Study Looks at Music Genre Differences in Supporting Psychedelic Therapy


We are just now beginning to scrape the surface in exploring psychedelic therapies in general, but now, a new analysis of data published in ACS Pharmacology and Translational Science is looking at music specifically and the efficacy of different genres when used in psychedelic therapy.

This specific study examined psilocybin therapy to help individuals quit smoking, and analysts found a slight benefit of using overtone-based music compared to Western classical music. Psychedelic therapies often use Western classical music, with many, widely cited works in psychedelic literature recommending the use of this specific genre.

Though, results could vary depending on individual music preferences and other variables. So, Justin C. Strickland and his colleagues analyzed a collection of psilocybin therapy sessions to evaluate how musical genre affected therapeutic outcomes.

The target study looked at 10 nicotine-dependent participants who had completed psilocybin therapy sessions, receiving a smaller 20 mg/70 kg dose the first session and 30 mg/70 kg in subsequent sessions. Two different playlists were played during the sessions: The “Western classical” playlist, composed of classic music-resembling playlists used by previous researchers, and the “overtone-based” playlist, which was less traditional in rhythm and melody but emphasized instruments with strong overtone signatures, like chimes, bells and gongs.

The participants heard both playlists in their first two sessions and then got to choose their preferred playlist for their third session. Participants completed two questionnaires after each session, which assessed the mystical effects of psilocybin along with any challenging experiences (like bad trips). 

The researchers also looked at smoking abstinence, which they determined by a timeline follow back (prompting participants to estimate their smoking in retrospect), exhaled carbon monoxide and urinary cotinine level.

The analysis showed more mystical experiences for sessions using overtone-based music, compared to Western classical music, though they said the trend is “non-significant.” Looking at challenging experiences, reception was generally the same across genre, with no observable patterns on a group or individual level.

Two of the four participants who selected Western classical music for their third session still had not smoked by the end of the treatment (eight weeks after the first treatment session), along with the six- and 12-month follow-ups.

The same is true for five of six participants who selected overtone-based music, four of six staying abstinent by the six- and 12-month follow-up appointments. The researchers argue that these trends challenge the current notion that Western classical music (or any specific genre of music) is superior when approaching psychedelic therapy.

The researchers note that the target study is just a small sample of participants, and they also did not collect information surrounding participants’ musical liking or acceptance. There was also a bit of overlap between the two playlists used (about 25 percent of the songs), which researchers said could potentially limit the ability to fully differentiate between the two genres.

Though, it opens the discussion of music in relation to psychedelics, and psychedelic therapy specifically.

A new Danish study looked at the effect psilocybin has on emotional response to music. They had 20 healthy participants listen to a short section of music before and after taking a controlled dose of psilocybin, after each play through rating their emotional responses according to the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (designed to capture the richness of musically evoked emotions by rating emotional response in a variety of categories).

The results found that psilocybin increased participants’ reported emotional responses to music by an average of 60 percent, echoing previous studies that have similarly found LSD enhances the emotional responses triggered by music. 

“This shows that the combination of psilocybin and music has a strong emotional effect, and we believe that this will be important for the therapeutic application of psychedelics if they are approved for clinical use,” said lead researcher Dea Siggaard Stenbæk, Associate Professor University of Copenhagen.

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