Roland Griffiths

Academic, Scientist

Roland R. Griffiths is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is also a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the US Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and many pharmaceutical companies. His primary areas of study are sedative-hypnotics1,2 and using hallucinogens as medicine,3 particularly the therapeutic uses of psilocybin4. He also researches and writes about caffeine dependence.5–8

Dr. Griffiths received his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California in 1968 and his doctorate in psychology and pharmacology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1972. Over the years he has authored over 360 journal articles and book chapters.

Mystical Experiences From Psilocybin

Dr. Griffiths has taught and researched in neuroscience, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University since 1972. In 1999, he started the Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Research Project. One of the main areas he focuses on is if and how psilocybin brings about mystical experiences.9–12 The work has found that psilocybin does produce mystical experiences9 which study participants say are “among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives.” 10 Psilocybin also significantly increases people’s ‘openness’ at higher doses.11 The increased openness is consistent with the study participant’s reports of increased imagination, aesthetic appreciation, and creativity. Dr. Griffiths has also found that that mystical effects of psilocybin include positive effects on mood, attitudes, and behavior.12 These effects persisted 14 months after the study ended.

Psilocybin Aids in Smoking Cessation

Smoking cessation treatment with psilocybin is another area Dr. Griffiths is exploring.13–16 A pilot study done in 2014 found 80% of the participants were still abstinent from smoking after 6 months, far exceeding the <35% cessation rate of other behavioral and/or pharmaceutical therapies.13 A long-term follow-up study of the same participants done in 2015 revealed that not only were they not smoking, but they reported “profound, insightful psilocybin experiences.” 15 Mystical experiences occurred for 60% of people in the study. Those who had them were more likely to stop and remain abstinent from smoking.14

Further analysis of how psilocybin helps with smoking cessation was published by Dr. Griffiths and his team in June 2018.16 Retrospective follow-up interviews were done with 12 of the 15 study participants 30 months after their initial psilocybin-assisted therapy sessions. The participants reported gaining “…vivid insights into self-identity and reasons for smoking from their psilocybin sessions. Experiences of interconnectedness, awe, and curiosity persisted beyond the duration of acute drug effects. Participants emphasized that the content of psilocybin experiences overshadowed any short-term withdrawal symptoms.” Overall, the participants also experienced positive changes besides smoking cessation including increased altruism, aesthetic appreciation, and pro-social behavior.

Anxiety Relief for Cancer Patients

Dr. Griffiths has also discovered that psilocybin helps decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients.17 He tested very low (placebo-like) and very high (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) doses in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening conditions and experiencing depression and/or anxiety. Participants in the high dose group had better moods, decreased death anxiety, and increases in quality of life, optimism, and meaning of life. After six months, about 80% of the original high dose group still had improved moods and decreased anxiety. Interestingly, the study participants also reported mystical experiences on their session days.

Dr. Griffiths has given several TEDMed and TEDx talks, including one on using psilocybin to relieve suffering.

More information about Roland Griffiths is found on his Johns Hopkins Medicine webpage and his LinkedIn profile.

    References
  1. Reissig CJ, Carter LP, Johnson MW, Mintzer MZ, Klinedinst MA, Griffiths RR. High doses of dextromethorphan, an NMDA antagonist, produce effects similar to classic hallucinogens. Psychopharmacology. 2012;223(1):1-15. doi:10.1007/s00213-012-2680-6
  2. Carbonaro TM, Johnson MW, Hurwitz E, Griffiths RR. Double-blind comparison of the two hallucinogens psilocybin and dextromethorphan: similarities and differences in subjective experiences. Psychopharmacology. 2018;235(2):521-534. doi:10.1007/s00213-017-4769-4
  3. Griffiths RR, Grob CS. Hallucinogens as Medicine. Scientific American. 2010;303(6):76-79. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26002307. Accessed September 4, 2018.
  4. Johnson MW, Griffiths RR. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Psilocybin. Neurotherapeutics. 2017;14(3):734-740. doi:10.1007/s13311-017-0542-y
  5. Griffiths RR, Woodson PP. Caffeine physical dependence: a review of human and laboratory animal studies. Psychopharmacology. 1988;94(4):437-451. doi:10.1007/BF00212836
  6. Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychopharmacology. 2004;176(1):1-29. doi:10.1007/s00213-004-2000-x
  7. Silverman K, Evans SM, Strain EC, Griffiths RR. Withdrawal Syndrome after the Double-Blind Cessation of Caffeine Consumption. New England Journal of Medicine. 1992;327(16):1109-1114. doi:10.1056/NEJM199210153271601
  8. Reissig CJ, Strain EC, Griffiths RR. Caffeinated energy drinks—A growing problem. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2009;99(1-3):1-10. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.08.001
  9. Griffiths RR, Richards WA, McCann U, Jesse R. Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology. 2006;187(3):268-283. doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5
  10. Griffiths R, Richards W, Johnson M, McCann U, Jesse R. Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. J Psychopharmacol. 2008;22(6):621-632. doi:10.1177/0269881108094300
  11. MacLean KA, Johnson MW, Griffiths RR. Mystical experiences occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(11):1453-1461. doi:10.1177/0269881111420188
  12. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Richards WA, Richards BD, McCann U, Jesse R. Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects. Psychopharmacology. 2011;218(4):649-665. doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2358-5
  13. Johnson MW, Garcia-Romeu A, Cosimano MP, Griffiths RR. Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction. J Psychopharmacol. 2014;28(11):983-992. doi:10.1177/0269881114548296
  14. Garcia-Romeu A, R. Griffiths R, W. Johnson M. Psilocybin-Occasioned Mystical Experiences in the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction. Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 2014;7(3):157-164. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/cdar/2014/00000007/00000003/art00005. Accessed September 4, 2018.
  15. Garcia-Romeu AP, Noorani T, Griffiths RR, Johnson MW. Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-facilitated smoking cessation: Abstinence outcomes and qualitative analysis of participant accounts. Drug & Alcohol Dependence. 2015;156:e78. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.07.1130
  16. Noorani T, Garcia-Romeu A, Swift TC, Griffiths RR, Johnson MW. Psychedelic therapy for smoking cessation: Qualitative analysis of participant accounts. J Psychopharmacol. 2018;32(7):756-769. doi:10.1177/0269881118780612
  17. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1181-1197. doi:10.1177/0269881116675513