Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Andrew Weil, M.D. (@DrWeil), a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine; founder and Director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Rheumatology and is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health; and a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books on health and well-being, including The Natural Mind; Mind Over Meds; Fast Food, Good Food; True Food; Spontaneous Happiness; Healthy Aging; and Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Dr. Weil, welcome to the show.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.
Tim Ferriss: I am thrilled to finally have you on the podcast because it gives us a chance to also catch up. I have not had the opportunity to hear your latest and greatest adventures in quite some time. And some of the memories that I have of the interactions we’ve had – and I have to thank Kevin Rose, I think, initially, for making that connection – relate to your incredible gardens and plants. So I thought that a logical place to begin this conversation might be discussing your love affair with plants. Can you talk about how this started?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think it started with my mother when I was a kid. And she got that from her mother who had a real green thumb. So I grew up in a row house in Philadelphia. We had very little ground behind the house. But my mother and I used to plant all sorts of seeds. And I grew flowering bulbs indoors. So that started my interest. And then as an undergraduate at Harvard, I majored in botany which was a very unusual major, very old fashioned in those days.
But I had the good fortune to have as a mentor Richard Schultes, the director of the Harvard Botanical Museum, who is considered the godfather of modern ethnobotany. He had spent 14 years in the Amazon. And one of his interests was hallucinogenic plants. So studying with him got me interested in medicinal plants. And that really became a career interest. And I always dreamed of having big enough space to grow a real garden. And I know have that both in Tucson, where I live in the winter and in British Columbia where I am in the summer. So I grow a lot of my own food. I grow flowers. All that gives me a great deal of pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any particular go-to plants, let’s just say, in either of those places – perhaps they’re different just based on the climates – that you use on an ongoing daily or weekly basis for food or for other health purposes?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, in terms of foods, I just say there’s nothing like having fresh food from the garden. And I’m a very avid home cook. I like simple dishes that are easy to prepare. And many people who eat my food say they’ve never tasted such good food. But the secret is that it’s fresh food. And I think many people have never tasted plant foods that come right out of the garden. In terms of medicinal plants, probably one of my go-tos is garlic. I grow my own garlic. And garlic has many health benefits. It’s a very powerful antibiotic. It lowers cholesterol, blood pressure. Many uses. And you gotta use it fresh and raw. Anything you do to garlic lowers its medicinal properties.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned Schultes a moment ago and gave a snapshot of your history with plants. Can you put the following in chronological order: the book, Doors of Perception, nutmeg, and cannabis in terms of your interest? What is the proper order of those three?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Doors of Perception first. That was written by Aldous Huxley. I’m not exactly sure of the date. But he came to MIT to give a series of lectures on states of consciousness, on visionary experience. And that, I remember, was in 1960. And I was a freshman at Harvard and I listened to his lectures on radio. And that really inspired me to take mescaline, which he had written about in Doors of Perception. So I wrote him and asked him, “How do I get mescaline?” And he wrote back and gave me the name of a lab in New York. I wrote to them, but they wanted all sorts of paperwork. And I found another company that would sell it no questions asked. This was in the days before thalidomide. And the FDA did not require – there weren’t many regulations on getting drugs for experimental use. Anyway, packages of mescaline arrived outside my dorm door delivered by UPS.
And so in 1960, never having smoked pot or really experimented with any psychedelics, I took mescaline. A number of friends and I did it several times. And I didn’t really have a context in which to put it. I didn’t know people who were using psychedelics. Nonetheless, it showed me possibilities which I wasn’t really prepared to follow at that time. I think if I had, I would never have gone to medical school. So Aldous Huxley, Doors of Perception came first. Under Schultes, I opted to get an honor’s degree in botany, which is part of the biology department. I had to write a thesis for that. So the thesis I wrote was on nutmeg as a narcotic. Nutmeg is a psychoactive drug if you take enough of it. And it was being used mostly by people who couldn’t get better drugs, such as prisoners. You have to take a whole can of powdered nutmeg – I don’t recommend that – or eat one or two whole nutmegs.
It’s pretty hard to choke it down. And you do get high on it. But I’d say it’s a pretty third-rate high. Any rate, I wrote that paper. It got picked up by a lot of people including tabloids talking about people getting high on nutmeg. So that was really my first academic paper. Then what was the third book that you asked about?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no. It was the second – well, I suppose the third if we count mescaline – the third of the compounds or plants which would be cannabis
Dr. Andrew Weil: So back in those days, in the early 1960s, I didn’t know people who smoked cannabis. And I didn’t really try it until 1964 when I was a senior in college. I didn’t get any effect from it. Then I went to Harvard Medical School, and I began using it and having very enjoyable highs from it. It amazed me that as cannabis was getting a lot of attention and causing a lot of controversy; there had been no research done with it, really nothing. Astonishing. There had been one experiment done in 1937 I think. But since then, nobody had given marijuana to human beings to see what it did. So as a senior in medical school, I devoted my elective time to research to try to do the first human-controlled double-blind studies with marijuana. I can’t even begin to tell you what a challenge that was. Many people bet me that there was no way I’d get permission.
And that meant coordinating the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Massachusetts state authorities, the universities. Nonetheless, I did it. I gave marijuana to human subjects and published this as a lead story in science in 1968. It was frontpage news on The New York Times. It concluded that marijuana was a relatively mild intoxicant. I showed that it did not dilate pupils. Cops were arresting people who had dilated eyes and said that was probably cause for searching and for marijuana. I showed that it didn’t lower blood sugar, which was often invoked as the cause for the munchies and that while, in people who’d never had it before, you could demonstrate some impairment on basic psychological and psychomotor tests, if you gave it to people who are experienced with it, you couldn’t really show anything like that. So the basic conclusion was relatively mild intoxicant. I thought that pot would be legal in five years.
Boy, was I wrong. I thought it was just a matter of getting the right information out there. I quickly learned that people believe what they want to believe and don’t believe what they don’t want to believe.
