This is what passes for drugs these days.

I once read about an experiment where scientists wired up a bunch of labrats with little electrodes in the pleasure centers of their brains, and then installed two buttons in their cages: One button would dispense food while the other would activate the electrode and make the rat orgasmically happy. As soon as the experiment started, the rats promptly began mashing the pleasure button for days at a time, only stopping when all of them finally starved to death.

What can we take away from this experiment, which I’m pretty sure was real but I also might’ve just read about in a Michael Crichton book?

1)   Scientists have perfected a way to streamline the masturbation process and they aren’t releasing it to the general public, the bastards.
2)   Living things, regardless of species, will do any amount of stupid shit to feel good.

If you want more proof of the latter, just last night I was at a party with a guy who was singing the praises of bath salts – the loophole-exploiting designer drug that occasionally makes you eat peoples’ faces.

“Bath salts are awesome,” he sighed. “It’s like doing coke and ecstasy at the same time. Of course, it’s illegal now – that guy in Miami ruined it for everyone. I do it all the time, and I’ve never eaten anybody’s face!”

Relative to going into an alley, buying a package of a powder labeled ‘NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION’, and then snorting it up your nose, ASMR doesn’t really seem all that crazy. Relative to normal human activity, though, it’s a little bit goofy.

ASMR – or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – is yet another one of the stupid things I’ve discovered on the Internet at the office when I should’ve been hard at work writing video game trailers. The best way to describe it is an indescribable, generally good feeling, usually accompanied by chills and a tingly scalp.

Apparently it’s a lot like drugs without the drugs – to get an ASMR reaction, all you have to do is watch a video with sounds and images that trigger an ASMR response in your brain, and thanks to YouTube’s thriving ASMR community there’s about a thousand options to choose from. What makes it weird is that all of the videos are a lot like this one.

The most common triggers for ASMR are people whispering and soft, tactile sounds, which makes for without a doubt the creepiest thousand videos on YouTube. Seriously, just search for ASMR on YouTube and see what you find – don’t be shocked if you wind up watching a video of somebody whispering into their webcam for ten minutes, or pretending to give you a haircut while whispering about their day. Don't be even more shocked when you see that these videos have hundreds of thousands of views.

You may not find yourself getting all tingly watching the videos, though – ASMR apparently doesn’t work for everyone. If you’ve got ASMR, a video of a girl with long fingernails whispering and caressing a bowl full of uncooked macaroni is a little slice of heaven on Earth; if you don’t have it, it’s like you’ve stumbled across a milquetoast form of fetish pornography for Amish people.

It’s tough to be certain what percentage of the population ‘gets’ ASMR because there’s been no scientific study of it whatsoever. The ASMR community only really got started a few years ago, when people who had previously been reluctant to talk about their random and indescribable pleasurable feelings took to the Internet to tell strangers about them instead.

In fact, ASMR is so outside the mainstream that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page – any entries on ASMR get deleted and redirected to the page for ‘cold chills,’ because by Wikipedia’s standards, without any medical studies or scientific proof, ASMR is just a fancy name for people watching weird, monotonous videos on the Internet.

Do I have ASMR? To be honest, I can’t really be sure.

Since I first discovered ASMR at the office, I was reluctant to watch a video there – while my coworkers and I once looked up topless pictures of Denise Richards during a debate over the quality of her boob job, I still would’ve felt a bit weird watching a 15 minute video of a girl with red fingernails squeezing a plastic bag in full view of my officemates.

I only remembered ASMR late on Friday night as I was getting ready for bed. I pulled up the video of the girl and the bowl of macaroni and was overjoyed to discover a tingly and numb sensation all over my body. The catch is that I was drunk at the time, so it’s difficult to say how much of it was new-age creepy feel good videos and how much of it was bourbon – otherwise known as ASMR Classic.

When I woke up in the morning, the macaroni video was still open on my computer, and it took me a second to remember why I’d capped off the first Friday of a three day weekend watching a girl fingering a bowl of dry macaroni. When I remembered about ASMR, I decided to watch the video again with the benefit of sobriety and see where it got me.

I felt a little bit tingly and slightly happy in spite of my hangover, but not tingly and happy enough to watch the video for more than a few seconds before turning it off. I’ve watched a lot of fucked up things on the Internet in my life, but something about ASMR videos is so profoundly unsettling on a primal level that I can’t watch for more than a few seconds at a time unless I’m good and liquored up.

So my ‘real’ ASMR experience, unfettered by booze, was a slight tingling sensation in my scalp – which, mind you, only occurred after I read on the Internet that watching ASMR videos gives some people a tingly feeling in their scalp.

I’m not going to be like that old fogey Wikipedia and say that ASMR isn’t real, but I think for a lot of people it might be the ultimate viral placebo – they read that ASMR videos make some people feel happy and tingly, pull up an ASMR video to test it out, and wind up subconsciously making themselves happy and tingly.

I’m not judging either way – but when it comes to my own recreational activities, I’m willing to risk liver damage if I don’t have to watch a girl caress a bowl of macaroni for six minutes. 

Truman Capps is a little insulted that the macaroni video has well over five times as many views as Writers.