Music & Healing with Psychedelics
What part does music play in psychedelic therapy? When it comes to the power of music in one's life, how does it play out in our journeys?
Music & Healing with Psychedelics
Sherry Walling - 0:00:00
Today, our curiosities take us to the world of healing and sound. This episode brings you four conversations: A musician, a therapist, a technologist, and someone with a long history of advocating for the safe interplay of music and psychedelics. In each of these conversations, I am asking questions around how music can support healing. Music can make or break the psychedelic-supported therapy experience. Why is music so important and so powerful?
Sherry Walling - 0:00:31
How do we use technology and other resources to optimize the healing benefits of music? Is there a one-size-fits-all soundtrack for a therapeutic process? Music has a long history as a healing agent. Psychedelics have a long history as healing agents. How do we, as modern people, combine these two resources in the best possible ways.
Sherry Walling - 0:00:56
Let's explore it together. Welcome to MIND CURIOUS, a podcast where we explore big themes of human well being, existential dilemma, consciousness, meaning, pleasure, healing. We curiously ask how psychedelics can play a role? Why have psychedelics risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a global mental health crisis? Are they an elixir? This podcast is designed for therapists, health optimizers, curious psychonauts, and those looking to explore the potential of psychedelic compounds.
Sherry Walling - 0:01:37
We dive deep and test our understanding of what consciousness is while talking to experts in the field who are no strangers to tapping into the curiosities of the mind. I am your ever-curious host, Dr. Sherry Walling. Let's dive in. Just a simple reminder, these conversations are not intended to constitute medical advice and the guests speak freely of their own perspective, so nothing that is said in the podcast necessarily constitutes endorsement by me, Sherry Walling, or by Mind Cure Health. Our driving principle is curiosity and open, respectful conversation. Our first guest is Bob Fisk.
Sherry Walling - 0:02:23
Bob is a lifelong musician who specializes in crafting soundscapes, custom-made auditory experiences for people who are in the midst of a meditative or non-ordinary state. Bob has been a musician for over 30 years. He studied philosophy and psychology and he has a passion for helping people come alive. He shares his knowledge about sound meditation and other psychospiritual developmental practices and workshops and sessions around the Midwestern area of the United States. I jumped into my conversation with Bob by asking him, from his perspective, what role does music play in facilitating a meditative state or healing experience?
Bob Fisk - 0:03:11
You know, whether it's psychedelics or meditation or music, I think the thing that the three of these have in common is really providing us an opportunity to get outside of the languaging of reality or the story that we kind of have on repeat in the back of our heads about who we are, what we're up to, what traumas we've experienced, what we're supposed to be, or how we're supposed to present in the world. Music gives us the opportunity to shift our mode of awareness outside of this discursive, linguistic, constantly labeling of the experiences that we have, and just to experience something a little bit more directly with music or oftentimes, I'll even broaden that out to just sound, in general. I'd like to say that sound as opposed to a word, a word or a language, is about something. It's a reference to some other thing, which immediately puts us in a state of being slightly removed from that thing itself. I'm not experiencing the thing.
Bob Fisk - 0:04:12
I'm conjuring up an image based on memory and reference that the word brings about for me. With sound, it's not about anything. There's no aboutness. There's just this opportunity to experience it. It's not-- it doesn't have a sound. It doesn't necessarily come with meaning imposed, so we have a little bit more of a direct connection to the experience.
Bob Fisk - 0:04:32
We have a little bit more of a direct connection to the emotion or the intuition or the felt sense of the present moment when we're just connecting to the sound because we're able to set aside this mental linguistic mind map that we've created about the reality that we think we live in. So, how does music facilitate that? Or how is it similar? I think that probably gets to the heart of it for me when we call up some specific music or we're playing instruments that are bringing about specific sound qualities. It's this practice for people that allows them to drop away this story that they find themselves in and just connect to the moment and see what arises with them.
Bob Fisk - 0:05:13
I think that happens in psychedelic therapeutic sessions. It happens in meditative states. It can happen even while you're just listening to a nice song on a set of headphones.
Sherry Walling - 0:05:32
I love the language you use of that sort of felt experience of the moment and the sense in which we're moving out of our cognitive, sort of prefrontal cortex sensemaking processes and being in this other space of experiencing, perhaps even more passively. So I'm curious for you as a musician, as somebody who has this long history of of creating sounds, what happens in you when you are putting together a set of sounds or soundtrack, if you will, to help sort of facilitate or host someone else in a meditative or psychedelic experience?
Bob Fisk - 0:06:12
Yeah, well, there's a couple of different paths to go about it. In one scenario, which I recognize is not the standard methodology for a lot of therapists is, you know, we play live instrumentation, music, and it's not a scheduled written-out piece of music. There is a little bit of ebb and flow about understanding what's happening in the present moment, having a deep knowledge of the types of tonal qualities and emotional qualities that all the different instruments can provide, the different states that they can help facilitate, and utilizing in the moment the dynamic switching between something that might help somebody settle the mind or something that might help somebody deepen their felt sense of some emotion that might be coming up. So in that path, it's a little bit more in the moment. It's a little bit of a deeper knowledge about what sounds and what instruments work for that. When I'm looking at crafting a soundtrack, if you will, there's a couple of different things that I look at.
Bob Fisk - 0:07:07
I don't consider soundtracks to be very uniform and I wouldn't create one and then just spread it out amongst everyone. Yeah, that's not to say that it wouldn't provide a good experience, and I think they would be appropriate for that, but I think there's a little bit of fine-tuning that can happen when we really understand. You know, if you come to me looking for a particular session, well, what is it that you're dealing with at the moment? Because the nature of the sounds that we create or the music that we pull in, the types of songs that we pull in, they're going to create different context for you, whether you're dealing with integrating the death of a parent, the shifting of a career, or you're doing some deeper, just self-exploration. You know, "I don't really know what I'm after, but I need to be able to ask some of these questions of myself, and I'm not sure what they are." Well, all three of those are different scenarios and these types of journeys call for different types of soundtracks that will elicit the emotional responses, I think, that people are looking forward to have meaning that can help them shift how they exist in the world or how they understand their place.
Sherry Walling - 0:08:24
So it sounds like music can be such a facilitator, right? Something that helps someone deepen the experience or go further into a direction that they're longing to go into. Have you seen it work the other way? Have you seen like the wrong song at the wrong time be disruptive or distracting? Have you seen it sort of go badly?
Bob Fisk - 0:08:45
Yeah, for sure, and I think probably the way that I see it occur most is not necessarily one song, you know, that makes a whole journey take on a whole different flavor, although that can certainly happen. Most of the time, I think what I see is just an inattentiveness to the types of songs, music, or sounds that are being played, generally creating a less than optimal experience. So it has a turn, you know, as I start listening to, "Well, how is the experience for you?" or "What is it that went on?" "Oh, well, it was this or that or I struggled through this at this moment," and then I think, "Well, sure, what were you listening to at that point? How did you set up the music?" "Well, I was listening to this, this, and this other thing." "Ooh, no wonder it went like that, you know." I think there's really so much that we need to take into consideration when we're doing something as important as putting a soundscape together that's specific for journeying. You know, we need to take into consideration the tempo, the tonal qualities, sometimes even the structure of the music itself.
