Music has long been utilized by indigenous cultures in ceremonial and therapeutic settings. This is especially prevalent in cultures with long traditions of psychedelic medicine use in spiritual ceremonies. Peyote ceremonies by indigenous Native American tribes often include drums and flutes, the ayahuasca ceremonies of the Mestizo tradition of the upper Amazon are rich with a multitude of instruments like flutes, charango, and drums, while the Bwiti tribes of Gabon and Cameroon incorporate the Mungongo musical bow and Ngombi harp in their iboga ceremonies.
The modern psychedelic therapy settings in the west also incorporate pre-recorded music designed to evoke, calm, and integrate. The contribution of music to the psychedelic therapeutic experience is so critical and pronounced that there are now platforms like Wavepaths that offer curated musical programming to support psychedelic therapists.
As the landscape of psychedelic medicine continues to grow, so does interest and research on the effects of music on psychedelic experiences. A 2015 study observed the impact of LSD on music processing in the brain and found that "psychedelics enhance music-evoked emotion, and provide tentative and indirect support for the notion that this effect can be harnessed in the context of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy."
More recently, a group of Danish scientists studied the effects of psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms) on music processing.
The study had 20 healthy participants listen to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, before and after taking psilocybin. They were then asked to rate their emotional responses according to the Geneva Emotional Music Scale – a questionnaire designed to capture the richness of musically evoked emotions by rating the response in categories such as wonder, transcendence and peacefulness. "They found that the psilocybin increased the participants’ reported emotional response to the music by an average of 60 percent" reports Science Focus.
“This shows that 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.
“Psilocybin is under development as a drug to treat depression, and this work implies that music needs to be considered as a therapeutic part of the treatment." he added.
The team's next focus is on investigating the effect of music on the brain while under the influence of psilocybin using an MRI scanner.
“This is further evidence of the potential of using music to facilitate treatment efficacy with psychedelics,” said psychedelics researcher Professor David Nutt of Imperial College, who was not involved in the research. “What we need to do now is optimise this approach probably through individualising and personalising music tracks in therapy.”