Could Psychedelic Music Help Heal Mental Illness?

British sixties psychedelic band Tomorrow

My previous blog was on the use of magic mushrooms (the psychedelic drug psilocybin) to treat depression that hasn’t responded to other treatments.

An interesting discussion resulted from this blog. One of my very long-standing friends declared having gained greatly from micro-dosing magic mushrooms (which grow where she lives): she said:

“you take just 0.2grm, so no noticeable effect, but a subtle change takes place in your brain chemistry which helps to alleviate depression…..”

The spiritual effects noted in the Imperial College research of my last blog, were akin to the effect of long years of meditation and some religious training.  The patients reported regaining a connectedness with reality and other people, and a new and personal engagement with the universe and beauty.

And so to the music….

I’ve always been keen on psychedelic music. This genre is hard to define; but seems to have a uniform pop-type attractiveness, despite being about drugs and the full-on hippy thing. One more recent example of the psychedelic sound being used to great effect, is Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” from the Austin Powers film “The Spy Who Shagged Me”.

The subject matter and lyrics are part of it. But it’s also the way the imagery presents itself to the listener. The music has particular chords and modal characteristics based on eastern music scales and sounds – the sitar in particular.

So somehow psychedelic music suggests the complexity, and uninhibited flow of imagery and colour of an actual trip. I went to see Yellow Submarine back in the day with some friends who were on their regular Saturday night LSD adventure.


Tripping whilst watching a film that’s made to resemble a trip isn’t a formula for a relaxing night out. Maybe like driving a racing car while taking speed…  They all stumbled out muttering “Too much man. Doin’ in ma heed…” etc


Art work on the cover of Cream’s LP “Disraeli Gears”

My previous blog was about using magic mushrooms to treat entrenched depression. The healing power of music is generally accepted. Neuroscience has already shown that of all the arts, music is unique in stimulating the most parts of the brain.

So if psychedelic drugs have this unique ability to reconnect people detached from reality and others by mental illness, could something similar be true of psychedelic music?  Less risky, not needing the supervision that a medical “trip” requires; a refinement of the undoubted self-medicating effect of music throughout the ages……

This could become a serious musical project me-thinks, especially as we could use neuroimaging to evaluate the effects. Comparing resting state MRIs and fMRI’s would be fascinating, but much more so by also using the whole-brain computer modelling developed by my Co-Director Prof Morten Kringelbach here in Oxford at our Scars of War Foundation.

These whole-brain models allow us to alter variables to test hypotheses in ways that would not be ethical with actual patients. In my imagined research, brain modelling could be used to understand the effect of the music, and maybe then to work out how the music might be altered to optimise its effect; before use with real people.

In future, we’ll be able to integrate clinical observations and patient testimony with neuroimaging data. This will enable true comparisons to be made, in what is currently a very interpretive research process.

PS: here’s a link to my bathroom.  Scroll down to dig the decor…

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