The Tim Ferriss Show – Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond

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Key Takeways
  • “The way you perceive the environment is a result of the projection from your own unconscious”
  • Stan estimates he’s had about 140 high dose psychedelic sessions over the last 60 years or so
  • To maximize the effectiveness of a psychedelic experience:
    • It’s all about set and setting – who gives the psychedelic to whom, under what circumstances, and for what purpose
    • Wear eye shades, and focus internally, instead of treating the experience like watching an interesting movie
    • Come with an intention to the session
  • “Someone on a bad trip, is dealing with a difficult aspect of their unconscious. When it’s coming up, it’s coming up for healing.”
  • Nothing is more important for us than the preservation of our ecological environment
    • “It is so suicidal, so self destructive, to destroy the basis on which we depend”
  • “It’s important that we live our lives not just by responding to what’s happening outside of us, but by spending some time in focused self exploration, which can lead to inner transformation.”
Intro
How did Stan first become interested in psychedelics?
  • As a med student, in his fourth year, while volunteering in the psychiatric department – the department was sent a supply of LSD from a major pharmaceutical lab
    • It came with a letter asking if the department would like to experiment with it
    • This was in 1954
    • Stan had his exposure to the drug when one of the heads of the psychiatric department, asked him to guide a few sessions during the experiments
    • Stan says he spent several years guiding 2 sessions a day
  • What application where they looking at initially?
    • Just “giving it to different people and seeing what it does”
    • “Here, we had no idea what would happen”
    • “When this substance fell into our laps, we had absolutely no idea what it would do”
  • “I was so excited about what was coming. I realized that this was going to change psychiatry and psychology”
    • Initially the impression was that LSD was a substance that could mimic psychosis – the excitement was that they had a model for mimicking things like schizophrenia etc.
  • Stan started noticing a wide range of effects in people who took the LSD
    • Some called it “drug assisted psychotherapy”
    • Others experienced paranoid episodes
    • Some caught glimpses of mystical ecstatic states
  • But eventually Stan realized LSD was a “catalyst which made it possible to explore the depths of the human psyche”
    • “People were not having LSD experiences, they were having experiences of themselves”
Stan’s First Personal Experience With LSD
  • He took 100 micrograms on November 13th 1956
  • “I had the feeling that I had extinguished the form in which I knew myself, but also the sense that I somehow became everything there was. I became all of existence.”
    • “You can have the feeling that you become nothing, but by becoming nothing, you actually become all of existence”
    • “I had the feeling that not only was I in the universe, I was the universe”
With all his experiences, how does Stan think about consciousness?
  • Stan says he is very close with Ervin Laszlo, who has a series of books on the subject – “He’s the only one, who I think has found some way to scientifically describe what is happening to us”
    • Check out his book What is Reality
    • In this book, he explores the arguments for the idea that consciousness is local (that it’s inside of our brain)
    • He also explores how consciousness might be more trans-personal (supported by the fact that in non-ordinary states (like after taking LSD), you can have experiences of consciousness of other people and of other species)
    • He even explores the idea that consciousness is cosmic – “It’s an integral part of existence. It cannot be reduced to anything else, let alone neurons in the brain.”
      • Essentially, it’s a part of the universe, and can be traced back to the big bang
Holotropic States of Consciousness
  • Stan dislikes the term “altered states of consciousness” and instead prefers “non-ordinary states of consciousness”
    • Why? – “Altered” suggests that their is a correct way of experiencing ourselves and the world, and somehow the “altered” state = disturbed
    • “I have too much respect for these states to call them altered”
  • Stan uses “holotropic states of consciousness” to refer to a large sub category of “non-ordinary states of consciousness” that have healing, therapeutic, and transformative potential
    • “When you work with these states, you run into a lot of paradigm breaking observations that challenge the whole way of thinking”
  • These holotropic states have a cool property
    • “If people would systematically use them, I think we would almost become another species. People work through a lot of aggression; it’s replaced by compassion. They discover that we are deeply embedded in nature and we cannot do anything to nature that doesn’t damage us. They start seeing violence as an unacceptable way of solving problems. People start seeing themselves as global citizens, rather than of a certain nationality.”
  • The word “holotropic”
    • “holos” means whole in Greek
    • “trepo” means moving in the direction of something
    • So “holotropic” means moving towards wholeness
  • Examples of inducers of Holotropic States of Consciousness
5-MeO-DMT
  • This compound hasn’t really been explored scientifically like LSD and psilocybin
  • It’s derived from certain toads
    • The book explores many groups of people across the county who use 5-MeO-DMT either recreationally or in ceremonies
  • It creates a very short, significant, psychedelic experience
  • The first time taking this, Stan estimates he took about 25mg, when the standard dose is ~5mg
    • “It was by far the most powerful psychedelic experience I’ve ever had.”
