Music is known to evoke powerful emotions. One very special playlist was curated to support individuals as they go on a Psilocybin “trip”.
“They could understand that that type of classical music is a language about life and human experience. And when you’re in the music, it’s so different from listening to the music”. This is how Bill Richards, creator of the Psilocybin Playlist described how participants react to the 6-hour, multi-phase playlist. He designed the playlist to guide participants through their journey of introspection and emotional release after ingesting Psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in magic mushrooms.
What is The Psilocybin Playlist?
The playlist, a version of which is available on Spotify, acts as a safety net for study participants. It prevents them from returning to conscious awareness prematurely and provides some force or structure to move them through the experience.
Creation of The Playlist
Bill Richards is a Psychologist that has been involved in psychedelic research since 1963. During his time at Spring Grove Hospital Center, he developed a list of songs that worked well for a wide range of psychedelic research participants. When Richards started at John Hopkins in 1999, he created the formal psilocybin playlist.
Use in Psilocybin Studies
The Psilocybin Playlist has been used in several research studies. Most recently it was utilized by a Hopkins research on the effects of psilocybin on major depression. The study published in JAMA in November 2020, showed impressive results. Two doses of psilocybin, in conjunction with supportive psychotherapy, lead to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Half of the participants were considered in remission by the four-week follow-up.
Researchers at NYU Langone Health and the Usona Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, have also utilized versions of the playlist for psilocybin research.
Sections of The Playlist
The playlist is divided into 5 phases, with songs expertly selected to support and guide participants through each stage of their journey.
Background music is played when the participants arrive for the study.
Psilocybin Begins to Take Effect
At this point in the study, participants are lying down with headphones and eyeshades. They have been administered a medium to high dosage of psilocybin. This phase is also called the onset phase. The music chosen for this section of the playlist follows a predictable structure. There are not any startling sounds or changes in tempo that could surprise or frighten participants. The unfolding, dependable sounds are there in case participants experience fear or anxiety at the start of their journey. Other participants may not even hear or focus on the music, but it is there to provide support and structure to those that need it.
The ascent takes place when the effects of the psilocybin are intensifying. The music helps push the experience forward and build up to the peak.
The peak is the climax of the experience. This portion of the playlist slows things down a bit. It features classics from Mozart and Beethoven. The music acts as a support system or a safety net. Some participants will not register that the music is playing. Richards describes the peak playlist as a trapeze net; “At a trip’s peak, music becomes a mirror of transcendental forms of consciousness that may not even be registered in unitive awareness, but is present if needed—like a net below a trapeze artist”.
The post-peak music brings the participant back down. It features reassuring sounds, but the songs are slightly more free form than those in the onset phase.
Welcome Back to Earth
This final section is the only section with lyric focused songs. The majority of the playlist is instrumentally focused. These songs are comforting and may be familiar to participants. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles” and “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Amstrong have been used as Welcome Back to Earth music.