Tim Ferriss: Now this is a perfect segue in terms of belief and expectation because my understanding is that one of the – just in doing some homework for this, one of the challenges of the experimental design – and I don’t know if it was the IRB or maybe a different acronym at the time – for putting this study into practice was working with naïve subjects, people who had not had any exposure.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Could you talk about why that was important to you?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Because I wanted to see what marijuana did that had no expectations of what it would do. My intuition told me that what you expected of pot and all drugs and the setting in which you took it were as important as the drug itself. So this idea that drug effects are a combined effect of drug set and setting I think is basic to understanding how mind-altering drugs work. And with marijuana, where the physical effects are really relatively subtle, I think you really have to learn to get high on it. You have to associate an altered state with it. So it was very important to me to use people who’ve never had it. That became a great sticking point with the two universities, Boston University and Harvard, that had to give approval for this because their fear was that if you introduce people to this drug, they would soon be heroin addicts in the street. Anyway, finally got permission to do that.
And I’ll tell you one funny story. The cops who were involved in this, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – this was the old treasury department cops – and the Massachusetts cops kept bugging me to come down to our lab and watch people smoke marijuana because they’d never seen anyone smoke marijuana. And I said, “Look, we can’t have you there because that would be a major disturbance of set and setting.” But I said if they were patient and we had time, we’d do a demo for them at the end when the experiments were finished. So one night, we had two of my friends who were labeled chronic users of marijuana agree to smoke it in our laboratory.
And this bunch of guys – two from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. I think there were two from Massachusetts – came. And these people, they had to smoke two of these joints that we had rolled. It was relatively mild by today’s standards. And they smoked them. And then we were giving them these tests. So the one cop sidles up to me and elbows me and says, “When is it going to happen?” And I knew what he was after. I said, “What do you mean?’ He said, “You know, when does it happen?” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, when do they get high?” And I said, “Well, they are high.” And he said, “No. No.” He said, “When do they get high?” I don’t know what his –
Dr. Andrew Weil: — was. Ripping off their clothes, running around screaming. But here were these two guys just sitting there doing their pursuit rotor tests and the numerical tests. And they weren’t any different. That was a very sobering experience for these law enforcement agents. And at that time and since, many people would ask me, “How can you tell if a person is high?” And I said, “You really can’t unless they volunteer that information.” Maybe their whites of their eyes are red but nothing else. That was very upsetting to many people. So after I published that study, I was in great demand as an expert on cannabis. This was in 1969, 1970, 1971. And I was asked to testify about it in front of Congress and be an expert witness in various things and give lectures. I made it a rule for myself that I would never do that unless I was stoned.
So, I would always smoke pot right before I had to testify or – I should say, by the way, while I was a fairly serious user of pot in my 20s and 30s, I have not been much of a user of it later in life. But anyway, it was fun to do that and also to be in a position where I’d be lecturing or testifying, and people would ask me that question. “How can you tell if a person is high on pot.” And I would say, “You can’t unless they volunteer that information.” Of course, I did not volunteer that I was high on pot.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I have so many follow-up questions here. I want to rewind for a second because I think these two might be related. Can you describe your first mescaline experience? Was it a Huxley-like explosion of aesthetic –
Dr. Andrew Weil: It was as far from it as you can imagine. I was in a dorm room at Harvard in this old, dilapidated building, Claverly Hall. It was on a Saturday afternoon. And I and one other roommate of mine took it. We took half a gram of pure mescaline. And there were about seven people sitting around watching to see what would happen before they decided whether they wanted to try it or not. So I didn’t feel anything for a long time. And after maybe an hour and a half, I began to feel some physical effects. I just felt a little – I didn’t know how to – the only drug experience I’d had up to that point was with alcohol. And so that was the only thing I could compare it to. So I felt a little different. At that moment, exactly, the phone rang. And it was my mother calling from Philadelphia. We never talked except on Sundays we would call, and I’d call my parents.
So, she called and said [00:13:10, audio cuts out] said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I’m just sitting around with some friends.” And she said, “Why aren’t you outside?” And I said, “Well, I’m just sitting here.” And she said, “I hope you’re not doing anything foolish like taking mescaline or anything like that.” Now I had mentioned the word mescaline at the dinner table maybe three months before and said I was interested. I got such a reaction from my parents that I never said another word about it. There’d been an article in the newspaper about a kid who died supposedly from an overdose of it. So talk about mother being psychic. I said, “Oh, no, Mother. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing anything like that.” So that kind of affected my experience. But I really had no significant psychological change from that time. The second time I took it, I did have a very profound altered state.
And it’s hard to describe, but I had a real sense of oneness of everything and a much larger reality out there than I had been aware of. And I think I had to put that in a box and tie it up because if I had followed that, I don’t think I would have been able to stay in school and get a medical degree. So I just boxed that up until I had a chance to explore that.
Tim Ferriss: I think we will come back to the exploration. You mentioned one thing in passing that I wanted to just follow-up on since I know people are probably wondering. And that is you mentioned you used to be a heavy or a consistent cannabis user. Not so much so in your more recent years. Why has that changed?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I found that my experiences with it changed over time. And when I first was using it in my mid-20s, the highs that I had with it were light, bubble, hysterical, a lot of laughing, sitting around with people, and sensual enjoyment of food and music and all that. After several years of that, I think the highs changed for me. I was using it more heavily. But the highs changed for me to be more introspective. And it was in that period that I think it really stimulated my imagination. It was great for writing. My first book, The Natural Mind, that I wrote in – I wrote it in 1971. It was published in ’72 – about drugs and altered states. I think a lot of that felt channeled as a result of being in the states of consciousness that cannabis ushered me into. So there was a period of think – then I was living in South America for a number of years. I used pot pretty regularly.
