The Griffiths protocol for psilocybin (enduring benefits)

If you like reading studies, tap the above PDF link.  But I will summarize this for you below, and I will be producing a video on the subject as well.  This study is important for many reasons.  For one, they came up with a detailed protocol that can result in up to 56% of participants having the single most spiritually significant experience of their life, and a remarkable 96% reporting that it was in the "top 5".  But perhaps more importantly, they discovered a synergy between psilocybin and meditation ("spiritual practice").  These results have since been reproduced by other researchers.  

Dr. Griffiths has done two related TED talks (1 & 2) that you may be interested in, as well as an interview with Dr. Rhonda Patrick and a nice lecture at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelics Research organized by The OPEN Foundation. He also briefly describes the above particular study here (just before Griffiths speaks in the video they mention that just using psychedelics is too unpredictable to be considered a primary "spiritual practice", but they have particular promise when used judiciously in combination with a spiritual practice both before and after).

Past studies have not shown a whole lot in the way of ENDURING (long lasting) positive results from the use of psychedelics.  You may have seen this yourself - where a person is excited after an experience for a little while, they may also have complete relief from depression or anxiety which is fantastic, but after 1 to 3 weeks, they slowly revert back to their old self again.  The Griffiths team found that by combining a "spiritual practice" (details below) with 2 psilocybin sessions, they were able to achieve something more - long lasting (6 month followup) improvements in trait measures including interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping, altruism/positive social effects, positive behavior change, and increased spirituality.  They even checked with friends and family of participants to independently confirm these enduring trait changes, and it was all done in a blind, placebo controlled way.  Spiritual practice alone did not produce these results, nor did psilocybin alone, it was the combination that proved so valuable.

So what we have here is a reproducible way to generate enduring positive changes in attitudes and behavior and increase healthy psychological functioning.  Analysis shows that these beneficial effects were correlated with the intensity of the psilocybin-occasioned mystical experience and the rates of engagement with meditation and other spiritual practices.  

THE PROTOCOL

All participants were required to read the book “Passage Meditation” by Easwaran, and put the 8 point program into practice. In the study they only really emphasized doing 10-20 minutes a day of passage meditation plus using a mantra and one pointed attention in daily activities. They also encouraged participants to write down daily self-reflective insights, benefits, and challenges of spiritual practice in daily life (journaling). 

The passage you memorize (from the above mentioned passage meditation) will help put you into the ideal mindset for the psilocybin sessions.  The book describes many possible passages to use, but the top recommendation is The Prayer of St. Francis or you can pick something on your own that will hopefully inspire you or give you some goals to work toward.  For the musically inclined, there are many versions of The Prayer of St. Francis on YouTube, like this one by Sarah McLachlan.  You will need to memorize the passage, and be able to repeat it in your mind very slowly for the passage meditation.

Do this meditation/spiritual practice daily for one month before partaking in a psilocybin session which will start with a 2 gram dose of dried mushrooms (4-5 capsules). Continue your meditation/spiritual practice for another 30 days before doing a second psilocybin session at a 3 gram (6-7 capsules) dosage. Note: the stepped up dosing is considered important for optimal results and reduces the chance of an adverse reaction (in fact no one in this study had any significant problems at all with the psilocybin sessions or afterwards, the worst that happened was a single participant experienced abnormally elevated blood pressure which was treated with sublingual nitroglycerin, but even that person reported a positive overall experience).

For the psychedelic sessions - make sure you have a pleasant setting, no disruptions. Don’t take the psilocybin too late in the day as the effects can last 5 to 6 hours (peak experience is between hours 2 and 3). Enter a state of mental surrender before ingesting the psychedelic.  Eat a low fat meal a few hours before your session. Spend most of the session laying down, wearing comfortable eyeshades that don’t touch your eyelids, or close your eyes. Focus within, on your internal experience. Listen to music that will facilitate a mystical experience: You may want to use the 10 hour soundtrack I made explicitly for this purpose (it can also be downloaded for offline, commercial free use, all patrons are given a link to the download). I also created a playlist based on what is actually used by the Hopkins team (patrons are also given a link to download this one for offline commercial free use).

Optionally use a friend/guide (trip sitter) if that idea brings you comfort. The guide can watch over you, assist you if needed for example getting to a bathroom or giving you some water to sip. The guide should be instructed not to disrupt you, but they can encourage you to focus within, or provide reassurance if needed.

