Cannabis and music go way, way back. In fact, by now, each of them has come to be a central element of the classic experience of the other – joints are many people’s indispensable +1 to a concert, just like music is one of the best companions to experience cannabis with.
Because of their rich history together, as well as the fact that cannabis has been found to enhance sound perception, a team of scientists conducted a study, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, which investigated the effects of cannabis on listening to music.  The results, however, were more than surprising.
The study involved 16 cannabis users, as it was believed that their experience would be more representative of the typical cannabis-music experience. Participants inhaled vaporized cannabis with cannabidiol, or CBD (6% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), 7.5% CBD), cannabis without CBD (12% THC, 1%>CBD), and a placebo (with comparable terpene profile), across 3 separate sessions. With the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientists monitored how music affects “regions identified in a meta-analysis of music-evoked reward and emotion.”
The ventral striatum turned out to be a key region of the brain for experiencing music, aligning with the findings of other studies. Furthermore, “[t]he same ventral striatal region showed increased task-related functional connectivity with bilateral auditory cortex, an effect that has previously been shown to predict musical reward value.” The auditory cortex processes sound information.
Subjective reports of pleasure from the music were unaffected, but cannabis was shown to hinder (via fMRI scans) the right ventral striatum’s ability to take in music the way it normally does, as the plant did with several other “regions implicated in music-evoked reward and emotion: bilateral auditory cortex, right amygdala, right hippocampus/parahippocampal gyrus…” These brain regions are involved with emotional responses (amygdala) and memory (hippocampus/parahippocampal gyrus).
The scientists aren’t sure what to attribute this surprising result to. However, they do believe the reason has to do with the endocannabinoid system, as it plays a “critical role in reward processing,” and as we know, cannabis interacts directly with it. The researchers note that previous studies have found THC to dampen reward responses, as it “may deplete the CB1R ligand anandamide.” The neurotransmitter anandamide is involved in motivation and pleasure.
At the same time, this diminished effect actually corresponded with an increased desire to listen to music. “These findings are broadly consistent with previous findings that THC may have dissociable effects on anticipatory (“wanting”) and consummatory (“liking”) components of reward.”
So how can THC, the engine of the cannabis experience, dampen the effects of music if in practice it tends to feel anything but? Cannabis enhanced sound perception, too, so there must be something that does to THC what THC does to music. That something is CBD. The study found that CBD can negate THC to an extent in the context of a music experience, just like it does in general.
For one, cannabis with CBD and the placebo produced similar results on brain scans, which supports CBD as the equalizer in this equation. “Furthermore, it [CBD] resulted in greater task-related functional connectivity between ventral striatum and auditory cortex compared with cannabis without CBD. These findings suggest that CBD was able to offset some effects of THC, consistent with previous research.”
As far as the researchers know, this study is the first of its kind.  Perhaps its surprising nature may spark other studies that explore the phenomenon in more depth, accounting for other secondary, but still crucial components of the cannabis experience, like terpenes, for instance.
- Freeman, et al. “Cannabis Dampens the Effects of Music in Brain Regions Sensitive to Reward and Emotion.” Int J Neuropsychopharmacol, vol.21, no.1, 2018, pp. 21–32. Journal Impact Factor = 4.009; Times Cited = 3
Image Credits: Vocal