And during that time, I think the experiences changed more in the direction of being more sedative. And it would tend to make me groggy and not creative and imaginative. And that went on for a long time. And I finally just felt that didn’t do much for me. So I weaned myself off it, which took some doing. And then I began to use it just occasionally with friends as a social thing. So now, I personally don’t like the effect of it very much. So I think my body has changed. My brain has changed. It was a real ally for me in the early part of my life. Now, I’m more interested in it for its medicinal uses. And, of course, I’m delighted to see our society finally coming to some sensible terms with that plant.
Tim Ferriss: We are going to get to South America because I have certainly, a number of questions about South America. But before we get to that, you mentioned set and setting. For people who don’t know what that means – and I think you described it in brief – can you explain what that means? And can you also explain how you first came across that phrase? Because you were at Harvard at a very interesting time.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah. Well, Timothy Leary was there. And Richard Alpert. And one of my other mentors besides Schultes was a Freudian psychoanalyst named Norman Zinberg. We became very close friends. He was a colleague of mine in the marijuana research. We got high together. He was older than me. But it was a great connection. And he was one of – I think Leary was one of the first people I heard use the phrase set and setting. And Zinberg wrote about this a lot in his academic writing. So set is a psychologist’s term for all of the expectational factors that a person brings to an experience. And so when you – the effects of drugs are not just due to the drug. One factor is the nature of the drug, the dose. But then there is what a person expects to happen when he or she takes that dose. And then there is the setting which is the environment, the physical and social environment in which the drug is taken.
And my experience has been that the combined effects of set and setting can actually reverse the pharmacological effect of drugs, that you can give a stimulant to a person in conditions of set and setting that cause the person to fall asleep. And you could give a sedative drug to somebody under conditions of set and setting that cause a person to become alert and stimulated. And this doesn’t just apply to marijuana and drugs. I think this has an awful lot to do with medicine and healing as well. I think that the way we present treatments to people and their effects also are very dependent on expectation and environment. And it’s the expectation both of the giver of the treatment or the drug and the person who takes it.
In the early days of LSD research – this is back in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s – there was very good research being done with it in terminal cancer patients, for example, showing that people near the end of life, if they had a structured LSD session and then follow-up with a skilled person had much less pain, required far fewer opioids, had much more productive interactions with family and friends, and much easier deaths. People got excited about that research. And then other people who didn’t understand that set/setting drug interaction and thought the magic was just in the LSD tried to reproduce that by giving LSD to people without paying attention to set and setting. And they didn’t get the same results. And that’s one of the reasons I think people backed off from doing research with it.
Tim Ferriss: How would you suggest people these days think about designing studies for researching these compounds? Because as you are certainly extremely aware, there are some incredible challenges with studying – let’s just take whether we want to call them psychedelics or hallucinogens, as an example, in terms of trying to placebo control. And some people will use niacin or some type of lower dose as an active placebo. There was a great piece in The New York Times just in the last few weeks called “What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick?” looking at the biochemical basis. And it just gets – the further down that rabbit hole you go, the more you realize how incredibly challenging it is to design a study that somehow isolates if that’s even the objective, the effects, particularly when you have dif –
Dr. Andrew Weil: I don’t know that that’s worth doing, Tim. I think really, what we’re going for is how do you maximally increase the chance of producing a positive experience. I’m fascinated with the potential of these drugs for healing and medicine, not just psychological problems but real things like autoimmune diseases, cancer. I think there’s a tremendous potential for these psychedelics, especially to give people the experience that they can change whatever’s going on in their body. I’ll give you one example that I – I’ll give you a couple that I’ve written about. When I was about 28, right before I left for South America, I was starting to practice yoga. And I had problems with some poses. The one I had the most difficulty with is the plow where you lay on your back and try to touch your toes to the ground behind your head. I got so I could get my toes about a foot from the ground, and I couldn’t go any further.
I had excruciating pain in my neck. So I was about to give up. I thought I was just too old to be doing this at 28. And one day, I – it was a spring day. I was living in Virginia. I took LSD with some friends outdoors. It was fabulous. I was in a fabulous state. My body felt totally elastic. And I thought, “Gee, while I’m feeling this way, I ought to try to do that.” So I lay on the ground, brought my toes down, and I thought I had about a foot to go. And they touched the ground. And I didn’t have any pain. And I kept doing it over and over. I thought, “This is fantastic.” The next day, I tried to do it. I could get my toes about a foot from the ground, and there was excruciating pain in my neck. But it was now different because I had seen it was possible. If I had not had that experience, I don’t think I would have been motivated to continue to practice. But knowing that, I kept at it. And in a few weeks, I was able to do it.
To me, that’s a model of what these drugs can do. They can show you possibilities that you wouldn’t have believed but that it’s up to you to figure out how to have that more of the time.
Tim Ferriss: I love that example because it’s parallel with many experiences people would tend to put into the box of psychological or emotional in the sense that you have someone like Sam Harris, very smart guy, who came to meditation through seeing what was possible via certain psychedelic experiences. I came across your name very unexpectedly at the home of a friend’s parents. And I was browsing their bookshelf. And I came across a book with the very appealing title, to me, at least, of Wizard of the Upper Amazon. And I was astonished I hadn’t come across this book before. And you wrote – I don’t recall if it was the forward or the introduction to that book.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I wrote it. Yup.
Tim Ferriss: And I became really engrossed in this, which was a bit of a problem because I was supposed to be at a party being social. But I ended up in the guest bedroom reading part of this book. Can you explain what drew you to South America? Why did you go? How long were you there? What did you do when you were there?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, Schultes sent me there. As I said, he had really lived there. He’d lived in the Amazon continuously from 1939 to 1953. And he had great connections, especially in Columbia. So he wanted me to go down there. And I was interested in studying coca leaves, especially but a whole range of plants.
