July 2, 2018


Tim Ferriss: depression, psychedelics, and emotional resilience (EP.01)

"It’s very hard for people to talk their way out of something that they didn’t talk their way into." —Tim Ferriss

by Peter Attia

Read Time 6 minutes

I couldn’t think of a better guest to kick this thing off. Tim is not only one of my closest friends, but also is the one who most persistently encouraged me to launch a podcast.


In this episode, Tim talks both experientially and from his own deep dive into the literature of psychedelics and mental health. Tim is shifting his focus from investing in startups to funding experiments that he hopes will establish more reliable knowledge and therapeutic options for those suffering from anxiety, depression, and addiction.

If this topic even remotely interests you, I can’t recommend Tim’s podcast with Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind, enough. (You should definitely read Pollan’s book as well.) Even if you’ve never had any exposure to psychedelics or their potential applications, I think you’ll find this subject matter really interesting, and I was very grateful for Tim to be so open and honest about his experiences.

Tim also shared his short list of acquired wisdom he returns to most reliably, which might be worth the price of admission alone.

We discuss:

  • Tim’s history of depression and his TED Talk on his close call with suicide;
  • The type of thinking that triggers Tim’s downward spirals;
  • Tim’s transformative experience with ayahuasca;
  • How Tim’s experience and research has led him to focus on furthering the science of psychedelics and mental health;
  • What some of the meditation modalities, and meditation apps, are out there, why can meditation be so hard to do, but also worthwhile to stick with;
  • Why Tim made a big commitment (more than $1 million) to funding scientific research, and to psilocybin and MDMA research, in particular;
  • From all the habits and tools that Tim has learned, the five things that he returns to most reliably; and
  • More.

Show Notes

What it’s like living in Austin. [01:00]

The differences between lifespan and healthspan. [08:00]

During childhood and adolescence, Tim believed he was “not designed to be happy.” [09:30]

Tim’s TED Talk and his close call with suicide. [11:15]

Why Tim wants to focus on discussing different facets of mental health on a first-hand basis. [15:15]

What’s the type of thinking that triggers Tim’s downward spirals? [17:15]

Why Tim’s changed his focus from investing in startups to investing in mental health. [18:00]

How self-talk can be your best friend or worst enemy. [20:00]

Why Tim thinks everyone, including Type A personalities, should try meditation. [23:00]

Why men, in general, are bad at dealing with depression. [31:00]

Peter’s (newly) most-gifted book, which is related to men and depression (I Don’t Want To Talk About It by Terrence Real). (Peter’s previous #1 book: Mistakes Were Made [but not by me] by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.) [32:45]

The benefits and drawbacks of self-talk. [35:00]

“The need to treat ourselves as well as we treat others. It’s women’s version of the Golden Rule.” — Gloria Steinem [37:00]

How a couple of Tim’s podcasts (The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – Risks, Micro-Dosing, Ibogaine, and More and Are Psychedelic Drugs the Next Medical Breakthrough? made Peter aware of the effectiveness of plants to treat patients. [38:30]

Peter’s first experience with psilocybin. [40:30]

What started Tim’s interest in psychedelics? [41:30]

Tim’s transformative experience with ayahuasca. [48:45]

How Tim’s experience and research led him to focus on furthering the science of psychedelics and mental health. [53:00]

How do you explain the ineffability of psychedelic experiences? [57:00]

What is ego dissolution, and how do you explain it? [1:00:00]

What are some of the meditation modalities, and meditation apps out there? Why can meditation be so hard to do, but worthwhile to stick with? [1:13:00]

Tim notes, “The consistent program that you follow is better than the perfect program that you quit.” [1:26:30]

Why has Tim made a big commitment (more than $1 million) to funding scientific research, and to psilocybin and MDMA research, in particular? [1:31:00]

The story of Katherine McCormick and the birth control pill, and what a small number of committed people can do to change the course of history. [1:34:30]

Why the FDA granted MDMA-assisted psychotherapy breakthrough therapy designation (which could expedite approval) for the treatment of PTSD, and how a Phase 3 clinical trial is in motion. [1:43:43]

Ibogaine and the treatment of opiate addiction. [1:48:30]

What is the Default Mode Network (DMN), how does it relate to mental health, and how do psychedelic compounds affect the DMN? [1:49:30]

Image credit: Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks (Petri et al., 2014)

Here’s Michael Pollan explaining the DMN, and the side-by-side images in figure above, in How To Change Your Mind “In a 2014 paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Imperial College team demonstrated how the usual lines of communications within the brain are radically reorganized when the default mode network goes off-line and the tide of entropy is allowed to rise. Using a scanning technique called magnetoencephalography, which maps electrical activity in the brain, the authors produced a map of the brain’s internal communications during normal waking consciousness and after an injection of psilocybin (shown [above]). In its normal state, shown on the left, the brain’s various networks (here depicted lining the circle, each represented by a different color) talk mostly to themselves, with a relatively few heavily trafficked pathways among them.

“But when the brain operates under the influence of psilocybin, as shown on the right, thousands of new connections form, linking far-flung brain regions that during normal waking consciousness don’t exchange much information. In effect, traffic is rerouted from a relatively small number of interstate highways onto myriad smaller roads linking a great many more destinations. The brain appears to become less specialized and more globally interconnected, with considerably more intercourse, or “cross talk,” among its various neighborhoods.”

How MDMA, in the right setting, may help us “clean up a very messy experience that did a lot of damage,” Tim says. “To help people to heal themselves in nonverbal ways. This is really key. It’s very hard for people to talk their way out of something that they didn’t talk their way into.” [1:53:30]

Why has ibogaine gained the least traction in the US for treatment of opiate addiction? [2:00:00]

Tim’s first-hand experience with opiate addiction and overdoses. [2:06:30]

Unhappiness may be the single most important problem plaguing our civilization, and there are compounds that may be part of the solution. Is progress being made in terms of pushing through research and application? [2:13:30]

What does it take to reschedule a drug? [2:16:30]

The non-addictive potential of psychedelics. Food vs cocaine vs psilocybin. [2:18:00]

How Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat has jumped into the #2 spot for most-gifted books from Peter. [2:23:50]

Peter’s most gifted or recommended books:

Tim’s most gifted or recommended books:

Was there anything not in Pollan’s book that Tim would have added? [2:25:00]

How Peter is very proud to be one of the “Biggest Tools” and where people can find Egg Boxing. [2:31:00]

From all the habits and tools that Tim has learned, what are the 3-5 things that he returns to most reliably? [2:33:00]

What advice would Tim give to his 20- or 30-year-old self? [2:36:00]

Selected Links / Related Material

People Mentioned

Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has been listed as one of Fast Company‘s “Most Innovative Business People” and one of Fortune‘s “40 under 40.” He is an early-stage technology investor/advisor (Uber, Facebook, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ others) and the author of five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. The Observer and other media have called Tim “the Oprah of audio” due to the influence of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, which is the first business/interview podcast to exceed 200 million downloads.

Tim on Facebook: Tim Ferriss

Tim on Instagram: @timferriss

Tim on Twitter: @tferriss

Tim’s website: tim.blog

Tim’s podcast: tim.blog/podcast

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