The Profound Influence of Music in Psilocybin Therapy: A Scientific Exploration


Music is the 'Hidden Therapist' in Psilocybin Therapy

During the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, scientists explored the potential of psychedelics, such as psilocybin, in treating major depression. Alongside the extraordinary music created by legends like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles, psilocybin showed great promise in clinical conditions. However, as the decade drew to a close, psychedelics were banned in the United States, and the controversial actions of researchers like Timothy Leary hindered further psychiatric research.

Now, in the 21st century, shifting attitudes and renewed scientific curiosity have paved the way for an exciting frontier of investigation. Psychedelics appear to be transformative remedies for conditions like treatment-resistant depression, alcoholism, and smoking addiction. The key to psychedelic therapy lies in neuroplasticity, where substances such as psilocybin facilitate the rewiring of the brain's well-established pathways. This leads to accelerated neuron growth, the emergence of new synapses, and a greater ease in shifting deeply entrenched behaviors and thought patterns. However, the journey towards healing is not possible without a vital second component - music.

Entering into the realm of psychedelic therapy, it becomes apparent that music plays a crucial role in the therapeutic experience. A version of the first psychedelic playlist originated in 1967 when the Spring Grove Hospital Centre in Catonsville explored using psilocybin to treat substance abuse and depression related to terminal cancer. Music therapist Helen Bonny, working on her doctorate at the time, felt compelled to match the intensity of her patients journeys with carefully curated music. She believed that music served as a supportive presence, fostering the release of emotional burdens and providing profound insights into patients' lives.

Following in Bonny's footsteps, Bill Richards joined Johns Hopkins Centre in 1999 and formulated a playlist based on her pioneering work. Richards meticulously matched different sections of the playlist to the shifting intensity of the psychedelic experience, including arrival music, the moment of drug-induced effects, the intensifying psychedelic journey, the peak experience, the aftermath, and the return to reality. Drawing inspiration from the Western classical canon, he selected pieces such as "Adagio for Strings" to accompany the ascent, along with compositions from Vivaldi, Brahms, and even a Russian Orthodox chant.

As the field advances, researchers are discovering that the success of a therapeutic trip heavily relies on the music playing in the background and its ability to evoke positive emotions. A study conducted at Imperial College London revealed that participants whose experiences with music triggered feelings of safety, guidance, and calmness were more likely to gain profound insights about themselves and witness a reduction in symptoms of depression. Surprisingly, the intensity of the psychedelic drug itself had little impact on participants' levels of depression. This led researchers to conclude that the decisive role in psychedelic therapy lies in the power of music.

If psychedelic substances like psilocybin enhance the brain's neuroplasticity, then music serves as a guiding force, enabling us to forge new paths through our psyche. It acts as a "hidden therapist".