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.
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.
There have been a handful of studies before on psychedelics and music; most recently this one, which showed that LSD heightens people’s emotional response to music. And of course, we have the slightly less reputable studies from pretty much every band of the 60s and 70s.
This most recent study looking at LSD and music tells us something interesting about the way psychedelics change our perception of the world. Participants were told to pick several pieces of music which they described as personally meaningful. They were then played pieces of music they had never heard before, some of which they described as feeling neutral about, and some they described as being personally meaningless. After being given a dose of LSD, the participants were played all the songs again, and told to rate the degree of personal meaning each song held now. The LSD totally changed the way people felt about the songs – the ‘neutral’ and ‘meaningless’ pieces of music they had been played were now rated as significantly more meaningful.
Sure, this is probably something most LSD users could have told you without needing a lab – but it’s important we understand psychedelics from a scientific point of view if the psychedelic community is going to maintain its traction.
The finding from this study shows that LSD is doing something dramatic to the way we attribute meaning to the world. LSD makes otherwise meaningless things becomes more significant and important.
This also supports previous findings that LSD makes us think more associatively – allowing us to make connections between things we usually wouldn’t (I’ve written about this before here).
We think findings like these will help to convince psychiatrists and therapists of the value of psychedelics as a therapeutic tool, and help reduce the stigma of psychedelic use.
Note: if you want to take LSD as an experiment in musical perception, be aware that it is a powerful psychedelic that can cause traumatic experiences when used irresponsibly. Here is a guide on the safest way to prepare for an LSD trip.