Tim Ferriss: Why were you interested in coca specifically?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Because he got me interested. And he said he had chewed it every day during the time he was in the Amazon, and he recommended I go down there. I just liked the name. And it seemed like something interesting. This was before cocaine was around up here. So I wrote The Natural Mind, sent it off to the publisher. And I got a fantastic fellowship from a group called the Institute of Current World Affairs that sent people far and wide. And all you had to do was write a monthly newsletter for them.
Most people did this on political subjects. And I had proposed to them writing about altered states of consciousness and psychoactive drugs and things like that. And they’d never done anything like that. And so I got this great fellowship that paid all my expenses. I had that for three and a half years. So I first went to Mexico, lived there for three months to learn Spanish, which I did just by living with people and having to speak Spanish. And then I drove my Land Rover all the way to Columbia.
Tim Ferriss: That’s an exciting trip for people –
Dr. Andrew Weil: It was an exciting trip. It took a while. And then I spent about three and a half years in South America, mostly in Columbia which I – a country I love. But also, Ecuador, Peru, some in Brazil. I saw a lot of interesting things. I learned a lot about plant medicine. I spent time with shamans, some of which were a very mixed bag. There were drunks who just wanted to be paid for giving people ayahuasca. I saw a few real genuine healers. I saw a lot of interesting alternative medical stuff. Anyway, it was a very interesting period of time in my life. And I still retain that connection. I look forward to going back and spending more time in Columbia. So I learned a lot of stuff. But interestingly, I had been most interested in finding healers. And at the end of that time, my car – I came back to the US. I was just going to be here briefly and go back down to Mexico.
And the Land Rover agency that overhauled the car in Laguna Beach forgot to pack one of the wheels with grease. And I drove through Tucson. I was just going to get supplies. And the wheel bearing shattered. And it took six weeks to get a replacement. It was February of a very warm, wet winter. The desert was in full bloom. I met people I liked. And I never left. And here I am, 45 years later still living in Tucson. It turned out that the most fascinating healer, the person I had most to learn from was in Tucson and had been here all the time before I had gone down to South America. And there’s something perfect about that too, doing all this wandering, and then right under your feet is what you’re looking for. It was an old osteopathic physician named Robert Fulford who was a master of cranial therapy and the best healer I’ve ever seen. He just put his hands on you, and remarkable things happened.
And he really made me aware of the healing power of nature. It felt so good to be worked on by him. And people would say, “When should I come back?” And he’d say, “You don’t need to come back. You’re fixed.” And he would say, “All you have to do is make these little adjustments and let old mother nature do her work.” He’d charge $35.00 for a visit, use no equipment. It was very inspirational to spend time with him
Tim Ferriss: Did he have anything in common with the, as you mentioned, few genuine healers you came across in your travels in South America? Were there any commonalities?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Fulford used a modality cranial therapy, which I think is terrific. I’m a big fan of osteopathic manipulation. It’s wonderful. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of osteopaths do that anymore. And fewer do really good cranial therapy. I think Fulford was a healer. And if he’d been working in some other means, he would be as effective. So I think I’ve met people who were able to catalyze that in other people, maybe just by their own presence, by their own energy, people who were whole and healed themselves.
That, by the way, goes back to your question about structuring research with psychedelics. I think the key thing is that the person running the show, who’s giving the drugs, himself or herself has to be fully experienced. They have to be a shaman. This is what shamans are trained to do. And you can’t just have research hacks trying to give these drugs in clinical settings and expecting to get wonderful results.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Even within the clinical setting, of course, there’s a huge, enormous range of experience. So you could have someone coming in fresh off the boat, so to speak. Or you could have someone like Mary Cosimano at Johns Hopkins who’s incredible and has a library of vast experience. You mentioned Schultes, a name I’m very fond of. And he put out a book. I believe it was maybe co-authored or just featured an introduction with Albert Hoffman called Plants of the Gods, which is a fantastic book. You put out a book that, as I understand it, had – I’m thinking of a senator in particular – mixed responses that I’d love for you to talk about a little bit called Chocolate to Morphine, subtitled Understanding Mind-Active Drugs. Why did you write this book?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Before I do that, let me ask you: did you ever see another book that Schultes put out which is a real collector’s item? You remember the little golden guides on –
Tim Ferriss: Yes, I do.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, he did a little golden guide of hallucinogenic plants. If you can find a copy of it, it’s amazing. It’s every hallucinogenic plant done in that same style of minerals and birds and plants. And it was on sale in museums and stuff like that. So see if you can find a copy of it.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. I’ll have to do that before I publish this podcast.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Anyway, I wrote a book with a coauthor, Winifred Rosen, called From Chocolate to Morphine about mind-altering drugs. I think it’s an excellent book. It’s still in print. It’s much-loved. Many parents have given it to their kids. Many kids have given it to their parents. It came out in 1983 just when the war on drugs started, which was precipitated by the death of a basketball player, Len Bias. And that started the Reagans on a whole crusade. So that book caused a lot of controversy because it did not say, “No.” It said, “We’re not going to tell you whether you should use drugs or not. But if you are, this is what you should know about them. And these are the precautions that you might take.” And it went through all drugs, the legal ones, nicotine, all the forms of caffeine, all the psychedelic stimulants [00:30:49, inaudible] or so forth.
So a Republican senator from Florida, Paula Hawkins, who was a crony of Nancy Reagan’s, made it a campaign to get the book banned. And she stood up on the floor of the senate waving the book around. It was on national news, which got more publicity than the publisher got for it. And there then followed a campaign to ban that book from libraries. And there was a personal campaign to try to keep me from speaking in places that was organized by the White House. Very interesting times. Anyway, I’m still here. The book is still in print then, very popular. And I recommend it. It’s great.