Bob Fisk - 0:09:47
Is it providing something that's regular, that's somewhat repetitive, or that is consistent, something that we can count on, something that's stable? There's people who need a certain amount of stability to be able to drop into a comfortable enough space so that they can start to unfold and start to unfurl their being and really get a sense of who they are. That being said, there are other moments where they're comfortable in these spaces, and actually what they need is a little bit of discomfort or a little bit of novelty or something that puts some dissonance in their awareness. And this has the ability of kind of heightening all the senses and saying, "Wait a second here. This isn't exactly what I anticipated." Now, you don't want too much of that.
Bob Fisk - 0:10:34
It's kind of like, you know, Tabasco sauce on your eggs or whatever the analogy is. But there is some value in creating some dissonance or some discord in very small amounts because this oftentimes is where these subconscious questions start to arise or what I call these questions where you kind of furrow your brow a little bit and you wonder like, "Oh, what is this discomfort about?" Well, you might find some meaning in that discomfort or what that pertains to for yourself and your life. So if we're not careful about making selections about the type of music that we utilize, it can very drastically impact the experience to the point of being-- not only to being a benign experience or not providing what I think a lot of people are looking for when they drop into these meditative or journeying-type states. But it can also be negative in the sense that it can be very traumatic or oftentimes re-traumatizing for people. I think it's something that a lot of people overlook.
Bob Fisk - 0:11:33
We think, "Well, psychedelics and music or whatever, it's a magic button. If I just do this and I just wait it out, I will feel better and this will be well." We have to be careful about that. We play the wrong types of things and we're really in a deep, open, and emotionally perceptive state. We don't want to plant the wrong notions, concepts, emotional feelings, and sentiments when we're opened up to the deepest parts of ourself in that way. We need to be mindful of where people are out and the type of music that should follow them.
Sherry Walling - 0:12:12
There's so much vulnerability in these processes and I am really appreciating the multifaceted relationship that sound has with someone's emotional, kind of ups and downs. And even this sense of music as structure, sort of a scaffolding that helps provide a sense of rhythmic stability and consistency that may help regulate someone, or that in other situations music is this, you know, slightly disruptive kind of thing that breaks someone out of a pattern or out of the loop and helps to kind of stimulate a different neurological experience. And then, as you're pointing out, of course, this danger of the wrong, jarring, or unsafe kind of sound in a really vulnerable time can leave an imprint that doesn't feel good that people don't want to carry. And, you know, I appreciate having this conversation with you as a musician because I think you have a deep dive appreciation of what's happening in music that, you know, unfortunately, I think some folks who are coming into this work, whether in the underground or who are coming into it, even through more formal training programs, may not necessarily have that kind of nuanced appreciation for what power music wields. And so, I think that some of my concern for folks in this world as it's growing and developing, is really how careful we are with music.
Sherry Walling - 0:13:33
You know, as you think from your perspective, thinking about folks who may want to do this work as a journey or maybe sitting in the sort of clinical position of supporting someone in their journey, what are the things about music that you wish people would like hold on to or know or appreciate in advance of an experience like this?
Bob Fisk - 0:13:57
I guess where I would start is just saying, don't take the music too lightly. Pay attention to, you know, if you're a practitioner looking to put together a soundscape or a soundtrack for a particular session, be very attentive to that, spend some time learning about it, spend some time talking to other musicians or other therapists. I know there are lots of playlists and things out there, some are better and some are worse, but spend some time thinking about it, even to the point of spending some time listening to the whole two hours or whatever it is that you've put together yourself. Just lie there with your headphones or whatever it might be, close your eyes, notice how it makes you feel in your body. Notice how each track, how each rhythm, how each instrument makes you feel in your body.
Bob Fisk - 0:14:37
Know what it is that you're offering just as, you know, doctors really ought not to prescribe prescriptions or medications for people that they're not aware of what effect they'll have. We shouldn't just drop people into these states and play music at random, so it's really important to take that seriously. I would steer people away from, and I think this is general practice anyway, but in case people are just getting into this, I would steer people away from any music with language, with words, or at least, especially with words that you can comprehend. So sometimes I will utilize some non-Western music, which has -- it doesn't have English in it.
Sherry Walling - 0:15:25
Maybe chanting or something, but it's not decipherable.
Bob Fisk - 0:15:28
Exactly, something that doesn't have meaning for you. So now, it just becomes the sound of somebody's voice as they sing or whatever it is, and there's the tonal qualities of the voice, the volume, the softness, or the delicateness about these things that has the impact and it's not whatever baggage the language might have for somebody. Well, language, you know, you might think the language of a particular song is meaningful to you. You don't always know what baggage some of those words might have for other people, so I would just steer clear of language in your music altogether. I'd also want people to at least open up to the possibility of some non-Western or non-equal temperament music and this maybe gets a little bit deeper into the music theory than you want to get into on this podcast, but, you know, there's plenty of cultures that don't utilize our Western equal-tempered musical system and scale.
Bob Fisk - 0:16:17
So most of the classical music and things that you'll find in a lot of playlists is all this Western classical equal-tempered music, which is fine and it can be very beautiful, and it can elicit some great experiences for people. However, what I would say is that-- the short of it is the harmonic progression that the equal temperament utilizes is nonnatural. It's not found when we look at the natural harmonic progression that some of the other cultures' music still utilizes. There is a deeper connection to a more full or broad range of the emotional experience of the human that I think we have access to when we open up to some of these, how should I say, their harmonies that don't exist in Western music and so therefore, sometimes if we relate these harmonies to emotional states or a nature of being the fact that we have not had the opportunity to experience some of these relationships point to emotional states or emotional qualities that we've yet to have the experience of. And so oftentimes, these types of music can give us something that's wholly novel and new, and so we're experiencing some of this music for the first time, and it's very fresh. Novelty has this ability to heighten our awareness and really bring all of our senses and our focus and our energy towards processing this new information that comes. So consider utilizing some non-Western music. Also, just another bit on this novelty, it's important to not overdo it with any particular song. You know, now as a therapist, you might be listening to that same song over and over because you're utilizing it for different people. However, try to make song selections or music selections that are things that people are not familiar with because, again, this brings up some of that novelty for them. I'd recommend not utilizing the same song in the same session for a person, you know, more than two or three times at most.
Bob Fisk - 0:18:15
If these are songs that people have heard in their past before, again, they already have imprinted baggage about when they heard it, what it meant for them, who was with them at the time, the type of person they thought they were at that time. So popular pieces of classical music or this type of thing that, yeah, it's likely that people have heard before, I would avoid a lot of that type of thing altogether. Try to find something that's new or novel and be changing it up.
Sherry Walling - 0:18:53
Are there certain instruments or sounds that you really love to use in your work?
Bob Fisk - 0:18:57
The broadest category, I would just say, is overtone-producing instruments. So a big part of the work that I focus on for people is first and foremost having them recognize that their attention or their awareness is separate from their mind. Most of the time, we all spend habitually in a world where our attention is just glued to the contents of our mind. We watch the language spin. We watch the story. We watch all the labels that the mind says, "Oh, look! And now, here's where you're at now," and "Oh, isn't that beautiful?" And all of this type of thing.
Bob Fisk - 0:19:30
The meditative practice that we work on is about learning to direct your attention to something else other than the mind because in fact it is separate, and we can allow the mind to spin and do its thing. The secret is that we don't have to watch it do that all the time. It can be really tiring.
