#641: Roland Griffiths, PhD — Life’s Ultimate Glide Path, An Unexpected Stage IV Diagnosis, Facing Death, How Meditation and Psychedelics Can Help, and The Art of Living a Life of Gratitude
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Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. This is a very meaningful episode to me. It is probably the most significant interview that I've recorded in the last year, and it is with one of my favorite people and one of my favorite scientists in the world: Roland Griffiths, PhD.
Roland has recently been diagnosed with what is very likely terminal stage-four cancer. If you've ever found yourself inspired by someone who walks the walk, this episode is worth listening to. In facing mortality and potentially facing death, what Roland has done and is doing, the perspective he is finding, and the tools he is using, are nothing short of awe inspiring. His example is beyond words, and I wanted to share that with all of you.
I hope you find it as deeply enriching and valuable as I did. It is a very tender conversation at points, a very funny conversation, and in many ways, a very profound conversation.
To learn more about Roland’s very ambitious project to establish a world-class psychedelic research program—in perpetuity—to advance human flourishing and well-being, please visit GriffithsFund.org.
Currently, Roland has received pledges totaling about $14M. This means that he is $6M short of the $20M target, sufficient to support the full research program. To donate, please visit GriffithsFund.org and click “Donate.”
For more information about establishing a major gift, please contact Mike DeVito, the Senior Associate Director of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (443) 278-3174. Donors who contribute $1000 or more and who do not choose to remain anonymous will be acknowledged on the website.
Here is Roland’s bio:
Roland Griffiths, PhD, is a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at Johns Hopkins University, and founding Director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. His principal research focus in both clinical and preclinical laboratories has been on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs.
His research has been largely supported by grants from the National Institute on Health, and he is author of over 400 scientific publications. He has been a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and numerous pharmaceutical companies. Roland has conducted extensive research with sedative-hypnotics, caffeine, and novel mood-altering drugs.
In 1994 Roland started a regular meditation practice that made him curious about certain altered states of consciousness that prompted him in 1999 to initiate the first study in decades to rigorously evaluate the effects of a high dose of a classic psychedelic drug (psilocybin) in healthy psychedelic-naïve participants. Subsequent studies with psilocybin have been conducted in healthy volunteers, in beginning and long-term meditators, and in religious leaders. Therapeutic studies with psilocybin include treatment of psychological distress in cancer patients, cigarette smoking addiction, major depression, anorexia nervosa, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Other studies have examined non-psychedelic drugs that produce altered states of consciousness having similarities to psilocybin. Brain imaging studies have examined pharmacological and neural mechanisms of action of psilocybin.
Roland’s research group has also conducted a series of survey studies characterizing various naturally-occurring and psychedelic-occasioned transformative experiences including: mystical-type experiences, psychologically challenging experiences, near-death experiences (NDEs), Entity and God-encounter experiences, and experiences to which reduced anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders are attributed.
[05:15] Roland’s earliest personal experience with psychedelics.
[11:07] Meditation and interest in altered states of consciousness.
[18:32] What is phenomenology?
[21:44] Why early attempts at meditation failed, and what made Roland revisit the practice.
[29:13] Roland’s work with sedative-hypnotics in the late ’70s.
[33:02] Connoisseurs of puff topography.
[36:36] When Roland realized the voice in his head wasn’t his.
[40:26] From meditation to scientific exploration of psychedelics.
[50:29] Entheogens vs. psychedelics.
[54:57] Roland’s initial reluctance to experiment with psychedelics.
[59:36] Sasha Shulgin, PiHKAL, and TiHKAL.
[1:02:12] Bill Richards.
[1:03:30] Challenges of the psychedelic trial process.
[1:12:41] The results of Roland’s first major psychedelic study.
[1:16:46] Pre-existing literature on mystical experiences.
[1:18:39] Roland’s more recent psychedelic experiences.
[1:27:23] Why isn’t Roland devastated by his terminal diagnosis?
[1:42:47] Ego dissolution and anxiety reduction.
[1:49:44] The real purpose of this conversation.
[1:54:50] A rundown of Roland’s diagnosis and how he’s coping with it.
[2:03:44] “Every day is Thanksgiving.”
[2:05:39] Gratitude meditation, liver embolization, and other mortality navigations.
[2:13:18] Eliciting 5-MeO “placebo” experiences without psychedelics.
[2:29:14] How does Roland relate to death?
[2:34:59] How loved ones can be supportive of someone coping with a terminal diagnosis.
[2:38:30] Belief changes associated with psychedelic use.
[2:40:45] Thoughts from the crossroads of the quantum, the paranormal, and the psychedelic.
[2:52:30] Roland’s endowed professorship and its foreseeable areas of research.
[3:09:01] David Yaden.
[3:18:23] Is there a contingency if Usona ceases to exist?
[3:19:42] Roland’s current prognosis.
[3:23:38] Roland’s parting thoughts of gratitude and the road ahead.