Marijuana as an Enhancer of Music Therapy by Pete Brady
Pete Brady is a 41-year-old writer, photographer, and music therapist living in California. He primarily uses cannabis to alleviate symptoms of spinal cord deterioration and chronic depression, but also finds that cannabis positively affects his abilities as a musician.
I have been a musician, singer and composer since childhood. I use my musical skills in a variety of ways, some of which I classify as music therapy. I earned a Master’s Degree in music therapy in 1996.
Marijuana has been helpful to my musical creativity. Before I began using marijuana, my musical output was formulaic and linear, following the rules laid down in music and voice lessons. I rarely felt emotionally connected to my music, and was unable to compose original compositions that reflected inner emotional states or concepts.
On an interpersonal level, my pre-pot persona was conformist, rational, and emotionally blocked. I was not a touchy-feely kind of guy. I rarely cried, maintained a hardy demeanor, and never conceived of myself having a career in the healing arts. My interactions with people were facile, utilitarian and guarded.
After a back injury, failed surgery, and chronic pain caused me to use marijuana medicinally beginning in 1992, I saw my personality and musical creativity change radically. The marijuana high made me introspective, and I used it to catalogue my strengths, weaknesses and traits. The drug was a revealer, not an escape mechanism; it helped me see who I was and what I needed to be. Marijuana also helped me get in touch with emotions- from pure joy to pure despair – that I had been suppressing. As my heart and head changed, my music also changed. I had long heard from musicians that marijuana made them feel more creative, but I had also heard some musicians say that the feeling was a phantom, that they only thought they performed better while stoned.
I decided to do some tests. I made digital recordings of formula compositions in identical situations while completely free of any drug effects and while stoned on a dose-measured amount of marijuana. I did original music concerts in standardized conditions, performing to the best of my ability while intoxicated on marijuana and while not intoxicated. (Please note: when I say, “not intoxicated,” I mean I did not ingest marijuana for at least four days prior to the session). I wrote my subjective observations about the difference between playing while high versus when not intoxicated. I compared recordings, listening for nuances of difference. I also allowed others to listen to and compare the recordings.
My research showed that when I was stoned, I was far more likely to take “chances” with my music. I experimented with novel chord structures and lead lines, stacked instruments in unlikely combinations, detuned instruments, varied rhythms and pacing, and added sound effects. Vocally, my stoned performances were a revelation. My voice was far more expressive and evocative. My range was extended, and I was more willing to take chances with phrasing and word usage. While unstoned, I tended to sing in a very predictable ballad-blues style, with much of my phrasing borrowed from other singers who’d had an influence on me. When high, it seemed that new voices came out, and that these voices were the product of a truer breath flow that involved total diaphragm breathing rather than constricted throat breathing that I sometimes tensed into during unstoned performances.
Lyrically, my marijuana-inspired songs took on a metaphorical and poetic life that was very different from the lyrics I penned while unstoned. Before marijuana, my songs tended to be literalist, somewhat sappy ballads, kind of like a “New Age” Barry Manilow. While stoned, my lyrics resembled literature, with heavy use of imagery, story-telling, and fictionalized voices, scenarios and characters. I want to emphasize that I am not describing these differences from a stoned point of view. It’s true that I find listening to music stoned more fun than listening to it unstoned, but I made a point of evaluating my music when my brain was not enhanced by marijuana. I asked people who never use marijuana to evaluate my music. They agreed that the stoned performances were more adventurous, less inhibited, more interesting and eccentric.
Some final caveats. Cannabis was not uniformly beneficial for all my musical talents. I make more “mistakes” while stoned, and often forget my own songs. My hands at times freeze up or are hard to control, with critical dexterity and motor skills impaired. Lyrically, I noticed that if I had created a chorus, I often forgot it before the end of the song, necessitating the creation of a new chorus while I stalled for time, trying to recall the old one!
I also noticed that my vocal production was very strong during the initial phase of my high, but that after about an hour, I tended to tire earlier than when unstoned. My pitch dropped at least half an octave if not more. This was not intentional. When stoned, I had a harder time hitting high notes. I have no idea why. Using cannabis to enhance musical creativity is a complex adventure that I have to carefully monitor and manage. So far, the benefits of cannabis far outweigh the negatives. I wish that cannabis did not irritate my throat, for example, but I can tolerate that irritation because cannabis makes my songs sparkle. My goal is to eventually achieve that sparkle without cannabis, but am always grateful to the universe and mother nature for marijuana, which helped open my heart and mind, allowing me to make transformative music for people I care about.