S4E35: Psychedelic Drugs and Dying: Embracing the Gift of Life

The staff at Everyone Dies is taking a much-needed break this December, so we will be re-publishing some of our greatest hits with updated topical information as an introduction. This week we are going to talk about the use of psychedelic drugs from the perspective of the scientist who legitimized the study of these drugs at Johns Hopkins University.

In this Episode:

  • 00:00 – Dr. Roland Griffiths on his psychedelic inquiry with terminal cancer
  • 06:35 – Intro (Re-published from S3E28)
  • 10:38 – Five Little-Known Facts about Psychedelics
  • 17:18 – Entheogens and Psychedelics
  • 39:39 – Willie Nelson – Dusty Bottles
  • 42:54 – Outro

The Cultivation of Gratitude

A portrait of Dr Roland Griffiths, a pioneer in researching the potential of psychedelic drugs
Dr Roland Griffiths, a pioneer in researching the potential of psychedelic drugs

It’s not often that a researcher gets to experience first-hand their research. But, Dr. Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

Groundbreaking studies published by Griffiths and his colleagues found that psilocybin — the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms — produced experiences that resulted in substantial and sustained personal meaning, could help treat depression and had therapeutic effects in people who suffer from substance abuse disorder (smoking, alcohol and misuse of other drugs) and existential distress caused by life-threatening disease.

“For me, the psychological off-ramp from potential emotional misery has been the cultivation of gratitude for the precious gift of life itself, of being conscious, awake to the mystery of this present moment,” 

– Dr. Roland Griffiths, in a 2022 video

With this diagnosis his naturally inquisitive mind allowed him to lean into his terminal diagnosis to see what he would learn. Less than 6 months before he died, Dr. Griffiths did an interview for the New York Times Magazine. We share his thoughts on his cancer and experience with psychedelics to process his terminal diagnosis.

Dr. Griffiths died October 16, 2023 at age 77.

Dr Roland Griffiths in a TED talk about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics

What Are Entheogens?

Finding meaning and purpose in our lives can be challenging at times, but may be even harder in the face of advanced serious illness.   This week we talk about the use of entheogens – medicines that create an experience of the sacred – into the spiritual and holistic care of people diagnosed with advanced serious illnesses.

Entheogens are chemical substances, typically of plant origin, that is swallowed to produce a nonordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.

Entheogens include sacred medicines used for millennia by indigenous people for healing and spiritual growth, such as psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote, iboga, and Salvia divinorum. 

Charlie also shares with us some very interesting facts about psychedelics and entheogens.

Peyote cactus, an entheogen
Peyote cactus, an entheogen with psychedelic properties

A Guide to Psychedelic Health Care

Psychedelics — though mostly still illegal — have surged in popularity in recent years as alternative treatments for mental health. (Reprinted from New York Times Roland Griffiths Interview.)

Related Podcasts for this Episode:

Reference List:

  • Roland Griffiths, Pioneering Psychedelic Researcher, Dies (Johns Hopkins University)
  • A Psychedelics Pioneer Takes the Ultimate Trip – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
  • Roland Griffiths Is Dead at 77; Led a Renaissance in Psychedelics Research (nytimes.com)
  • Psychedelics Research and Psilocybin Therapy (Johns Hopkins University)
  • Belser, A. B., Agin-Liebes, G., Swift, T. C., Terrana, S., Devenot, N., Friedman, H. L., . . . Ross, S. (2017). Patient experiences of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy: An interpretive phenomenological analysis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology57, 354-388.
  • Griffiths, R. R., Johnson, M. W., Carducci, M. A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W. A., Richards, B. D., . . . Klinedinst, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology30, 1181-1197.
  • Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W., McCann, A., & Jesse, U. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology187, 268-283.
  • Rosa, W., & Estes, T. (2016). What end-of-life care needs now: An emerging praxis of the sacred and subtle. Advances in Nursing Science39, 333-345.
  • Rosa WE, Hope S, Matzo M. Palliative Nursing and Sacred Medicine: A Holistic Stance on Entheogens, Healing, and Spiritual Care. Journal of Holistic Nursing. 2019;37(1):100-106. doi:10.1177/0898010118770302.
  • Rosa, W., & Hope, S. (2017). Pain and suffering at end of life: Birthing the sacred passage. Beginnings37(4), 10-13.
  • Ross, S., Bossis, A., Guss, J., Agin-Liebes, G., Malone, T., Cohen, B., . . . Schmidt, B. (2016). Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology30, 1165-1180.
  • Swift, T. C., Belser, A. B., Agin-Liebes, G., Devenot, N., Terrana, S., Friedman, H. L., . . . Ross, S. (2017). Cancer at the dinner table: Experiences of psilocybin assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of cancer related distress. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57, 488-519.


Dusty Bottles

Once again, Everyone Dies Wakes the Dead with the poetry from Willie Nelson’s latest album “A Beautiful Time” which is his 72nd solo studio album. This song is called “Dusty Bottles.”

A Beautiful Time by Willie Nelson: You can purchase here: https://amzn.to/3xDPc1n   #affiliate

Recipe of the Week

This week we bring you stuffed mushroom casserole from Food Network. It’s up to you what kind of mushroom you put in there!

Stuffed Mushroom Casserole from Food Network

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