LSD is a powerful substance with multiple effects on the mind and psyche. But while its properties are decidedly hallucinogenic, it also exerts a mighty impact on human emotion.
This is one of the reasons behind its extensive use as a psychotherapeutic aid in the 1950s and 60s, when researchers believed it and other psychedelics promoted emotional release and the better understanding of oneself. In a similar fashion, scientific consensus at that time was that music had the same emotional-nascent ability and was thus often included as a crucial component of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Music, researchers thought, helped promote emotional incitement and they also valued the liberating effect it had on the human mental functions.
Furthermore, music was and still is considered invaluable to the attainment of highly-spiritual experiences, especially when one is nearing the peak of his or her psychedelic adventure.
Drawing on these premises, a team of researchers led by London Imperial College PhD candidate Mendel Kaelen performed a study that aimed to show the importance of music in psychotherapy boosted with psychedelics. The team’s main objective was to determine whether LSD elicited an elevated emotional response to music. Additionally, they sought to assess the impact music plays on peak experiences with a spiritual tint.
For the purpose of the study, ten participants were selected to attend on two different occasions. The first time, they were administered a placebo consisting of a 10 ml saline solution. Approximately one week later, they were called in a second time and this time around each participant was given a 40 to 80 μg dose of LSD. The experiment was designed to be single-blind, which means the participants were unaware of the nature of the dose they were given while the researchers were not.
After being administered the dose of either LSD or a placebo, participants had to listen to a playlist of five distinct instrumental tracks mostly from neo-classical and ambient genres. After that, they were asked to assess their own emotional responses to the music. Researchers employed the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS-9) to interrogate the participants’ specific elements of emotional experience. The GEMS-9 scale is composed of 9 scales (wonder, transcendence, peacefulness, tenderness, nostalgia, power, joyful activation, sadness and tension) that collapse into three ‘superfactors’ (sublimity, vitality, unease).
Test results revealed that the emotional response to music was much higher when participants were administered lysergic acid diethylamide. All nine factors received higher scores when those involved were given LSD and the terms that saw the most compelling increases were wonder, transcendence, power and tenderness. As any psychonaut will surely tell you, these are the feelings music evokes when under the influence of LSD.
Popular opinion parallels the findings of this study; the significance of music is vastly increased by psychedelic substances. At their core, peak spiritual experiences are often characterized by feelings of awe and transcendence. The authors conclude that LSD in combination with music can increase the probability of undergoing a spiritual experience that can lead to upgrades in one’s well-being and overall satisfaction with life. Moreover, their efforts support the conviction that musically-enhanced LSD episodes go a long way towards increasing the openness of the experiencer.
When asked about the significance of this study, Mr. Kaelen admitted this was just a minor step towards a better understanding of psychedelics and the way they interact with the human psyche. He knows there is much more to be done:
“It’s important to start a discussion on the role of music and the importance of the setting in general within psychedelic therapy,” Kaelen said. “Due to the study’s limitations, future studies have to come up with different designs and more detailed research questions.”
The limitations Kaelen refers to are the study’s small sample size and the narrow musical genre selection. This could mean that the results of the study may not apply to a larger population. But once again, popular opinion contradicts this. Music and psychedelics go together like peaches and cream, but much, much better.