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We Asked Some Experts Why Weed and Music Go So Well Together

Winding through the crowds of Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, or any other summer festival, you’ll inevitably catch a whiff of weed smoke in the air. We may not all have the same taste in music, but we can definitely agree on one thing: smoking pot and listening to tunes is the greatest combination since peanut butter and marshmallows.

Despite plenty of stoner message boards on the internet scribbled with pseudo-science attempting to answer that question, it’s more complicated than you might think. Marijuana has been studied for decades in North America, but continues to be illegal in most places. Like many psychedelic drugs, it has suffered from a social stigma that has affected the potential for research on it.

However, there’s been a growing body of work, drawn from multiple disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, and musicology, that looks at how our brains react to music while on drugs. Just last year, in 2015, a study was published on how LSD affected a listener’s emotional reaction to music.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there about the link between music and weed, actual research is surprisingly hard to find. Nonetheless, we got together several academics from different fields to find out more.

The Experts:

Dr. Sophie Scott: A British neuroscientist who teaches at University College of London in London, UK.

Dr. Zach Walsh: A professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

Dr. Jörg Fachner: A professor of music, health, and the brain at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.

THUMP: Why do music and marijuana seem to go together so well?

Dr. Zach Walsh: It seems like people love listening to music when they smoke cannabis. Cannabis users will often include increased appreciation of art in general and music specifically. There’s just this deep relationship.

Dr. Sophie Scott: I sometimes wonder if the relationship with marijuana isn’t a happy coincidence in two things that might be activating similar brain areas, but also have been so culturally brought together. There may be more cultural bringing together than neural.

What’s actually happening in the brains of stoned people listening to music?

Dr. Jörg Fachner: [Marijuana] works like a psycho-acoustic enhancer. That means you are more able to absorb, to focus on something, and to have a bit of a broader spectrum. It doesn’t change the music; it doesn’t change the ear functioning. Obviously it changes the way we perceive ear space in music.

It also changes time perception, and if you listen to music, it is a time process, so if you have a different time perception of course you will listen differently to music.

Walsh: [Marijuana] puts you in a relaxed pleasant state, and there you are able to be receptive to music, or to be perhaps in the moment. Cannabis improves all types of things that are related to being present in the moment, as opposed to long term planning and worrying and ordering and organizing.

What parts of the brain are you looking at?

Fachner: In the study that I’ve done with the EEG [electroencephalogram, a machine that measures electrical brain activity], there are changes in the occipital area, which is processing visual; the temporal area, which is processing the auditory; and then in the parietal. These three connections seems to be of benefit for the listener.

Walsh: When you think about psychedelics, their effects are largely on the serotonergic system, whereas cannabis’ effects are very diffuse. Cannabis can facilitate the activity of a bunch of other things—like gamma [waves], which is where you get the relaxation; all the systems that facilitate dopamine, which is why people like it so much. But, when we think about the main effect, a large concentration of cannabinoid receptors are in an area called the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of memories.

Why is there so little research on this aspect of cannabis?

Scott: Essentially [marijuana and music] are looked at by two totally different groups of people. The people interested in how drugs affect the brain are not interested in music and vice versa. Even if you see similar networks [in the brain] getting activated, I don’t think there’s anybody theorizing about that relationship quite so strongly.

Walsh: We’re looking at major indications, as far as medical use, that are going to have public health implications and alleve suffering. Because of the barriers that there have been to studying cannabis, it was hard enough to be able to do studies that could really help the health and well-being of veterans.

Interviews conducted separately by Gigen Mammoser.

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Investigating the science behind one of the world's best pairings.

Why is Music Better with Cannabis?

Thursday August 30, 2018

T here’s no doubt about it: most cannabis consumers love music. In fact, it’s rare to meet a cannabis enthusiast who doesn’t have a passion for at least one specific band or genre of music. Whether it’s the beat, the lyrics or the overall sound of the music, there’s something about being high that makes it seem all the better. So why does music sound so freaking amazing when we’re high?

The answer is, well, we’re not quite sure. But researchers have offered some interesting theories about the impact cannabis has on our musical experiences. Taking what we know about how cannabis affects the brain and body, here are a few reasons marijuana makes music sound so good.

The Science behind Why Music is So Dope When High

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with the brain which in turn impacts our response to stimuli. For example, compared to placebo, THC reduces blood flow to the temporal cortices of the brain where sensory processing occurs and increases blood flow to the orbitofrontal cortex where emotion and reward processing occurs. This could be the reason music seems more “unpredictable” when high while eliciting a more emotional response. People experience the music in the moment instead of anticipating the next note or dwelling on the last one while simultaneously deciphering their own unique meaning to the music.

Cannabis also increases activity in the striatum, or the part of the brain responsible for things like motivation, decision-making, and reward processing. This not only increases the desire to listen to music but makes it so must more satisfying when we actually get to hear it.

Additionally, cannabis tends to blur the lines between the senses. If you’ve ever had to turn down the radio to navigate better at night, it’s probably because THC is telling you that the two senses are somewhat indistinguishable. Or rather, your senses are so heightened that it’s difficult to separate one from the next. Can you taste music? With a little help from THC, maybe you can.

This happens when THC interacts with various sensory brain regions. By activating regions like the occipital cortex (where vision is processed), the somatosensory system (which processes touch), and the gustatory perception (where we process taste), each of these senses in and of themselves become heightened. As such, the brain must perform multisensory integration, or the combining of all senses, at an amped up rate – while high on cannabis.

Interestingly, the brains auditory system may be the only one not affected by THC. Though research is limited, a 1976 study looked at the correlation between cannabis consumption and auditory processing and found it neither improved or hampered one’s ability to process auditory stimuli. Instead, it is suggested that, while cannabis may not make you hear better, it does improve the cognition required to process it efficiently. In other words, you’re more apt to pick up the intricacies of your music rather than just hear it better.

Music and Cannabis Have Some of the Same Benefits

The connection between music and cannabis goes beyond the experience itself. Research shows that cannabis and music possess some of the same therapeutic qualities such as pain relief, reduced anxiety, and a better connection with one’s surroundings.

Let’s first look at the parallels between cannabis as a pain reliever and music as a pain reliever. A 2011 study found that people who listened to their favorite music post-surgery experienced a reduced perception. Music with a positive message, no matter the genre, shows the most pain relief. The reason music – like marijuana – offers pain relief is much the same reason it offers relief from anxiety: it serves as an excellent distraction. It’s hard to focus on pain and problems when the music (or the weed) is so awesome. When Rancid’s, Tim Armstrong, said “when the music hits, I feel no pain at all,” he wasn’t lying.

Music also improves a community connection. Whether the genre is punk rock, country, hip-hop or anything else, music is and always has been a very communal activity. When you throw cannabis into the mix, the results are amplified. In fact, marijuana and music have long been used to connect with a community and share information. Music, which often requires the help of others, promotes cooperation and discipline whereas cannabis fosters intimacy, reduces stress and improves positive communication habits. Used together, the sesh circle could be a great way to connect on a deeper level with your peers – and learn some awesome new bands in the process.

Cannabis is capable of some amazing things, its ability to improve our musical experiences is only one of them. No matter the genre, if you like music, chance are, it’ll be a lot cooler with some cannabis.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while high and why?

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

Most cannabis consumers deeply enjoy music and feel that marijuana can enhance their favorite artist or song. But why is this? Learn more about the reasoning behind why cannabis makes music better.