Hippies dig it. Rappers repeat it like a mantra going out of style. Each group has had their own way expressing it, but everybody can agree on one thing about marijuana: It elevates the act of listening to music to a whole nother level.
You close your eyes and take a pull off of your joint as the music begins to play. Exhale. You've listened to this album on numerous occasions, but this time the individual notes, rhythms and melodies seem to resonate with a particular richness, intensity and gravitas that together arouse your senses on a whole new level.
As Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac once said, “If you've been working on something for a few hours and you smoke a joint, it's like hearing it again for the first time” The connection between music and cannabis has a rich history, dating back to the emergence of jazz in the early 20th century. Many pioneers in this improvisational art form were regular users of cannabis, including Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillsepie.
But WHY does music sound so good when you're high?
There's actually been little research into how music and marijuana actually interact in the brain to produce such profound experiences. Theories abound though, and taking the studies we do have and comparing them with music-related neurological research can perhaps, shed light on why marijuana and music are such tight bedfellows.
One of the early landmark studies on the subjective experience of the marijuana high, Charles T. Tart's On Being Stoned, focuses acutely on the marijuana's effects on music and sound perception.
“Effects on sound perception are some of the most characteristic effects on marijuana”. Tart wrote. “Further, all of these effects were perceived as emotionally pleasant or cognitively interesting, leading to greatly enhanced enjoyment of sound and music.”
Daniel J. Levitin, music psychologist and professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at McGill University, took a stab at the “why” in his book. The World in Six Songs. He pinned much of his explanation to marijuana and musics ability to stimulate the brain's pleasure centers and alter our sense of timing.
"Music combined with marijuana tends to produce feelings of euphoria and connectedness to the music and the musicians. THC — the active ingredient — is known to stimulate the brain's natural pleasure centers, while also disrupting short-term memory. The disruption of short-term memory thrusts listeners into the moment of the music as it unfolds; unable to explicitly keep in mind what has just been played, or to think ahead to what might be played, people stoned on pot tend to hear music from note to note. Subconsciously all of the usual processes of expectation formation are still occurring, but consciously, the music creates what many people describe as a time-standing-still phenomenon. They live for each note, completely in the moment."
"When it hits you, you feel no pain." A host of neurological research has established that drugs like marijuana and music both stimulate our brain's pleasure receptors — as do with food, sex and all life's good things. When music and marijuana act in concert, they can have a "synergistic effect" Anna Ermakova PhD, Science Officer at the Beckley Foundation, a U.K.-based think-tank and U.N.-accredited NGO dedicated to funding drug research and policy initiatives, explained in a phone conversation.
"Cannabis provides a strong emotional response, and music provides an emotional response" she said. "Together they produce an even stronger one." Marijuana also accesses a special neurotransmitter system, the endocannabinoid system, which regulates appetite, pain, mood and memory. The way the plant activates this system explains a lot of the unique effects it has on music listening.
"No one quite understands it, but the cannabinoid receptors seem to be involved in producing a watchful, alert state" Alice Flaherty, an author and neurologist whose practice focuses in part on the roots of creativity, said during in phone conversation. "Anyone who's smoked has probably had the sensation of getting fixated on something. I remember once for me it was this doorknob; it was the most interesting thing. That's kind of joke, but if it had been a piece of music, I would have said, 'Oh my God! I just had this profound experience!'"
A good blur
Additional research suggests that marijuana produces a mild synesthesia, or a criss-crossing of sensory information. A 2011 MRI study showed that THC causes modulations in auditory and visual processing. Yet one theory holds that this blurring effect may not be limited to the subconscious.
"The different areas of the brain have these very vague borders" Joe Dolce, author of the upcoming book Brave New Weed, which explores cannabis from cultural, business, medicinal, and scientific perspectives." They're controlled chemically, and the theory is that cannabis somehow loosens those borders, so for instance we could feel music more deeply. We don't usually think of feeling music, we think of hearing it. But when people speak about listening to music while using cannabis, they describe it as richer, more textured; it has more depth." The way marijuana also intensifies tastes and physical sensations, like orgasms, may also draw from this blurring effect.
How Cannabis Can Aid Music Production
Some theorists postulate that cannabis’ effects on an individual’s sense of timing might be responsible for its appeal amongst musicians. Previous studies have shown that cannabis speeds up our internal clocks, making external “real world” time appear to pass slower. For example, one study demonstrated that a 15 second time interval was “expanded” to an average of 16.7 seconds while under the influence of cannabis (while sober controls correctly estimated this interval).
“If you look into the literature on timing, it seems to be that the brain systems that are influenced by cannabinoids are producing a state of mind in which there seems to be a slower backward counting” says Jorg Fachner, professor of music, health, and the brain at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. “And that means your timing units, the time frames that you are overseeing, seem to be enlarged. So those who are improvising seem to have a bit more time to foresee the melodic developments in improvisation and to fine grain the rhythmic patterns.”
Why does Cannabis slow down our time perception?
Indeed, some anecdotal reports suggest that this subjective expansion of time benefits an improvisational art form like jazz because musicians are able to mentally squeeze more notes in a given number of musical bars. These claims, however, have yet to be substantiated by empirical studies.
Best Cannabis strains to enhance your audible experience(s):
With a sharp pine aroma that promotes an alert, focused mindset, Jack Herer is famous for good reason. Its mellow, even-keel high leaves the mind flexible and with room to stretch creative muscles.
Chemdawg is a potent hybrid best reserved for the seasoned consumer looking to turbo boost creativity. Its high can be dizzying and cumbersome, but if you’re seeking strong euphoria that jars the senses and summons new pathways of thought, Chemdawg might be the powerhouse hybrid you’ve been waiting for.
A strain that seems to turn up saturation and definition like an HD movie, Purple Haze unlocks the highest potential of your senses. Lending energy and positivity to the mind, this sativa knocks down bad moods, lethargy, and anything else standing in the way between you and your next artistic project.
Though most people associate sativa strains with creativity, some minds require pacifying before engaging in art or other creative escapes. Overactive minds–especially those afflicted by anxiety or PTSD–can benefit from the slow pace of Berry White’s effects. Artists experiencing debilitating pain or inflammation may also find that this indica’s soothing physical effects take their mind off the aches, allowing full immersion in the task at hand.
Summarily, there are certain genres and artists that are specifically associated with smoking cannabis – Snoop Dogg and Bob Marley come to mind. When many people smoke they expect the music will be better and that may put them in the mindset that when they put it on, their expectations are justified.
No matter how you explain marijuanas effects on music, treat yourself right and make sure your playlist is as high quality as your nugs.