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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 (#641)

“I would’ve claimed to be pretty awake prior to the cancer diagnosis. I’m much more awake now. There’s no reason that we can’t all wake up. That’s the overarching message that I want to broadcast is ‘Join me in the celebration, the appreciation of this miracle that we all find ourselves in.’”

— Roland Griffiths, PhD

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.

The Roland R. Griffiths, PhD, Professorship Fund in Psychedelic Research on Secular Spirituality and Well-Being:

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 mdevito1@jhmi.edu 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.

Roland Griffiths, PhD, short 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.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#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


Want to hear another episode with someone who’s explored altered states of consciousness with and without psychedelic compounds? Have a listen to my conversation with Stan Grof, in which we discuss the takeaways from guiding 4,500+ LSD sessions, the place and role of wounded healers, limitations and uses of traditional psychoanalysis and talk therapy, the similarities found between holotropic breathwork and MDMA, what humanity most needs to overcome, and much more.

#347: Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

SHOW NOTES

  • [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.
  • [2:11:36] Satcitananda.
  • [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.

MORE ROLAND GRIFFITHS QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

“I don’t know what happens [after death]. But what I do know is that this gift we’ve been given to be these sentient creatures, walking around, being aware that we’re aware with just a little bit of contemplation, a miracle is not an inappropriate descriptor of where we find ourselves. How this has come about and why we’ve been gifted with this opportunity is unknown to us, but it should be a source of incredible gratitude and joy and celebration.”
— Roland Griffiths

“What’s interesting to me now in where I find myself with this terminal cancer diagnosis, and reflecting on how I’m managing that personally, and as we’ve discussed, the sense is that I have a sense of equipoise and balance, curiosity, wonder, gratitude—a sense of celebration for the preciousness of life. … How do you account for that? One might think that a terminal diagnosis would be devastating. I can’t possibly know how to account for how I’ve managed that diagnosis over these first eight months, but what I would highly suspect is that it has a lot to do with my long history of meditation practice, and it’s informed by some of the experiences that I’ve had with psychedelics. So with regard to the meditation, there’s a real training of the nature of mind—watching one’s mind de-identifying from the voice in the head and making optimal choices about how one wants to proceed in one’s life.”
— Roland Griffiths

“Peculiarly, my experience has been one of celebration, and my wife has joined me in that. I deeply want to share that with people because there’s no reason that we all shouldn’t be celebrating. It’s taken me a terminal cancer diagnosis to fully awake to that. I would’ve claimed to be pretty awake prior to the cancer diagnosis. I’m much more awake now. There’s no reason that we can’t all wake up. That’s the overarching message that I want to broadcast is ‘Join me in the celebration, the appreciation, of this miracle that we all find ourselves in.‘”
— Roland Griffiths

“It really is this invitation to face what initially appears to be the dark side of things, the most frightening things. I would have to say terminal cancer diagnosis might well qualify as emblematic of such an experience. Perhaps psychedelic experiences that had negative, valenced qualities to them, and how I learned to navigate those, could have been very important to me in how I came to find myself navigating the diagnosis.”
— Roland Griffiths

“Every day I wake up is Thanksgiving.”
— Roland Griffiths

“When you start paying attention to that voice [in your head] and realizing it’s not you, then all of a sudden the game starts changing.”
— Roland Griffiths

“A picture of the guru sat there. I was looking at this picture, and all of a sudden, the eyes became alive. I was looking into the picture, and I was looking into these eyes that were looking right back at me. And as I looked more closely, I realized I was looking in my own eyes. And with that understanding—and this wouldn’t be commonly held within the tradition—I recognized that I was the guru, that I was no different than the guru, that the guru was just a mirror of who you are. And with that kind of understanding, I was able to join the community in reverence to the guru because it was in reverence to this deeper interconnectedness that the guru was reflecting back. And I was able to pranam, bow, in front of the guru because I was bowing to myself. And so that shifted a frame of reference that allowed me to engage in that community. And then I started more serious daily meditation practices that I have continued ever since.”
— Roland Griffiths

“Science itself is entirely open-ended and agnostic. All it’s trying to do is find out what’s true.”
— Roland Griffiths

“The fun of science is you can follow your hunches.”
— Roland Griffiths

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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