Music plays a crucial role in psychedelic therapy. Listening to a well-planned playlist can serve as a therapeutic tool, leading the patient comfortably though emotional experiences. Clinical studies indicate that appreciation of music during a trip is a high predictor of sustained therapeutic effects.
In the 1970s, Helen Bonny and Walter Pahnke developed a template for how music is selected in psychedelic sessions. These guidelines continue to inform modern clinical playlists. Music playlists for psychedelic-assisted sessions arranged so that the sequence of musical passages synergizes with the progression of psychedelic effects. Important considerations include timing and composition length, intensity, including periods of silence or ambience, and maintaining a comfortable sense of “ebb-and-flow” to encourage the buildup and release of tension. Other important musical qualities are repetition, texture, the content of any lyrics that may be present, and nostalgic, cultural, or personal associations.
Although intense and percussive music is employed in some practices such as Holotropic Breathwork and at music festivals, some psychedelic participants may find rhythmic and driving music overwhelming. Therefore, it is important to consider personal preferences and sensory tolerance levels.
Ensure that all music is compelling, comfortable, and ends with resolution. In informal settings, users often make playlists of their favorite media, with reassuring themes such calming ambient tracks, songs with familiar associations, music from childhood, movie and videogame soundtracks, or dance music.
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Clinical therapy playlists
Several therapy playlists have been prepared and circulated by various institutions. These are listed below:
- Imperial College of London: Psilocybin for Depression Playlist
- John Hopkins Psilocybin Research Playlist
- MAPS Music for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy
- A Playlist for Psilocybin
- The Psychedelic Experience
- A 1966 audiobook narrated by Timothy Leary, based on the classic psychedelic Buddhism-inspired manual The Psychedelic Experience, co-authored by Leary, Ram Dass, and Ralph Metzner
- Listen on YouTube (adblocker recommended)
Traditional & ceremonial music
Aside from clinical selections, many traditional and ceremonial songs are available online as well.
- Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico
- Traditional Ayahuasca Songs (Icaros)
- Traditional Iboga Music
- Listen on YouTube
- High-tempo music for stimulating experiences, such as that produced by Iboga. Arranged by YouTube user David Hedlund informed by the article “The Psychonaut’s Guide to Music For Ceremony and Meditation”, by Aubrey Marcus.
- Music for Peyote
These recommendations are given as contemporary suggestions based on community favorites.
- Relaxing Instrumental Music
- Listen on YouTube
- This is a collection of hundreds of hours of ambient instrumental and piano music and soundscapes
- Pop Culture Remixes
- Meditative Mind: Positive Vibes Only
- Listen on YouTube
- This channel is dedicated to longform music that is very well suited to visionary and meditative journeys
- Mendel K., Roseman, L., Kahan, K., Santos-Ribeiro, A., Orban, C., Lorenz, R., Barrett, F., et al. “LSD modulates music-induced imagery via changes in parahippocampal connectivity.” European Neuropsychopharmacology 26, no. 7 (2016): 1099-1109.
- Barrett, F. S., Preller, K., Herdener, M., Janata, P., and Vollenweider, F.X. “Serotonin 2A receptor signaling underlies LSD-induced alteration of the neural response to dynamic changes in music.” Cerebral Cortex (2017): 1-12.
- Kaelen, M., Giribaldi, B., Raine, J., Evans, L., Timmermann, C., Rodriguez, N., Carhart-Harris, R. (2018). “The hidden therapist: Evidence for a central role of music in psychedelic therapy”: Correction. Psychopharmacology, 235(5), 1623. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-4886-8
- Bonny, H. (2002). Music consciousness: The evolution of guided imagery and music. Dallas, TX: Barcelona Books.
- Baldwin, M. (2018, December 7). A playlist for Psilocybin by Kelan Thomas. Chacruna. Retrieved from https://chacruna.net/a-playlist-for-psilocybin-by-kelan-thomas/#fn-9557-1
- Kaelen, Mendel. (2017). Music playlist: Psilocybin for depression (version 1.3). Imperial College of London. Retrieved from https://mendelkaelen.com/Psilocybin%20Playlist%20v1.3.pdf.
- Hess, P. (2017, December 4). This Is a Scientifically Determined Playlist for Tripping. Inverse. Retrieved from https://www.inverse.com/article/38980-psilocybin-mushroom-playlist-research.