Tim Ferriss: Were there any particular – well, actually, let me take a step back. For people who are listening to that experience and looking back at some of the blowback that was experienced in the – let’s just call it the Leary era – and wondering if there are things that can be done to minimize the likelihood of – or just mitigate excessive blowback to current research and attempts to reclassify things like MDMA, psilocybin, and so on for very legitimate medical applications, did you have any thoughts on best practices for people who are very enthusiastic? You’ve been in this world for so much longer than most. I don’t know if you have any particular thoughts on how to not unnecessarily jeopardize things I guess is a –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Okay. First of all, don’t be angry. Because I see many people out there who talk about subjects and get tremendous blowback and think that people are reacting to the content of what they’re saying. And it’s not. It’s the tone of what they’re saying. I’ve gotten away with saying the most outrageous things because I’m not angry. And people listen, and we can have actual dialog. Secondly, I think it’s very important to suggest possibilities for uses of these agents for which we don’t have – that address problems for which we don’t have solutions. For example, the opioid crisis is a fantastic opportunity at the moment, both for integrative medicine in general and for cannabis medicine.
Doctors working in states where cannabis is legal say that it has tremendously improved the lives of patients who are dependent on opioids and tremendously improved their lives as practitioners who are faced with how to deal with chronic pain management. So that’s one area that I think is very important. So the demonstration that psilocybin, for example, can be used with obsessive-compulsive disorder, that MDMA produces these tremendous results with post-traumatic stress disorder, this is all helping greatly to legitimize the uses of these.
Tim Ferriss: And let’s talk about – this is just something that we could talk about for hours and days and weeks, probably. But just for the sake of definition, could you define for people integrative medicine, the combination of these two?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Sure. First of all, I think this is medicine of the future. And the term integrative medicine is now totally accepted in academic discourse. There are textbooks of integrative medicine. All medical journals refer to it. So the short answer is it’s the intelligent combination of conventional medicine and natural and preventative medicine and useful alternative therapies. The longer answer is that it’s a system that emphasizes the natural healing power of the organism that looks at people not just as physical bodies but also as mental, emotional beings, spiritual entities, community members – that’s sometimes called whole-person medicine – that places a great deal of emphasis on lifestyle and all of the lifestyle factors that influence health and illness that really values the practitioner-patient relationship and makes use of all available therapies that show reasonable evidence of efficacy and aren’t going to cause harm.
And we often butt heads against the evidence-based medicine people who say we’re trying to advocate unscientific or anti-scientific ideas and practices. My feeling has always been that a good way to use evidence, a good rule to follow is that the greater the potential of a treatment to cause harm, the stricter the standards of evidence it should be held to for efficacy. If we would follow that principle in standard medicine, we’d save ourselves a lot of trouble. I commonly teach patients breathing techniques. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the health effects of breathing because nobody takes it seriously. It doesn’t involve a drug or a device. But the chance of these breathing techniques causing harm is so negligible that I’m not bothered by recommending in the absence of a great deal of evidence for them. Anyway, integrative medicine is the future.
I founded and direct Center of Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, the Center for Integrative Medicine. We’re the world leader in educating physicians in this new system. So we give two-year, thousand-hour fellowships for MDs and DOs that teach nutrition, mind-body interactions, herbal medicine including the uses of cannabis and psychedelics, the strengths and weaknesses of alternative medical systems, spirituality in medicine, and all these things that are left out of conventional training. And we’ve now graduated about 1,600 physicians from that intensive fellowship. They’re in practice all over the country and in many other countries. We have our curriculum in 80 residencies throughout the country. We teach medical students.
We’re about to open an integrative primary care clinic in Tucson. So we’re really on a roll. And as I say, I think this is the future because the great promise of integrative medicine is that it can lower healthcare costs while maintaining or I think improving health outcomes. And I think it’s the only way out of this mess that we have with healthcare in this country.
Tim Ferriss: So there’s a lot to dig into here. And I’m looking forward to it. Just for people who may have missed this earlier – but they must have been smoking something of their own if they missed it earlier – you do have experience with and familiarity with double-blind placebo-controlled studies. And I don’t think – and correct me if I’m wrong – that you would argue that there is no place for that and that it has a place and is a source of information. There –
Dr. Andrew Weil: It’s one kind of information. And it has its own limitations. I think there are other kinds of information that are valid. For example, the information that comes from your own experience. And I like to point out to people that in all languages derived from Latin, unfortunately not English, the word for experience and the word for experiment are the same. In Spanish, experimentar means both to experience and to experiment. So your own experience is a form of experimentation that produces useful information. You have to check it against other kinds of information. With double-blind studies, this is held out as the gold standard. And many people think this is the only kind of information we should pay attention to. But here’s an interesting thing. You can try this yourself. And it’s an assignment that I give to medical students and doctors.
Go into a medical library and pull out any medical journal that reports results of placebo control double-blind testing. Pick an article. Turn to the back of the article where there’s a table summarizing the results. In the placebo group, there will always be one or two or a small number of subjects who show all of the changes produced in the experimental group who got the drug.
That is fascinating. That means that any change that we can produce in the human organism by giving a pharmacological agent can be exactly mimicked in at least some people some of the time purely by a mind-mediated mechanism, the placebo response if you want. Anyway, we should be trying to take advantage of that, find out how to make it happen more of the time. Also, I would just say that there are a great many worthless and dangerous drugs on the market at the moment. And many of them have a lot of placebo-controlled randomized trials behind them supporting their use. So things can be structured in ways to produce results that people want.
Tim Ferriss: I want to spend some time on this because I find myself, and I think you probably – certainly, not probably – have found yourself straddling what, at times, people perceive to be mutually exclusive worlds. So I have, on one hand, a lot of interaction with you name it. Clinical psychologists and different researchers at UCSF, at Johns Hopkins, at many different institutions where I’m funding or helping to fund the types of studies that we’re talking about. And then, on the other hand, I experiment with a lot of what people would consider esoteric and probably just outright crazy stuff, some of it below the border. Not all of it below the border.
