Drug use in songs

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Since the 1930s, references to drug use in music have been common, and have prompted several studies on the link between such references and increased drug use among teens and young adults.


Young people in the 1969 Woodstock festival, where psychedelic rock trends climaxed and the major psychedelic acts performed, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Santana.[1]

Released in the 1930s, songs such as ""Reefer Man" and "Viper's Drag" were among the few songs that mentioned drugs in their lyrics before the 1960s. The majority of post-Depression music had portrayed positive, uplifting lyrics in attempt to encourage listeners in the midst of harsh economical times as well as the great number of unemployed individuals. When World War II began, the subject of songs continued to shift, promoting “American fight-songs.” Then, in the midst of the Vietnam War, that shift continued and began sending anti-war messages to listeners. A Cumberland University article states, “It was not until the aftermath of the sixties youth counterculture, however, that drug lyrics became a recurring musical motif.”[2] These early references to drugs can be found most abundantly in folk and rock music during this time. Psychedelic music started becoming mainstream in 1966, with the release of the Beatles Revolver album featuring the song Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album and The Byrds single Eight Miles High.[3] This time in music was rapidly changing with many more music groups filtering into the American media. Concept albums with drug references such as Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band became popular and with the music the culture started changing. Drugs became much more common and easier to obtain, and new genres of music such as Acid Rock were made popular by artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. The media was affected by this change and references to drugs in songs became normal. Eventually, the deaths of music artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, all from overdosing, may have contributed to anti-drug messages becoming more prominent in popular music.[citation needed]

The Beatles, widely regarded as the greatest and most influential act of the rock era,[4] were often influenced by drugs and referenced them in their music. In 1972, John Lennon said "Rubber Soul was the pot album and Revolver was the acid."[5] Beatles' songs about drug use include "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Got to Get You into My Life" and "Day Tripper", among others.[6]

In the mid 2010s, MDMA was usually referred to in pop music, specially "molly", a purportedly purified version of the drug. This coincided with the rising popularity of electronic dance music,[7] which had developed a drug culture around MDMA and LSD since the Second Summer of Love of 1988–89. Examples include hits "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus (which also references cocaine use),[8] "Diamonds" by Rihanna,[9] and Madonna's album MDNA, whose title refers to the drug.[10] Hip hop artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James and Rick Ross have referenced "molly"·in their music.[7] Many media outlets, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post and Fox News, reported the increasing referencing of the drug in pop music in 2013.[7][11][12]

Songs referencing drugs[edit]

There are a great number of songs which are very commonly known for hints towards drug use in the lyrics. Some songs, such as "Blunt Blowin'" by Lil Wayne, "Because I Got High" by Afroman, and Cab Calloway’s "Reefer Man", plainly state, even by the title alone, that the song is referencing drugs (though some differ in whether they portray drug use in a positive or negative light; "Because I Got High", for example, includes lyrics focusing on the negatives of drug use. Although some have claimed that The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" refers to LSD,[13] The Beatles themselves denied this.[citation needed] There are songs, such as "Colt 45" by Afroman that have lyrics that could not be mistaken for anything besides referencing drug use, with lyrics such as, “Smoke that tumbleweed. As the marijuana burn we can take our turn…so roll, roll, roll my joint, pick out the seeds and stems.” Some songs even show the subject of drug use in a negative manner. For example, Neil Young’s "The Needle and the Damage Done" suggests that drug use could take your life: “Every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.”[citation needed]


A study sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy took a close look at how movies and lyrics affect teens. Looking at chart-topping songs of 2007, it was found that one-third of these songs referenced either drugs or alcohol.[citation needed] Researchers found that 37% of all country songs sing about drugs or alcohol.[14] However, in another survey, it was found that 63% of the most popular rap songs contained references to illicit drugs.[citation needed] Studies show that only 6% of a list of famous songs studied referencing drugs depicted them as harmful.[15] However, the same study mentions, “It is important to acknowledge that the mere existence of a certain type of media portrayal does not ensure that audiences will be influenced by it.”[15] As drugs have been mainstreamed more than ever into the media, the numbers of teens trying these substances has also increased. Whether or not this is a coincidence is unknown. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the percent of youth using harmful drugs has jumped from 9.3% to 10% of the whole population.[16][not in citation given] Research from the SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health states, “In 2008, an estimated 20.1 million Americans ages 12 or older were current illicit drug users.”[17] Many researchers have taken it upon themselves to study this situation, looking into whether or not lyrics stick with a person and affect them. As most teens claim “listening to music” as one of their pastimes, even going as far as calling it “their most preferred non-school activity,”[15] one must wonder what effect the lyrics in those songs have on them. Researchers are not completely positive about whether or not these songs steer their listener into a numbness on the topic, instill a positive message that drug use is harmful, or have no effect at all on the listeners.

More drug songs[edit]


  1. ^ A. Bennett, Remembering Woodstock (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), ISBN 0-7546-0714-3.
  2. ^ Market, John (9 January 2007). "Sing a Song of Drug Use-Abuse: Four Decades of Drug Lyrics in Popular Music–From the Sixties through the Nineties". Sociological Inquiry 71 (2): 194. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2001.tb01108.x. 
  3. ^ Eight Miles High
  4. ^ Unterberger, Richie. Drug use in songs at AllMusic. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  5. ^ "The 40 Greatest Stoner Albums: Beatles, 'Rubber Soul'". Rolling Stone. 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Matus, Victorino (June 2004). "The Truth Behind "LSD"". The Weekly Standard. 
  7. ^ a b c "Why US pop has gone mad for Molly, aka ecstasy". The Guardian. 14 July 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Grady Smith (June 4, 2013). "Miley Cyrus singing about cocaine and ecstasy on her new single? Yep". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  9. ^ Jeremy Blacklow (September 12, 2013). "Lady Gaga Talks About Molly, the Club Drug Taking Over Pop Culture". Yahoo! Celebrity. Yahoo!. Retrieved January 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Madonna Talks New Album and Super Bowl Performance on ‘The Tonight Show’". ABC News. American Broadcasting Company. January 31, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  11. ^ Abesamis, Gabby (16 October 2013). "Meet Molly, The Drug That's Finding Its Way Into Teen Music And Pop Culture". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  12. ^ McKay, Hollie (5 September 2013). "Are pop stars who glorify the drug molly responsible when fans use it?". Fox News. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Song Facts. 
  14. ^ Dotinga, Randy (8 November 2007). "One-Third of Popular Songs Refer to Substance Abuse". US News and World Report. 
  15. ^ a b c Roberts, Donald F.; Henriksen, Lisa; Christenson, Peter G. Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music (Report). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 
  16. ^ "Drug Songs: 20 Tracks That Might Be Illegal". Spinner. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  17. ^ "Survey Findings for Illicit Drug Use". Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.