Sherry Walling - 0:19:57
For the next part of this conversation, I was curious about the history of how music and perhaps psychedelics have been used culturally from traditional pairings of sound and healing practices, to more like contemporary adaptations of how music and psychedelics pair together. So I talked with Mitchell Gomez, who is the Executive Director of DanceSafe. We'll talk about it in our conversation about DanceSafe as an organization that acknowledges that drugs and music often go together, so how do we do that in the safest way possible? Mitchell Gomez is a graduate of New College of Florida and has his Master's from CU Denver. He joined the DanceSafe as our National Outreach Director in 2014 and was promoted to Executive Director in 2017.
Sherry Walling - 0:20:39
He has volunteered at the Burning Man Organization, the Zendo Project, MAPS, SSDP, and other small harm reduction projects for many years, and is a passionate advocate for reality-based drug policy and harm reduction. What drew you in, do you think, to the rave scene? Was it the music? Was it the sort of crowd experience? What was the hook for you?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:21:09
Yeah, I mean, I think more than anything, it was actually the access to substances. So to me, the sort of the big question, the sort of grand mystery is how like, you know, a few pounds of gelatinous matter becomes aware that it's a few pounds of gelatinous matter. Like, how our brains generate consciousness, I think, is like the question, like it's the big, big, big question. And I do really, genuinely think that psychedelics are the best tool we have for directly analyzing that question, right? So by looking at how these things alter our experiences of reality from like, you know, a neuropharmacological perspective.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:21:38
We can sort of start teasing apart like how our brains are actually doing what they do, which is still something that we just like don't understand super well like as a species, like there's just not-- we have not figured out the big answer to that big question. And then seven or eight years ago, DanceSafe was hiring an outreach coordinator, and so, yeah, I applied. I've sort of given up on being able to like do this as a career. Like it was something I was still interested in and involved in, and I'd volunteered with a bunch of like small harm reduction groups in Florida throughout the years.
Sherry Walling - 0:22:12
So outside of, you know, drug nerd, what's the mission of DanceSafe?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:22:16
Yeah, so, we're sort of a broad-spectrum harm reduction organization, so the reason DanceSafe started and one of our main focuses has always been on on-site drug checking. So unregulated marketplaces are, in general, very risky compared to regulated marketplaces, right? When you buy a beer that says 3.1% alcohol, you know, with certainty that it is 3.1% alcohol. We have a million layers of regulation to control that. If there's something wrong with that beer, we know what store it was sold at, what truck brought it to that store, what place manufactured it, where the aluminum and the cans was mined at, where the hops in the beer was grown at, right? We can trace the chain back and figure out where the problem happened very, very easily. And so, you know, regulated markets have these sort of built-in safeties.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:22:55
Unregulated marketplaces don't have any of that, right? And so, we end up seeing a lot of really, really, really serious problems that only exist because of drug prohibition. So, you know, we see things like N-ethylpentylone being sold as MDMA. You know, we see cocaine that's heavily adulterated with methamphetamine. We see cocaine that has fentanyl in it.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:23:14
I mean, fentanyl-adulterated cocaine is killing people all over the country. And, so you know, our primary-- I don't even want to say our primary focus but one of our sort of pillars of focus has always been on helping to deal with these issues of prohibition-created adulteration. So we set up these events, people bring us their drugs, we chemically analyze them, and then provide appropriate harm reduction messaging even if the drug is what they think it is, right? Because even if your MDMA is MDMA, if you take it when it's super hot outside and you don't drink enough water, you can have problems. Even if your cocaine is cocaine, if you take a lot of cocaine and a lot of alcohol, there are metabolites that are produced in your liver that can be quite dangerous.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:23:50
And so even if the drugs are what a person thinks they are, there is a sort of educational process that goes with that. But the reality is very, very often drugs are not what a person thinks they are and that can radically change the risk profile. Yeah, and so that's a big part of what we do. I don't want to say it's the main part.
Sherry Walling - 0:24:11
What's the relationship between psychedelics and music?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:24:13
Because obviously, this is a scene. These are things that co-occur.
Sherry Walling - 0:24:16
They go together. Whether it's the rave or the electronic music scene, for some, go hand in hand with psychedelic usage. What do you think is going on there?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:24:25
And so yeah, I think part of it is the recognition that like the music scene is not unique in that respect. There are, you know, psychedelics are everywhere. But also, I think part of it is that psychedelics do enhance a lot of people's experience of music, of the sort of visual stimulation that has become sort of part of the music community. And so, yeah, I mean, I think there is a relationship there that's real. I don't want to dismiss that. Sometimes, the drugs that have led to certain changes within, you know, given music scenes are not always the obvious ones.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:24:55
Anyone who's done nitrous oxide and listened to like any sort of background noise recognizes that like that auditory distortion that happens on nitrous oxide has been worked into electronic music. I mean, it's just a very sort of undeniable thing. Yeah, drugs have been part of the music community since the invention of music, and so I think, you know, people who don't want to talk about that, people who want to ignore that history, I think in a lot of ways are doing a disservice to how the community developed and to just sort of, you know, how humans behave. I think it's important to acknowledge the truth of that situation.
Sherry Walling - 0:25:31
And I think, you know, for our purposes here, we're also sort of asking the question about the role of psychedelics in healing, the role of psychedelics in therapy. Of course, you're familiar with MAPS and this whole world, but even to come at it from the music perspective, how important is music to a therapy session that is supported with psychedelics, or how important is music to a journey experience that someone may go on to try to heal something or even just elevate their level of consciousness? Is music essential? Do they kind of go hand in hand? Are they braided together? Or is music just like, you know, the soundtrack that plays in the background of the elevator?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:26:11
I think they are incredibly important and I think that that's a sort of real dynamic that plays out with psychedelics. I mean, even if you look at like, you know, the traditional ayahuasca communities, they have these icaros, these songs that the healers perform during the ayahuasca ceremonies that are integral to the ayahuasca experience. I mean they are a sort of core part of the traditional South American indigenous songs, these magical songs, as, you know, how they're often translated although I think that translation is a little iffy. And, you know, MAPS has a soundtrack that they have put together and publicly released that they use for their MDMA psychotherapy sessions. You can find that soundtrack on the MAPS website where it's important enough that they are creating standards around care that include music, that, you know, recognize music as like a part of this experience. And so, yeah, I mean, I think that connection is important and is also historically validated if you look at, you know, living traditions of psychedelic use.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:27:09
That is a real part of these traditions.
Sherry Walling - 0:27:18
That some kind of sound is almost always part of those traditional uses.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:27:21
Yeah, I mean, I think that to ignore that dynamic would not really make sense. And, so yeah, I think that it's an important part of this conversation. Is that like music and psychedelics go back together as far back as we can trace them, right? I mean, this is a thing that we see. You know, there are Siberian cave paintings that are clearly psychedelic, shamanism depictions, and the guy in the deer head mask is almost always holding a drum, right? I mean, these are cave paintings that have, you know, imagery that make it very clear that this is related to altered states of consciousness, whether that was through, you know, fasting or amanita muscaria or whatever substances they were using. And like, you know, guys who always got that drum, right?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:28:01
It's literally carved into the walls of caves, you know, that go back to the very, very, very, very beginning of humanity, sort of starting to explore music. It seems to be linked to, you know, psychedelic shamanism. And, you know, shaman is actually a term that applies very specifically to the Siberian healers and so, like that's actually shamanism, right? We're talking about the actual proper use of that term, not as part of what really means of shaman.
