Music and its central role in Psychedelic Experiences

We have all heard how music is key during a psychedelic journey; supporting the journeyer through a psychedelic space that is full of feelings, memories, insights, and visions of archetypes and symbols.

Music and psychedelics are inextricably linked. Across human history, psychedelics have inspired countless religions, musicians, and artists.

It’s no surprise that researchers are finding that playing music during psychedelic ceremonies, or psychedelic-assisted therapy, can have a big influence on the experience.

Your connection to the music you hear in a psychedelic experience could turn a good journey into a profoundly transformative experience.

Traditional psychedelic shamanism almost always uses some form of music, whether it’s singing or simple instrumental. Sacred melodies received during plant medicine work (called icaros in South American ayahuasca shamanism), or hymns and rhythms that are linked to specific communities, are cornerstones of these kinds of shamanic practices. In this setting, music is considered an important tool to help participants through the psychedelic state, protecting them from negative energies and directing them to spiritual insights and awakening.

If you have experienced music during a psychedelic session, you might have experienced an enhancement of your senses that makes you understand how meaningful music can be during a trip. Sounds become sight, touch, emotion, and memory, sometimes all at once.

Music In Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Although it might seem obvious that the music playing during a psychedelic experience can influence or trigger emotions, research is starting to show how important this actually is.

Early research into the connection between psychedelics and music showed that when we are in the middle of a psychedelic experience, we’re more likely to have an emotional response to music.

Typically, psychedelic therapy involves patients lying on a bed with eyeshades and headphones on, while listening to ambient or classical music, as the therapists support the participant through any difficult feelings that may come up. This means the music could play a central role in the participant’s journey.

In some cases, participants can find the music distracting, and that could trigger feelings of resistance and negative emotions. Because psychedelics have the potential to enhance both positive and negative emotions, it makes sense that music can influence the journey to go in different directions.

Research has also shown that there was a wide variance in the kind of music that the participants liked, and the kinds of music they disliked. This appeared to be very personal, and could depend on the individual participant’s taste in music, or their current mental state during the time that certain tracks came on.

Selecting Music For Psychedelic Experiences.

If you already have worked on music for your sessions, you probably know how challenging it can be to select the right playlist to use in different psychedelic journeys.

Not only do people have very specific preferences for music, and what feels meaningful to them, but also, they will all go through different psychedelic experiences that might need different kinds of music at different moments during a session; the departing “come up”, plateau “peak”, landing “come down”, etc.

What researchers have tended to do so far is pick music with minimal vocals to non vocals, to minimize distraction, and follow a pattern of calm tracks during the come-up, followed by a “pendulum effect” of alternating intense and calm tracks during the peak, and then calm tracks once more during the come-down.

However, according to Mendel Kaelen, a psychedelic music researcher, it’s also helpful to have some flexibility and potentially personalize playlists to individuals. Mendel suggests that in a similar way to how therapists adapt their technique depending on the individual patient, they could also be trained to select appropriate music in the moment of a session; based on intuition, experience, and music knowledge, deciding what music to play, and when to play it.

Although scientists are keen on developing a concrete system of psychedelic music to be used in “therapeutic clinical settings”, its unlikely things will develop that way. It seems an almost impossible task to develop a set of beats, melodies and timbres that are universally accepted positively by therapists and journeyers and matches the different moments during a session.

At the same time, there is no one musical genre best suited for psychedelic-assisted therapy. So far, music has been drawn from various realms. They include: shamanic beats, classical music, western music, world music, folk music, movie soundtracks, electronic music and jazz, and these varieties are expanding as psychedelic work goes world wide.

Music used for psychedelic-assisted therapy is also not all calm and soothing. While the music is not intended to stand as a primary part of the session, it is not intended to sit in the background either. Rather, it is in the difficult position of being a track that provides listeners with a very general narrative arc without providing any details.

At first, the music may be quiet, and slow. Whereas later pieces may invite or allow experiencing deeply felt emotions, while finally leading listeners back toward calmness. Music in the middle of the session may be intense and dynamic, suitable for people experiencing powerful emotions.

Despite the growing number of findings about how music and psychedelics come together, within or outside of therapy, there is still much to learn about the topic. At the most basic level, we do not know what would happen if you removed music from psychedelic experiences. At least, no formal studies have directly compared therapy conducted with and without music.

Do your own Research

You don’t have to have psychedelic-assisted therapy to find out what the music used within it is like. Spotify hosts a number of publicly available playlists designed for use during psilocybin, MDMA or Ketamine sessions.  They label their playlists as  “appropriate” music.  But as we now understand, we can have a “set-in-stone” playlist but it needs to be completely dynamic, adapting the music and sound choices to the session’s direction and journeyer’s experience. 

Below are three Psychedelic Music Playlist Recommended by Synthesis and PRATI. Also, three playlist that I have curated specifically for psychedelic sessions. Enjoy!

My curated playlists:

Let me help you to create different playlists to work with psychedelic medicines. Click here to book a conversation with me.