Dream Job: Scientist Curates Music for LSD Research Experiments
It has long been understood that LSD has a peculiar and fascinating relationship to music. Ken Kesey’s acid test parties in San Francisco’s Bay Area in the mid 1960s are where artist like the Grateful Dead began experimenting with live improvisation that would later catapult them into Rock n Roll history.
Since 1970, however, LSD has been listed as a Schedule I drug in the United States. This means that it is illegal to manufacture, buy, produce, possess, or distribute LSD without a permit from the DEA. This along side strong cultural opinions about the drug have made research on the chemical limited despite potential beneficial uses in treating alcoholism and cluster headaches.
That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t research moving forward. PhD student Mendel Kaelen of Imperial College’s neuroscience program is leading several studies regarding the influence of music on psychedelics in studies using human trials. In particular, Kaelen is researching the effects and potential benefits of using music therapy to treat depression.
(Neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen via Motherboard)
Designing experiments using LSD does pose several challenges. Using LSD in an antiseptic research environment can cause distress in patients because of the influence that the environment can have on the individuals reaction to the drug. For this, Kaelen is designing a “set and setting” that is more desirable for LSD patients while still being grounded in a scientific study.
(Image provided by Mendel Kaelen via Motherboard)
When curating a playlist to be used in human trials of LSD, it is important that the music be both likable and unfamiliar. An individual that recognizes the track could jeopardize the validity of the study by inserting their own emotional bias into the experiment. According to an interview with Motherboard, Kaelen mentioned,
“If music is too familiar, it can reduce the ability to have a new experience, because you already had an experience with that song before in your life.”
Featured in the playlist includes music from acts like Ólafur Arnalds, Arve Henriksen, Brian McBride, and Greg Haines. Participants were asked to rate their emotional response to the music on a scale of 1-100 and then rate their experience via a GEMS-9 survey. According to researchers, when listening to music on LSD, participants had more responses relating to "wonder", "transcendence" and "power".