At East Forest’s ceremonial concerts, listeners have the opportunity to lie down on mats to listen to the music. You could attend a yoga class; a dimly lit room filled with bodies sprawled savasana-style, aromatherapy oils floating in the air.
It certainly doesn’t look like a typical music concert.
The American electro-acoustic artist has long combined music and psychedelics, leading his first small magic mushroom ceremonies over 15 years ago. Although drug use at his shows is not actively encouraged – in most places in the world it would be illegal – those who enjoy his work are aware that they might experience the evening differently if they chose to participate in advance.
This fusion of music and psychedelics is not new, with scientific studies of the combined effects dating back to the 1950s and 1960s – and leading artists throughout time, from the Beatles to Miley Cyrus, having spoken about their use psychotropic substances. substances.
But the therapeutic benefits, rather than the hedonistic element, are something that a growing number of artists and DJs have begun to explore in recent years.
At the same time, more and more scientists – and even Prince Harry – promote the benefits for physical and mental health, and the laws of certain countries are becoming more flexible; Australia became the first country to legalize medical psychedelics earlier this year, Oregon and some US cities did the same, and British MPs are also calling for reclassification.
For East Forest, real name Trevor Oswalt, his shows and music are an opportunity to “give people more openings and options, to say, maybe you can be a little more vulnerable or you can go a little further,” whether they took anything in advance or not.
“I want it to feel inclusive… It’s not like we’re pushing in one direction or another and whatever entry point you enter into it should work for you. If you want it either just a concert, you sit or stand like any concert – great. And if you want to go a little further, this door is there for you too.
He adds: “For a lot of people we see, they’re not doing that at all and are having their own equally powerful experience.”
Magic mushrooms are currently a Class A drug in the UK, with the maximum penalty for possession being up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The maximum penalty for supply or production is life in prison.
Some experts say more research is needed on the benefits of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms. The NHS classifies it as a medicine that can trigger psychotic episodes, while drug advice service FRANK warns of the risk of losing ‘total control’ and that a ‘bad trip’ can potentially make problems worse mental health.
In October, a US court heard that an off-duty pilot who allegedly tried to cut a plane’s engines during a flight told police after arrest that he took psychedelic mushrooms for the first time.
But a lot studies have shown that it can have a positive impact on people with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, anorexia and alcohol abuse. Other studies have shown that psilocybin can affect the way the brain responds to music, thereby improving emotional response.
Oswalt has just released his latest album, Music For The Deck Of The Titanic, which follows previous works including Music For Mushrooms, IN: A Soundtrack For The Psychedelic Practitioner Vol II, and a collaborative album with the spiritual teacher, psychologist and author Ram Dass. . He is scheduled to release a documentary, also titled Music For Mushrooms, in 2024.
He’s not the only musician to believe in the power of psychedelics. Electronic star Jon Hopkins, who is also known for producing bands such as Coldplay and Brian Eno and has collaborated with East Forest, released the album Music For Psychedelic Therapy in 2021; its namesake, Johns Hopkins University has a center dedicated to research on psychedelics and consciousness in Baltimore, Maryland, and has put together one of several psychedelic therapy playlists on Spotify.
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Oswalt says legalization is “inevitable” and “should happen – because no one should be in prison for a non-violent crime involving a substance, especially one that grows naturally – potentially in your backyard.”
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We now need to think more about access, he says. “Some have a lot more support…whether it’s having the resources to go to another country or see therapists or (paying) thousands of dollars for (legal treatment) centers. Qu What about people who don’t have one?
“I’m interested in people having positive, safe experiences and I really believe that music is one of the most effective ways to help and guide people and democratize that. Because I can put a five-hour album called Music For Mushrooms on Spotify and it’s out there and people are going to it, just because of one title they might decide to use it on a trip.”
However, he is aware that psychedelics don’t work for everyone. “It can be traumatic. These substances are not a panacea to solve any problem. They are a tool. And they can also cause harm. And so I’m sort of following a harm reduction approach by introducing a tool like music in this space.”
During his shows, his partner, Marisa Radha Weppner, a US-trained psychedelic therapist, plays a role in the experience to make it “more four-dimensional and immersive”, spraying scents and adding to the soundscape with bells. and shakers. But she is also there to offer support when needed. “And maybe we have people in the room who are kind of like guards, like psychedelic air marshals,” Oswalt says. “They’re pretty quiet, not obvious, but they’re there.”
But problems are extremely rare, he says, and excessive drinking is more likely to lead to difficulties at concerts.
Additionally, he points out, people are constantly using drugs of all kinds at concerts, festivals and parties. “It’s not like it’s unusual, is it? I think the difference is that we provide more care and support.”