And I would love to hear – you’ve spoken I think quite a bit about some of the limitations of the types of studies we’re talking about among others we haven’t even talked about but that these are not necessarily the first place to go if you’re looking to generate hypotheses that are innovative for testing in the first place. But if we were to flip the coin and look at the other side because you mentioned tone earlier and how a lot can be dismissed if you are angry and it’s not a response to the content, but it’s a response to the tone, where do people in the integrative medicine field or in the complementary or alternative treatment realms make mistakes? What are some of the ways in which they think they have all the answers or alienate themselves from people who might actually be open with a different delivery to some of what they’re experimenting with?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, with the people that I come in contact with who come through our training programs, I always emphasize just not being angry and to have some published data to support things that you’re doing with patients so that if somebody asks why are you giving this treatment, you can cite something. So I think, to me, that’s most important. I don’t see many people today – the common mistake is just to antagonize colleagues or to reject conventional medicine out of hand. I don’t like the term alternative medicine. It suggests that you’re trying to replace conventional medicine. And that’s not my goal. I want to make conventional medicine better. And knowing when and when not to use that system is extremely important. I said earlier drawing on your own experience for hypotheses – let me give you two personal experiences of mine that suggest possibilities that I would love to see tested in research settings.
At about that same time that I had that experience with yoga and LSD, on another occasion, I took LSD also in a wonderful outdoor setting, feeling great. I had a lifelong allergy to cats. This was, again, when I was 28. If a cat came near me, my eyes would itch, and my nose would run. And if a cat licked me, I’d get hives where it licked me. So I always tended to avoid them. So on this day, when I was high on LSD, feeling great, a cat came up and jumped in my lap. And I had a moment trying to [00:43:24, audio cuts out] myself against it. And then I thought, “This is silly. I’m just going to drop this.” And I began petting the cat and enjoying it. I had no allergic reaction. And I’ve never had one since. So instant disappearance of allergies. All right. So how about you offer allergy treatment centers where people come in. and on the first visit, they take a full dose of the substance.
And then over, say, 10 visits, you reduce the dose until, at the end, they’re taking nothing. And they learn to unlearn the allergy. Also, around the same time, another dramatic physical change in me. I grew up. I was told I had very fair skin. I could never get tan. And we used to go down to the Jersey shore in the summer, at the beaches. I can’t tell you how many times – sheets of skin peeling off. Horrible. And then I’d never get tan. So I just accepted that. So also around the same time when I was doing all this experimentation – and I think this was, again, with LSD, outdoors, running around naked in the sun. And I was laying down and looking at the sun. And I thought, “This is silly. The sun is not my enemy.” I got tan the next day. And I have ever since. Now, these kinds of changes I have not seen much written about. And to me, that’s the stuff I would love to see tested.
I’d love to see us figure out these potentials on how to allow more people to experience them. And this is why I say that when you’re dealing with people with chronic illness, whether it’s chronic pain or autoimmunity where they don’t see a possibility of changing it, you can, I think, arrange conditions of set and setting with the right agent in which you can show people that it’s possible to experience your body in a different way.
Tim Ferriss: Do you recall how many, roughly, micrograms you were consuming with the cat allergy experience?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Oh, my guess is it was somewhere around maybe 200, something like that.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. And if you had to, how would you attempt to explain that? Do you have a hypothetical mechanism or –
Dr. Andrew Weil: The allergy thing is easier to explain than the tanning reaction because there’s obviously a mind-body component of allergy. If a person has an allergy to roses, you can show them a plastic rose, and they’ll have allergic symptoms, for example. I think many people with allergies can see that changing emotional states really affect the allergic expression. So that, to me, is more understandable. Although, the fact that it was a permanent change I find very interesting. With tanning, that’s a little more complex, the physiology of that. So I haven’t thought about that. I’m sure there is a physiological mechanism underlying it. But it, again, suggests that many aspects of our reaction to the environment are modifiable by changing our internal state.
Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned brea – I want to come back to breathing since that seems to also tie into this. As you mentioned, and I think you’ve also discussed publicly having this sliding scale of evidence in the sense that the more something has the potential and a demonstrated potential for harm, the greater the burden of proof should be. And hormone placement therapy – there are many examples that come to mind that seem to be a great idea at the time with certain populations which, demonstrably, could have been predicted to have known dangers. In the case of breathing compared to benzos and all these other drugs that are available, is there a sample breathing technique you could describe for people who are looking to reduce anxiety?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes. There’s a breath that I teach which I learned from Dr. Fulford that I call the 4-7-8 breath. And if people will just Google my name and 4-7-8 breath, you’ll get demonstrations of me doing it. It’s all over the place these days. But basically, it’s a yoga technique. You let all the air out through your mouth. And you breathe in quietly through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, blow air out your mouth forcibly to a count of eight, and you repeat that for four breath cycles. You have to do it at least twice a day. It’s a practice. And by doing this, you change the tone of the autonomic nervous system. You decrease sympathetic tone, increase parasympathetic tone, the relaxation response. And after practicing this for several weeks, months, it becomes an amazing tool for all sorts of things. One is controlling anxiety, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, improving digestion, and so forth.
And breath is really – it’s the key to controlling involuntary functions. And breathing is the only thing you can do completely consciously or completely unconsciously. The theory is that by using your voluntary system to impose rhythms on the breath, gradually, those are induced in the involuntary nervous system which you can’t get at directly. So I’ve seen tremendous results of people doing this 4-7-8 breath practice, just amazing things, stopping atrial fibrillation, having cold hands become warm, chronic digestive problems disappearing. But for anxiety, it is far and away the best method I’ve ever found. It makes benzodiazepines look very pathetic by comparison. And I’ve seen even the most extreme cases of panic disorder respond to this breathing technique once people practiced it enough.
