How does getting high affect the way we hear and process music? Music, your brain and marijuana have been associated for a long time. The names of some of the most popular musicians of their day have been synonymous with dankness: Satchmo, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, the list goes on and on.
But does cannabis hyper-engage the brain when it comes to music?
A British study published in International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology documents “the first controlled human experiment on the interactive effects of cannabis and music.” You may be surprised by the outcome. The researchers were. The report concluded:
“Cannabis administration decreased response to music in several brain regions linked to reward and emotion.”
In order to qualify as a participant in the study, subjects had to be fluent in English, right-handed, be between the ages of 18 and 70, and a current cannabis smoker who can “smoke a whole joint to oneself.” What fun.
Researchers sourced cannabis from the Netherlands, one sample with CBD, one without and a placebo with matching terpene profile to create an effective illusion. They used a vaporizer to administer the doses. They provided two back-to-back bags of vapor to be consumed at each person’s own pace. Participants ranked the pleasantness of listening to a series of short audio clips of various music and their brains were imaged using a functional MRI machine to record regional activity changes.
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The brain scans of those who listened to music under the influence of the marijuana containing no CBD showed reduction in reaction not just in the auditory cortex but in several areas of the brain expected to be excited and engaged by the music. “These findings were contrary to our prediction that cannabis would increase the rewarding effects of music,” researchers noted. Interestingly enough, the effects were offset when cannabis contained cannabidiol. CBD is known to mitigate some of the negative effects of THC such as anxiety.
The science community has long been interested in how marijuana use affects how we perceive sound. They have sought to explain this cultural connection between music and marijuana. In the 1960s, scientists like Dr. Arnold Ludwig examined the effects of psychotropic drugs like cannabis and their effect on time-space perception. He pointed out that shamans and others experience a ‘temporal shift” that makes music and related special ceremonies take on new meaning for the participants.
A 1976 study on the effects of marijuana on hearing noted, “All of these effects were perceived as emotionally pleasant or cognitively interesting, leading to greatly enhanced enjoyment of sound and music.” It concluded that “that smoking marihuana did not worsen the hearing.” Some have even hypothesized that cannabis may one day be used as a hearing aid.
Fortunately for us, when researchers are thrown a curve by their findings, it can often motivate them to dig deeper and ask more questions. This mystery of how cannabis affects our brains when we listen to music is far from resolved but it remains important as a cultural and scientific phenomenon.
As cannabis users can attest, something is very different when you listen to music high. As legendary composer Claude Debussy is known to have said, “music is the space between the notes.”