Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond (#347)

Stan Grof (right) with the legendary Albert Hofmann (left), the first person to synthesize LSD.

“I realized people were not having LSD experiences; they were having experiences of themselves. But they were coming from depths that psychoanalysis didn’t know anything about.” — Stanislav Grof

Stanislav Grof, M.D., ( is a psychiatrist with more than 60 years of experience in research of “holotropic” states of consciousness, a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states that have healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential.

Previously, he was Principal Investigator in a psychedelic research program at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and Scholar-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.

Currently, Stan is Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, CA, and conducts professional training programs in holotropic breathwork and transpersonal psychology, and gives lectures and seminars worldwide. He is one of the founders and chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology and the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA).

His publications include more than 150 articles in professional journals and books like Psychology of the Future, The Cosmic Game, and Holotropic Breathwork, among many others.

In this wide-ranging interview, we cover many topics, including:

  • Some of his main takeaways after supervising or guiding ~4,500 LSD sessions
  • The place and role of “wounded healers”
  • Limitations and uses of traditional psychoanalysis and talk therapy
  • Holotropic breathwork and some similarities to MDMA
  • Stories of odd synchronicities and the seemingly impossible
  • Stan’s strangest personal experiences on psychedelics
  • What Stan believes humanity most needs to overcome: division and destruction

I hope you’ll enjoy this in-depth conversation with Stan Grof!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#347: Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond

Want to hear another episode that explores science and psychedelics? — Listen to my conversation with Paul Stamets, an intellectual and industry leader in the habitat, medicinal use, and production of fungi. Stream below or right-click here to download.

#340: Paul Stamets — How Mushrooms Can Save You and (Perhaps) the World

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Stanislav Grof:

Website | California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) | International Transpersonal Association (ITA)


  • How did Stan first become interested in psychedelics, and what application was he hoping it could serve? [8:32]
  • In how many LSD sessions does Stan estimate he’s been involved, and what accounts for his initial conclusion that it would change psychiatry and psychology? [13:18]
  • When did Stan have his first personal experience with LSD, what were the conditions like, and how did it change his career path from that point forward? [18:45]
  • Why we don’t always have the right words on hand to describe psychedelic experiences. [21:40]
  • After more than six decades studying non-ordinary states of consciousness, how does Stan view consciousness today (in comparison to some other equally controversial views)? [25:22]
  • Why does Stan prefer the term non-ordinary states of consciousness to altered states, what are holotropic states of consciousness, and how have human beings operated in these states over the course of history? [28:26]
  • Stan’s thoughts on 5-MeO-DMT (methoxy DMT) and the psychedelic venom of the Bufo alvarius toad — which gave him “by far, the most powerful psychedelic experience” he’s ever had. [37:43]
  • Stan elaborates on his famous statement that “Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy,” and how he feels about the relevance of traditional psychoanalysis or psychotherapy in combination with some of these psychedelic compounds. [44:42]
  • What would Stan’s ideal experiential, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy look like? [56:10]
  • Stan points out that there are non-pharmacological ways to achieve holotropic states — such as holotropic breathing, which I can confirm actually works. [56:57]
  • What substances, dosages, and frequency would psychedelic assistance take under Stan’s guidance? [58:52]
  • Exploring the neglect of etiology in modern psychology and how Stan would correct this problem. [1:03:30]
  • What makes the difference between someone emerging from a psychedelic state profoundly transformed or just experiencing it as a casual tourist with no persistent change of perspective? [1:08:47]
  • Stan talks about his experiences with Siddha Yoga founder Swami Muktananda. [1:18:07]
  • The reasons Stan wrote When the Impossible Happens, the stories surrounding this time in his life, and an explanation of synchronocity. [1:25:17]
  • On out of body experiences and a moving example of how unorthodox psychiatry helped someone overcome depression in a surprising way. [1:36:32]
  • What psychedelic at what dose is most similar to the effects or the experience of holotropic breathwork? [1:44:34]
  • Does the common psychedelic phenomenon of encountering entities seemingly separate from the person in such a state carry over to breathwork? Has Stan encountered these entities during his own experiences? [1:45:49]
  • What are Stan’s thoughts on microdosing, and what has he experienced at the tail end of high-dosage sessions? [1:51:18]
  • What constitutes a “spiritual emergency,” and are there any differences between a naturally occuring spiritual emergency like schizophrenia or one precipitated by psychedelics? Can any good come from a bad trip? [1:55:15]
  • What might treatment for someone experiencing a psychotic break look like in a hypothetical alternate world where the collective unconscious is recognized by psychologists and psychiatrists? [1:59:25]
  • From his first psychedelic experience to now, how has Stan’s concept of the inner world changed over the past 60 years? [2:04:36]
  • Is there any particular synchronicity or experience in any of the holotropic states that Stan has experienced that he finds the hardest to explain or the most unusual/remarkable? [2:08:42]
  • If Stan were a young scientist starting out today and all compounds could be legally studied, what would his focus be? [2:16:33]
  • At age 87, how does Stan stay sharper and more energetic than a lot of people in their 20s? [2:23:34]
  • What does Stan think humanity needs most of all right now? [2:27:46]
  • One final story: a lesson in forgiveness. [2:31:16]
  • Parting thoughts. [2:40:59]


