LSD changes the way the brain reacts to music, study finds

Researchers have discovered how LSD changes the neural response to music in various brain regions associated with memory, emotion, auditory processing, and self-directed thought.

“I have always been fascinated by emotion, memory, and altered states of consciousness. To this end, I completed my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at UC Davis with Petr Janata, using computational models of music cognition to study the neural basis of emotions and memories evoked by music,” stated study author Frederick Barrett of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to Psypost.

After thinking about how natural and intimate the connection between music and psychedelic subjective experiences is, the author wanted to understand the way psychedelics alter how the brain processes music.

So, he contacted University of Zürich’s Dr. Katrin Preller and Dr. Franz Vollenweider who conducted a study of the effects of LSD on meaning-making while listening to music. Barrett inquired about a collaboration and was met with a positive reply, receiving permission to analyze the imaging data collected during music listening sessions after administration of LSD.

Preller and Vollenweider surveyed 25 healthy participants about songs that had a special meaning for them. Next, the participants listened to personally meaningful songs and non-meaningful songs after receiving LSD or a placebo. They discovered that non-meaningful songs gained a sense of meaningfulness under the influence of LSD. The results increased scientists’ understanding of how personal relevance is attributed in the brain.

Berret and his team conducted a secondary analysis of the fMRI scans from the first study. They found that LSD changed the neural response to music in a number of brain areas, including the superior temporal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, medial prefrontal cortex, and amygdala.

“Music can evoke a wide range of emotions, memories, and other feelings and states of mind. We can often identify with music, and music can change the way that we feel about and think about ourselves,” Barrett said.

“In the same way, music also engages a broad range of brain regions involved in memory, emotion, attention, and self-directed thought. LSD increases the ​degree to which these brain areas process music, and it seems to use a brain mechanism that is shared across all psychedelic drugs,” he added.

Berret believes that the changes that occur in the brain when listening to music under the influence of LSD might actually be related to the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. But even though psychedelic drugs can be safely administered in a controlled setting, this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Let’s just remember — bad trips exist.

Scientists still have to understand the degree to which music and LSD are needed for successful therapy. They also have to determine why these elements sometimes lead to bad experiences and find a way to optimize music listening during psychedelic therapy sessions.

“Psychedelics are powerful drugs that hold promise to help us to heal, understand our brains and minds, and potentially uncover the elusive basis of consciousness itself,” Barrett added.

The paper was published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex.


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