Musical Meaning with LSD

This month has been another great one for the psychedelic community; with a highlight being the release of two fascinating papers which take us a step closer to understanding exactly how LSD works in the brain.

I summarise these two articles in more depth here, but for now I wanted to focus on an overlooked part of one of the studies: and it’s to do with music.

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Most of us are aware that LSD is supposed to enhance your appreciation for music – it’s probably the main thing that attracted me to the substance, and I’m sure at least some people out there are the same. I wanted to be able to appreciate music in a new way, I wanted to experience my favourite sounds in new dimensions and with expanded sensations.

Although I would soon learn that there is a lot more to LSD than letting you see pretty patterns or hear new sounds, there was still a lot of truth in the saying that LSD changes the way you hear music. Songs I’d listened to hundreds of times before had a new depth, a new character… imagine all your favourite songs being re-invented, or refreshed back to their original, first-listen glory.

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The Accidental Claustrum

Salvia divinorum is a beautiful psychedelic; it’s had thousands of years of traditional use in healing rituals, and contains the world’s most potent naturally occurring psychedelic compound. It’s also pharmacologically unique; activating a little-known receptor that prevents us from becoming addicted to substances.

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The one thing that really holds Salvia above all other psychedelics is its remarkable effect on our brain networks. Salvia seems to completely shut down a very specific area of the brain called the claustrum – and this area has gathered a lot of interest from cognitive neuroscientists in the past few decades. Many scientists believe that the claustrum could be playing an important role in normal consciousness, by holding together our perception into one, cohesive self, or ‘ego’.

The claustrum is kind of like a conductor in an orchestra… keeping all the sections working together to produce one unified sound. When the conductor wanders off, things stop making as much sense… and this is exactly what we feel when we ingest Salvia!

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LSD ‘neurotoxicity’

Call LSD ‘neurotoxic’ in a psychedelic community and see how far that gets you. You’ll probably evoke some laughter, maybe some scorn, but not much else.

For the millions of people who take LSD and similar psychedelics every year, and the tens of millions who have taken LSD since its explosion into mainstream culture in the 1960s, LSD is not a toxic drug. There have been absolutely no documented deaths from LSD overdose; the closest we’ve come was a group of partiers who snorted pure LSD crystal by accident, ingesting thousands of times a normal dose. They suffered some nasty physical effects including diarrhea and seizures, but they all survived. They didn’t even suffer any major psychological difficulties in the years following the event.

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The psychological dangers of LSD are another story. Although we’ve moved past the proved-to-be-false scare stories of kids being blinded by the sun or jumping out of windows, psychedelics really do dramatically alter your perception of reality, and can certainly do some harm to your mind if used irresponsibly.

It’s these psychological harms that have been investigated in a recent study looking back at the hundreds of people who were given LSD in hospitals in the 60s and 70s in Denmark.

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