The best music playlists for psychedelic therapy are explored in a new study from Johns Hopkins

Psychedelic therapy sessions often incorporate music – and usually this music is of the classical genre. But new research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests there may actually be no particular value in playing a Mozart concerto or a Chopin etude for patients who are tripping.

Gongs might work just as well, if not better, according to the study.

“Western classical music has long been considered the standard for psychedelic therapy,” the researchers wrote in the study, published Tuesday in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Pharmacology and Translational Science. “Current data challenges this notion that Western classical music, or for that matter any specific genre of music, is an inherently superior form of music to support psychedelic therapy, at least for all people at all times.”

Analyzing a 10-person trial involving the use of psilocybin therapy to help people quit smoking, the Johns Hopkins team compared classical music sessions with those involving harmonic music, with instruments such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls or the didgeridoo, among others.

“Although we found no significant differences between the two music genres studied here,” the team wrote, “several trends suggest that the harmonic-based playlist performed somewhat better and was preferred. by a larger portion of this small sample of participants.”

In other words, while the results don’t prove that harmonic-based music performs better than classical music, the results nevertheless “call into question whether western classical music typically played in psychedelic sessions has any benefits. unique”.

As one of the study’s authors, Johns Hopkins researcher Matthew Johnson, said in a recent tweet: “Apparently classical music is not a sacred cow for psychedelic therapy.”

The researchers said the study “provides the first contemporary, within-subject experimental manipulation of session set and tuning factors in psychedelic research” and is the “first fully randomized test of different musical genres supporting therapy.” psychedelic”.

Participants each had three therapy sessions, one with classical music, another with overtone music, and a third session where they could choose between the two genres. Psilocybin doses ranged between 20 milligrams and 30 milligrams per 70 kilograms of body weight.

Among the data analyzed by the researchers were participants’ ratings of their own experiences, including “mystical experiences” – such as feelings of oneness and transcendence of time and space – as well as “difficult experiences”. , such as feelings of panic or loss of reason.

“Visual inspection of the individual and mean data indicated higher overall scores for the harmonics-based sessions compared to the Western classical sessions,” the authors wrote. “This difference was of medium effect size but was not statistically significant.”

The researchers also analyzed smoking abstinence outcomes based on the music genres participants selected for their third psychedelic therapy session, after sampling both genres. Participants who chose to listen to harmonic music during the third session were more successful in quitting smoking, both immediately after treatment (83.3%) and over a period of approximately 30 months afterwards ( 66%). In comparison, half of the participants who chose Western classical music quit smoking immediately, and all of these people were still smoke-free after 30 months.

Experts have long emphasized the role of setting and setting in a psychedelic experience, noting how a person’s psychological state as well as their environment can affect the behavioral and clinical effects of entheogenic drugs. “Traditional laboratory settings that contain overtly ‘sterile’ stimuli (e.g., white walls and medical equipment,” the authors note by way of example, “have been suggested to increase the likelihood of negative reactions.”

While music is a standard feature of clinical psychedelic therapy, according to the new study, therapists’ default choice of predominantly Western classical playlists is “likely due to recommendations present in the early guidelines,” which specifically mentioned music. classical music.

But it may not be music at all, but rather a collection of sounds, which completes the psychedelic experience.

“The Western Classical Playlist’s lack of superiority is even more interesting given that some of the Harmonics-Based Playlist’s tracts consisted of sounds without traditionally identifiable melody and/or rhythm and therefore might not be classified like songs or music by some,” the study says. “This suggests that sounds capable of supporting psychedelic therapy sessions may transcend the boundaries of traditionally defined musical genres.”

The researchers concluded that the study supports the idea that “developing a process to generate patient-specific musical selections rather than providing standardized music may improve treatment outcomes.”

“For example, future work could assess the impact of patient-selected music on therapeutic effects or identify individual factors predictive of response to varied musical genres or non-genre musical characteristics to individualize selections. session,” the author wrote. “More generally, these results underscore the need for parametric study of the components of the psychedelic session either to provide improved standardized conditions or to individualize conditions to improve the therapeutic effects of psychedelic therapy in diverse and diverse populations. .”

Johns Hopkins University, where the study analysis was performed, is widely considered a leading institution in psychedelic research. In 2000, it became the first US institution to gain federal approval to reinstate psychedelic drug research using subjects who had not previously used the drug, and last year it launched the first-ever psychedelic research center in the country.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

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George L. Hernandez