Take an amble through the crowds and tents at any music festival and a certain unmistakable odor is guaranteed to periodically assail your nostrils. Likewise, look at the history of some of music’s greatest bands. The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, even the Beatles – the music and the weed go together in a way that we absolutely take for granted.
If you’re going to sit back and fully appreciate Pink Floyd’s 30-minute masterpiece Echoes, for example, you’re probably going to do with a Bluefin Tuna joint in hand in a state of couch lock. It is so obvious that very few of us ever take a step back and ask why? It turns out that is not such a simple question to answer, partly because marijuana’s legal status means it is a topic of which most scientific institutions have steered clear.
Nevertheless, that is a situation that is evolving in many places. And even where it remains illegal, times are changing and there is less likelihood of people simply burying their heads in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Professor Jörg Fachner is Professor of Music, Health and the Brain at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK. He is also a Director at Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research. Professor Facher says that marijuana works as a psycho-acoustic enhancer. In simple terms, that means it improves your receptivity to the music, increasing your perceptive powers.
Zack Walsh, a Professor of Psychology at the University of British Colombia, agrees. He said that by being in a more relaxed state, the listener is more “in the moment” and this makes him or her more receptive to various stimuli, and in particular, music.
What’s happening in the brain?
The research carried out by these academics goes beyond the theoretical. Professor Facher has carried out brainwave analysis to better understand the physiological as well as psychological effects of smoking weed. He observed changes in the occipital lobe, which is the area of the brain that processes what we see, the temporal lobe, which is responsible for what we hear and the parietal lobe, which processes sensory information relating to touch and taste. Professor Facher feels that this combination of effects influences how we perceive music.
Professor Walsh digs a little deeper in his research. He says marijuana predominantly affects the serotonergic system. This is a complex area in neurology, and one that is still shrouded in plenty of mystery. Smoking weed sets off several receptors and triggers the release of, among other things, dopamine.
More dopamine means a more relaxed frame of mind and a feeling of well-being. The implication here is that the effect of cannabis goes beyond making the brain more receptive to the music you are hearing. It also means you are feeling happier, more relaxed and, in short, “in the mood” to sit back, tune in and chill out.
The relationship between music and weed is both stronger and more complicated than we might suppose. It is also something that is here to stay.