That feel-good rush you get from music? It's the same brain chemistry as ecstasy and heroin.
Do you wonder about the Guns ‘N Roses question, “Whatever happened to sex drugs n’ rock n’ roll?” Science may not have all the answers, but we’re getting closer to understanding the relationships. Researchers at McGill University have proved that music can have the same effect on your brain as opioids and endorphins, reports Fact.
That music rush — the chill many get from just the opening chords of a song — represents your brain releasing natural opioids such as endorphins that block pain and induce feelings of pleasure. In the McGill study, subjects were administered naltrexone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids by blocking the effects of opioids, so “feel-good” chemicals have no effect. Naltrexone induces anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure, in this case, the pleasure specifically associated with opioids.
The testing applies to more than just endorphins and music. “Preliminary studies have shown that music listening and performing modulate levels of serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin. Music can reliably induce feelings of pleasure, and indeed, people consistently rank music as among the top ten things in their lives that bring pleasure, above money, food, and art,” the authors of the study wrote.
The study wasn’t focused on rock and roll or any specific music style. The 17 participants were allowed to bring two music tracks that “reliably produced intense feelings of pleasure for them, including but not limited to the sensation of chills.” They let the subjects pick their own music because emotional response is subjective.
The researchers obtained objective and subjective pleasure readings for each subject listening to their chosen music before and after administering naltrexone. The study was a double-blind crossover using placebos with each subject tested twice. On one day, the subjects were given a placebo sugar pill, and the other day the naltrexone. Neither the subjects nor the researchers knew who took the opioid blocker and who took a placebo on either day. The result of the experiment was that, with their admittedly small group, they found statistically significant objective and subjectively reported reductions in pleasure while listening to music after the subjects took naltrexone.
One of the participants in the study said, “I know this is my favorite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does,” according to Fact. “It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me,” said another.
According to Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist and the senior author of the study, “This is the first demonstration that the brain’s own opioids are directly involved in musical pleasure.”
So there it is, an explanation for that chill you get when the first notes hit: “This is your brain on music.”