Andrew Weil

He’s been on the cover of Time magazine (5/12/97), has appeared on “Prime Time Live,” the morning talk shows, and The New York Times. He is acclaimed best-selling author and pioneer in integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil.

The recipient of an AB degree in botany from Harvard University and an MD from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Weil has worked for the National Institute of Mental Health and for 15 years served as a research associate in ethnopharmacology at the Harvard Botanical Museum. He is the director of the Program in Integrative Medicine and clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He is also the founder of the Foundation for Integrative Medicine and editor-in-chief of the professional journal Integrative Medicine.

Integrative Medicine is the combination of the best of alternative healing wisdom with the best of conventional medicine. Dr. Weil places the utmost importance on diet, exercise, deep breathing and peace of mind as the primary components of healing and living a healthy life.

The psychological effects of marijuana were not the subject of scientific scrutiny until the end of 1968, when Andrew Weil initiated the first study.

In the course of his studies, Dr. Weil began using marijuana himself, reflecting on its effects. But when he sought documented information, he discovered that serious research had not been performed. He decided to do it himself.

As a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, Dr. Weil has traveled extensively throughout the world gathering information about medicinal plants and healing. Due to his numerous contributions to the fields of ethnomycology, ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, Dr. Weil was given the distinction of having an entheogenic Psilocybe mushroom named in his honor: Psilocybe weilii was discovered in 1995 in Cherokee County, Georgia.

While at Harvard, he became aware of the psychedelic experiments of Drs. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, and soon embarked on explorations of his own, setting the stage for a series of formal investigations in 1968 with Lester Grinspoon, pioneering studies of marijuana which overturned many of the cherished, but unfounded assumptions which then stood as conventional wisdom regarding marijuana.

In his landmark 1972 bestseller, The Natural Mind, Weil took what he had learned in his earlier formal and informal research and turned that knowledge to very good advantage, arguing that human beings have an innate need for altered states of consciousness and that attempts to eliminate this need—and the personal and cultural expressions of this need—are doomed to perpetual failure. Along the way, and in proving his point that human consciousness is the true magical substance common to all non-ordinary states, he took on nothing less than scientific orthodoxy itself in the book, in a careful, reasonable dissection of the structure and foundations of Western allopathic medicine. Subsequent works, such as The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon and Chocolate to Morphine continued his investigations into the complex intermixture of drugs, consciousness, and culture, while his most recent work, Health and Healing, published in 1983, closely examines the enormous range of powers available to each of us—with or without drugs.

Dr. Weil on the Drug War

“I said, in The Natural Mind, that I often have the suspicion that everything that we do in the name of stopping the drug problem is the drug problem. It’s not just the laws but the whole mentality that sees drugs as the problem and tries to fight them. By doing that I think we’ve made it all worse.

“I’m very sympathetic to Thomas Szasz’ viewpoint. I think he states it in an extreme way, but if you go back and read about what the United States was like a hundred years ago—before we had any drug laws or “drug abuse problem”—there were a lot of drugs in circulation and there were problems associated with them, but I think that on balance everything was much better than it is now. We’ve made more people abuse more drugs in worse and worse ways. I think it’s all a consequence of our trying to fight drugs.

“I think a lot of [drug abuse] is directly a product of the medical profession. Every time it’s gotten its hands on a powerful new psychoactive drug, it prescribes it very carelessly and people get strung out. Then, when it’s called on that, it takes the position that it didn’t have anything to do with the problem, that it’s a bad drug. So they take it away, it’s banned or put on restriction, which creates a tremendous black market for it. And that’s been a pattern that’s happened with everything, from morphine and heroin to cocaine. and amphetamines, for the past hundred years.”

“I think the whole apparatus of dealing with the drug problem through criminal law, that whole mentality has to go away. I think until that doesn’t exist we’ll continue to have a drug problem.

“For one thing, I think the drug laws and the prohibition mentality are directly responsible for inciting curiosity on the part of young children about experimenting with drugs who otherwise wouldn’t care. I think that’s a direct product of that. You tell kids this is forbidden and—especially if you’re hypocritical about your own drug use—the main effect is to make them want to try it. And I strongly feel they wouldn’t want to try it otherwise. I’ve seen it.

“One of the best examples I’ve seen of this are the Indian societies in the Amazon, where every house has this prepared coca that they make. It’s a big thing among the adults, but kids don’t use it, adolescents don’t use it. And I’d ask about it, all the kids I could find in that tribe: ‘Don’t you want to try coca?’ And they’d say, ‘No.’ I’d say, ‘Well, aren’t you curious about trying it?’ ‘No.’ ‘Don’t you want to know what it does?’

They’d say, ‘We’ll wait till we grow up.’ I’ve never heard that over here. And I think that’s an example of what can be in a society where you don’t make prohibitions and it’s just social custom that you just don’t use (some thing) until you’re a grown up.

“So I think the reason everybody moans and wails about younger and younger kids experimenting with drugs is directly linked to making more and more fuss, more and more prohibitions, more and more laws. The more you do that the more the age drops. That wasn’t true a hundred years ago.

“There’s another amusing example—something I heard just the other day at the University of Arizona, from one of the administrators of a large branch of the Navy program to stop drug abuse in the Navy and Marines through urine screenings and the like.

“The woman who runs that program says that one thing that’s happened is that there’s been a huge shift to acid among those personnel—and the Navy didn’t want to know about it. She said that people on nuclear submarines were high on acid all the time—that it was easy to conceal and so on. She also said that though they can do a urine test for it, they don’t. She said they seemed actively unwilling—they didn’t want to know about it for a lot of reasons. I think one is because it’s a scary thought, and another is that they don’t want us to see that that was the effect of their program. Another point she made that was interesting was that these people didn’t have any experience of the sixties and acid, so they don’t have any of those associations with it. They’re using it just to get stoned.

“I have wonderful case histories of chocolate addicts—really interesting stories because it’s really gross stuff. There’s one woman who eats a pound-and-a-half to two pounds of chocolate a day, dark slab chocolate. She thinks it’s a health food. Actually, her only problem with it is that she’s worried about her supply. She’s Swiss and she only likes really good quality Swiss chocolate. When she came here to take a job, she was 28 and she brought only the clothes she wore. She filled her luggage with chocolate. You don’t find people doing that with lettuce or bread. That’s drug behavior.

“I think that was always my interest. In some ways, my new book Health and Healing is really just a great generalization of the basic ideas of The Natural Mind. The basic idea in The Natural Mind was that highs are internal, that drugs act as triggers or cues for certain states of consciousness that are potentially there all the time. I think it’s good to understand that, because it’s that misunderstanding that leads you to seek the thing in the drug and use it too much and become dependent on it.

“In Health and Healing, the basic idea is that healing is an internal capacity of the mind and body and that outside treatments can elicit it, bring it out, but healing is not outside you. It’s the same idea as before, except expanded.”

Andrew Weil resides north of Tucson, Arizona.

Posted by A. Shapiro
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