Sherry Walling - 0:28:29
Mitchell Gomez - 0:28:29
And so, yeah, I think that that is a dynamic worth exploring and worth understanding because, yeah, these Buryat shamans in Siberia, their use of altered states of consciousness is not just like a historical, you know, story. It's a living tradition, you know, (inaudible) are a part of that living tradition. Yeah, there's a lot of different options for what they were using, but like, really, they go together all the way back to the beginning.
Sherry Walling - 0:28:57
And I think one of the challenges in thinking about how to use psychedelics in these different contexts is how to maintain the set and setting. How to maintain those unique healing processes? But then they are done in a lab with someone wearing a lab coat, sometimes, you know, that we're removing the psychedelic experience from the places in which it's happened organically with music, with crowds, with other places and put it into an environment in which everything is controlled by necessity out of research purposes, and so music is this interesting part of it. Do you use this consistent playlist same thing for everyone? Or do you try to tailor the soundscape to the individual and what their journey might entail?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:29:47
You know, MAPS is certainly using the same one. They have a set playlist. You know, I think the idea that you can somehow take these traditional, you know, shamanic practices and bring them into a medicalized context, I'm skeptical of. I'm generally relatively skeptical of particularly for profit medicine-- medicine that's done in a, you know, either be a corporate or 501(c)(3) model, I'm marginally less skeptical of, but, yeah. I mean, I think that that's certainly what a lot of people are attempting to do is take these traditional, you know, healing methodologies and bring them into Western medicine and get them through the FDA approval process often because they can see, you know, these massive dollar signs floating on the horizon, and we're starting to see some real problems with that.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:30:22
I mean, there are companies now that have filed patents, that try to patent things even as simple as like soft furniture and holding hands as part of psychedelic healing, and, you know, the idea that that would be a patentable part of this...
Sherry Walling - 0:30:42
Something that can be owned.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:30:44
Something that can be owned. I'm very, very, very skeptical of that, and I find that to be very problematic even if I recognize that, you know, they're operating within the system that is created by global capitalism, and that like this is just sort of how you, you know, its FDA approval is a billion-dollar process, right? And so when MDMA is done going through its FDA approval process, which should be next year, it's going to be the second time in history that a drug has been developed by a nonprofit, so this has only happened twice where a drug has been developed by somebody other than a company that is seeking to make money. And so, yeah, it's by far the outlier, right? It is not the norm, and so I think, you know, just recognizing that they're working within that system is okay. But, yeah, I'm skeptical of it.
Sherry Walling - 0:31:31
So I guess I'm thinking about, again, this kind of question about healing processes in music and the ways in which music can maybe get in the way or facilitate that approach towards consciousness that you were seeking when you were really a quite young guy.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:31:51
A literal child, yeah.
Sherry Walling - 0:31:52
Which is amazing, I mean, yeah, that's a whole other conversation, right? How people are drawn to this work and what sparked within you at that age that you were so curious about that is so fascinating. But in the pursuit of consciousness or a deeper understanding of consciousness, how music helps or hinders, and were there moments for you and your sort of journey in this work or in your personal life where the right sound happened at the right time that took you to that next level of awareness, or maybe the opposite where the wrong sound at the wrong time was really, really disruptive to what was happening inside of you?
Mitchell Gomez - 0:32:27
Yeah, the fact that our brains are capable of doing that and that music can interact with them in the same way, right? Music goes both directions, I think. I forgot which comedian it was. It was either maybe Bill Hicks or, you know, one of those comedians who said that, you know, if you're anti-drug and listen to music, you're just a hypocrite, right? Because all of your favorite music was developed by people who really rely on drugs, right? I think it was Bill Hicks because I recall him stretching the word real and that sort of (inaudible) thing. And so, yeah, you know, I think that trying to figure out what Western music would look like without psychedelics is impossible.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:32:57
It's just been too-- it's been too integral to the development of music going back to the 1950s, and even earlier than that, I mean, you know, there was a lot of peyote use within the jazz scene in the '40s. I mean, it's really, you know, we're going on 100 years now of psychedelics just being sort of at the heart of music for so, so many artists. That trying to figure out what music would look like without psychedelics is just not a doable task. And so the fact that we ignore that as a society, the fact that we sort of pretend that, "Oh, the music is here and the drugs are there," but they're not...
Sherry Walling - 0:33:32
Music is good, the drugs are bad.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:33:36
Music is good, the drugs are bad (crosstalk). The music wouldn't exist.
Sherry Walling - 0:33:38
Thanks for the music, keep your drugs over there.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:33:38
Yeah. The music wouldn't even be here, like it just wouldn't-- we wouldn't have it. And you know, we get the rare artists who's willing to stand up and say that, you know, loudly. That's sort of the exception, not the rule, which is, I think unfortunate, but also just sort of unavoidable when we're talking about, you know, a world that so heavily criminalizes these altered states of consciousness where we have this massive, massive prison population because of drugs. I've got friends serving sentences over five years right now for LSD. And so, like, you know, we're talking about mass criminalization of a state of consciousness that's been part of humanity since the very, very beginning of humanity.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:34:06
And so, it makes sense that people would be hesitant to stand up and be like, "Hey, that album you really love, like, I was only able to do this because of LSD," right? Or only able to do this because of MDMA. It makes sense that people are hesitant to be that.
Sherry Walling - 0:34:26
To publicly pair them together.
Mitchell Gomez - 0:34:29
Right, to publicly pair them together. I often use the terminology out of the fractal closet, and so I think that, you know, the same way that gay rights moved the needle in the early days was by people who could be out. Being out really moved the conversation.
Sherry Walling - 0:34:51
I think it's really helpful to have the cultural context that Mitchell provides and to understand historically how psychedelics and music have played together both in our distant history and in our more contemporary history. For me, as a psychologist, I'm very curious about the way that we can transition these powerful consciousness tools from the rave scene into the therapy realm. So if you're listening to this podcast, you are probably well aware of the significant body of research that is currently being conducted into the utility that psychedelics may have for healing significant mental distress and really creating new opportunities that disrupt what, in my opinion, are pretty broken systems of care. Lots of people suffering significantly and it looks like psychedelics have the potential to be extraordinarily helpful. So I wanted to continue this conversation with a friend and a colleague, Heather Smith, who is a licensed therapist and someone who's done pretty extensive training in how to help people integrate psychedelic experiences into their day-to-day life.
Sherry Walling - 0:35:51
She's an experienced therapist who's talked to lots of folks about their psychedelic experiences and helps shift those from one-off moments to deeply healing experiences. So we jump right in with a conversation about the role that music and sound play in those journeys. Yeah, it's so interesting to talk with people about their journey experiences and obviously, you're a therapist and have heard lots and lots of stories about the ways that psychedelic medicines have been powerful for people in their journey, and I have certainly talked with folks who have found music to be a central part of either the themes of the journey, their emotional experience, or sometimes pretty disruptive. I guess I'm just curious if you're hearing that too, if that comes up in your conversations with people.
Heather Smith - 0:37:02
Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's a wide variety of experience with music, I think from people feeling like it's super supportive, and they fall in love with the music that they're listening to when they journey, to people who can't stand it and want it off.
