REPORT | Study: Music + Psychedelic Therapy Helps Treat Addiction

By Anya Wassenberg on December 27, 2022

Image by Sergei Tokmakov (CC0/Pixabay)
Image by Sergei Tokmakov (CC0/Pixabay)

Addiction is notoriously difficult to treat; however, the odds seem to be improved with the help of magic mushrooms and music.

A study recently published in the journal Anthropology of Consciousness looked at the way music was used to treat addiction rehab patients in Peru, where the use of Ayahuasca is part of traditional ceremonies.

In the abstract, lead researcher Owain J. Graham writes, “Research on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has shown that music affects therapeutic outcomes at a fundamental level.”

When psychedelic therapy is used, the patient is under constant medical supervision. The type of experience that the patient has under its influence is crucial to success.

Music, as it turns out, is one of the best ways to improve therapeutic results, and that has been shown in prior studies. However, that effect (as music itself) is also tied to culture. As the paper points out, researchers love to separate and isolate the various factors involved — when it seems that joining them produces better results.

In this case, the researchers used music that was not only familiar, but part of the traditional culture of the patients involved. That’s also important in cross-cultural settings. Music itself is part of many healing traditions around the world, including the Ayahuasca Ceremony. Traditional songs sung during the ceremony are called icaros, and the practice of combining the songs with ayahuasca has endured for about 300 to 500 years.

The literature so far backs up the idea that music should be part of any psychedelic therapy as a way to guide the experience for the patient.

Just how the traditional ceremony, which uses music as an important component, results in healing is not understood. As society takes that practice for general use on the public, a better picture of the connection is essential.

Psychedelic therapy

Psychedelic compounds such as peyote and ayahuasca have a centuries old history of use by many of the Indigenous people of the Americas and elsewhere.

In the early 20th century, there was a wave of interest in psychedelics related to human consciousness. It spurred the creation of LSD in 1938, and by mid-century, its use in psychiatric research was fairly common, including the infamous covert CIA experiments on non-consenting subjects of the 1950s.

However, once the counterculture movement of the 1960s/70s embraced recreational use of psychedelics, they were officially banned by both American and Canadian legislation.

Recently, however, there has been a movement to put them back on the table, especially for depression that has proven difficult to treat with other means, as well as addiction treatment.

Why it matters

The study is important, and more and more North Americans move towards legalizing magic mushrooms in a therapeutic setting.

The Canadian federal government issued guidelines on its potential use earlier this month. Quebec is the first province so far to cover the costs of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, according to TheraPsil, a non-profit dedicated to promoting legalization.

Since they are still illegal in most of North America, however, it has created an odd situation when it comes to training the many health care practitioners who want to learn about the therapy. They may be forced to enter the field without real world practice. Any information about how to best administer the therapy, which requires monitoring by a medical professional, is crucial.

As the paper notes, it’s a topic that deserves further study to fine tune the practice in a clinical setting.

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