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Music & Marijuana: Feed Your Head

A purple and green pot leaf on an ear bud rests in a mans ear as he tokes and listens to music, a match that works on a scientific level.
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Music & Marijuana: Feed Your Head

The neuroscience of listening.

Marijuana and music have a longer history together than peanut butter and jelly. But does modern science actually support this pairing? It turns out that while there is no conclusive evidence cannabis can make you a better musician, a growing body of neuroscience now suggests it helps with musical appreciation.

A number of studies, many from Canada and the UK, have measured the the brain changes occurring when someone tokes up. A mild blurring of senses is one such effect found in a 2011 study, which showed modulations in brain function areas that process auditory and visual stimuli. Known as synesthesia, this phenomenon can lead cannabis users to visualize sound.

In terms of medical use, a cannabis and music pairing may have applications for clinically depressed youth. A Canadian study published in 2014 found marijuana use caused modulations in brain activation during passive music listening in youth with major depression disorder. The conclusions supported the idea that frequent marijuana use in patients with clinical depression is associated with changes in the brain’s circuitry involved in reward processing in ways absent with either frequent marijuana use or depression alone.

And then there is the intersection of pot, music and time.

Marijuana use accesses a neuron signaling system known as the endocannabinoid system and this can distort time and space. A 2012 critical review of existing research on the topic published in Current Pharmaceutical Design stated that 70 percent of marijuana time estimation studies reported subjects who overestimated time compared to actual time. Because cannabis is known to alter time perception and music is an art that unfolds over time, the pairing lends itself to a heightened experience, according to Daniel J. Levitin, author of “This Is Your Brain on Music” and “The World in Six Songs.”

“In particular, it’s well known that cannabis users feel they can more fully immerse themselves in the music. This may be because their internal clocks speed up, meaning that the world seems to slow down a little,” Levitin told Cannabis Now Magazine.

“As a consequence, they may sense more time in between the notes, more time to contemplate what’s going on in the music,” he said.

A body of scientific evidence shows that cannabis chemically affects a number of brain functions that are active while listening to music, but the acute sensory specifics still remain hazy. “I think we’ll see more studies of marijuana and psychophysics — whether it really alters perceptual and sensory thresholds or not,” Levitin said.

“I wonder if people are more sensitive to changes in pitch, loudness, timbre, timing and other musical attributes when they’re under the influence of cannabis,” Levitin said. “That’s the big question for me, and to my knowledge, it has not been investigated.”

But science and mystery aside, Levitin says the most surprising thing he found in all his research was the simple truth: cannabis use does make music listening much more enjoyable.

The reason why, he resigns, “is not clear.”

Musicians Speak About Cannabis and Music

“It’s a thousand times better than whiskey… it’s an assistant — a friend.” — Louis Armstrong

“Marijuana helped me write Pet Sounds.” — Brian Wilson, Beach Boys

“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.” — Bob Marley

“So if ever I need some clarity, or a quantum leap in my own consciousness, or a quantum leap in terms of writing something or getting an answer, it’s a quick way for me to get it.” — Alanis Morissette

Written by Ted Andersen

Originally published in Issue 23 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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