
Welcome to the reefer madness of the iPod age.
Sure, the whole thing sounds completely ridiculous. But as any loyal reader of the Mountain Xpress knows, we're hardly ones to shy away from being ridiculous. And who knows? Maybe there really is some truth to the idea that you can get royally crunked on the sounds from your earbuds.
There was only one way to find out. And being the responsible journalistic establishment that the Xpress is, they assigned me — the newbie — to be their experimental guinea pig, to forgo a Friday night in the interest of straightening out internet fact from internet fiction.
And, well, let's just say you owe me one, Asheville.
So here's the gist: an i-Dose is an MP3 of two-toned sounds, which the i-Dose industry (yes, there is such a thing) calls "binaural beats." Basically, it's when a person hears two different sound waves in both ears at the same time. It's actually a technology that some therapists have been using for more than 100 years to treat anxiety and research sleep cycles.
Websites like i-doser.com, which sells i-Doses, claim that these "scientifically designed" sounds can synchronize your brainwaves to naturally simulate a drug high, inducing such altered states as euphoria, sedation, hallucination and, like, getting totally shit-faced hammered (we're guessing here).
Of course, real scientists — being the party poopers they are — dismiss the entire idea as utter bunk. Go figure.
There are a number of websites where you can go to buy i-Doses. I settled for i-doser.com, mainly because I was feeling lazy and it was the first one to pop up in my Google search.
A quick glance through the FAQ page gave me all I needed to know about downloading my, errr, drugs. Another page also informed me that "these doses are sold “AS-IS" — their emphasis — so no refunds if my dose turned out to be schwag. Hey, just like buying the real thing.
Then came the time to choose my i-Dose for the night. There was actually a hell of a lot to pick from. You've got your simulation narcotics, with names like Acid, Heroin, Crack, Crystal Meth and GHB (what, so you can virtually date rape yourself?). You've got your prescription drugs like Demerol, Oxy, Vico. A handful of the more esoteric ones sounded vaguely intriguing, with titles like Chakra, Nirvana, Hangover Cure, Victory, Lucid Dream and Orgasm.
There was even an i-Dose called Genesis, which I'm guessing — like Nirvana — had nothing to do with the band, but even just the thought of having to listen to an endless loop of Phil Collins singing "I Can't Dance" left me feeling both stone-cold sober and slightly suicidal — not the emotions I go for on a Friday night.
Except for the two "premium" i-Doses — Hand of God and Gates of Hates, both of which sell for $199.95 — the rest of the MP3s cost around $3. Basically, it’s the price of a local microbrew, which seemed pretty fair if it really did all that it advertised.
In the end, I decided to go with Absinthe. Having lived in New Orleans for a while, it was one of the few items on the list with which I had some first-hand experience. After reading the description of its alleged effects, it sounded like the perfect thing for a night of pseudo-scientific research:
"…lucidity hits slowly as your speech becomes very articulate and your ideas clear, the haze sets, but drifts, you are drunk but you aren't….it is a surreal smooth unlike anything available on the street today that opens your mind, glosses over the universe, but makes everything clear all at once."
Uhmmm, OK. Not exactly what I remember from my absinthe drunks, but I could dig it.
Hmm, let's see. Bored? Mildly irritated? Maybe, if I got really lucky, a slight case of Restless Leg Syndrome?
Basically, anything but high.
But the next line piqued my interest. "I-Doser Application, Simulation CDs and MP3, and included or purchased doses, may impair your ability to drive a car or operate machinery." That sounded a bit more promising.
So game on, my little i-Dose friend. Game on.
Step 1: Get a pair of high-quality headphones. Put them on your head.
Step 2: Find a quiet, dim-lit room, or use something like a towel to cover your eyes. Lay down.
Step 3: Play the i-Dose at a comfortable level through the headphones.
Step 4: Clear your mind and let the i-Dose go to work. Do not remove headphones until i-Dose is finished playing.
Sounded easy enough. So I pulled out a pair of iBuds — I know, I know, not very high quality, but whatever — and headed over to my couch, grabbing a napkin from the kitchen on the way to drape over my eyes.
Now, if I was a real scientist, one who cared about such things as "facts" and "variables" and "empirical evidence," I probably would have thought twice about pouring myself another glass of whiskey before laying down. (Of course, if I was a real scientist, I'm pretty sure I'd have a steady job and enough self-respect not to be sitting home alone on a Friday night, writing a pseudo-scientific report about some bullshit digital drug in the first place. That's what journalists are for.)
But otherwise, I did as the instructions said. I laid down, put in my ear buds, and covered my eyes with the napkin. Then I hit play.
Here's the play-by-play I captured on my digital recorder that night:
0:00: The music (sorry, binaural beat) begins. Basically white noise, like the static you hear in-between stations on AM radio. Underneath that is a low, humming drone. Together, it's actually kind of soothing.
2:37: Feeling pretty relaxed, though no more lucid, articulate, or drunk. Sigh.
3:16: Nose itches. Resist urge to scratch it. Don't want to ruin i-Dose spell.
5:24: Wonder if the binaural beat will ever change. It's been the exact same static and drone since it started.
8:46: Realize I could fall asleep to this. It's like listening to a sound machine. If instead of "Rain Forest," said sound machine had a setting called "UFO Loitering Near Power Lines."
9:51: Actually, it's more like listening to a very persistent, kind-of-annoying sound machine. Wonder if the next 35 minutes will sound exactly like the first 10. Groan.
12:15: Getting bored. Still waiting for the promised haze. Hope it will at least be purple.
13:29: Over the noise in my ear buds, hear my cat crying somewhere in the room. Wonder what he wants. Too sleepy to find out.
19:06: Cat still crying. Wonder what he's thinking about. Wonder if wondering what your cat's thinking is an effect of absinthe. Wonder if Van Gogh had a cat.
22:38: Almost fall asleep. Shift around to an awkward position to stay awake.
26:41: Ears starting to ache. Wonder when dose is going to be over. Not sure I can take another 20 minutes. Kick myself for ever agreeing to this stupid idea in the first place.
27:16: Very, very bored. Figured by now I would be orating like Obama and glossing over universes (what does that mean, anyway?). Can feel headache forming behind my eyes. This sucks.
28:42: Headache now stretching out between both temples. Dull and thudding, like trying to sleep while your upstairs neighbor is throwing a Kraut Rock party. Quietly curse Xpress under my breath.
29:05: F**k it. Yank out ear buds, 16 minutes early. Stand up and walk — soberly — to the bathroom to grab bottle of Aspirin. In kitchen, wash down two Aspirin with fresh glass of whiskey. Curse myself for not growing up to become a scientist.
Busted. Painfully, soberly, not-one-single-articulate-word-said-or-universe-glossed-over busted.
Honestly, I don't know why anyone in their right mind would ever want subject themselves to such sonic torture. I-Dosing sucks, plain and simple. And all those people worried about it being the next "gateway drug" need to just settle the hell down. I mean, if at age 13 I thought absinthe would have felt anything like a bad migraine, I probably would have quit drinking alcohol right then and there. If anything, we should be encouraging our kids to experiment with I-Dosing. It's cheap, legal, and so excruciatingly dull it would make them uber-wary of ever trying the real thing.
All in all, I wasted $3 and a Friday night for a goddamn headache.
— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer.