Epilepsy Drug Allows Adults To Learn Perfect Pitch And New Languages As If They Were Children

valproateEarly childhood-style learning abilities as a side effect? Via NPR:

Takao Hensch, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, is studying a drug which might allow adults to learn perfect pitch. Hensch says the drug, valprioc acid, allows the brain to absorb new information as easily as it did before age 7.

“It’s a mood-stabilizing drug, but we found that it also restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state,” Hensch says.

Hensch gave the drug to a group of young men who had no musical training as children. They were asked to perform tasks to train their ears, and at the end of a two-week period, tested on their ability to discriminate tone.

The results were that those who took the valproate scored much higher on pitch tests than those who underwent similar training but only took the placebo. In other words, Hensch gave people a pill and then taught them to have perfect pitch.

The findings are significant: “It’s quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch,” he says. There are a number of examples of critical-period type development, language being one of the most obvious ones.

45 Comments on "Epilepsy Drug Allows Adults To Learn Perfect Pitch And New Languages As If They Were Children"

  1. BrianApocalypse | Jan 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm |

    Combine this with Modafinil and maybe we can have a pharmaceutical equivalent of Matrix-style rapid knowledge assimilation!

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm |

      Modafinil & anti-seizure meds are a very good combo for some to combat depression induced concentration issues.

      • BrianApocalypse | Jan 6, 2014 at 7:46 pm |

        Modafinil seems really interesting. I’ve been tempted to try but somewhat cautious of the possibility of being psychotically dependent on it to achieve the astonishing accomplishments I would undoubtedly produce as a result.

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 8:19 pm |

          It’s not that astonishing. Quite mild, subtle for most. It just brings you into your normal peak concentration/awareness more rapidly & for longer duration than would normally occur in most conditions. There is rarely any perception of push or extreme cognitive alteration as might occur with other substances.

      • EpicTruthTold | Jan 6, 2014 at 10:26 pm |

        Have you heard and what do you think of the use of ketamine (sorry if I spelt it wrong) to treat and combat depression?

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 10:35 pm |

          I have heard of but have no clinical experience with using it as such. I am familiar with it has an entheogen but cannot personally attribute to it any particular mood elevating effect.
          There is such variance in individual response to any pharm therapy for psych issues that I have no problems with off-label or experimental approaches when mainline approaches fail.
          I am familiar with its growing use in local/topical pain relief in conjunction w/ neuro modulators.
          Given the associations between depression/pain and many of the pain relieving qualities of antidepressants there could surely be a connection.

        • Monkey See Monkey Do | Jan 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm |

          1 or 2 high dose sessions could present an opportunity for reprogramming the mind if done with the correct set and setting. Potential for addiction means that Ketamine (a dissociative/psychedelic) has less therapeutic value for psychology than the major psychedelics. (LSD, DMT, Pscilocybin)

  2. Kevin Leonard | Jan 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm |

    I wonder how much Valerian root you would have to eat to get the same impact.

    “Valproic acid was first synthesized in 1882 by B.S. Burton as an analogue of valeric acid, found naturally in valerian.” -wiki

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 5:48 pm |

      Valerian has many more active components at work. It’s far more sedating. Serum valproic acid levels need to be regular monitored to keep in therapeutic ranges. Take too much (of either) and you are risking you’re liver.

      • Kevin Leonard | Jan 6, 2014 at 6:05 pm |

        I had found some valerian root extracts which indicated the percentage of valeric acid. I did the math and the amount needed to match the synthetic version is certainly unmanageable. Something like 60 caps.

        I had taken valeran root for insomnia for a while and seemed to develop a tolerance. Does it clear out of your system or does it accumulate. And I wonder if low regular doses could have similar effects, if not as pronounced.

        Also. If I may ask. Are you a doctor/pharmacist? or just smart and curious?

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm |

          You develop tolerance to the gabaergic effects.
          I am a NP with extensive education in several sciences.

          • Kevin Leonard | Jan 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm |

            Thanks for the inputs. For the record, I’ve never doubted your intelligence and appreciate the fact that I often consult the dictionary after reading your posts.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 6:24 pm |

            Always doubt intelligence, it is a feeble thing.
            ; )

          • Kevin Leonard | Jan 6, 2014 at 7:22 pm |

            Oh no. Once revealed, I will not doubt intelligence. Conclusions, however, and especially assertions, are another matter. 😉

            Speaking of which, I wonder if you would have any comments on the morphed-topic thread under the “Genesis of the Gods” article regarding consciousness and the brain. No worries if not.

          • This ^conversation made me smile. : )

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 11:37 pm |

            It is the unrevealed intelligence that I doubt the least as it is that which has most often humbled me.

          • Kevin Leonard | Jan 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm |

            Unrevealed intelligence is a scary thing.

            I find your position unsurprising and respectable. I do think there are answers to the questions raised, but phrased as assertions, they are likely untenable. I consider the answers to such questions to be simply The Mysteries. I entertain such thoughts and such thoughts entertain me. Personal gnosis is a peak experience which often does not sit well in the midst of scientific inquiry.

            I love how the seemingly more appropriate translation of Aristotle’s (in)famous “mark of an educated mind” maxim ends, ” … it is evidently equally foolish … to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.”


