Psychedelic therapy sessions often involve music – and usually that music is of the classical genre. However, new research from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests that playing a Mozart concerto or Chopin etude may not have any particular value in order to trip patients.
Gongs could work just as well, if not better, according to the study.
“Western classical music has long been considered the standard in psychedelic therapy,” wrote researchers in the study, published Tuesday in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Pharmacology and Translational Science. “The available data challenges this notion that Western classical music or a particular genre of music is an inherently superior form of music to support psychedelic therapy, at least for all people at all times.”
The Johns Hopkins team analyzed a 10-person study of the use of psilocybin therapy to help people quit smoking, comparing classical music sessions with overtone-based music sessions, including instruments like gongs, Tibetan singing bowls or didgeridoo others.
“While we didn’t find any significant differences between the two music genres studied here,” the team wrote, “several trends suggested that the overtone-based playlist produced slightly better results and was preferred by a larger fraction of this small sample of participants . “
Spoiler alert – they did about the same thing, but an indication that the overtone playlist (gong etc) was a bit better than western classics. Apparently, classical music is not such a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy. With @juststrickland and Albert Garcia-Romeu.
– Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher) December 30, 2020
In other words, while the results do not show that overtone-based music gives better results than classical music, the results still “question whether Western classical music, typically played in psychedelic sessions, has any unique benefit”.
As one of the study’s authors, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson, put it in a recent tweet: “Apparently classical music is not such a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy.”
The researchers said the study “provides the first contemporary and subject-internal experimental manipulation of session sentences and attitudes factors in psychedelic research” and is the “first fully randomized test of various musical genres that support psychedelic therapy”.
The participants each had three therapy sessions, one with classical music, one with overtone music and a third session for which they could choose between the two genres. The psilocybin doses ranged from 20 milligrams to 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight.
Among the data researchers analyzed were participants’ ratings of their own experiences, including “mystical experiences” – such as feelings of oneness and transcendence of time and space – and “challenging experiences” such as feelings of panic or loss of sanity.
“Visual examination of individual and average data revealed higher total scores for overtone-based sessions compared to Western classical sessions,” the authors wrote. “This difference had a mean effect size but was not statistically significant.”
As described in this article, there is around 25% overlap with the classic playlist we compared it to (see below). Most of this overlap almost started and decreased. Some tracks on the older classic playlist already fit the overtone-based genre.https: //t.co/rKUsd6N005
– Matthew W. Johnson (@Drug_Researcher) December 31, 2020
The researchers also analyzed smoking cessation results based on the music genre participants selected for their third psychedelic therapy session after examining both genres. Participants who listened to overtone music during the third session were more likely to quit smoking – both immediately after treatment (83.3 percent) and for about 30 months afterwards (66 percent). For comparison, half of the participants who chose to play Western classical music immediately quit smoking, and all of these people still did not smoke after 30 months.
Experts have long emphasized the role of set and setting in a psychedelic experience, noting how both a person’s psychological state and those around them can influence the behavior and clinical effects of entheogenic drugs. “Traditional laboratory contexts that openly contain ‘sterile’ stimuli (e.g., white walls and medical equipment,” the authors use as an example, “have been suggested to increase the likelihood of negative reactions.”
While music is a standard feature of clinical psychedelic therapy, the new study states that the standard of therapists in predominantly Western classical playlists “is likely due to recommendations contained in early guidelines” that specifically mentioned classical music.
But it may not be music at all, but a collection of sounds that compliments the psychedelic experience.
“The lack of superiority of the Western classical playlist is all the more interesting given that some of the overtone-based playlist treatises consisted of sounds with no traditionally identifiable melody and / or rhythm and therefore may not be classified as songs or music by some,” the study says . “This suggests that the sounds that can aid psychedelic therapy sessions can go beyond the boundaries of traditionally defined musical genres.”
The researchers concluded that the study supports the idea that “developing a process to generate patient-specific music selections rather than providing standardized music can improve therapeutic outcomes”.
“Future work could, for example, assess how patient-selected music affects therapeutic effects, or identify individual factors that predict response to different musical genres or musical characteristics other than genre in order to individualize session selection,” he wrote. “In a broader sense, these results underscore the need for a parametric study of psychedelic session components, either to provide improved standardized conditions or to individualize conditions to enhance the therapeutic effects of psychedelic therapy in different and diverse populations.”
Johns Hopkins University, where the study analysis was conducted, is widely recognized as one of the leading institutions for psychedelic research. In 2000, it was the first U.S. institution to receive federal approval to resume research on psychedelics using subjects who had no experience of using drugs, and last year launched the first psychedelic Research center of the country.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia / Workman
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