Sherry Walling - 0:37:17
It's abrasive, like, "No!" It's too much stimulation sometimes.
Heather Smith - 0:37:20
Yeah, absolutely. And even to include, you know, like the volume. I've heard a lot of people say, you know, they felt like the volume was too high and they needed it just to be like turned way down. So there can be a lot of variability when it comes to music and how much it's impacting people.
Sherry Walling - 0:37:37
Yeah, I've done just a little bit of reading on this subject and in terms of how, you know, really neurologically, the senses are heightened, that people are way more attentive to variation in tone, in the process of a psychedelic experience than they would be in their normal walking-around life. So it makes sense that it would be, you know, sometimes the amplification of music in terms of the sensory cortex is both positive and negative, but it can sort of go either way.
Heather Smith - 0:38:08
Yeah, absolutely. And in that amplification, it's interesting how, you know, the music can either amplify and expand an experience and make it feel even more intense, or you can use the music to help kind of take it the other way and kind of soften it and relax. You know, different trajectories in the journey, music can be supportive, right? So if you're really increasing and the trajectory of the medicine is really increasing in intensity, sometimes matching that with the music is the right way to go. However, there are also times, you know, when a person has been really in it very intensely for a very long time, and there almost might be a sensation of, they might need a little break.
Sherry Walling - 0:38:49
Yeah, like coming down.
Heather Smith - 0:38:50
Right, right. So let's put on, you know, like something a little bit more gentle to help that person maybe recenter or take a break or just kind of, "It's okay to rest." So it's really quite amazing how much the music can kind of carry the person in their experience.
Sherry Walling - 0:39:07
And I think one of the challenges that people experience as they planned, or you know, people who are making these plans for themselves, whether they're doing that alone or with a sitter or something is maybe you put together a playlist and you think it's going to feel a certain way, or people think they're going to have a certain kind of experience. Perhaps, their journey is based in grief in some way, or so, they're playing soft, or you know, the intention that you have going into the process isn't necessarily what happens, and so I think, especially for folks, how do you make those shifts in real time?
Heather Smith - 0:39:44
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a great question and it's funny how, you know, our best intentions of planning ahead and trying to kind of create that experience can like exactly what I think you're saying is like sometimes it doesn't go exactly the way you think it's going to go, and you completely shift gears, so I think that's one of the things, you know, and good preparation is to know that to some degree we can change the plan, right? Like if the music is too activating that there is the option to say, "Hey, I really need to change this music."
Sherry Walling - 0:40:15
Yeah, I am curious how the formal training programs kind of introduced the conversation around music like because MAPS has a pretty consistent playlist, so does Johns Hopkins like. And obviously, from the research perspective, you want to control those variables, so the research studies generally are going to use a very consistent playlist each time.
Heather Smith - 0:40:35
Yeah and actually in MAPS, it isn't super consistent. It is pretty variable and in fact, sometimes they will even use a shuffle mode and kind of allow whatever comes up to just have a very kind of random organic way of doing that. But one of the things that they do teach is that if a person isn't liking the music, if they initially say, "Oh, I'm not liking this," before you instantly change it, it's really important to ask the person, "Could you stay with it just a little bit further and see if it's bringing up something that is actually emerging that might be really worthwhile?" And that's super valuable to just see if you can just, you know, you don't want to force a person to stay in it if it's like agonizing for them. But if the music is inducing something that's important to come through, it's nice if you can just invite that person just to check, and again, I think in preparation, it's a good thing to introduce of, like, there might be a music that feels activating and it might feel cringy in your body or it might feel like it's emerging something that you don't want to see. But of course, that's kind of the whole point of these journeys, right?
Heather Smith - 0:41:32
It's like to move towards whatever is coming up, so it's a good technique for people who are sitting for other people to know how to manage the music in that way and it's also good for the client to know that can happen and just for them to have a bit of preparation for how that would be handled.
Sherry Walling - 0:41:52
Yeah, so to not kind of panic if, "Oh, I hate this music, I can't get out of it." You know, part of that conversation that you're having certainly with, in the clinical setting, is the ability to express what you need and then interact around that discomfort. Maybe stay with it, maybe move out of it, but to have that be part of the process that you're interacting with the music as part of the sort of clinical stimuli.
Heather Smith - 0:42:15
Yes, exactly, yeah. I was doing some integration work with a client who told me that in her psychedelic journey that had happened to her where she had music come on that was really agitating to her system, and her sitter said, "Just see, you could stay with it just a moment, just see what happens if you stick with it another 30 seconds," and she reported she was so grateful that she did that. It did bring through something that she actually really needed to see. So from the other side of that, she was able to see the benefit.
Sherry Walling - 0:42:44
I think it's an interesting conundrum for the therapists in the world who are, you know, wanting to be trained and really excellent and proficient in this field. It's like, "Do you have to go to DJ school too?" Like, "Do I need to be a musician in order to be a great psychedelic therapist?" And I think, it is a skill set that not all of us sort of have coming out of PhD school. So, I mean, how has that been for you as you have done formal training in psychedelic-supported psychotherapy and are you finding your own DJ vibe as you think about how to support people?
Heather Smith - 0:43:16
Yeah, yeah. You know, I don't feel compelled that I need to go that far, but again, what we were taught and you know, I really stand by this, is that it is really important to know your playlist, right? So that if you do need to switch gears and move into, you know, slower, more activated, or whatever type of music you need to move to, it's really important to know what your...
Sherry Walling - 0:43:39
How to get there.
Heather Smith - 0:43:40
Right, right. And I think that's just on a very minimal level, like that would be sufficient in terms of DJ'ing, but obviously, you know, the more fine-tunes that you're with at, I mean, that could be really supportive for that experience.
Sherry Walling - 0:43:57
How do you feel about music with words?
Heather Smith - 0:43:59
Yeah, that's a good question. You know, again, what they teach is, don't put voices in there. I think that sometimes it'd be activating in terms of, well of course, like regular lyrics, you know, like popular songs and stuff like that would of course take a person to preconceive context of where they might know that song from, so that might be something. I think another context of voices is, you know, a lot of like religious world music or some choir music, that type of thing. That also could be very activating in terms of the religious context that, you know, some people might be really averse to. However, I will say, I've also had clients tell me that in the middle of a session they felt all of a sudden like they really needed to hear a certain song and it might have been, you know, something they would just really like or are into right now, and I think that there's gotta be latitude for that, right? Like if person really needs to hear something in that moment, that that should be an option.
Sherry Walling - 0:44:49
Get going on Spotify and find it.
Heather Smith - 0:44:52
Sherry Walling - 0:44:52
Be able to support them in that way.
Heather Smith - 0:44:53
Yes, exactly, yeah. So I think, generally speaking, no lyrics is best, but you know, I think that we have a lot to learn when it comes to music. There's so much more research that can be done and I'll also say it depends on the medicine. Yeah, so you know with like MDMA, the music is different than with psilocybin. MDMA music is more intended to be more of like an elevator background music. Sort of like typically people have an experience with MDMA that just kind of takes it, like they kind of ride the waves of the music, but it's very background-oriented, but still fostering and facilitating the journey.
Sherry Walling - 0:45:28
But not interacting with the music as much. It's, I guess, background track is sort of a helpful, you know, you hear the music in a film and you can feel that it's moving, but really, you're focused on the story of what's happening in the movie.