Tim Ferriss: You have a history of spotting and/or popularizing concepts, terms, even fields of study long before they hit the mainstream. So right now, we’re edging into some territory that might lead into this. And the question’s going to be: what current accepted concepts or practices do you think are going to be obsolete in the near future or significantly revised? Because we have this cartesian mind-body separation which, to me, is hilarious also because it tends to overlap almost perfectly with people who have a hyper-materialist view of brain equals mind. It’s just very hard to reconcile since it’s an organ. But the reason this came to mind for me is you mentioned autonomous nervous system. And these are things that I suppose most would assume you do not have any conscious control over. And yet, I’ve spent time, as an example. And no, I haven’t seen this studied in a clinical setting because who the hell would actually do it and study it?
And who would want to put their career on hold for two to three years to do it? But there’s a professor, formerly from Stanford Medical School. Lifelong meditator. Uses neurofeedback very consistently. And he can do some very strange things. I’ve seen him do this multiple times where you can pick one of his eyes, and he can hyper-dilate his pupil in the eye that you choose. You can watch this happen. It is one of the strangest things I’ve seen. So that’s a long-winded way of asking a question. But what are certain concepts or beliefs held to be true or things that are held in strong conviction now in medicine or tangentially related to it that you think are going to be significantly revised?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, first, let me tell you two quick stories =
Tim Ferriss: Please.
Dr. Andrew Weil: — relevant to this. I grew up in Philadelphia, late 1940s-1950s. All shoe stores had fluoroscopes in them. These were big consoles and to check the fit of shoes. So you went in as a kid. The salesman got you shoes. And then you would go to this fluoroscope, stick your feet under it. And there was a viewing thing you could look into. And you’d see the bones of your feet, this big, glowing green screen. And the shoe salesman would point out to your parents how well the shoes fit. And as a kid, your job was to distract the shoe salesman and your parents, so you could spend as much time under there as possible. Unbelievable. Fluoroscopes in shoe stores? What were they thinking? Going back a little earlier, when I was at Harvard Medical School, I found this old attic of medical curiosities.
And one item in there was from about the turn of the early 1900s was a belt with two pouches that held radium ore that was supposed to be worn around the waist. The pouches fit over the kidneys to deliver healthful radiation to your kidneys for several hours a day. Now, whenever I see things like that, I wonder, “What are we doing now that we’re going to look back at 50 years from now and not believe that we did?” I’ll tell you one area is dentistry. I think the whole idea of drilling cavities and filling them with foreign materials, I think we will not believe that we were doing that. I really think that chemotherapy and radiation will be obsolete as cancer treatments, probably in not too distant future. And the problem with those is they just don’t distinguish well enough between malignant cells and normal cells unless you’re dealing with a cancer who has a very rapid cell division rate, which most of them don’t.
So I think that’ll be replaced by things like gene therapy and immunotherapy, antiangiogenesis therapy, so forth. I think the whole field of regenerative medicine is right on the horizon. This recent research was done in Japan of being able to take cells from skin and get them to reverse to an embryonic state where they can differentiate into any line. We’re really close to being able to regenerate organs, spinal cord injuries, damaged hearts. I think that’s all on the horizon and will replace a lot of the things that we have now. I think a lot of the diseases that we consider incurable, that’s just a concept that we have. And once you see it’s possible, then it’s possible. And if it’s possible in one individual, why shouldn’t it be possible for everyone?
Tim Ferriss: You’ve talked about, certainly – I think it was through a quote. Maybe it was Ful – was it Fulford? Am I getting the right –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Fulford, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Fulford. But related to the body healing itself. For people who are interested in this, want to mention also, in the meantime, as it relates to cancer, there is some very interesting work being done looking at the impact of fasting when combined typically pre-treatment with different types of chemotherapy and radiation. And from an anecdotal perspective, I can certainly vouch for the protective effects related to normal cells of fasting with a friend who is part of a cohort, this group of people who are going through these very intense treatments for a later stage cancer that he had. And those who did not fast in his group – there were a few experimenting with fasting. And sure, you could you explain this away in a number of different ways. But the people who did not fast were laid out for days afterward, basically on the couch not moving.
And he and a few others were going for 5-10 mile training runs the next morning. So really fascinating stuff. The dentistry that you mentioned – you talked about some of the potential replacements that are certainly being explored quite a bit now related to cancer. With dentistry, what would you see replacing the current approach to drilling and filling?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, one possibility is a vaccine that would inoculate you against the bacteria that caused decay. That’s one thing. I think that’s also a place for regenerative medicine that possibly being able to stimulate the growth of new teeth. I think that’s all within the realm of possibility.
Tim Ferriss: This is probably not specifically intended to help people regenerate teeth, but there are services now which may be outdated shortly but, for people who are curious, where you can take the baby teeth as they are, I suppose, discarded – I’m not sure what the proper word is – released from the mouth by your children, and then have them immediately shipped for storage so that you can harvest the stem cell pulp later for regenerative uses. There are –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Oh, great. I didn’t know about that. That’s neat.
Tim Ferriss: It’s pretty cool. Yeah, there are services that do that, so you don’t necessarily have to drill into your kid’s hip or whatever it might be which is, of course, part of what makes the research in Japan and so on so exciting, the possibility of getting to the embryonic starting point without having to use these really invasive procedures. What else are you most excited about right now?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I have to say that the mainstreaming of integrative medicine thrills me. I’ve been writing and saying the same things about medical education, medicine, health for probably 45 years. And in the early years, nobody paid attention to me. And then I got a larger and larger following in the general public. But none of my medical colleagues took me seriously. And that didn’t change until the early 1990s. and it was then when the economics of healthcare began to go south that institutions began to open to this.
And one lesson I draw from that is that no amount of ideological argument moves anything. It’s only when the pocketbooks of institutions get squeezed enough that they begin to open to change. But the change is quite remarkable. There’s a group called the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. And now, two-thirds of the medical schools in the US have joined us. The dean or chancellor of an institution has to request membership. And the school has to show that they’ve got activity in two of the three areas of clinical medicine research and teaching. So it’s quite wonderful to watch this happen.