          • Calypso_1 | Jan 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm |

            I have discerned that unrevealed intelligence is the only way to survive a host of situations.
            Yes, The Mysteries: I find that to be as an attributable superposition as any.
            I owe you an email, apologies. Along the lines which you lauded, I might suggest a variation of word choice as further illustration of the process – entrain. The permutation interestingly requires removal of an injected variation of etre. In order ‘to be’ there is a separation, no standing alone without the other. Now I am entertaining myself. And what is entertainment but the constant interplay and preferably role reversal between sender a receiver.
            Perhaps, though I may be mistaken, a difference in our current paths; gnosis need not be, nor necessarily most effective as a peak experience. Ever watch an IV drip?

          • Kevin Leonard | Jan 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm |

            Ah, yes. Well, it is the unrevealed intelligence of unrevealed others which sometimes frightens me.

            Entrainment – yes. that is the modus operandi of my morning meditations, mediations and muse-ical aspirations. Repentance.

            I certainly do not think gnosis is necessarily necessary, depending on how meta- you want to go. At some level, that is all there is… personal gnosis. Everything else is hearsay. And I reckon it also depends on where you want to apply your effects whether your peak experiences are effective.

            I attempt personal gnosis my path. But I often contemplate the Four Yogas. I have never contemplated an IV drip.

          • What does NP stand for?

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 7, 2014 at 12:41 am |

            Nondeterministic Polynomial.
            ; )

        • kowalityjesus | Jan 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm |

          That is what I noticed also. I quickly developed a tolerance to valerian.

      • Also, your figure and your hair.

  3. Rus Archer | Jan 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm |

    absolute pitch won’t help you with a whole lot of anything except if you want to learn a tonal language
    relative pitch matters much more

    • Calypso_1 | Jan 7, 2014 at 3:03 pm |

      oh yes it will.
      There is no “absolute pitch” as commonly understood. It is a myth. It is a collection of various skills and memory recall related to sound, some innate, some acquirable. Most of the skills included in the concept require familiarity with specific musical systems and do not describe a base level attribute. Those aspects that do involve fundamental neurological attributes are mostly inherent within the species and are simply subject do degrees of variation and trainability. The actual study doesn’t claim to create this. It enhanced performance on tonal exercises. That the studies author used the term shows either a lack of understanding on his own part (which I doubt) or simply a use of a the vernacular.

      As far as ‘pitch’ there are only ratios determined by varying structural relationships by which the tonal environment is created. Some of these have strong correlates with other natural ratios which are particularly relevant to ANY language.
      Every language whether ‘tonal’ or not has a unique set of phonemes produced by physiological articulations. Many of the subtleties of sound and pronunciation of language are contained within overtone resonances that, unless acquired by auditory recognition during childhood, are extremely difficult to recognize much less produce later in life.
      Any ability to enhance the neural plasticity of auditory learning will lead to gains in verbal language acquisition.

      • Rus Archer | Jan 7, 2014 at 3:28 pm |

        so you agree
        the language implications > musical implications
        and, yes, i get headlines = headlines

        • Calypso_1 | Jan 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm |

          You believe that to be present within my statement or you believe that you can derive that from implications of the statement? Or are you looking for agreement that has nothing to do with either?

    • kowalityjesus | Jan 7, 2014 at 3:44 pm |

      That is a common line from jealous mofos. Riddle me this: how many legendary composers/performers had absolute pitch?


      That’s enough for me! hahahah

  4. Calypso_1 | Jan 6, 2014 at 4:31 pm |

    Interesting because some other drugs w/similar structures alter pitch perception by very defined intervals.

    • kowalityjesus | Jan 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm |

      I always thought it was utterly weird that one (or at least I) can change the perceived pitch when clenching one’s jaw tightly. This is most readily observable with mild, steady high pitches.

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm |

        Not at all weird. You are changing something in your physiology. Perception of high pitches are far more likely to be drastically altered by overtones or difference tones. I can think of a number of things in clenching the jaw: increased transmission of sound through teeth to jaw, opening of Eustachian tubes, usually widening of nares, this could all alter resonance in sinus cavities. Change in position of the pinna (that would be fun to experiment with – Put on some elf ears and see if it is more pronounced. In animals with pointed and directional ears high pitched sounds can be ‘funneled’). I’m not sure if their could actually be any distortion (other than pressure change) on the inner ear, that’s out of my knowledge range.

        • kowalityjesus | Jan 8, 2014 at 4:52 am |

          as far as I can tell, its the only phenomenon that changes pitch from a physiological standpoint. I ain’t ne’er herrd no change otherwize, though my old teacher says he has a pitch difference in his left ear because of a certain type of hearing loss from years of playing. I guess the idea is weird to me perhaps because pitch is normally so concrete.

  5. Woobniggurath | Jan 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm |

    Has anyone tracked down the dosage level for this study? It seems that these sort of serendipitous effects tend to appear at much lower doses than those indicated for the labeled use.
    I also wonder why the researcher thought to examine such a possibility. In short, Sir Jacob, please provide the citation.

    • DavVictor | Jan 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm |

      I’m searching for that too. Looking for the paper now.

    • DavVictor | Jan 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm |

      Found it.
      Search for “Critical period for acoustic preference in mice Eun-Jin Yang, Eric W. Lin, and Takao K. Hensch”. Look for link to Harvard’s web site.


  7. …Do you know someone this has happened to?

  8. Wow…sorry that happened. Thanks!

Comments are closed.