The life of a recording musician isn’t always easy. If you’re an indie artist, you’re busting your butt just trying to stay afloat so you can continue doing what you love. If you’re a studio musician, you could get a call to come in for a session at just about any time during the day or night. Either way, you’re working long hours and will probably try just about anything that could potentially help you stay alert and creative in the studio. Perhaps that’s one reason why so many musicians have historically turned to drugs.
Today’s working musician, however, is more evolved than that. We don’t need drugs anymore because we’ve got supplements. There are entire stores devoted to selling nothing but supplements, so there’s no shortage of options available. Are there any supplements that could potentially be useful for musicians? Here are a few suggestions that might help you get through those long hours in the studio.
Have you heard about CBD yet? It’s an extract sourced from low-THC industrial hemp plants. It’s not marijuana – and it won’t get you high – but researchers are finding that CBD could have a variety of other interesting benefits. In 2014, a clinical review of potential interest to musicians was published in the journal Current Neuropharmacology. The review examined whether CBD might have potential as an agent that promotes wakefulness and alertness.
The researchers who compiled the review identified several human and animal studies with results suggesting that CBD may have an effect on the sleep-wake cycle and could promote alertness. The researchers also found studies with conflicting results, though, so the only thing that you can really do is try CBD for yourself and see if it has a positive effect on your performance in the studio. A CBD vape provides a convenient option that you can carry with you and use on demand.
Ginkgo biloba must be one of the world’s most interesting trees. Descending from an order of plants that first appeared over 290 million years ago, ginkgo has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years and has a documented history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for around 1,000 years. Despite the popularity of ginkgo as a supplement for improving memory and alertness and for treating age-related cognitive decline, there is no conclusive evidence supporting the conclusion that ginkgo is actually useful for those purposes.
A 2020 review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found a roughly equal number of positive and negative studies from which to draw data and suggested that if ginkgo works, it is probably most effective when taken at high doses for a relatively long period of time.
As with many other supplements, all that you can really do with ginkgo is try it for yourself and see what happens. Although no conclusive scientific evidence exists to support its effectiveness, people have been using it to support mental acuity for hundreds of years. You may have a good experience with it as well.
While people have certainly used ginkgo biloba as a supplement for a long time, it’s possible that ginseng has been in use even longer. One of the earliest reference materials listing ginseng as a medicinal herb is the Shen Nong Pharmacopoeia, which was written in 196 AD and is one of the foundational texts of traditional Chinese medicine. In short, people have taken ginseng for many centuries as an overall tonic and to improve alertness and mental acuity.
Does ginseng actually work? Much like the ginkgo biloba mentioned above, modern clinical studies have produced extremely mixed results, and there is little reliable evidence showing ginseng to be effective for any medical purpose. In 1996, Current Therapeutic Research published the results of a double-blind study in which 112 healthy volunteers over the age of 40 were given ginseng or a placebo and followed over the course of about two months. The group who received ginseng scored higher in tests relating to reaction times and abstract thinking than those who received the placebo. However, there were no significant differences between the two groups in concentration or memory. In addition, the members of the ginseng group subjectively rated their experience about the same as the members of the placebo group.
With those things being said, improved reaction times and better abstract thinking could certainly be beneficial to any working musician – so despite the lack of clinical evidence, it still might be worthwhile to try ginseng for those long nights in the studio.
We’re not about to tell you that you should start popping caffeine pills in the studio – and you probably don’t want to start pounding energy drinks either. Caffeine as a supplement for alertness definitely produces diminishing returns as you use more of it; just about every coffee drinker in the world is painfully aware of that fact. If you’re already a caffeine drinker, in fact, it’s actually possible that your consumption of caffeine in the studio is affecting your alertness in a negative way.
Are you the type of person who pounds coffee or energy drinks to stay awake during those late nights in the studio? If you are, you’re doing much more harm than good. Caffeine has a half-life in the body of about eight hours – so if you drink coffee or energy drinks at night, a significant portion of the caffeine will still be in your system when you go to bed. That’s going to affect your sleep quality, and the alertness issue will continue to compound day after day. Instead of drinking more caffeine, you need to drink less – and it’s an especially good idea to stop drinking caffeine for the day around noon or so. That way, you can be certain that the majority of the caffeine will be out of your system by the time you go to bed. You should also consider switching to tea. Tea’s high antioxidant content slows the absorption of the caffeine, helping you av