Tim Ferriss Talks Psychedelics at SXSW
Called “a cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk” by the New York Times, Tim Ferriss is one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People” and an early-stage tech investor/advisor in Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and more than 50 other companies. He has written five New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “Tools of Titans.” The Observer and other media have nicknamed him “the Oprah of audio” due to the influence of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, which has exceeded 200 million downloads and been selected for “Best of iTunes” three years in a row. His latest book is “Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World.”
Ferris has spoken at SXSW numerous times over the last decade, including an interview with Cheryl Strayed in March 2017. At this year’s event, he will probe “The Science, Mystery and Future of Psychedelics” at 3:30 pm on Sunday, March 11 with Dr. Roland R. Griffiths, a clinical pharmacologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Griffiths has been researching mood-altering compounds for over four decades and has published hundreds of scientific papers on this topic. Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues have been leaders in the re-initiation of research with classic psychedelic drugs, which was blocked for a period of several decades. Ferriss answered a few of our questions and offered a preview of this sure-to-be mind-altering SXSW session.
Would you give us some context about what you will cover in your Sunday, March 11 conversation with Dr. Roland Griffiths, which is titled “The Future and Science of Psychedelics”?
This session will offer details and stories that can help both novice and experienced psychonauts get a better understanding of the applications of classical psychedelics. Some of the recent studies are truly incredible. As a clinical pharmacologist, Dr. Griffiths has been researching mood-altering compounds for more than 40 years, published more than 370 scientific papers, and started the psilocybin (think “magic mushrooms”) research program at Johns Hopkins nearly 20 years ago.
Why do you think this conversation will resonate strongly with the SXSW community?
The SXSW community loves new discoveries and elegant solutions to long-standing problems. This session checks both boxes. As David Nutt, professor of psychopharmacology at Imperial College, London (and a former drugs adviser to the U.K. government) has said: “Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope has been for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.” This isn’t an overstatement.
How did you and Dr. Roland Griffiths first connect?
I first met Dr. Griffiths several years ago at a dinner party hosted at the San Francisco home of George Sarlo, a successful investor and 79-year-old Holocaust survivor. I then helped Dr. Griffiths raise funds for a study investigating use of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. I’ve personally spent a lot of time with the darkness, and I believe these compounds can save lives.
Within the SXSW system of categories, your conversation with Dr. Griffiths is part of our five-day Health track. Tell us why you believe that psychedelic drugs fall into the paradigm of better health.
Our entire experience of life — joy, suffering, and more — is mediated by the mind. We all know people who suffer from depression despite anti-depressants, people who’ve suffered sexual abuse and carried that trauma ever since, addicts who can’t extricate themselves from compulsive behavior, or terminal cancer patients who’ve struggled in misery through the last stages of life. Psilocybin and other psychedelics are not panaceas by any stretch, but the preliminary data examining many of these conditions are beyond impressive.
What kind of personal involvement do you have with the psychedelic drug movement?
I am all-in. I have shifted nearly all of my startup investing capital and energies to supporting scientists studying psychedelics. It’s that important.
Think back to 11 years ago, when you visited SXSW for the first time to talk about your new book “The 4-Hour Workweek.” Did you have a strategy for how you would make the most out of the event? Is that strategy from 2007 still applicable to how you approach events like SXSW today?
My experience at SXSW 2007 was incredible. The outcome was certainly part luck, but there was a strategy. A few years ago, I laid out the playbook and explained the details. People can listen to it here: “How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time.”
You recently relocated from the Bay Area to Texas. What do you like most about your new hometown of Austin?
Austin is amazing. I wanted to move here right out of college in 2000, but I didn’t get the job at Trilogy! After many annual visits to SXSW, I finally pulled the trigger, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision. SF is amazing, but 10+ years was enough. Austin offers a totally different vibe, and it’s a new chapter as my priorities shift. First off, ATX has a more neighborly feel, and its baseline of friendliness is much higher. It’s also infinitely sunnier, the cost of living is probably 50% of Silicon Valley, and there is much more here than the Bay Area mono-conversation of tech. I love tech, as I do dark chocolate and Japanese animation, but I don’t want to consume any of those 24/7. There are new worlds to explore here. Film, BBQ, music… it’s never boring. Many of my closest friends are moving here from NY, SF, LA, etc. for all of these reasons, and I expect things will just continue to explode. The next few years are going to be exciting.
Badges for SXSW are still available. You can also still find lots of great, convenient lodging. For other vital information about March March 2018, visit these eight helpful links. See you soon in Austin!
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.