How will you know if your dosage was adequate? After your psilocybin session, take the following mystical experiences questionnaire which has been scientifically validated (here and here) and has been used by countless researchers (mentioned in many reputable published studies):

MEQ30 [Mystical Experiences Questionnaire]

You had a “complete” mystical experience if your scores on each of the four factors were ≥60% of the maximum possible factor score.  If you had no problem with the dosage but did not attain a complete mystical experience, increase the dosage for the next session by one gram (2 additional capsules). Keep in mind that achieving a complete mystical experience is the single most important determinant of successfully achieving the long term benefits described in the study.  About half of the participants in the study were able to achieve a mystical experience on the 2 gram (4 capsule) equivalent dose, this rose to 64% after the higher 3 gram (6 capsule) dose, but some people require more than others, it can take up to 5 grams (10 capsules).  Also note that potency of your dried mushrooms could vary considerably*** (this is also a reason to powder your supply in a large batch which homogenizes the end product making it more consistent, predictable, and thus more safe - see footnote for more details). 

Never do psychedelic sessions closer than 2 weeks apart, in the Griffiths study they always waited 30 days and only administered 2 high dose sessions per participant.

Continue your meditation / spiritual practice for at least 30 days after the last psilocybin session.  

Psychedelics are a tool - the real "magic" comes from proper preparation of the mind.  The very same principles from this study can be adapted to treat addictions, depression, PTSD, trauma, or to change behaviors or modify one's life for the better.  The only real requirement is that the participant be fully engaged and genuine in seeking the change/outcome.  You must do your part in the process because the psychedelic is merely one aspect of the equation and is not enough on its own.  But note that having a spiritual practice may in fact help mediate a complete mystical experience on psychedelics, and it is this component (and/or its neurophysiological or other correlates) that was found to be critical for enduring benefits.

Note: I believe these results could be achieved using oral DMT although as far as I know, no researchers have studied it in this way.  It does not seem like vaped DMT would be a good alternative, and Griffiths specifically mentions in the study (p19) that LSD is not likely to work based on other studies showing very low incidence of complete mystical experiences with LSD.   

  • ***[footnote] I converted Griffiths' dosages of pure psilocybin to "dried cubensis equivalent" dosages after doing substantial research and review of all published studies on alkaloid content of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms (this is the easiest psilocybin containing mushroom to grow and the most commonly cultivated psilocybin containing species).  The highest quality study I could find on this subject was Morphological and Chemical Analysis of Magic Mushrooms in Japan.  This study and many others have found that alkaloid content can vary wildly from sample to sample.  In particular the total content of psilocin and psilocybin ranged from 0.51 to 1.44% per dry mass of the whole mushrooms.  Other research has shown that  there can be up to a four-fold variation in potency of individual mushrooms that were even grown simultaneously in the same small jar. There can be up to a three-fold variation in potency between a cap and a stem of a single mushroom.  I point this out for safety reasons and reproducibility purposes - there is virtually no way to know the potency of any mushroom.  By properly drying them and blending (powdering) the entire batch together, you end up with a nice uniform mix which will be consistent and safer for experimentation purposes (this is known has homogenization).  This is why I showed that step in my bulk mushroom cultivation video however I could not explicitly explain the reason in the video without triggering the censors at YouTube (it needed to be a generic, "how to grow any type of mushroom video").  Anyway, the AVERAGE psilocybin/psilocin content from Tsujikawa 2003 was  almost exactly 1%  But an average isn't going to help you determine the alkaloids in your personal supply which may be weaker or stronger, you need to take several small test dosages from the homogenized (powdered) mix, before assessing potency.  Also note that an individual's response to these compounds can vary wildly - for one person a 1.5g dose is enough to elicit hours of closed eye visuals, while another person sampling the same batch could get no visuals at all even with a 4g dose (I have seen this happen).  Some people trip far more easily than others, there are likely genetic factors involved, possibly related to monoamine oxidase inhibition. 
  • Here are the safety guidelines used by the Hopkins team. Exclusion criteria are described in great detail starting on page 9, including medical and mental health exclusions, drug and supplement interaction exclusions, family history (mental illness), personality types (too rigid, or too emotional), and more. They also describe countermeasures that can be taken to intervene in the rare event of psychosis.
  • Note that the Hopkins team excluded 96.3% of volunteers from their study.  They used mostly middle aged people with little to no experience with psychedelics in excellent physical and mental health with no family or personal history of mental health issues - not exactly what you'll find in the psychedelic community or population at large.  So their results, while encouraging, may not hold up in a broader context.
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