By Erica Mather 20/04/2016

Humans have paired psychedelic drugs with music to alter their consciousness for millennia. Retro psychiatric therapies actually made patients listen to music while high on LSD and now scientists from New Zealand and Europe have found that these therapies weren’t so outrageous after all.

Despite the lack of formal investigation, music has been considered essential for psychedelic psychotherapy as it results in ‘therapeutically meaningful thoughts, emotions and imagery.’ The synergy between music and the drug involves an underlying mechanism that was explored in this recent study, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Twelve healthy volunteers were tested under separate conditions: one where they were administered LSD intravenously and another where they were administered a placebo. Volunteers were then monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they lay down with their eyes closed while listening to music, or in silence. (Listen here)

The brain and music. Day Donaldson – CC flickr

Detailed brain scans focused on the parahippocampal cortex as this structure has been linked with the action of psychedelics, as well as music-evoked emotion and mental imagery.  The changes in connectivity of this brain region were analysed through fMRI imaging.  When volunteers were tested under the combination of LSD and music, they reported heightened visual imagery while their eyes were closed.  These experiences were reflected in the fMRI images as both the connection and information flow between the parahippocampal cortex and the visual cortex had increased.

These exciting findings suggest a plausible explanation for the interaction between LSD and music in its ability to enhance particular subjective experiences and provides a beginning for the role of music in psychedelic drug-assisted psychotherapy.  However, the authors stress that a great deal of subsequent work is required before we can understand whether this type of therapy can be effective.


Featured image: Sudden2 – The highway of colours