Why Marijuana and Music Mix, According to Science

Based on pretty much every concert we’ve attended, smoking cannabis and listening to music is a common practice. Squinting to see our favorite singers through hazy clouds of marijuana smoke feels cozy, buzzy, and right. There is an undeniable synergy between marijuana and music, and scientists have been studying this relationship for years.

There are a few reasons why marijuana and music seem to be so complementary. Neurological research has found marijuana and music both stimulate our brain’s pleasure receptors. Cannabis binds to our bodies’ cannabinoid receptors, which regulate mood, pain, and memory, and THC has been linked to increased production of dopamine, which can lower inhibitions.

Additional studies have also concluded THC impacts our brains’ auditory and visual processing. Smoking marijuana (containing both THC and CBD) has been shown to reduce blood flow in the temporal cortices and increase blood flow in the orbital frontal cortex, anterior cingulate, temporal pole, insula, and cerebellum.

The temporal cortices are associated with primary auditory perception, while the other brain areas are involved in decision-making (orbital frontal cortex), cognition and emotion (anterior cingulate cortex), semantics (temporal pole), awareness and sensory experience (insula), and bodily coordination (cerebellum). A theory drawn from these results is that cannabis can heighten an emotional reception of music.

So what is the best music to listen to while high? A team at Johns Hopkins University studied a small sample of therapists and “psilocybin guides” who use psychedelic drugs and music in their therapy sessions. While allowing that personal associations with music can evoke strong memories and emotions, the researchers did find some commonality in the music used.

The team found music played during peak stimuli periods tend to demonstrate “regular, predictable, formulaic phrase structure and orchestration, a feeling of continuous movement and forward motion that slowly builds over time.” Turns out Beethoven, Miles Davis, and Aphex Twin have more in common than you think.

The researchers compiled a list of optimal music for peak stimuli. The list includes Mass in D, Missa Solemnis by Beethoven, In a Silent Way by Miles Davis, Healing Chant by Dalai Lama, Girl/Boy Song by Aphex Twin, Ur by David Byrne, and Echoes by Pink Floyd.

Musicians have publicly embraced mixing marijuana and music for decades — from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and Bob Marley to Sting, Dave Matthews, Alanis Morissette, Snoop Dogg, and Rihanna. Louie Armstrong wrote in his autobiography that cannabis was “an assistant — a friend.”