Schools and drug experts are warning parents to beware of "digital drugs" that Mustang High School students blamed for their apparent intoxication.
Three students were sent to the principal's office when they appeared to be high on drugs or alcohol in March, said Mustang School District Superintendent Bonnie Lightfoot. She said the kids explained that they had tried something called "i-dosers."
Young people plug into i-dosers through putting on headphones and downloading music and tones that create a supposed drug-like euphoria.
The technology is designed to combine a tone in each ear to create a binaural beat designed to alter brainwaves. Whether it was kids faking it, the power of suggestion or a high wasn't clear to administrators who investigated the students' claims. Adding to the mystery was the fact that these kids weren't troublemakers. So the worried Lightfoot sent parents a letter warning them to be aware of this new temptation to kids.
"The parents' reaction was the same as mine. Just shocked," Lightfoot said. "You've got to be kidding."
Now other schools and drug experts are concerned about this trend just hitting Oklahoma.
"I think it's very dangerous," said Karina Forrest-Perkins, chief operating officer of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee. While there are no known neurological effects from digital drugs, they encourage kids to pursue mood altering substances, she said.
Some parents have called the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control worried about i-dosing, said OBN spokesman Mark Woodward. He said the i-dosing effect is likely sort of a placebo rather than a valid threat to children's brain waves.
"The bigger concern is if you have a kid wanting to explore this, you probably have a kid that may end up smoking marijuana or looking for bigger things," Woodward said.
The digital drug website features advertisements enticing young people to buy dangerous pills, the hallucinatory herb salvia and synthetic marijuana.
"It's going to lead them to other web sites that will get them in trouble," Woodward said.
When young people go to one website to download digital drugs, they'll find a product line featuring titles such as "alcohol," "opium," "marijuana" and "orgasm." The website shows the digital drugs have been downloaded more than 1 million times.
To sell more, the websites encourage users to write about their experiences on the site. One user said animals popped up and paint seemed to fall from the wall. Another user wrote, "I feel nothing. I'm starting to wonder if this is just a big ploy to get money from gullible customers." Still others said they experienced euphoria or sensations similar to getting high on crack and other drugs.
A site says that the i-doses may not be downloaded by anyone under 18 years of age.
"Come on. You know they are," Forrest-Perkins said. "No one over 18 is trying to get stoned on a song."
Kids disappointed in their digital experience might try huffing paint or another chemical, or smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol, Forrest-Perkins said.
Woodward and Forrest-Perkins pointed out that no studies have concluded that binaural beats actually chemically alter the brain.
A 2005 University of South Florida study looked at whether children and young adults with ADHD could better focus by listening to binaural beats. But the results were inconclusive. The University of Virginia recently received a $357,000 grant to look at pain and anxiety therapies, primarily binaural beat stimulation.
Mental health counselor Jed Shlackman said he has successfully used CDs featuring binaural beats to help treat ADHD patients. He said binaural beats are relatively safe and no more dangerous than activities such as shopping or exercising done in excess by young people.
He said the binaural beats lack the intensity or withdrawal effects of some chemical drugs.
"If a parent notices a child is sitting around all the time with headphones on, they should look into what stresses are happening in the child's life ... and deal with it in a constructive way," Shlackman said.
Lightfoot said like Mustang High School parents, she's shocked over the digital drugs.
"What worries me is the ease in which some people can sell things to kids by saying that it's supposed to be mood altering," she said. "It's a real moneymaker out there."