Music and Pot: The High Notes

Neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin is the bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, A Field Guide to Lies and Successful Aging.
by Tina Manzer     photo by David Livingston

Songs by The Beatles were the soundtrack of my childhood, but in my dorm room at college they became brand new. Stoned, I could zoom in on the cooing harmonies of “Michelle,” John’s intimate inhales in “Girl” and the single descending “oooooh” in “Ticket to Ride.”

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Stadiums full of concertgoers have had the same experience for years. Until relatively recently, discussions about it were the only evidence that the phenomenon occurred.

That’s changing. It’s become less challenging for scientists to study pot as its criminal illegality and social stigma slips away. New evidence of the human cannabinoid system and its effect on appetite, pain sensation, and mood and memory are revealed by scientists every day. They tell us that when we ingest cannabis, receptors in the system are activated and we facilitate neural pathways that already exist.

In a recent interview with SHARP, a Canadian men’s magazine, Dr. Daniel J. Levitin discussed the music/cannabis connection, something the award-winning neuroscientist, musician, and bestselling author has studied for years. He became particularly fascinated by the impact of cannabis on memory as a student at Stanford in 1976.

“People on cannabis tend to hear music from note to note – a bit like the Zen ideal of living in the present,” Levitin explained. “The disruption of short-term memory thrusts listeners into the moment of the music as it unfolds and they are able to narrow in on one thing, in this case the music: or with even greater granularity, just one instrument at a time.

“Additionally, cannabis helps block out the internal chatter in your mind,” he continued. “Instead of thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner and going through your to-do list, you’re able to focus on the music.

“I knew from my own experiences that cannabis could thrust me into the present with all of my focus on the here-and-now,” he added in the SHARP interview. “What a wonderful state to be in – people meditate for years to get to that place.”

Levitin concluded that as much as cannabis gives us the ability to focus on individual elements of a song apart from all the others, it also helps us better appreciate them all together. “The focused attentional state that cannabis facilitates helps us to see the connections between them, to get lost in the beauty, complexity, danceability, joy, sadness, or any other reaction the music evokes in us – sometimes all at once.”

What music do YOU like to hear when you’re high?
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