LSD enhances the emotional response to music

Authors: M Kaelen , FS Barrett, L Roseman, R Lorenz, N Family, M Bolstridge, HV Curran, A Feilding, DJ Nutt, RL Carhart-Harris.


About the study

This is the first study to examine how LSD and music work together to change consciousness. Our results show that LSD enhances the emotional response to music, providing the first scientific evidence for the long-held assumption that music is intensified and more significant under LSD.

The emotions most affected were: “wonder” (i.e. filled with wonder, dazzled, moved), “transcendence” (i.e. fascinated, overwhelmed, feelings of transcendence and spirituality), “tenderness” (i.e. tender, affectionate, in love) and “power” (i.e. strong, triumphant, energetic).

Importantly, this effect may be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. The music+LSD combination may contribute to spiritual-type or peak experiences, which have been shown to correlate with therapeutic/beneficial effects of psychedelics. If music can increase the likelihood of these experiences, then music could become an important element in psychedelic-assisted therapy.



Rationale: 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.

Objectives: The present study sought to test the hypothesis that music-evoked emotions are enhanced under LSD.

Methods: 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: Results demonstrated that the emotional response to music is enhanced by LSD, especially the emotions “wonder”, “transcendence”, “power” and “tenderness”.

Conclusions: 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.

"The finding that LSD enhances the emotional response to music reinforces a long-held assumption that music takes on an intensified quality and significance under the influence of psychedelic drugs and that this effect may be harnessed for therapeutic purposes."

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