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Qualitative and Quantitative Features of Music Reported to Support Peak Mystical Experiences during Psychedelic Therapy Sessions

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Psilocybin is a classic (serotonergic) hallucinogen (“psychedelic” drug) that may occasion mystical experiences (characterized by a profound feeling of oneness or unity) during acute effects. Such experiences may have therapeutic value. Research and clinical applications of psychedelics usually include music listening during acute drug effects, based on the expectation that music will provide psychological support during the acute effects of psychedelic drugs, and may even facilitate the occurrence of mystical experiences. However, the features of music chosen to support the different phases of drug effects are not well-specified. As a result, there is currently neither real guidance for the selection of music nor standardization of the music used to support clinical trials with psychedelic drugs across various research groups or therapists. A description of the features of music found to be supportive of mystical experience will allow for the standardization and optimization of the delivery of psychedelic drugs in both research trials and therapeutic contexts. To this end, we conducted an anonymous survey of individuals with extensive experience administering psilocybin or psilocybin-containing mushrooms under research or therapeutic conditions, in order to identify the features of commonly used musical selections that have been found by therapists and research staff to be supportive of mystical experiences within a psilocybin session. Ten respondents yielded 24 unique recommendations of musical stimuli supportive of peak effects with psilocybin, and 24 unique recommendations of musical stimuli supportive of the period leading up to a peak experience. Qualitative analysis (expert rating of musical and music-theoretic features of the recommended stimuli) and quantitative analysis (using signal processing and music-information retrieval methods) of 22 of these stimuli yielded a description of peak period music that was characterized by regular, predictable, formulaic phrase structure and orchestration, a feeling of continuous movement and forward motion that slowly builds over time, and lower perceptual brightness when compared to pre peak music. These results provide a description of music that may be optimally supportive of peak psychedelic experiences. This description can be used to guide the selection and composition of music for future psychedelic research and therapy sessions.
Barrett, F. S., Robbins, H., Smooke, D., Brown, J. L., & Griffiths, R. R. (2017). Qualitative and quantitative features of music reported to support peak mystical experiences during psychedelic therapy sessions. Frontiers in psychology8. 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01238
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