“If I am the father of LSD, then Stan Grof is its godfather, because he accompanied my wonderful son through a difficult time”, Albert Hofmann.
In 1966, the state of California banned LSD at the height of the hippie acid rush on the West Coast of the USA. Three years later, in 1969, the US federal government seconded the measure, and since then the therapeutic and recreational use of the substance, which had aroused great excitement and very remarkable results among the psychiatric establishment during the 1950s and mid-1960s, has been banned.
By that time, the Czech-born psychiatrist Stanislav Grof had conducted more than 5,000 individual sessions with LSD, first in his native Prague, and later in New York, Baltimore and other cities on the East Coast of the United States. Grof became one of the leading specialists in the therapeutic application of the molecule discovered by Albert Hoffman in 1943, even developing a groundbreaking theory of the ‘perinatal states’ that can be achieved in altered states of consciousness.
Hoffman and Grof, father and ‘godfather’ of LSD.
If Timothy Leary was the most visible, countercultural, thuggish and, to a certain extent, responsible for the ostracism of LSD, Grof represents the most luminous, responsible and therapeutic facet of the amazing molecule discovered by Hoffman.
The documentary ‘The Way of the Psyconaut’ looks at the amazing life of Stan Grof and the profound mark he has left on science and thought over the last 80 years and on the lives of thousands of people. One of these people is filmmaker and actress Susan Hess Logeais, who uses her own experience with LSD and holotropic breathing to unravel Grof’s life and work, a trajectory that Grof himself unravels in very interesting interviews with Hess.
Grof, together with his wife Christina, developed holotropic breathing as a way to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness without the need for drugs. The development of this technique, based on yogic pranayama, was the way Grof found to circumvent the prohibition of LSD in the late 1960s in the United States, when it had already established itself as an invaluable tool in the exploration of the human psyche but, simultaneously, on the streets it had become Hoffman’s “problem child”.
The testimonies in ‘The Way of the Psychonaut’ (the documentary borrows its title from two biographical books written by Stan Grof in the 1980s) confirm that through breathing one can reach perinatal states and even relive one’s own childbirth. According to Grof’s findings, the traumatic experience of childbirth can explain many adult pathologies and sexual deviations. Grof himself explains how the very existence of these perinatal memories was considered taboo by classical or mechanistic psychology, which still dominates this science today.
Let us flash back for a moment to Grof’s life, long before he arrived in sunny California and Esalen. Grof was born in Czechoslovakia shortly before World War II, and witnessed two invasions that mowed down the small Central European country: the Nazi and the Soviet. Grof managed to study medicine and specialise in psychiatry under the Czech communist regime, closely monitored from Moscow. Grof’s work at the time consisted of applying up to twenty electro-shocks a day to mentally ill patients, as in the 1950s it was believed that electric shocks to the brain would help to alleviate psychological pathologies.
In this ‘Someone Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ context, under the heavy cloak of suspicion of communism, Grof’s laboratory received samples of LSD-25 sent by Sandoz Laboratories from Switzerland. Imagine for a moment how great must have been the shock (no “electro”, in this case) Grof must have felt on discovering the unfathomable depths of the human psyche, a limitless universe ungraspable to the mechanistic conception or even to the Freudian psychoanalysis prevailing in the space-time in which he lived. Grof’s description in the documentary of that first acid trip in Prague in the 1950s is gold.
It is difficult to summarise in 90 minutes the immense influence Grof has had on psychology, psychiatry and psychonautics during his long and prolific career, let alone in 700 words. For this reason, we would like to recommend the excellent documentary’The Way of the Psyconaut’ as an introduction to the work of Stanislav Grof, a life and work whose influence will endure far beyond what we are able to foresee.
Albert Hoffman’s phrase is one of the best tributes that can be paid to the psychiatrist, pioneer of psychedelia and alma mater of transpersonal psychology Stanislav Grof.
Stan Grof has designed and developed the Grofian Psychedelic Therapy Training, which Fundación Beckley Med, in a world premiere and with the help of Grof Legacy, will give from March 2022 in Spain. More information, here.
–Training in Grofian Psychedelic Teraphy, by BMed.
–‘The Way of the Psychonaut’, documentary.
-‘The Way of the Psychonaut’, MAPS.
Think Tank founded in Great Britain in 1998 by Amanda Feilding, a pioneer in psychedelic research in the field of mental health and on Drug Policy reform.
The world’s leading psychedelic research organisation. Rick Doblin’s MAPS is a global leader in training programmes for psychedelic therapists.
The figure of Stan Grof in the history of psychedelics has reached legendary status. His legacy takes the form of a comprehensive psychedelic psychotherapy training programme.