DUBAI // A police scientist is calling for a type of hypnotic music to be banned by law in the same way as drugs.
Dr Sarhan Al Meheini, deputy director of the Police Sciences Academy in Sharjah, believes audio files called "binaural beats" should be dealt with like cannabis and ecstasy.
Binaural beats are generally used to reach altered states of consciousness, for meditation or alertness or to aid sleep, but many producers claim the technology can mimic the effect of drugs on the brain.
There is no scientific evidence for their claims and reviews are mixed at best, but Dr Al Meheini believes "digital drugs" pose a risk to society.
"It's important that we warn the public and start a campaign to make people aware of it," he said. "It's already spread around the world and can be downloaded in the UAE and listened to by college students.
"Right now it's not illegal but it should be, because it's a danger to society."
A US company, I-Doser, has tracks on its website with names such as cocaine, opium and peyote that can be bought for US$3.25 (Dh11.9) each. The website is not blocked.
The company also produces tracks that purportedly simulate orgasms, and others claim to take listeners to the "gates of hell".
YouTube has dozens of videos of teenagers having convulsions while listening to the music.
I-Doser carried out a survey that found almost a fifth (17 per cent) of listeners felt no effect from its products.
"Our doses attempt to simulate the effects of real-world experiences, drugs included," a spokesman for the company said. "Whether it is exactly the same depends on the person, but effects are intended to be close."
The effect of binaural beats or tones - when sounds of slightly different frequencies are played through each ear, the brain perceives a third "phantom" beat - was discovered in 1839 by the German physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, but did not gain widespread public attention until the 1970s.
One study has shown that binaural beats can be a minor aid to relaxation.
A Dubai resident, Jessica Body, uses an iPhone app that plays binaural beats to help her sleep.
"It's brilliant, I use it all the time," she said. "When I have a busy, racing mind, it just helps put me to sleep."
Madina Burkhanova, business development manager at the Dubai meditation school the Third Eye Centre, used binaural beats regularly for a year before switching to breathing exercises.
"You can come to rely on it to get you into different states of mind," she said.
She was not aware of binaural beats being used in the same way as drugs. "I don't really understand the concept of it," Ms Burkhanova said.
Dr Al Meheini conducted a survey of an undisclosed number of students and found digital drugs were not well known in universities.
But he called for a campaign in schools to educate children on their harmful effects.
Dr Al Meheini also urged that websites selling the audio files should be blocked, and digital drugs listed among other illegal drugs.
It is believed to be the first time regulation has been considered for binaural beats. A spokesman for I-Doser said the company had not run into legal issues before.
"These are audio files and are in no way illegal in any country, as far as we are aware," he said.