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54 Replies to “Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond (#347)”

  1. Hi Tim,

    I didn’t listen to this, because I assume Grof hasn’t changed his tune, and i’ve already heard enough. He created the notion of spiritual emergency as an elite experience separate from psychosis, and stated emphatically, in print, that the latter must be treated with brain disabling psychiatric drugs. If you’re actually interested in alternative treatment of psychosis, I suggest checking out, and especially the work of one of their bloggers, Michael Cornwall, who may be the only therapist left who worked in alternative treatment in the good old days. Listen to his interviews on the Peter Breggin Radio Hour. He and Breggin deserve podcasts, because they don’t recommend dangerous practices (I had two friends who were badly traumatized by Holotropic Breathwork) and they don’t endorse Big Pharma. And Cornwall actually knows how to be there for people who are having psychotic breaks. Roshi Joan Halifax, Stan’s ex-wife, says that, when she had a break, Stan was useless.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lise. How were your friends badly traumatized by holotropic breathwork? What did that look like and what did they do to recover?



      1. Both of them were probably abuse survivors who were functioning fairly well anyway. The intensity of the breathing process seemed to bring up very early feelings and memories—I have no idea if they were real memories or false memories, because nobody can tell— that undermined their ability to function. In other words, the process didn’t resolve birth trauma, it retraumatized.

        Both of them ended up on medication, because they felt chronically flooded. I was willing to see the first one as a fluke. After that, I began warning other women that the process was potentially dangerous.

        You might want to check out the work of Peter Levine on trauma. Any of these intense somatic processes can worsen complex trauma syndromes. Even EMDR. Levine teaches people to “pendulate,” rather than letting their process just get more and more intense.

      2. Actually, I would recommend reading Marsha Linehan’s book on BPD. She makes the very important point that emotions sensitivity is a normal human variation that is invalidated in our culture, so that it becomes pathological. I would bet the worst part of the trauma was the sense that everyone else reacted the way Stan says they will, which meant that my friends were abnormal.

    2. Dr. Grof mentions making a deal with a genie, and at 2:13:00, he mentions an intense feeling that evil forces are involved. These sorts of activities seem to be linked with traumas and even otherworldly dangers. In this video [Moderator: link to YouTube video removed.] at 22:00, they talk about a lucid dream assisted by substances that leads the guy to making a similar contract with several entities. I think people are getting in over their heads during these experiences without really knowing the potential consequences beforehand.

      1. Apologies for posting links. The video I referenced can be viewed by searching Lucid Dreaming NYSTV on YouTube.

    3. Hi Lise. Do you have any links or citations for these claims that you make?

      – Grof created the notion of spiritual emergency as an elite experience separate from psychosis
      – Grof stated emphatically, in print, that the latter (psychosis) must be treated with brain disabling psychiatric drugs
      – Joan Halifax, Stan’s ex-wife, says that, when she had a break, Stan was useless
      – Cornwall doesn’t recommend dangerous practices (like Holotropic Breathwork)

  2. I never give these interviews more than 20 minutes of my time at a sitting, but I stayed up for two hours past bedtime for the pleasure of listening to Mr. Grof. From the first encounter groups, to the sacred on the rez and loving but questionable Gurus, I lived what he described. I’ve grieved what has gone missing of the universal spiritual in our collective experience, but hadn’t been able to articulate it. Thank you for asking Mr. Grof that nearly final question about what humanity needs now; it was comforting

    to hear his answer. It seems we have come full circle, and I suspect there is still reason to hope.

