Listening to music and using LSD aren't so different after all

Listening to music and using LSD aren't so different after all

MusicApril 20, 2018 By Brian Frederick

Imagine for a moment you're out with friends, huddled around a campfire deep inside a wooded area where WiFi has yet to breach. You’re playing “remember that time” hours deep into conversation when a wook named Darren pulls out his rusty Transformers lunchbox. It has pipes, pills, mushrooms and an old Visine bottle full of LSD ready to go.

You down a few drops with a blueberry-ginger-kombucha-back and suddenly alt-J’s “Hunger of the Pine” has never sounded so profound. 

With a growing interest in psychedelics (and a more potent “fuck off” attitude from smart people vying to research their properties with or without permission) has come a better understanding not only of the substances themselves, but of how the human brain works to decode the information coming into them like the steady boom-boom-baps of popular songs.

Much to the government’s dismay, those same smart people are quickly figuring out the potential of mind-altering substances is far more beneficial to society than most would ever admit. And acid, it turns out, interacts with the brain much like music does, “harmonizing” it. Or simply, altering the way the brain processes information. 

The two of them together. Well, welcome to the new era.

Last month, a new study published in the journal “Scientific Reports” explored how LSD could relieve symptoms of depression and PTSD. What one team found through the experiment was that music and LSD work in similar ways. They both reconstruct the way the subconscious builds perception, synchronizing neural networks and essentially putting minds at ease. This is why things appear so much more awe-inspiring on drugs than sober. 

Combining the two, LSD and music, is like a one-two roundhouse for those suffering from PTSD. The research suggests that rewiring the brain this way, by combining music and drug therapy, will be a permanent cure for those afflicted. 

“These brain changes during music listening and LSD may (hypothetically) be the mechanism by which psychedelic drugs can be therapeutic,” study co-author Frederick Barrett told PsyPost. “Also, these brain changes may uncover the underlying way that our brain makes meaning, with or without music and psychedelic drugs.”

On the flipside, a separate 2017 study from McGill University found similar results in people who take painkillers. But unlike with expansion drugs such as cannabis and LSD, things like opioids and common Advil block certain endorphin receptors, thereby making music less enjoyable even if it was a favorite song growing up.

“The anecdotes — the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment — were fascinating,” said Adiel Mallik, a PhD and first author of the study. “One said: ‘I know this is my favorite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does.’ Another: ‘It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.’”

It might not be such a coincidence after all the opioid generation has little to offer by way of creative output. Pit the greatest hits of the first psychedelic revolution in the ‘60s against a Spotify playlist of today’s lean and Xanny enthusiasts and the difference is noticeably clear. Auditory wonderment and lyrical proficiency are nowhere to be found. 

Switch on, switch off — depending on the type of substances you’re taking. Synapses, they don’t lie.