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Psychedelics and Music: Playlist for a Journey

Researchers share the soundtrack to their hallucinogenic therapy.

By Brandon Keim // Fall 2010
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It’s a rare clinical trial that includes music by Ravi Shankar, but sonic accompaniment is a specific part of the psilocybin therapy protocols at New York University, UCLA and Johns Hopkins. As participants receive a dose of the drug and lie on a couch, they are invited to don eyeshades and noise-canceling headphones. The intent is twofold: Music helps patients focus attention inward rather than on the two therapists who remain nearby throughout the day, and it facilitates the mystical experience. “The music helps deepen it,” says Stephen Ross, the study’s lead investigator at NYU. “It provides a matrix in which the experience can be embedded.”

Each of the study’s locations has its own sound track, selected by the researchers. Participants can remove the headphones at any time or skip tracks they don’t like. No formal guidelines exist for the music, but the intent is to complement the drug’s trajectory, from the “ascent” of psilocybin’s effects to their peak, plateau and descent.

Here’s a representative sampling of the six-hour soundtrack used at NYU:

YO-YO MA and EDGAR MEYER

Appalachian Journey, “Duet for Cello and Bass”

YO-YO MA

Appassionato, “Gabriel’s Oboe From The Mission” (Excerpt)

WILLIAM ORBIT

Pieces in a Modern Style, “Adagio for Strings”

RAVI SHANKAR and PHILIP GLASS

Passages, “Offering”

LAMA GYURME

The Lama’s Chant, “Hope for Enlightenment”

BRIAN ENO

Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, “Weightless”

BRIAN ENO

On Land, “A Clearing”

BILL EVANS

Everybody Digs Bill Evans, “Peace Piece”

ARVO PÄRT

Tabula Rasa, “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”

ALI FARKA TOURÉ and TOUMANI DIABATÉ

In the Heart of the Moon, “Mamadon Boutique”

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