  3. If you are in Berlin, that means you are close to Lviv, Ukraine. Please do not hesitate to come and visit the hidden jewel of Europe. Would be happy to arrange great meetings and tours!

  4. Tim,

    Great podcast!

    I have a recommendation for your podcast following this one…

    Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev)

    This man is on point on so many of these topics and would be such a treat to hear you interview him with your laser sharp questioning skills!

    1. Awesome podcast, thank you so much Tim.

      +1 for Sadhguru. I have done a bunch of his courses in London and in India and I can recommend him very highly. He has a great ability to explain spirituality to people educated in logic (I’m a Distinguished Engineer at an internationally famous tech company, I studied Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Pure Maths – my entire life is based in Science and Logic, and Sadhguru even managed to get through to me!).

  5. I think this has to be the most fascinating interviews I’ve listened to.

    Having experimented/enjoyed/abused psychedelics in my younger years it brought back some really interesting similarities in what was discussed that has stayed with me for 20 years or so.

    I’m even thinking of joining twitter again so I can share the episode!

  6. Tim I admire you from the bottom of my heart…. but I dare say you too are fishing sitting on a whale…. please please please just check on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who mediated to stop the civil war in Colombia (The FARK conflict)…..

  7. Hi Tim, my word, where to even begin. This episode was mind bending. I have been wanting to reach out for a while about my experience and I guess this episode is the one to share it.

    In this episode about half way through, Mr Grof mentions that taking substances like LSD out of context can be meaningless — I fully agree. I have many friends who recreationally use psychedelics at trance parties etc without doing pre and post work. I’ve always been a “seeker” and fascinated by literature on psychology and psychedelics (almost entirely through you). I recently had a very unpleasant trip on LSD, I went to the darkest places I could have imagined and even, as Mr Grof mentioned too, thought I had literally died. The initial ‘come on’ of the trip was so overwhelming. But, I can honestly say, at the end of the trip, I have never felt more at ease in the universe. I like to think of my experiences as the Death Of My Ego. I literally saw myself die and rebirth — it was incredible but scary.

    In my nature of doing post-analysis, I was so excited to share this “death” with my readers and close friends. I was buzzing with excitement: “F*ck guys!! I’m WOKE.” Not like that but you get the point. Then, the next morning I happened to open up to page 120 in TOOLS OF TITANS with Martin Poland’s and Dan Engle. “Hold onto the Gold.” That was my sign from the universe saying that what I just experienced was sacred. It’s not something to flaunt out and try and profess to people how it’s changed my life. So in that, thank you Tim.

    I really and truly don’t think you realize the level of effect you’ve had on my life. Just writing this makes me snobby. I can’t thank you enough Tim. Please don’t stop what you are doing in realm of practical ways of designing a life worth living.

    Mr Grof was such a pleasure to listen to. This episode is up there with one of my all-time bests.

    Much love Tim, Josh.

    1. Transcripts for all shows are added to the site 7 – 10 days after the shows go live. Transcripts may be found by typing in guest’s name or name of the episode plus the word “transcripts” into the search field at the far-right side of the blog’s navigation bar.

  8. I did holotropic breathing (Breathwork) about 12 years ago. I gained much awareness (about my relationships, others’ relationships, insight about someone’s future health). The hallucinations were like an LSD trip (but I’ve never taken LSD so Tim Ferriss would be better in comparing them)

  9. Thanks Tim And Stan, I’m halfway to the episode and I want to comment then ask Stan the following: When I was around 19 years old (now 42) I had a consciousness awakening, discovered meditation through different sources, Siddha Yoga, Zen, etc. Read a lot about it, read C.G. Jung Theory of Synchronicity, discovered the I-Ching, etc. Also started studying Architecture and in one of my project deadlines I passed out from sleep depravation because of working, drawing, etc.

    That night, I had what some people call an Astral Unfolding or something like that, I saw, what then an architecture professor of mine told me was a “Blue Pearl”?… does that make any sense… it was like a sphere of light. Then for some years I had Astral Voyages??… where my consciousness left my body and I could actually see it or see things around, but I never had the courage to go further because I remember, I read somewhere that I could not come back or stay in the low-astral (where “demons” and bad energies reside), also I always had the doubt that if I was actually dying so I got scared and forced my way back.

