Roland Griffiths was no ordinary scientist. While most of his peers shied away from controversial psychedelic research, he saw potential. Dr. Griffiths recently passed away at age 77 of colon cancer but his work with mind-expanding substances has already advanced humanity in the treatment of personal trauma.
Born in 1946 in New York City, Roland Griffiths pursued a life in psychology and science from an early age. He excelled through his foundational education, and upon completion of his Ph.D. he immediately began work at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; there he focused on topics like addiction to mood-altering drugs such as opiates and cocaine as well as publishing pioneering papers about caffeine addiction that changed our perspective of its consumption worldwide.
But Dr. Griffiths really made waves in 2006 with his publication of an eye-catching paper: “Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences with Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance”. This was huge. For the first time in decades, a respected scientist conducted a controlled experiment on psychedelics – specifically Psilocybin found in certain mushrooms – not simply as medical treatment, but to explore spiritual or mystical experiences under controlled conditions.
Dr. Griffiths’ groundbreaking study had such an incredible effect that it opened doors for other researchers. At that time, studying psychedelics had become largely taboo; since its debacle during the turbulent 1960s. Now however, thanks to Dr. Griffiths’ meticulous work and its acceptance by top government agencies like Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration; other researchers began taking up this subject seriously as subjects for study – even using it to treat conditions such as anxiety among cancer patients.
Michael Pollan wrote extensively about Dr. Griffiths’ research in his book “How to Change Your Mind,” characterizing him as an ethical and conscientious scientist. Pollan interviewed participants from Griffiths’ studies who often spoke about their life-altering experiences as part of Griffiths’ studies. Griffiths himself believed psychedelic drugs could help direct humanity away from destructive paths; these substances had the power to open people up to the realization that we all depend upon one another for survival and caregiving responsibilities.
Dr. Griffiths met his battle with Stage 4 colon cancer with both scientific curiosity and personal courage, even experimenting with LSD to investigate it further. To the end, he conducted research where clergy members received psilocybin to understand its effects on spiritual lives and works.
Dr. Griffiths leaves behind a legacy that far transcends his academic papers or accolades. His courageous journeys into unfamiliar waters resurrected an area of study which had long lain dormant. But more than anything else, Dr. Griffiths leaves us with exciting questions regarding consciousness, spirituality, and human understanding that remain open to explore.