Cannabis has been a mainstay in the music scene for decades. Associated with genres such as reggae, jazz, blues, and rock and roll cannabis has earned a notorious reputation in the music world.
In 1964 Bob Dylan famously introduced The Beatles to cannabis while staying at the Delmonico Hotel. Paul McCartney thought he had “attained true mental clarity for the first time in his life” and band manager Brian Epstein “became so stoned he could only speak, ‘I’m so high I’m up on the ceiling’”. The hotel room was filled with laughter and moments of inspiration for the British pop-stars and the group would continue to use cannabis to influence the evolution of its famous sound.
In order to understand the effects of cannabis on music an individual must first understand how music impacts the human brain. Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neurology at the University of Toronto explains that “sound is processed from the spinal cord to the cortex. This means that the entire range of the central nervous system is activated when we listen to a piece of music. The brain is really on fire when it listens to music, just from a physiological point of view. That’s really important because there’s pitch, there’s rhythm, there’s harmony, there’s timbre. That’s an enormous amount of work the brain does when it listens to music”.
When cannabis is consumed it acts on receptors in the central nervous system, making the system hyperactive and regulating things such as mood, appetite and sensation. Zachary Walsh, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia explains that “there’s certainly lots in the hippocampus and in the limbic system, which is associated with emotion and memory”. It is this inhibition of the formation of short-term memories that allows the user to “live in the moment” and truly experience the music.
According to Daniel Levitin, a professor of neuroscience at McGill University, “music combined with marijuana tends to produce feelings of euphoria and connectedness to the music and the musicians”. Cannabis acts on endocannabinoid receptors to produce dopamine and reinforce gratifying behaviour.
Living the Music
Regardless of the science behind cannabis and music, most consumers report that cannabis increases the enjoyment of listening to and playing music.
Just over a year ago I started a journey to learn to play the guitar. I began with YouTube tutorials and learned my basic chords and then went out to our local pub to see what I had learned. Cannabis was extremely influential in my musical journey.
At first I was shy and nervous to play with others. What if I messed up the chords? What if I couldn’t sing while I played? Initially, cannabis provided relief from anxiety. It allowed me to relax and really hear the music instead of focusing solely on what chords I was playing.
As my guitar skills improved so did my confidence. I was now singing in front of others and performing on stage, but I still used cannabis to ease my nerves. I also found that cannabis improved my playing as it relaxed my body and allowed me to “live the rhythm” and feel the music throughout my body. Cannabis also improved my focus and provided a euphoric playing experience during long rehearsals.
I am forever grateful for the role cannabis has played in helping me to learn and perform music.