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Middle East authorities are cracking down on audio that gets you “high”

By Zainab Mudallal

Officials in Saudi Arabia are holding “urgent meetings” to prevent the arrival of a drug. In Lebanon, authorities are taking legal measures against the same product. But these officials aren’t freaking out over hard drugs, because they’ve already done a good job scaring residents with harsh drug laws and keeping contraband substances out. Now, they’re tackling spooky-sounding MP3s, hoping to combat the growing use of “digital drugs,” or binaural beats.

Binaural beats are audio files that are meant to induce a state of ecstasy. They include two tones at slightly different frequencies, and are listened to through headphones. The audio is generally used to help with meditation, alertness, and even as a sleep aid. But the producers of some tracks claim to induce the same effect as chemical drugs.

The audio files are available on YouTube, or for a small price on retail websites like I-Doser. Although there is no evidence that people can actually get high from binaural beats, they’re alarming authorities in the Middle East. In 2012, a police scientist in the United Arab Emirates called for these audio files to be treated the same as marijuana and ecstasy.

The action against what seems to be just irritating white noise comes amid an ongoing cat-and-mouse game between authorities and youth in these states over more dangerous highs.

One perverse consequence of Middle Eastern countries’ tight control on substances like alcohol and drugs: encouraging innovation of quasi-legal ones. Synthetic cannabis with names like Spice, Space, and K2 grew exceedingly popular in the United Arab Emirates, with many teens ordering it through websites like Amazon.com, labeled as ”herbal incense.” The once-legal synthetic drugs are filled with chemicals that come with a range of scary side effects, including psychotic episodes, hallucinations, seizures, severe anxiety, and vomiting. The use of the drugs caused two known deaths in Dubai in 2012 and they were made illegal that year. But since the ban, there has been a rising number of arrests, particularly among British expats.