Getting stoned and putting on some songs may be a stoner stereotype, but the observant cannabis user will know that there’s just something different about music when you’re high. So what’s the relationship between weed and music? Thankfully there have been a number of studies that have explored this dynamic, allowing us to present you with the best theories about how weed affects our perception of music and why some types of music sound better after you've smoked weed. We look at some of the different ways weed makes you perceive music, as well as the way it affects your brain generally. Join us to explore the relationship between weed and music.
The notion that marijuana alters your perception is not new news. However, considering just how it alters your perceptions can be an important clue into the different ways that our interpretation of music is specifically effected by marijuana. Two aspects of sound perceptions that are affected by the consumption of marijuana are frequency and intensity.
Sounds that are higher in pitch have a higher frequency, and lower bass sounds have a low frequency. One study in the 1970s found that marijuana enhanced the ability to perceive sounds at the very top of our hearing range, around 6000Hz. Not only do individuals under the influence hear these sounds better, but they also reported enjoying higher pitched sounds more.
This makes sense when one considers the type of music characteristically associated with “stoner culture.” The high screaming guitar solos on a Phish or Grateful Dead song are perceived as being richer and more full, making them even more enjoyable than they would be otherwise. Additionally this may explain why jazz music has such a focus on playing rapid series of different high pitched notes. These genres of music show how the relationship between weed and music has influenced the vast majority of the music that we listen to today, sober or not.
Intensity is another element of the perception of sound that can be altered by marijuana use. Those who have consumed cannabis seem to have a higher sensitivity to the intensity of sound. Specifically, they are more sensitive to sound intensity thresholds. As a result sounds are clearer and thus more meaningful. Researchers also found that cannabis users have a greater speech perception. This means that they are able to distinguish words from background noise much better than when they were not under the influence of marijuana.
Tinkering with Time
Another study found that marijuana use can make it harder to perceive time as a continuous stream of past into present leading to the future. A result of this is that people who are high are more intently focusing on the present moment, and experience the present with a greater intensity. Theories argue that this explains why marijuana users prefer music that contains soundscapes, full of echoes and reverberations. These effects introduce unique qualities of time and space into music and create new and variable patterns that are appealing to the parts of our brain that seek out new experiences, forging an incredibly strong relationship between weed and music.
The musical quality most intimately related to time is rhythm. One article argues that marijuana users are able to hear more music between the notes. This sounds like hippie dippie nonsense, but if you think about the way your brain works while viewing a cartoon it makes some sense. Just like a cartoon is a series of individual pictures that your brain constructions transitions between to give the illusion of movement, the difference between different notes also creates a space for your brain to fill in sounds. As a result marijuana causes users to experience new and different patterns between the notes of music that might not be perceived if the individual were sober.
These ideas aren’t idle speculation. There have been a number of studies that produced important data describing how marijuana affects the way the brain processes music and which shed some light on the relationship between weed and music. One brain mapping study looked at the brains of individuals while listening to the same music before and after they smoked marijuana. The results were telling in that they indicated an increase of activity in the parietal area of the brain. These parts of the brain had previously been identified as playing an important role in problem solving by gifted individuals and are thought to point to an incredibly efficient information processing method. What this means is that weed makes you comprehend music with a higher level of thought than you would normally have access to.
Another aspect of the study found that marijuana and music cause an increase in activity in the brain’s right hemisphere, which is associated with emotional, intuitive, and imaginative functions. This may influence the way people who are high experience music by making it seem more emotionally significant or making them feel more creatively liberated. As a result, music is more enjoyable because of the weed, and the weed is more enjoyable because of the music.
As you can see, there are a number of different ways that weed can influence how you perceive music. It’s important to note that these studies are still theories and that no one explanation has been shown to be substantially better than any other. The relationship between weed and music is a complicated one, and one that will require much more study than is currently taking place. However, regardless of the reason why weed makes music sound so much better, you can still take advantage of the fact that weed does in fact enhance music. So settle in, light up, and put on your favorite prog rock album, you’ve earned it.