To say that the recreational use of pharmaceuticals has influenced music in some fashion would be a very massive understatement. It's quite easy to say that the use of one drug or another has had some influence on the music of a certain time or certain place and that does not, in any way,
diminish the contribution of the individual artists and musicians involved.
But mother nature, along with the help of chemistry has provided numerous substances which can have the effect of altering our predominant thinking patterns and adjusting our typical way of thinking. These effects can sometimes prove to be helpful creatively, though often they are accompanied by a rather unwanted addiction or dependency on the drug to relieve feelings of pain, anxiety and depression. Needless to say, Drugs are not to be taken irresponsibly or without proper caution.
Alcohol is one of the oldest known drugs there is, but here in North America, there was at one time something called the 'temperance movement', and it was a powerful political force led by women and supported by men, claiming that their homes had been broken and their lives ruined by the evils of alcohol. The result was that, for about thirteen years, most of Canada and the U.S. became 'dry' and liquor was made a narcotic by laws which prohibited the production and sale of alcohol.
Of course, alcohol being an entirely legal drug continues to influence music today. Although regulated by laws and governments around the world, it's consumption by persons numbers in the billions. (38.3% of the world consumes alcohol, counting those who'll admit it.) So to think that alcohol has only affected music in the past is highly unlikely. The truth is that alcohol is the one drug that is almost absolutely assured to stay and continue to influence music in some way in the future.
The most infamous movie that has ever been made on the subject of the use of marijuana is not starring Cheech & Chong, but rather an anti-use propaganda film called 'Reefer Madness', often watched by stoners who enjoy getting high and laughing at the bad acting and ridiculous dialogue. The movie, while attempting to deliver a positive anti-drug-dependency message is unfortunately riddled with inaccuracies about the drug itself and its effects. There is one scene in which a woman sits down to play piano and her male friend, high on a 'reefer' cigarette is listening. As the drug overtakes his awareness, he becomes insistent on telling the piano player to 'play faster' or 'play louder' while displaying a strange and disturbing grin. This scene is, possibly, the most accurate in the entire movie. The idea that the use of marijuana affects a person's preference in music is well known. However, they may have gotten the pace and style of the music entirely wrong:
At the same time that Marley and the Wailers were looking to create a more meaningful form of Jamaican music, they were also exposed to Rastafarian spirituality and the use of marijuana, all during a time of great poverty and political upheaval in Jamaica. Rastafarianism includes the use of marijuana in its practices and treats the plant as a natural herb given by God to humans to use as medicine. Needless to say Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and the rest were successful in changing the style and tone of the music. Their songs were politically-aware and spiritually powerful, the sound was down-beat and dance-able and the effects of the drug on the music were clear, and this music became world-renowned.
Marijuana is, in many places around the world, no longer considered a narcotic. Legalization of cannabis is becoming more prevalent as a political movement and is happening on an ongoing basis. The use of marijuana is highly likely to continue even if it doesn't grow in demand so it is probably going to influence future music in some way or another. However, legal or illegal, numerous follow up attempts by musicians using marijuana have not created startlingly new and wonderful types of music such as Reggae, but simply resulted in the obvious: Getting high, getting giggles, getting that burnt-out feeling and then getting the munchies.
LSD (and other psychedelics):
In this day and age, it seems silly to think that some hippies back in the late 60s really thought that taking a drug would expand their consciousness so that they could truly make sense of the universe and realize their full creativity and potential. To think that Timothy Leary, a highly educated psychologist, would start encouraging people to quit school and use drugs by saying simply "turn on, tune in, drop out" seems preposterous in this the 21st century. However, nearly 50 years later, we listen to some of the music that was created and have to admit that it's possible these hippies weren't entirely mistaken in their endeavours.
Whether through meditation, medication, intoxication or simply forcing your mind to take all the socially-accepted norms of music and simply toss them aside for the purpose of attaining a more stream-like type of consciousness and creative clarity, the concept forces a person to think and create differently than before. It suddenly doesn't matter what the arrangement of a song is because the arrangement is just an idea. The important thing is following the creative stream through to the end. Sometimes this led to songs without choruses and verses and no cohesive structure. Sometimes songs became much longer than they would otherwise, but mostly it created a lot of exploration of different sounds and tones of music, loosening the structural elements at the same time as creating a more flowing vibe.
Want more drugs? Check out part 2: More Drugs!