    Anyway, all this happened without any psychedelic or LSD or any drug for that matter… only coffee haha.

    But I believe those experiences left me being very sensitive or sensible to energy, consciousness and maybe that’s the reason why, when I meditate (haven’t been constant but I’ve done it for 20 years now) I believe I deeply connect to a superior conscious state, as Dr. Stan described after he used Toad, so… my question is:

    After my experience, could you say that you can enter deep Altered and/or Holotropic states without using LSD?… I know I did somehow…

    Is meditation by itself beneficial without using any psychedelics?

    Should I try a psychedelic experience?… I haven’t had those Astral Voyages anymore for a long time now.

    What would be the benefit of having them again?

    Thanks a lot and congrats on the show.


  10. Truly uplifting and enlightening interview, kudos. As you pointed out, Stan’s energy and intellect are truly amazing.

  11. Hi Tim,

    I noticed your interest in bufo alvarius. I would love to recommend you to a really special person who has a lot of experience with the toad, working with one of the early Mexican healers in that tradition.

    You might find a conversation with her really interesting if you’d like to dig deeper into that area.

    Let me know if that’s of interest, I’d love to put you in touch.


    1. oh, I’ve been looking for somebody since ages and then I see your comment.. would it be arrogant from my side to ask you to put me in contact with this special person? I’m ready to travel wherever it’s needed…

      thanks a lot in advance, dear Simon.


  12. It was one of the greatest episodes i’ve ever heard. So sad it was only 2.5 hours. Wish you can make second part of interview.

    Amazing and unbelievable. I’ve never been touched so deeply.

    Thank you, Tim

  13. Hi Tim,

    Just got back from Berlin too… I can recommend Hotel i31 located in Berlin Mitte, very friendly staff and great breakfast. (+ tram/underground very close)


  14. Hello. I’ve never had positive feelings towards Mr Ferriss as I feel he has a dangerous combination of qualties. Tremendous influence over a highly impressionable, easily led demographic all seeking pleasure and fufillment (young male north americans, mostly), combined with a sense of entitlement, and outrageous ruthless promotion of acquiring products and worship of money, and worship of people and behaviours quite clearly destroying humanity. (Silicon Valley CEO’s and Hedge Fund managers) And as an overarching theme, a general lack of integrity. I’ve always thought it must be difficult to spend time around him, as every second paragraph words like ‘tech’ ‘stock’ and ‘start up’ must be included and hyperactivity about the new product he’s acquired. And then a general lack of accounatability. In Tools of Titans he outlines how to avoid being open to criticsicm, and how to get away with not apologising when you’re wrong, basically saying that anyone that disagrees with you or holds you to task isn’t part of your elitist fan base and thus doesn’t matter. Well, actually it does matter when you’re as influential as Mr Ferris.

    So, for all of Mr Ferriss talk about personal development and whatever – I’ll only believe it when I read or hear that he has renounced his worship of money and Product and stops encouraging others in similar directions. His country has does enough damage to the rest of the world in promoting such values, for too many decades.

    You’re so 1970’s, Mr Ferriss! Catch up!

    1. Actually, Kate, you might be so 1970’s with all that old-fashioned capitalism-bashing tirade 🙂 Bashing capitalism and making money is so pre-fall of soviet union, that showed us where alternatives lead. And those “easily impressionable” people Tim talks too are mostly very successful demograhic earning 100k and up and usually in great physical shape, I wonder why? Must be they’re sooo gullible.

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I really enjoyed this episode and am so grateful that you are investing your time and energy to delve into this subject matter and share it with the world. I have been very influenced by Grof‘s work and had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a HBW workshop with him in Basel (which is only about 50 miles from where I live in southwest Germany). Of course, the significance of being able to work with Stan in Basel was great for obvious reasons, and the setting was amazing. During the event I was very impressed by Stan’s clarity, passion, energy (he was already over 80) and, perhaps most of all, his warmth, humility and approachability. (Also impressive, by the way, was that he lead the event in fluent German, which is also not his native language.) He is a true living treasure and an incredible wealth of knowledge.