Heather Smith - 0:45:43
Exactly, exactly, yup. Whereas with psilocybin, it tends to be a little bit more forward with you, right? So the music with psilocybin tends to really-- seems to have much more greater impact on the flow and unfolding of whatever is coming out for that person. And so you'll hear it like in the Johns Hopkins' playlists, it tends to be much more robust, amplified, big music.
Sherry Walling - 0:46:10
Big orchestral like...
Heather Smith - 0:46:11
Yeah, yeah. And then, you know, a lot of the MDMA-type lists that you might find, it does tend to be a little bit more spa-like or it's just kind of like a background support.
Sherry Walling - 0:46:22
Yeah, but that conversation around fit, right? What's the intention of the healing journey? What's the medicine? What is the support available? And then kind of making those plans accordingly.
Heather Smith - 0:46:33
Yeah. And I think those fits into that as well, right? So when you're talking about intention, if a person wants to do a low-dose psilocybin psycholytic sort of space, right? Maybe a gram, the music for that might be very different than if they're going to do kind of a big high dose of 5 grams or something like that, right? So bigger music for higher dose maybe and more spa-like meditative music for a low dose. The music would follow the intention there.
Sherry Walling - 0:46:59
I wonder, just in the course of your work, if there are kind of music horror stories that stand out to you where someone had a pretty big like, "Aaaah, I don't want to hear this."
Heather Smith - 0:47:09
Yes, I've heard of some of those. I know the story where somebody was journeying and it was a really hard, hard journey. Probably, you know, they described as one of the most difficult ones that they had. But what they reported, they noticed that every time the music changed, the journey would shift for them.
Sherry Walling - 0:47:26
Like each track or each song shifted and they sort of shifted location or scenario in their minds?
Heather Smith - 0:47:32
Yeah, and so what they began to realize was, "Oh, every time the music changes, something inside of me is changing." And so, if they were in a tough spot, they would just wait it out for the music to change.
Sherry Walling - 0:47:46
"End of the song, end of the song. How long can this song be?"
Heather Smith - 0:47:48
Yeah. It was kind of these learning lessons of like everything changes, like there's always a shift in things, right? So if you just wait this out, you'll come into a new space. You know, I think for that person that in and of itself wasn't part of the lesson they were learning. I believe that was a psilocybin experience for that person where the music that we talked about tends to be a little bit more dynamic for that. Yeah, I mean, music could be really cringy for people sometimes, so it's worth being curious for it.
Heather Smith - 0:48:13
Like what is that? You know, what is that bringing up inside?
Sherry Walling - 0:48:19
How do you use or do you use music in the integration process, like, you know, in as sort of a follow-up process? What role does maybe music play?
Heather Smith - 0:48:29
So a lot of sites during research and a lot of the sites working like ketamine and doing other legal manners of working with us, they're giving their playlists to the clients and patients that are coming to them. And so, you know, when people have these playlists refer back to, especially in the immediate hours afterwards in the first 24 or 36 hours after their journey, if they can re-listen to that playlist, it can often solicit a lot of what they just experienced to help them like ground it and solidify it in their mind. And I was just on a consultation call with a woman last week and she talked about how her patients were replaying the playlists in lifting heavy weights.
Sherry Walling - 0:49:08
Like literally weightlifting, like in a gym?
Heather Smith - 0:49:09
Yep, and this is immediately after, but this was like in a week later type thing. And what the people were doing was just kind of having this somatic experience of this heavy weightlifting combined with this big experience that they just had from psychedelic journey, and how there was something about the combination of those two things happening at the same time that was really profound for people.
Sherry Walling - 0:49:31
Like sort of lifting heavy hard-- heavy psychological things in the context of a journey and then doing that very literally with your muscles and with your physical body and the integration process. That's fascinating.
Heather Smith - 0:49:45
Ooh, super fascinating. Yeah. I thought that, "Wow, that's really interesting," and again so much research can be done, like, what's happening there, you know. Obviously, so many things are connected but very interesting.
Sherry Walling - 0:49:54
Well, anything else that comes to mind that-- or your sort of gems of wisdom around music and these processes?
Heather Smith - 0:50:02
Music, definitely, is super important to it all and I think, you know, just having a lot of openness and flexibility to playing whatever is right for that person. And sometimes, that looks like putting a song on replay and playing that one song for six hours, right? And for the sitter, that could be profoundly annoying, but whatever that client is needing, if that's facilitating and keeping them in a flowing process of places they need to go and not, of course, keeping them stuck. You know, just being curious as to how that the music is supporting them in that way and it just also speak to the integration piece. I think another way that it can be used from an integrative space is a lot of people meditate to the music that they turn to.
Heather Smith - 0:50:38
So if people are incorporating meditation into their lives, in this whole process, that can be another way people can really connect to the music and you know, I think even noting what was the most profound music for some times. You know, there might be one particular song that person really, really hit them in a particular moment of their journey, and you know, for people sitting through them, it can be helpful to just write the title of that song down and be sure they have that to go away with, but really using, letting the music be a part of that supportive experience as we take home your journey.
Sherry Walling - 0:51:22
The last piece of this conversation is with Zach McMahon. He's the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of LUCID. LUCID is an organization that delivers personalized and validated music experience to improve health and wellness outcomes. They are using cutting edge technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to be able to match the right soundscape to someone's individualized biological in-the-moment and real-time experience. Their goal is to unlock the power of music for each unique individual by really seeking to understand the connection between the music and the listener. They are the cutting edge and the individualized DJ that Heather and I were talking about in the last conversation.
Sherry Walling - 0:52:03
So Zach, I am just really grateful for the opportunity to talk to you today, and I think my first curiosity is just to know a little bit more about LUCID, about this company that you run and what you all do.
Zach McMahon - 0:52:28
So we are a digital health company. We're based in Toronto. Our whole thesis at LUCID is first that music has a large opportunity to be therapeutic. There's a lot of potential for music and music therapy and therapeutic music, but that the music industry, the digital health industry, the kind of the scientific world, and people who work and live in it, haven't been able to extract the full potential of therapeutic music for a couple of kind of core reasons. And the first of those reasons is that music is largely an entertainment medium. So music, musicians, artists, producers, they've got to make great music that can be distributed to everybody, right? And then, if you're using music in any kind of therapeutic context, most of the time, that music won't be managed or measured in a material way.
Zach McMahon - 0:53:13
So the use of music in therapeutic contexts in an academic setting or in papers that we've referenced or used, sometimes there's measurement happening, but no one is actually kind of watching over this kind of therapeutic experience, collecting data from the user, wearables, sensors and things like that and then analyzing how it worked.
Sherry Walling - 0:53:44
Like there's not a lot of science necessarily that goes into the process of using music as a healing modality or to support a healing process?
Zach McMahon - 0:53:52
There's not, there's not. The world of traditional music therapy is a fantastic space. You've got active music therapy or your work, you're playing, you're singing, you're dancing around music with a patient or a group of people in like long-term care home. And then you've got passive music therapy in which you're going to build a playlist, let's say for a dementia patient, the reminiscence therapy. But when you deliver that playlist, you're not collecting very fine-toothed data on what's happening, the metadata behind the music.
