By the developer of Gnatural (a Binaural Beats generator)
Do binaural beats influence brainwave activity?
Many consider the idea of binaural beats influencing brainwave activity “controversial”, but only the claims of what the influence means are controversial. That rhythmic stimuli can induce FFR is well established across many species, comprising a subject known as “driving”, with binaural beats falling under the category “auditory driving”, but not having a monopoly on it. Even the isochronal beating of a drum can induce FFR. But binaural beats appear to have advantages over other auditory approaches by being more efficient, both as a true low-frequency sinusoidal stimulus and by engaging more neural circuits than conventional hearing. BBs are also less invasive than some of the non-auditory approaches such as photic or electromagnetic, which are effective but induce seizures in a percentage of the population. In my experience, binaural beats have been as harmless as anything else I listen to through headphones.
I also embrace the fact that binaural beats require a conscious effort to get their effect, since i am not interested in replacing meditation but in facilitating it, particularly when anxiety or stress have made it hard to start meditating in the conventional way.
As for “snake-oil” claims by profiteers as to what binaural beats can do (ranging from targetting specific drug states to curing disease), my experience is that low frequency brainwave entrainment works as a blanket effect to create a focused mental state similar to hypnosis, in which heightended suggestibility causes expecations to strongly influence experience. But rather than take a dim view of this, I see it for its positives: as a means of implementing suggestion and of facilitating the exploration of mental states. And in regard to the idea that suggestibility is mere gulibility, it should be noted that even the AMA now acknowledges that placebo, despite having no scientifically understood mechanism, gives a statistically reliable effect that can positively imact a percentage of people for whom their either is no conventional treatment available or it has failed.
The mind is above all mysterious, with intent, expectation, belief, and suggestibility among its most powerful features. And as a means of tapping in to that power, i’ve found binaural beats to be an effective tool. And in that philosophy, I believe that the most important ingredient of a binaural beat session is intent. As in, one give theta range schedule can have many outcomes depending on what one embarks on the session intending to experience, be it deep meditation, sleep, or some extraordinary alternative state of consciousness.
I will also add that because of the voluntary nature of the process, I have never experienced any “addictiveness” with binaural beats; in fact, my experience has been the opposite: the familiarity the approach has afforded with changing brainwave activity has made it easier to both sleep and meditate without them. (Source: http://gnaural.sourceforge.net/)