In memoriam – Roland griffiths

Moments after concluding ICPR 2016, on an all but empty conference floor, Roland Griffiths accosted me. Fixing me with an intense stare, he inquired, “Are you aware that you are aware?” Wondering whether I really was at that exact moment, I hesitated. He repeated his question, and as I had now become acutely aware due to this somewhat awkward situation, I answered “Well, now I am.”

Feeling a sense of relief of having just passed some kind of test, I was awarded with a gold-coloured medallion displaying psilocybin mushrooms and the inscription ‘May you be aware of awareness’ on one side, and William Blake’s ‘The true method of knowledge is experiment’ on the other. Wonderfully ambiguous; a referral to both the scientific method and the importance of personal experience, and an apt representation of the scientific and mystic sides that coexisted within him.

When we started OPEN in 2007 – years before psychedelic research became as mainstream as it is now – we emphasised the importance of rigorous scientific research. At the same time, we recognised that the value of these substances lies in the dizzying variety of experiences they occasioned (a term coined by Roland and his team, as far as I can tell). Few people were better equipped to combine both sides, and to reignite psychedelic research, than Roland Griffiths.

Embodying methodological rigor with a deep interest in the depths of human consciousness, Roland Griffiths was ideally suited to push the boundaries of science towards the ineffable. It was this same spirit of curiosity, humility and honesty that enabled him to confront his impending death with such grace. His parting words of wisdom during ICPR 2022 moved the audience of over 1000 people to tears and although he could not witness the standing ovation himself, he left us with a profound sense of gratitude.

With gratitude for life, science, psilocybin, and a sense of mystery. Roland will be missed deeply.

Watch Roland Griffith’s keynote at ICPR 2016 here.