Zach McMahon - 0:54:22
If you think about other areas that we work in, like finance, right? Or real estate, every little transaction has data, and it's all being monitored and watched and analyzed, and you think about the algorithms we've built for high-intensity trading on Wall Street and Bay Street. That kind of technology in AI, we're adapting those tools to the use of music for therapy, and when we do that, we can understand what type of music is going to be best for Zach to achieve some kind of outcome and what type of music is going to be best for Sherry to achieve some kind of outcome.
Sherry Walling - 0:55:04
Which is very different than how it may be used. I'm a clinical psychologist, so every once in a while, music will make its way into my work, and essentially the outcome measure is, did you like it? Did that help you? Do you feel more relaxed? Or you know, whatever the outcome was. So to bring the level of nuance and sort of scientific discovery and assessment to that conversation is not something that's ever happened in the context of my professional career, and it sounds like where LUCID is really kind of leading the conversation.
Zach McMahon - 0:55:34
Yeah, we are, and I think asking somebody if they like music is a really great one question, yes/no psychometric. We just take it to the next level, right? So we're using-- one of the core psychometrics to our method is the Russell Circumplex Model of Affective States, right? So we kind of model music and user interactions against that model, so we look at the arousal level of music, whether it's low arousal, which is great for sleep or high arousal, which is better for, you know, exercise and then the mood of the music, the valence, which is, you know, happier or sadder. And there's a number of principles within that, that come from music theory such as the Iso-principle that explained why we desire sad music when we're sad, which is it's matching our emotions.
Zach McMahon - 0:56:18
It's meeting us where we are, and what we find in our data, is that if you can meet somebody where they are with their kind of emotional or cognitive state, you can help coax them along the path to where you want them to be. So moving a patient or a user from a state of sadness to calm it's-- to a happier state, right?
Sherry Walling - 0:56:41
So, you're using music as a bridge to help someone pass through different affective states.
Zach McMahon - 0:56:46
That's right. When we look at the literature around music for therapeutic contexts, there's just a ton of evidence that says music was able to do this within mood, within anxiety, even in things like epilepsy, right? Inflammation. There's a ton of literature behind music. None of it gets into the specific mechanism of action, but when we define a goal or some kind of outcome we're measuring, and we can use the AI tools and the big data tools to do the pattern matching, we start getting these insights that say, "Hey. This music is more optimal for this use case," right? And then we let the system go from there.
Sherry Walling - 0:57:25
And what are the go-to things that you most commonly measure without deep diving the technology too much? So I might ask, "Hey, did you like it?" But what's the deeper dive, more nuanced, maybe physiological sort of measurement structure that you might use?
Zach McMahon - 0:57:41
Yeah, so the most basic ways that we're measuring a patient or a user is on that continuum of energy level, arousal, and valence, so mood, right? And we try to understand either using psychometrics like what you said was, "Hey did you like it? Did you not like it?" We do that to understand where a user begins their kind of therapeutic context. So if we're talking about an in-clinic experience, where are they at the beginning of their experience? Where do we want to get them towards the end of the experience?
Zach McMahon - 0:58:08
Or what kind of journey? What kind of emotional journey do we want to take a user on? So when we can define that, we can manage to that and we would use psychometrics where they're available, whether it's a caregiver reporting on these things, whether it's the patient themselves reporting on these things, or in some cases, we're using wearable technology or sensors or hearables to be able to assess these things. Or at least update our predictions, which gives us this richer lake of data on which we can learn and optimize and drive better outcomes.
Sherry Walling - 0:58:47
So it's this deep personalization based on someone's affective state, how their body is reacting in the environment. I mean, do you kind of even ask people what kind of music they like? Is this classical music versus The Beatles or is it much more?
Zach McMahon - 0:59:01
Yeah, so we ask people what kind of music they like when we don't have preference information. A lot of times from the data, we can predict which kind of music they like.
Sherry Walling - 0:59:14
Zach McMahon - 0:59:14
One of the things we're fascinated with aging populations, and one of the things I would like to do eventually is get to the point where we can deliver an experience to someone. Let's say, with dementia without getting any information from them or their families, make predictions on the music that they actually enjoyed when they were younger, measuring their physical kind of reaction to what they hear, and doing that pattern matching over time to say, "Yeah, I predict that your grandmother was a big fan of Elvis," and it's like, 'How did you know that?" Right? It's like the AI figured it out because we're looking for the most optimal music that helps achieve this outcome. And if we're looking at kind of a dementia patient, we're looking at the mood that they've got, the level of agitation that they have, the level of cognition, right? If we're looking at somebody with anxiety, we're trying to say, "Can we reduce that anxiety?" Whether it's their state anxiety in the moment and over time as we measure their experiences, are we reducing their trade anxiety?
Sherry Walling - 1:00:18
I think one of the curiosities that we focus on in this podcast or in this conversation is how the world of psychedelics is sort of resurging and entering this conversation around mental health care and, you know, certainly lots of applications of psychedelics are being explored currently. And one of the common themes across, whether it's different medicines or different modalities, is the use of music or sound in those kinds of experiences. And so currently, most of the research is happening with a standardized playlist, you know, which is fine. Obviously, there are various scientific reasons for controlling the variables that are at play, but one of the things that we think about in the healing world and I talked about with my therapist friends, is how to really personalize those experiences, which is where it sounds like a technology like LUCID could be really, really interesting and powerful.
Zach McMahon - 1:01:14
Yeah, I agree. I think personalizing any kind of clinical or therapeutic experience is important, and there's a lot that's going to go into an in-clinic delivery of a psychedelic-assisted therapy. You could even look at the chair and say, "We have a one-size-fits-all chair," or "We've got a chair that can be personalized and fit to ensure the comfort of this user." You're going to have a better experience, right? If you can make that user...
Sherry Walling - 1:01:44
You can lean back in the chair.
Zach McMahon - 1:01:47
Sherry Walling - 1:01:47
You can sit up, you can lie all the way down. It's flexible.
Zach McMahon - 1:01:48
Oh, yeah. So just, you know, imagine the analog of, you've got one study with a standardized chair and you've got to have that so you can control the experience or something that's obviously going to be better to make that patient more comfortable. It's kind of a funny analog, you know. Chairs aren't generally indicated in the literature to help support these therapeutic outcomes, but music is, right? So when we look at the literature, there's kind of two leading theories behind the use of music. The first is that music aids in recovery and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system and the second key theory in this space is that music modulates emotion in the brain so impacting and influencing the limbic and paralimbic systems, right?
Zach McMahon - 1:02:29
So kind of where we feel pain. Those are the theories. Those are the hypothesis we're testing and we believe, and we've seen in our own evidence and data that if you're measuring these outcomes through objective or subjective measurement and personalizing the music to those outcomes, you're going to get better experiences. For some users, those that lift might be small, but for some users that might be quite massive, right? And when we're talking about things like drug-resistant anxiety disorders or depression, why not stack the odds in our favor of being successful?
Sherry Walling - 1:03:08
Sort of use everything that is accessible to us to support someone's healing process.
Zach McMahon - 1:03:13
Yeah. Give them a chair that can be adjusted, right? Give them an experience that can be adjusted and personalized and ensure that you've got, you know, the systems and processes in place to monitor that care. And I think what we're building in this space is a system that can be optimized for that patient, but then ultimately, can be checked and balanced by the therapist that's really driving those ultimate outcomes.
