Music plays a central role in the psychedelic experience and within ketamine treatment sessions. It is able to both influence your state of mind, and guide the experience through a narrative arc.
Music surfaces memories, puts you in receptive and open states, and provides opportunities for catharsis, joy, and deep emotions to be felt. It also creates a kind of storyline or thread that can help us navigate the psychedelic experience, should anything challenging surface during a session. Music creates a sense of safety and openness that is critical in deep healing work.
The music you listen to during a session is a powerful catalyst for your experience, and should be approached with thoughtful consideration. To explore this idea further, you can read our entire piece on the role of music in psychedelic therapy.
Creating a Playlist for a Ketamine Experience
The ketamine experience depends on several factors: your set and setting, the compound, its dosage, your intentions, and the music.
With ketamine there is a standard experiential arc that lasts about one hour after the initial absorption of the medicine. Let’s review each stage and examine the type of music that is most useful during this time.
Pre-Onset (First 0-10 minutes after taking medicine)
Onset (7 minutes after taking Medicine)
At this point you will spit out the medicine, put your eye mask on, and lie down to begin your experience.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: Consider this the “starting point” of the music style you would like to have for your experience.
Build Up (10-20 minutes post-onset)
During the build up the effects of the medicine will start to deepen and you will enter the dissociative and psychedelic state associated with ketamine. The felt intensity of your music will begin to increase here as the effects deepen.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: Your music should be comforting, and invite a feeling of openness and receptivity.
Peak (20-30 minutes post onset)
The peak of the ketamine experience has arrived. Depending on your particular intention for the session or your preference, you can aim to have the main songs/moods arrive here.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: You might select songs you have a positive association with, ones that invite certain memories, or ones oriented around healing, peace, and comfort.
Post-Peak (30-45 minutes into the experience)
While still feeling the effects of medicine, you are now past the peak intensity. At this point, it is helpful to bring in more meditative, rhythmic, comforting music to help facilitate your gentle return to waking consciousness.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: Ambient (soft, non-specific music), emotional, and gentle sounds are best used throughout this period.
Re-Entry (45-60 minutes after taking medicine)
During this period you will begin to reconnect with your body and your conscious experience, and the felt effects of the medicine will lessen. Your music should assist this process.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: Bring soothing sounds that you have a positive association with, to help ground you back into your body and your physical space.
Return to Normal Consciousness (60 minutes)
At around 60 minutes after ingestion —sometimes earlier or later for certain individuals— you will have returned to normal consciousness. There may be some lingering effects of the medicine, but at this point, it is time to journal about your experience.
Mindbloom’s Recommendation: Consider some music that you are comfortable writing to without becoming lost in it.
When in doubt, you can ask your Guide for feedback and input, or you can request one of the many playlists we have curated specifically designed for ketamine treatment.
Best Practices for Creating Ketamine Therapy Playlists
We have outlined the classic experiential arc associated with ketamine treatment, with this in mind, you can begin to select the specific songs you would like to use in your playlist and the order in which they will appear.
This is completely up to you. Consider the intentions that you have, the intensity that you want to experience, the specific emotions that are most helpful to you, and the depth you would like to go in your experience.
With that said, ketamine is a unique experience, and there are several best practices we would strongly urge everyone to consider and attempt when first making their first playlists:
Be cautious with vocals
In general, we recommend avoiding any songs or music that include vocals in them. If there is a song that you have a deep connection with that includes vocals, this is okay. But as noted, ketamine is a unique experience, and you may not know how you will react to hearing these vocals while under the influence of the medicine. Being alarmed by a sudden voice entering when you are deep in your experience can have an impact. It is best to avoid songs with vocals until you are comfortable.
Use neutral, ambient, or relaxing tones
Psychedelics and ketamine greatly increase your receptivity to emotions and sensations, and music addresses both of these. When beginning, we recommend using neutral (background, non-vocal, non-specific genre), relaxing songs. As you become more comfortable, you might consider using music of greater intensity or deeper emotionality, such as sad songs if you need to grieve or release anything.
Aim for positive emotionality
When selecting the specific songs and music to use, try to find music with an emotionally positive tone to it. Choose songs that uplift you, those you have positive associations with, while avoiding any songs that are dissonant (chaotic, unorganized, unusual time signatures) or use primarily dark tones.
Consider Your Intention
What is your intention for this session, and for your ketamine treatment program overall? Keeping your intention in mind while designing soundscapes can be very helpful, as you can select music and curate emotions designed to assist in this process. Music is powerful and can be a positive force in your healing journey.
Watch for timing
The playlist should be able to guide you through the entire experience, from taking the medicine, enjoying the experience, and landing you back for journaling and integration work. The core playlist should be no less than 60 minutes. It’s wise to include another 30 minutes of ambient music at the end for journaling, meditation, or other integration practices just after the session.
With these guiding principles in mind, you should be able to create a playlist unique to you and your circumstances.
If you combine these principles when picking your songs, and map them onto the experiential arc that we mapped out above, you are well on your way to creating a powerful healing session for yourself with your own custom playlists.
Have Questions about Creating Your Ketamine Therapy Playlist?
A final note on if you have any doubt about creating your own playlists. First of all, this is not an obligation. Your care team will have several options of expertly-curated playlists that you have access to.
However, if you do feel called to create your own playlists, these principles will help ensure that you have a safe, powerful, and healing session for yourself. When in doubt, reach out to your Guide or care team and ask for feedback, input, or additional suggestions from them.
You have support in this process, and this includes finding the best music for you and your circumstances.
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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call, text, or chat the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 or +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety