Danish scientists at the European College Of Neuropsychopharmacology have found that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, significantly changes the emotional state of people listening to music.
Psilocybin assisted therapy is being developed as a treatment for depression and other mental health conditions, with pre-selected music playlists being a common feature in therapy settings. The study, to be presented at the ECNP Congress in Lisbon, shows that enhanced emotional processing may be a positive outcome of combining psilocybin with music, suggesting that music should be an active component of psilocybin therapy.
In the study, 20 healthy participants were tested on their emotional response to music before and after given psilocybin. 14 of these participants were also tested after being given ketanserin, an anti-hypertension drug commonly used as a comparison in psychedelic experiments. Whether ketanserin or psilocybin was given first was randomly selected and each person was thus able to report on the changes effected by both psilocybin and ketanserin. At the peak of drug effects, participants listened to a short music program and rated their emotional response.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Dea Siggaard Stenbæk said: “We found that psilocybin markedly enhanced the emotional response to music, when compared to the response before taking the drugs. On the measurement scale we used, psilocybin increased the emotional response to music by around 60%. This response was even greater when compared to ketanserin. In fact, we found that ketanserin lessens the emotional response to music. This shows that [the] combination of psilocybin and music has a strong emotional effect, and we believe that this will be important for the therapeutic application of psychedelics if they are approved for clinical use. Psilocybin is under development as a drug to treat depression, and this work implies that music needs to be considered as a therapeutic part of the treatment.
“Our next step is to look at the effect of music on the brain while under the influence of psilocybin in data material we have already collected, using an MRI”.
While the results of the study are unlikely to surprise any recreational user of psychedelic drugs, it is significant in the development of clinical settings for psilocybin assisted therapy. Commenting on the study Professor David Nutt of Imperial College, London said: “This is further evidence of the potential of using music to facilitate treatment efficacy with psychedelics. What we need to do now is optimise this approach probably through individualising and personalising music tracks in therapy”.
The emotional response to the music in the study was rated according to the Geneva Emotional Music Scale. The music used was a short programme comprising Elgar’s Enigma Variations no 8 and 9, and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, together lasting around 10 minutes. Interstingly, Elgar was encouraged to write some of the music used as a way out of depression by his close friend Augustus Jaeger. “We’re pleased to see it used again to help understand more about mental health” Professor Stenbæk added.