Sherry Walling - 1:03:38
So it's flexible both from the perspective of the patient who's having an experience but the therapist who may want to bring about even a different effective state. So, you know, sometimes often in this world, we're working to help calm people down, but sometimes the work is to help someone stay with something that is activating and kind of hold out there for a little while, even though that might not be the most comfortable option if you think about it cognitively. So for the clinician or the sitter or the therapist to have that sense of, "I know you wanna maybe move into a little more of a mellower state, but we have a little more work to do here with this active sound, so we're gonna stay in a little while."
Zach McMahon - 1:04:23
Yeah, that's very important and that's an early design consideration that we made for this use case, and so ultimately, the therapists, the sitter, they have ultimate control over the music experience. If they want to take that patient into a more traumatic feeling experience through the music, they can do that. If they want to stay there, they can do that. If they want to move towards music that's more transcendent and calming, they can do that too. And we can help them do that.
Zach McMahon - 1:04:50
So we're giving the therapists, we're giving the clinical experience this tool that doesn't currently exist. It's all based on evidence and research that we've built up and it's ultimately there if the therapist wants to use it.
Sherry Walling - 1:05:08
And it really sounds like a tremendously useful tool, and again, you're, I think, right on in the sense that you're talking about a thing that doesn't really exist yet. Therapists who are in this training or doing this work may have a sense of musical intuition that helps guide them, but that's not part of our graduate training, you know. I didn't do a lot of like DJ work as I was working on my PhD, so I think the ability to have that be really researched based in sound, in terms of that personalized experience in the moment is really, I think, a gift to the clients into the people who are doing this work.
Zach McMahon - 1:05:44
Yeah, and I think that as we take this into the space and we start to see the results, I know that, you know, LUCID and all of our partners who choose to work with us, we're all very much interested in publishing the data, publishing the results, being very transparent and researching and validating everything we do. And so, you know, I'm excited to maybe talk with you again in a year or two and we can even go into the data. We can say, "Here's what we found," right? Maybe we are able to do kind of a randomized control trial against this system that we're building and the Johns Hopkins' playlist, or something like that. Maybe we can include that.
Sherry Walling - 1:06:23
I would be so curious about that outcome.
Zach McMahon - 1:06:25
Yeah, yeah. We're going to have that data. We're going to have that data and whatever we learn from that research or in in-clinic experiences, it's all going to go back into the system to make it more effective, right? We're going to kind of look behind the curtain and we're going to find out ultimately what the potential of music is in these therapeutic use cases, and we're going to unlock it, and that will be something that we said that we're able to do. Once this was a mystery, it's no longer a mystery. We've figured it out and here's the data. That's really exciting for us.
Zach McMahon - 1:06:54
That's ultimately what drives us at LUCID.
Sherry Walling - 1:07:00
I can see you smile as you talk about that.
Zach McMahon - 1:07:03
Oh, yeah. We've got the moon shot. We've got the Mars shot, you know, and we ultimately think that music can be a very exciting and evidence-based modality for a lot of the diseases and symptoms within the neuropsychiatric space, accessible, enjoyable, right?
Sherry Walling - 1:07:19
Absolutely. And also humanizing. I mean, I think when we bring music into any kind of healing modality, it sort of moves past white coats and syringes, right? I think it makes, it softens the experience in such a way that really connects on the human level. I mean, I don't know this neuroscience deeply, but the fact that there are sections of the brain that seemed to purely exist to process and work with music, they don't seem to have other functions. That part of our experience of music is what makes us very deeply human.
Zach McMahon - 1:07:55
Yeah. Isn't that exciting? I don't know what researcher it was that said it, but they were looking at brain scans of individuals who are listening to music in a lab. I think this might have been at McGill. They've got a sound map there that's pretty advanced and they were remarking that the brain scans looked like the brain was lighting up like a Christmas tree, right? All the areas of the brain were kind of firing the frontal-- the cortex like the old brain, and that's really exciting for us and so understanding the computational tools we've got, the sensor tools we've got, the ability to process large amounts of data at very second level or even shorter and start to do the pattern matching, and we call it reinforcement learning.
Zach McMahon - 1:08:39
We don't call it that, but that's...
Sherry Walling - 1:08:43
The technical term?
Zach McMahon - 1:08:44
Yeah, the community calls it reinforcement learning where you're giving the system a reward when it's successful and the system decides to reorient itself in ways to improve that outcome, right? These are the same kind of AI systems that we're beating the world champion in chess, right? Or things like that. They figure out how to achieve the goal, and they achieve the goal. The one thing that comes up a lot that we haven't really spoken to was, why did we go on and build this and do this work?
Zach McMahon - 1:09:12
My co-founders and I all have unique-- and I think we all have very unique experiences with mental health, right? Whether it's ourselves or our families and we made a decision a number of years ago to see what we could do in this space with a modality like music that people enjoy, people already turned to so that we could look at kind of alleviating or making a positive impact on mental health care.
Sherry Walling - 1:09:41
Was there something that drew you to music in particular as the modality in which you wanted to work?
Zach McMahon - 1:09:47
I mean, don't we all love music? So for us at LUCID, why music was really twofold. So first, my co-founder, Aaron, he has a lot of experience in this space. He's a classically trained musician, a percussionist, and he kind of made this discovery early on when he was studying neuroscience and computational creativity at Ryerson University and kind of put, you know, connected the dots between what was technically possible, what was indicated in the literature, and what you could do within music. And that, you know, when I started talking to Aaron early on in the formation of the company, I was really looking for answers related to some mental health issues within my family and some of my most prized memories from when I was a child, which we were enjoying music with my family and with my mother and dancing and those were kind of the highlights of my childhood, was about music. And looking through my younger life and the different mental health challenges that came in and out, music was this kind of recurrent thing that got me through a lot of things.
Zach McMahon - 1:10:53
I think that's true for so many people. There's some research that one of the music labels we're working with sent us recently and they were looking at the impact of music through the pandemic and other kind of modalities. They found that 6 out of 10 people were turning to music to help manage stress and anxiety. But only 1 out of 10 people were using things like meditation or yoga.
Sherry Walling - 1:11:22
Music is easy. Music is engaging. It takes us to other places and deeply into ourselves if we want it to.
Zach McMahon - 1:11:29
I think everybody resonates with the idea or the kind of anecdotal way of saying, "Music is my drug."
Sherry Walling - 1:11:37
Zach McMahon - 1:11:37
Right? We're taking a really conscious and data-driven approach to validating that in a literal way, and that's really exciting.
Sherry Walling - 1:11:45
The euphoria of music.
Zach McMahon - 1:11:47
Sherry Walling - 1:11:47
Thank you so much for joining me on this conversational journey. I hope that it has sparked your own curiosity, maybe answered some questions, or giving you some new different ways to think about this topic. If you have something to say or would like to continue this conversation, feel free to pipe in at Mind Cure Health on Instagram or Twitter. Thanks for listening, and above all, stay curious. I want to end this episode with a musical treat. This track is entitled, Astral, and it is an original composition by Sacha Gabriel, who is the marketing manager at Mind Cure Health.
Sherry Walling - 1:12:28
It's Sacha's own musical interaction, musical integration with her own psychedelic learning. I thought this would be the perfect ending point for this journey through healing, sound, and psychedelics. Thanks so much for listening and enjoy Astral. (music)