    Tim, if you are ever in my area and want a tour of the Black Forest, Freiburg or Basel (famous bicycle ride tour included) please don’t hesitate to contact me; I would be honored to show you around. 🙂 (I have no idea if you will even read this comment but just wanted to put that out there). I am a longtime fan of your podcast and books and a truly grateful for the work you are doing. Keep it up…

  16. Hi Tim – just wondering would you consider writing a book or doing some podcasts particularly for those of us or work in Science and Medicine! I am currently reading your book Tribe if Mentors which is very helpful but sometimes I think that doctors and scientists are not as well-represented as artists and entrepreneurs.

  17. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for all you do.

    I was wondering if there will be a Tribe of Mentors (kids edition) and Tribe of Mentors (teenage edition).


  18. If this MD’s information were correct, he would already doing highly effective stem cell research in his ’60y of experience’ framework, like e.g. dr. Shinya Yamanaka. As the latter is not true, the reverse of the former is true.

  19. Hello Tim, I am Iván Valeri and i am 16 years old.

    Today in my Five Minutes Journal, came like weekly challenge send a letter to a person who made an impact on your life, and i want to let you know how big is the impact that you made on me.

    I knew you because of my father who gave me The Four Hours Workweek, and from that moment i started to follow you but in the crazy way, and to do things which people told me that i was crazy: Morning and night routines, write down all my dance trainings ( i am dancer) to analize how to improve it with the Pareto`s principle…And so on.

    Well, i have many things to thank to you but i know you don´t have time, so one more time thank you to my mentor of mentors.

    i hope i will know you face to face in some moment of my life.

    Yours sincerely student.

  20. Hi Tim – Love your podcasts, and soaked this one up like a sponge! I’m so curious to know if you’ve read the work of either David Hawkins or Eric Burlingame on the concept of consciousness.

  21. Spectacular interview, super interesting guest (to say the least), and very enlightening subject. I wish I had the chance to ask Stan a couple of questions.

  22. Think this is my favourite Tim Ferriss podcast ever. Such an amazing source of fascinating knowledge and really incredible to hear someone of 87 years old speak so lucidly and informatively…..

  23. Tim,

    I cannot share how you have impacted my life in the past few months. It started when I heard you say you were bi-polar (I’m not sure why I missed that as a long time follower!) and it has gone from there with your podcasts about psychedelics as I was looking to them for a possible resolution to cluster headaches – an incredible living hell. I am feeling pulled to Ayahuasca. Do you have any experience with Ayahuasca and any places you recommend?

    1. I’ve heard amazing things about Don Howard’s SpiritQuest Sanctuary (where I’d go if I could). Aubrey Marcus (amongst others) details his experiences there on his podcast. Voices in the Dark Podcast host Jon features his experience there too. I’ve heard Blue Morpho recommended too (by Aubrey).

  24. Stan Grof talks about a “healed person”. How does a person who is healed looks like? What does he feel? How does he know?

  25. Stan Graf and Ervin Laszlo are total woo merchants. These woo merchants thrive on anecdote, assertions, correlation , compound inference and a mountain of logical fallacies…. when all else it your birth trauma. Giving these people platforms is like giving voice to anti-vaxxers and flat earthers.

    Funny how he calls Freud’s conclusions absurd then spews a whole bunch of unsubstantiated nonsense.

    Yes I have done holotropic breathwork and mountains of psychedelics/entheogens…. while they are powerful experiences but throwing all the woo-ey language in the mix actually poisons the well. He use words in a prescriptive sense when words are descriptive

  26. If a single psychedelic experience can be so life changing, why would anyone feel compelled to repeat the process over and over and over again.

    The fact that Grof has done exactly that brings into question how truly profound / life changing the experience actually is.

  27. I find super interesting how you approach psychedelics- trying to stay away from dogma and with a sincere sense of curiosity for the exploration of our mind and soul that I very much share.
    I´m an economist working around business solutions to poverty in developing countries, but since beginning my own exploration with/of psychodelics in the midst of a mid-life crisis, I have become totally fascinated by this field. I have a pseudo career as a yoga teacher and have experienced that combining macrodosing with yoga can have some extremely powerful effects… Anyways, I feel like I want to be more involved in this field, including investing in it and potentially taking a break from my day job to look into all this more seriously, as I believe there’s just enormous potential.
    Could you recommend any persons/organizations, etc that I should be looking into or talking to? What about investing in start-ups around psychodelics- do you have any? …and anyone that might already be looking into the combination of yoga and psychedelics?

    (I know this is a very long comment but you say in this website that a comment on the blog is one of the best ways of contacting you…)