Tips for Psychedelic Music Selection
Experienced psychedelic facilitators and therapists typically talk to patients before creating or selecting a psychedelic playlist. They ask patients about their healing intentions, cultural background, and songs that could elicit unwanted triggers. Gathering this information allows guides to curate a list that aligns with their needs.
Many facilitators, like Carol, then “live DJ” the journey, selecting songs based on their patients’ emotional responses. Personalization and adaptation are ideal for therapeutic outcomes.
However, psychedelic therapy sessions are not always so dynamic. Many psychedelic healing journeys occur in groups or at home without customization options.
Fortunately, centuries of indigenous use and decades of research provide actionable tips for creating or selecting a psychedelic music playlist:
1. Lean toward novelty
“The brain loves novelty,” according to Carol Gilson. Originality helps people form valuable insights, whereas high familiarity may prevent this occurrence by fettering the mind with prior associations.
For this reason, therapists recommend choosing novel tunes unless the patient wants to work through a particular trauma that familiar music could help invoke and resolve. Most facilitators lean toward non-English songs for this reason as well.
2. Design with the Arc in Mind
Most psychedelic playlists follow the psychedelic journey arc, with music to match the medicine and maximize the emotional response throughout each stage, namely ingestion and early medicine onset, ascent and peak, descent and “welcome back.”
Ingestion and early medicine onset:
Onset sounds are typically soft and easeful, playing just after ingestion while the patient is lying down and wearing eye shades and headphones.
“We typically ease in with something softer and melodic, nothing jarring. We don’t want to trigger the nervous system into fight or flight. We want to create a sense of safety so you can release and surrender. Nature sounds can reconnect us to a primordial knowing. This is a beautiful way to begin a journey, with support from the natural world.” – Karina Turtzo, Reunion
“Lyrics, even in unknown languages, can pull hypervigilant people out of the experience.” — Carol Gilson, Divine Spark Foundation
Onset music can include:
Religious or spiritual music (as long as it resonates)
The ascent and peak:
As the journey evolves towards its peak, Karina and Julian begin adding deeper sounds, like instrumentals that carry a sense of resonance with the medicine. These powerful vibrations can create discomfort, but Julian points out that overcoming resistance can create invaluable resilience.
“We encourage journeyers to be open, curious, and investigative about what’s coming up in their experience, especially if it is uncomfortable. Moments of discomfort are indicators that we’re touching into parts of self that need attention, re-evaluation and expression. They point us in the direction for further inquiry and invite us to lean in. Resistance is also a signal that unprocessed emotions are surfacing so they can be looked at, felt and healed. The medicine aided by music, instrumentation and directed sound can gift us with new perspectives, move stagnant energies and help us to integrate our learnings.” — Karina Turtzo and Julian DeVoe, Reunion plant medicine center.
As journeyers reach the peak, Carol Gilson selects songs with triumph.
“I often use [epic] movie scores to match the big, emotional, uplifting moment. These songs can feel really great. We’re celebrating a journey, after all. So, I want the music to mirror that huge expansion vibe and help the person reach that peak.”
Ascent and peak music can include:
Shamanic, rattling, or earth-based sounds
Songs that inspire joy
Descent; and the “welcome back”
Next in the sequence is the return, calling for gentle, soothing, and perhaps even familiar tunes
“I love to end with reverent music that makes the heart feel open and proud. You should feel proud. You’ve worked hard and discovered parts of yourself. Post-peak music should solidify the celebration in some way.”
Descent music typically looks like onset music:
Welcome back music can be anything, joyous or calming. For example, Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Playlist’s final songs include:
“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles
“Ocean Waves” by Jeffrey Thompson
3. Go loud
High-quality speakers and a comfortable environment alongside powerful volume allows participants to immerse themselves in the auditory experience emotionally and somatically.
Carol uses Harman Kardon surround sound speakers, with music so loud it shakes the floor, drowns out distracting sounds, and vibrates through the body.
We are mostly water. We’re vibrational beings. Music plays through us. [So if we can play it loud enough] to feel the frequency with our whole body–that’s incredibly powerful.
Music’s frequency traverses through every atom and nervous system tendril via the body’s liquid medium. The reverberation can stir latent energies, emotions, and even suppressed traumas.
Drawing from the famous book on trauma, “The Body Keeps the Score,” it’s clear that sound can function as a powerful catalyst for psychological issues interwoven with the entirety of one’s being.
4. Align the playlist with the journey duration
The timing and integration of music within a therapeutic session are key considerations.
Most curated psychedelic playlists are five to six hours, matching the typical journey duration for psilocybin and ayahuasca. However, the Johns Hopkins University playlist is nearly eight hours to account for people who might metabolize the medicine more slowly.
The timing and integration will ultimately depend on the medicine and the dosage. For example, IV ketamine experiences range from 30 minutes to an hour. LSD can last up to 12 hours. And ibogaine up to 24.
5. Download the playlist beforehand
Technology is an ally in psychedelic therapy until the wifi or power goes out.
To prevent a jarring end to mid-journey music, explorers, therapists, and facilitators should always download playlists beforehand and play music on a Bluetooth-enabled device.