Of Molecules, Music, and Mysticism

Over the past 9 years of performing together, our genre of original music has been described as “fucked up folk”… It’s fitting since we are compelled to write music about subjects/emotions that we cannot express in any other way. Laine and I found our life together through music, and even started a non-profit together providing the scaffolding for a social music scene for neurodivergent adults. The therapeutic benefits of music and a social music scene (community) are undervalued and understudied interventions for mental health with real neurological, molecular mechanisms.

By far the most accessible written work on neuromusicology (the study of music in the brain) is Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, so I’ll defer the more general findings. But I will say that after all the research I did on the effects of both molecules and music on the brain – from ancient to modern and from casual, amateur jam sessions to rigid, classical or more clinical therapeutic settings – I am certain that music acts in a complex multi-molecular mechanism that is not reproducible by any combination of molecules, natural or pharmaceutical.

"Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation [...] And there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time."

- Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

It is, however, undeniable that certain molecules enhance musical experience and vise versa, music enhances the molecules. It’s well-documented by the intimate relationships many musicians have with specific molecules that can be tools for connectivity to the artist’s creative identity. I have yet to step on stage without cannabis and I notice very distinct changes in the physical (rhythm, pitch, resonance, etc) and emotional tone of creating music. 

Psychedelics take that expansion of emotional connection past what feels possible to describe. Synesthesia and beautiful visual accompaniments create a sense of connection to the divine, to the deepest part of what it means to be human, to creation for the sake of creation, and to the power of forgiveness in the process of healing. During our first experience with San Pedro, Laine and I let go of half of our physical belongings and celebrated our liberation by writing a song we named after our favorite ever-transformative stone, labradorite (here’s the first recording from that day).

I’ve been circling this concept of mysticism (which some call magic others call divine or godly, and still others call delusion or grandiosity) for years, because while I can feel the distinct difference in the classic serotonergics, my first experiences with mysticism were through cannabis as a teenager. Blazed up in AP bio, I had a mystical feeling learning about the enzyme in plants that takes carbon gas out of the air and creates solid carbon that is the basis of all life (RuBisCo); five years later, I started my research career with the enzyme soluble epoxide hydrolase and seven years later, I completed my PhD on the endocannabinoid-metabolizing enzymes

After my PhD I swore I’d never go back to school again, but I should know by now it’s impossible to set boundaries on the universe. I am currently a student in The River Course led by Dr. Joe Tafur, MD where I am sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience of molecules, music, and mysticism with an entire community of psychedelic health professionals, activists, and scientists who want to expand our understanding of what it means to heal.

Dr. Joe Tafur is not only a doctor from UCSD and UCLA, but a trained Shipibo curandero and a spiritual leader at the Church of the Eagle and the Condor. He is teaching my classmates and me of the intangible, unquantifiable aspects of psychedelic healing that touch our souls, the missing piece of mental and physical health that Western medicine at best ignores, and at worst intentionally devalues. He is teaching us that healing is slow magic. And I feel the most connected to the magnitude and weight of this topic when he is singing to us.

I have a complicated relationship with religion and see myself as a spiritual wanderer, a bit lost and disconnected. But hearing these songs in the safety of this new community has awoken something deep within, something from perhaps even before this lifetime. The music takes me away from myself and I can start to see what tethers me and what sets me free.

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