Could musical genres change the outcome of psychedelic therapy?

Published Jan 28, 2021 02:00 p.m. ET
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It feels like just yesterday that so many of us were still fighting for access to simple cannabis, but the interest in psychedelics is already growing. We’re suddenly considering adding psilocybin along with a long list of other all-natural substances to our list of legal options, but not just so that we can all get high. In fact, researchers right now are looking into the benefits of psychedelic therapy, which could help millions of people around the globe.

What is psychedelic therapy?

In the case of the study, we’re referring to here today, psychedelic therapy is the term used to describe medical treatments that include psilocybin. However, theoretically, any psychedelic drugs could be used as part of psychedelic therapy. It’s essentially a medical regimen utilizing any type of psychedelic substance in hopes of significantly reducing the frequency and or severity of common symptoms of both mental and physical illnesses.

Benefits of psychedelic therapy

We don’t yet know the complete list of benefits that this type of therapy can provide, but so far, psychedelic research using psilocybin has revealed some significant finds that could make a huge difference for millions of people. We’ve seen positive results with psychedelic therapy for things like epilepsy, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even in situations where people are facing terminal illnesses. It can work for both the mind and the body, with very few adverse or long-term effects.

An idea

One of the most commonly used tools as an aid in psychedelic therapy is music. It soothes the soul, and it can help to put the individual into a far more positive state of mind, but could a change of the song that’s being played really make that much of a difference in the outcome of psychedelic therapy, or is it merely relaxing music that plays out somewhere in the background of it all? These are the questions that one team of researchers set out to answer, and though they didn’t quite get the end-all answer they were hoping for, the results did seem to at least somewhat, confirm their theory.

The research

The psychedelic research which came out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was meant to find out whether or not the specific types of music that are used now in this type of therapy are as effective as some experts hope. The most commonly used genre of music that is used to soothe patients who are on a psilocybin trip in a clinical setting is Western classical. Think big titles like Mozart concerto and Chopin etude. The belief is that these soothing tones can contribute to the relief that people receive from psilocybin therapy.


To figure this out, researchers compared the results from participants who listened to music over 3 sessions. The first, they played was Western classical, the second featured overtone sounds like the ring of gongs, and for the third, they were offered a choice between the two. For each session, participants were given 20 milligrams of psilocybin per every 70 kilograms of bodyweight. To measure effectiveness, researchers analyzed personal evaluations for various qualities, and in the end, all 3 groups came close.

Visual inspections of the people and data side by side led the researchers to conclude that the most positively rated relaxing music was by a small fraction, the overtones. However, they also note that the difference is so insignificant that it isn’t worth sticking to any one type of music in psychedelic research and therapy.

What this means

The results of this study just prove that the intense effects of music are a personal experience that can change significantly from one person to the next. Some people might benefit greatly from a little bit of Mozart playing in the background, but not everyone is a fan of that kind of music. This suggests that genres should be selected for psychedelic therapy based on the individual patient and their needs rather than a rated score

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Music has long been used to intensify the feeling and intensity of various substances for both medical and recreational reasons, but to this day, we have very little understanding of how and why it works so well. This particular psychedelic research study might not have uncovered that answer, but it did reveal some incredibly important information that will help experts and healthcare professionals to refine psychedelic therapy into the most effective treatment possible.

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