There is renewed interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). LSD was used extensively in the 1950s and 1960s as an adjunct in psychotherapy, reportedly enhancing emotionality. Music is an effective tool to evoke and study emotion and is considered an important element in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy; however, the hypothesis that psychedelics enhance the emotional response to music has yet to be investigated in a modern placebo-controlled study.
The present study sought to test the hypothesis that music-evoked emotions are enhanced under LSD.
Ten healthy volunteers listened to five different tracks of instrumental music during each of two study days, a placebo day followed by an LSD day, separated by 5–7 days. Subjective ratings were completed after each music track and included a visual analogue scale (VAS) and the nine-item Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS-9).
Results demonstrated that the emotional response to music is enhanced by LSD, especially the emotions “wonder”, “transcendence”, “power” and “tenderness”.
These findings reinforce the long-held assumption that psychedelics enhance music-evoked emotion, and provide tentative and indirect support for the notion that this effect can be harnessed in the context of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Further research is required to test this link directly.
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The word psychedelic is derived from combining the Greek words psychḗ meaning “mind” or “soul” and dêlos, meaning “to manifest” or “make visible”. In addition to LSD, other drugs considered classic psychedelics include psilocybin (the major psychoactive constituent of magic mushrooms), mescaline (a psychoactive constituent of peyote and San Pedro cacti) and DMT (a major psychoactive ingredient in the Amazonian brew ayahuasca). All these drugs share the property of being agonists at the serotonin 2A receptor. The use of the term “psychedelics” in this paper refers specifically to classic psychedelics such as those listed above.
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This research received financial and intellectual support from the Beckley Foundation and was conducted as part of a wider Beckley-Imperial research programme. The report presents independent research carried out at the NIHR/Wellcome Trust Imperial Clinical Research Facility. Support for Dr. Barrett was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Grant T32DA07209. The authors would like to thank Matthew Wall and Nicola Kalk for their help in designing this study.
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Kaelen, M., Barrett, F.S., Roseman, L. et al. LSD enhances the emotional response to music. Psychopharmacology 232, 3607–3614 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-4014-y
- Serotonin 2A receptor