A Sober and Tripping Review of the Playlist Scientifically Designed for Shrooming

By Justin Caffier on February 6, 2018

For most of us, the soundtrack accompanying a hallucinogenic experience will fall somewhere between a curated aux cord journey (featuring new and old greats like Tame Impala and Floyd) and simply typing “trippy music” into the YouTube search bar. So, when I heard of a psychologist who had “scientifically determined” a playlist for patients undergoing psilocybin treatments, I was eager to hear it for myself and elevate my next trip to its algorithmically formulated apex.

Unfortunately, the six hour-plus playlist Bill Richards, Ph.D. has put together seems to subjectively rely more on his “years of experience” treating patients at the Roland Griffiths Lab at Johns Hopkins University, rather than the data points I’d hoped for. Nonetheless, I decided to withhold my judgment until after the experience. So, without even scanning the song list, I chomped down on some caps, pulled the playlist up on Spotify and strapped myself in for an evening of science.

Tripping Review

- I’m only a few songs in, and it’s already quite apparent that Richards is a big fan of classical music. Like, a really big fan. Though I wasn’t expecting any Animal Collective or Chance on a mix put together by a white septuagenarian, Richards’ predisposition for symphonies and concertos felt a bit stuffy. These songs are timeless and beautiful, no doubt, but with the wide panoply of music out there, the limited scope is a bit disappointing. I guess I’m just someone who blanches at safe picks in general.

- Bill’s Frasier-like obsession with the classics didn’t take into account that movie buffs like me have already tied many of these songs to iconic and often times tragic or violent scenes. Barber’s Adagio for Strings is a gorgeous piece of music, but I’m never not going to picture Willem Dafoe getting shot up by Viet Cong when I hear it. Fortunately, I’m not so far into the journey that this is causing any bad vibes.

- This is all blurring together. I get what he’s going for: big swells and crescendos. Guiding the patient. Maybe this would be more powerful for someone tripping for the first time. I’m starting to worry that the problem is with me and not the music.

- To better aid my immersion into the trip and playlist, I’ve put some muted Blue Planet II episodes on the TV. Hopefully the majesty of these creatures will complement the extra-ness of the songs.

- I’m peaking, and this is hands down the most boring trip of my life. Even with the visual hallucinations in full effect and the opera lady belting “Sanctus!” at me, I’m kinda just ready for this to be done.

- The mystical sitar plucks and Indian chants of "Om Namah Shivaya" by Russill Paul is a goddamn oasis in this desert of classical.

- Annnnnnd we’re back to orchestral for the comedown.

- I was excited to hear another sitar break after another long stretch of the same, but it’s just my boy Russill Paul again. This is nice and all, but someone needs to buy Bill a second yoga class soundtrack.

- We’re near the end of the list, and this sudden shift to Enya was so jarring that I immediately started laughing.

- Wow. He did not immediately follow the Enya track with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Gypsy Kings and a jam from the Pure Moods CD infomercial. This section of the playlist is what I imagine to be on the iPods of the white parents from Get Out.

- What the fuck is happening? The penultimate song is a mournful rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"? Even the Get Out villains had enough self-awareness to avoid something so simultaneously on-the-nose and out-of-place. Has Bill even tripped before?

- We’re ending the over-six-hour journey with "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, a closer so obvious that I’m more impressed than mad at the gall of it. I have to hand it to Bill Richards. He’s done the impossible and made me come out the other side of a psilocybin trip unhappier than when I went in.

Sober Review

- It’s a day later, I’m ready to give Bill’s mixtape another go. As someone who writes all day and, thus, can’t really have lyric-heavy songs on in the background, I’m actually looking forward to this being my work soundtrack for the day.

- This is plateauing at “pleasant.”

- This could honestly be repackaged as “midterms study mix” or something similar, and I’d have been none the wiser.

- I’ve just clicked “save” on the playlist.

- The playlist is more than halfway through, and nothing’s really jumping out at me as remarkable. I’d already heard most of these songs many times before the tripping listen so there’s not even a novelty aspect with which to work.

- I feel bad about coming down hard on Bill earlier. He’s likely a very nice man, and I’m happy someone is doing the work of destigmatizing psilocybin, especially in these regressive times. You’re not the Get Out parents, Bill.

- I’m in the sitar section again. I should probably go to India some time.

- Once again in the home stretch of wildcard songs, which I’ve started referring to as Now That’s What I Call Come-Down. The Beatles’ "Here Comes the Sun" is on, and I’m realizing that band really hasn’t aged well for me.

- Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice has faded out, and, with that, I am released. I’ve given over half of a day of my precious life to Bill and his musical tastes. Was it worth it? No, not really. 

My initial concerns about the lack of even pseudo-science behind his picks still stand. But, if the press generated by his playlist’s initial press release and possibly even these reviews pushes the needle even a micron toward public acceptance of the medical benefits of psychedelics, I’ll consider this time not wasted. I wish Bill all the best as he continues his noble life’s work. I’d even love to work with him someday should the opportunity arise. But should that day ever come, I’ll be holding onto the aux cord.


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