      • Joe Rogan and Michael Pollan said something similar in these Podcast Notes
    • The following week, Stan says, he was very peaceful, almost like a state in which you’d want to live forever
  • “I think this would be an amazing substance to try for practical reasons.” – It’s very short acting, and intense
    • “Significant therapy could be done in this short window”
“LSD could become for psychiatry what the microscope was for biology and medicine, and what the telescope is for astronomy”
  • Stan began his therapy practice by giving doses ranging from 150-200 micrograms (called medium doses)
    • He began to realize that each symptom (specifically emotional symptom) someone has, has a layer of traumatic experiences behind it, which underly the “disorder”
      • Each symptom has a history, essentially
    • It’s like the “onion peeling of the psyche”
    • “I felt like we were discovering the depths of the psyche. So in that sense, it was like a microscope or telescope.”
In an ideal world, what would Stan’s version of psychotherapy look like?
  • It would be psychedelic assisted, of course
    • Stan would recommend using music with headphones and eye shades
    • 300-400 micrograms of LSD is best to facilitate the therapy
      • “When you use smaller doses, people have more of a chance to resist what happens, if there’s areas they don’t want to go into. I consider the high doses, with proper management, to be more effective therapy.”
  • It would involve the use of holotropic breath work
    • This involves a specific series of breaths, powerful music, and body work to induce holotropic states of consciousness
    • Tim has done holotropic breath work 3 times, being very skeptical at first, but now says he was “really stunned just by how powerful you can induce these non-ordinary states using breath work”
Stop Collecting Psychedelic Experiences
  • What separates the people who collect interesting drug experiences, but don’t seem to experience any deeper healing? How can you increase the likelihood of experiencing real deep healing?
    • It’s all about set and setting – who gives the psychedelic to whom, under what circumstances, and for what purpose
      • A rave is the worst possible set and setting for a taking psychedelic
    • Wear eye shades, and focus internally, instead of treating the experience like watching an interesting movie
    • Come with an intention to the session
  • “The way you perceive the environment is a result of the projection from your own unconscious”
When The Impossible Happens
  • This is Stan’s book
    • One phenomena explored in the book is the subject of syncronicity
      • This is when a meaningful connection is is observed, between an interpsychic event (like a dream) and the material world
    • One situation described in the book, talks about a women undergoing a holotropic breath work session, and all of a sudden being able to chant in this perfect native language
What psychedelic at what dose is most similar to the effects or experience of holotropic breath work?
  • More something like MDMA
    • “MDMA is very dangerous physiologically, but very very easy for most people to handle psychologically and emotionally”
Microdosing
  • Stan has taken 25 micrograms of LSD frequently for hiking and swimming in the ocean, to enhance the perceptual experience
  • But he hasn’t done anything regularly
Bad Trips
  • “With a bad trip, there’s no good way of terminating it. The worst thing you can do is what’s done routinely – give them tranquilizers.”
    • Doing this prevents any kind of resolution
    • “Someone on a bad trip, is dealing with a difficult aspect of their unconscious. When it’s coming up, it’s coming up for healing.”
  • What can you do?
    • Always make sure you have a guide/someone watching you
    • Have the guide say – “You are in an LSD session. This is a time limited thing. I’m here to help you get through this.”
  • People can and will benefit from bad trips if handled correctly
How has Stan’s experience of his inner world changed, after his many psychedelic experiences?
  • He used to be an atheist before ever trying LSD
    • “It was my first LSD session that changed that. I was one kind of person in the morning, and another person walked out of there in the evening.”
    • However – he didn’t become religious
      • “I never became religious in any way. I became very spiritual.”
    • Coming down from this session, he thought, as a psychiatrist, “this is by far the most interesting thing I can study”
If Stan were starting his career again, and all compounds were legal, what kind/type of research would he like to do?
  • Stan would love to see some more research into the links between psychedelics and creativity
    • “We have indications that the whole development of computers was closely connected with the use of psychedelics”
    • Stan would like to see if psychedelics lead to the “loss of blocks we have in problem solving because we are stuck in a paradigm”
    • This history of scientific development, leading up to the current understanding of the universe as we know it, is broken up into distinct periods, each beginning with a paradigm shift – such as a change in the way of viewing the world, a change in beliefs, research areas etc. 
      • Ex – when we started to realize that atoms are the building blocks of everything
      • During times in which science is dominated by a certain paradigm, the scientists solve problems within the context of the given parameters of that paradigm
      • When observations come that challenge a paradigm, people first reject them, but after a while, the new paradigm is accepted by the scientific community
      • “We are now in a paradigm shift in relation to consciousness and the human psyche”
How is Stan so sharp and energetic at 87?
  • “I’m really deeply committed to these holotropic states, and bringing them into society/psychiatry”
What does humanity need most right now?
  • “The materialistic paradigm is really destroying this planet”
  • Nothing is more important for us than the preservation of our ecological environment
    • “It is so suicidal, so self destructive, to destroy the basis on which we depend”
Wrapping Up
  • “It’s important that we live our lives not just by responding to what’s happening outside of us, but by spending some time in focused self exploration, which can lead to inner transformation.”
Random
  • Studies showing that people who survive suicide jumps off the golden gate bridge (~1% of people), have profound transformations in the brain in the 3 second fall
  • Stan estimates he’s had about 140 high dose psychedelic sessions over the last 60 years or so
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