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New Insights on the Link Between LSD and Music

The recent study using brains scans taken while volunteers were under the influence of LSD provided never before seen images of how LSD stimulates activity in the areas of the brain responsible for visual processing, thus creating hallucinations and “seeing with eyes shut.” Another part of the study dealt with how music affects the brain during an LSD experience and that deserves further analysis.

This is the first time we have witnessed the interaction of a psychedelic compound and music with the brain’s biology.

Lead author Mendel Kaelen, a PhD student in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, was responsible for looking for connections between music and LSD. Since nearly all cultures that use psychedelics in religious or spiritual rituals incorporate music in the ceremonies, it seemed likely that brain activity would reflect it. Kaelen found that the activity was centered in the parahippocampus, the area surrounding the hippocampus that helps control memory encoding and retrieval.

PAinting depicting apeyote ritual showing muics

Painting depicting a peyote ritual showing music and dance

As music was played during the experiment, interaction between the parahippocampus and the visual cortex increased. That increase corresponded with descriptions by the volunteers of richer and more detailed visions. This explains the importance of peyote songs in Native American rituals, the music and dancing incorporated into the use of psychedelic iboga in the Bwiti religion of Africa, the ikaro healing songs sung in some Amazonian ayahuasca rituals and the Jefferson Airplane and other psychedelic bands in the American LSD culture of the 1960s.

Ayahuasca ceremony

Ayahuasca ceremony

Now that the brain connection between music and the psychedelic experience has been proven, Kaelen believes that the medical field may be more open to using both for therapy.

A major focus for future research is how we can use the knowledge gained from our current research to develop more effective therapeutic approaches for treatments such as depression; for example, music-listening and LSD may be a powerful therapeutic combination if provided in the right way.

Putting LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs back into the spiritual and musical experiences similar to those practiced in other cultures may be the key to realizing the psychological benefits they can provide.