Music & guided playlists

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.[1][2] Clinical studies indicate that appreciation of music during a trip is a high predictor of sustained therapeutic effects.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.

When using YouTube, it is recommended that patients use AdBlock Plus or similar plugins to avoid startling interruptions from advertisers.

Clinical therapy playlists

Several therapy playlists have been prepared and circulated by various institutions. These are listed below:

Traditional & ceremonial music

Aside from clinical selections, many traditional and ceremonial songs are available online as well.

Additional recommendations

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
    • Listen on YouTube
    • Collection of music arrange from remixes of popular TV shows, movies, documentaries, and cartoons
  • 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
Grateful Dead dancing bear

Works cited

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. Bonny, H. (2002). Music consciousness: The evolution of guided imagery and music. Dallas, TX: Barcelona Books.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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.