Tim Ferriss: We could talk for hours and hours and hours. And we definitely have to hang out again. And maybe we can go for a hike with our mutual friend. Certainly, you’ve known him long enough, Paul Stamets. Would just be amazing. What books have you gifted the most to other people outside of your own book? So are there any books that you’ve gifted often to other people?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes. One is a translation of Lao Tzu by a man named Witter Bynner. It’s called The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu. It’s beautiful translations. And I find those verses which were the sole output of this philosopher to be remarkably right on. Another book that I’ve given out a lot recently is We by Robert Johnson, a Jungian psychoanalyst that’s subtitled The Psychology of Romantic Love. A very short, easily read book about the traps that people get themselves into in romantic relationships. That’s one that I like very much. Jeez, I have a whole bunch out there.
Tim Ferriss: What catalyzed or led you to gift We?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Just because I see so many of my friends who are trapped in repetitive patterns with other people that are very unfulfilling. And We is all about how we project something onto another person, which really is inside us. And that totally fits with my ideas about drug highs and healing, that these are all within us, and we sometimes need something external on which to project our belief in order to experience what we want to experience.
Tim Ferriss: Well, on that note, I’ve heard you talk about the drive to experience – I don’t want to use that –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Other states of consciousness?
Tim Ferriss: Non-ordinary states of consciousness to be innate to human beings, right? The –
Dr. Andrew Weil: No, that was the premise of my first book, The Natural Mind, that we have an innate drive to alter consciousness, not necessarily with drugs. There are all sorts of ways of doing it.
Tim Ferriss: Children spinning.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I talked about whirling. Yeah, children spinning around and so forth. That also got me in a lot of trouble when that was first published. People didn’t want to hear that. But I think this is absolutely the case. And it’s in all societies. And I think the inability of our society to allow for that drive and to help channel it in good directions is one reason why we have the kind of drug problems we do today. So I think teaching people how to experience these states, how to get them in ways that are manageable and will hold up for you over time, we should be doing that. And the people who should be teaching that are people who have mastered that themselves, the equivalents of shamans in our society.
Tim Ferriss: When you look at periods in your life where you feel like you’re in the zone, however you would define that, what are some of the daily or weekly practices that you spot, just in terms of the pattern of recognition, when you look back at these sweet spots, when you’ve just really been performing well and feeling good, are there any particular daily, weekly practices, morning habits, whatever comes to mind that you see as consistent?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah. Well, I do have a sitting meditation practice, sometimes quite brief. But I do it when I first get up in the morning. And I’ve done that quite regularly for a long time. Part of that is my breathing work. Another is being physically active. And the forms of my physical activity have changed over my lifetime. In my 20s, I ran. Then I got signals from my knees that they didn’t like that. And I started biking, instead. Always did a lot of walking and hiking. And in later life, I’ve really gotten into swimming. That’s my favorite physical activity at the moment. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my adult life. And I can’t imagine life without dogs. And that has been a very important part of my emotional wellbeing, I would say. My connection with plants, which we started out talking about, brings me a great deal of fulfillment. But growing plants, using them as medicine, cooking.
Cooking and food preparation have always been very grounding for me. I’ve often said and written that for me, cooking is a meditation. Chopping vegetables. Also manifesting. I have a concept in my head, something that I want to prepare. I think cooking is great training in practical magic. How do you manifest things? How do you take things from inside your head and make them real in physical reality, as close to your imagination as possible? And to be [01:03:29, audio cuts out] is a great [01:03:31, audio cuts out] for doing that. So that’s been very important to me. And I love turning people on to new experiences including experiences of food and plants. A lot of people over the years have said to me in reading my books that I’ve put into words things that they always knew to be true but hadn’t put into words themselves. That makes me very happy.
I have many people come up to me who say that reading my books or taking our training programs has really changed their lives for the better. That makes me very happy and makes me feel I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know what your current troupe looks like, but do you still have your – I want to say Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I have two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a male and a female who are – this is my third generation of them. And they’re stellar. For me, living with them has really taught me to be good at nonverbal communication. We’re really good at reading each other’s needs and wants and attentions. And that’s been remarkable training. There’s been also some – you probably have seen some of this research on some of the positive interactions with dogs, especially. One is that dogs are the only animal that holds our gaze. And most animals regard looking into the eyes as a threat. And dogs have evolved the ability to hold our gaze. And there’s research showing that when a dog holds your gaze, there is oxytocin released both in the dog’s brain and the human brain.
And the longer the eye connection is, the greater the release of oxytocin which is the bonding hormone. The results of a paper that came out in this past year, showing that when you exchange saliva with a dog – I won’t go into how that happens, but it happens – that this does very good things for your microbiome. And in particular, it changed it in ways that seemed to protect against obesity.
Tim Ferriss: I cannot wait to see the products that come out of that comment. The dog saliva morning swish.
Tim Ferriss: The morning meditation, could you elaborate on that, just a second, in terms of the format? What does that look like in practice?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Okay. Long, long ago, around the time that I was writing The Natural Mind, I became interested in meditation. I began reading about Zen. I met people who practiced Zen. So that’s what I first tried of sitting down, counting breaths. Then I took some Vipassana training, mindfulness meditation. And so what I do now is a kind of combination of that. I sit down. I first do my breathing. I do some bellows breath, breath of fire. And then I do that 4-7-8 breath for at least eight breath cycles. And then I try to keep my attention on my breath, on sensations in my body, on whatever are actual sensory signals in the room around me.
And if I’m aware that my attention is in images, I just try to bring it back to those things. So that’s really all that I do, a simple sitting. But to me, meditation is not about doing it just in a special time of sitting. It’s carrying that experience and training into all aspects of your life. So whether it’s driving, walking, chopping vegetables, you want to be as much in that state as possible. To me, that’s the essence of mindfulness.
Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned Vipassana. You may have other recommendations, which I’d love to hear. But for people who are curious about experimenting with Vipassana in a way that does not involve a ton of language that perhaps they don’t speak natively, we – we. I’m using the royal we. I mentioned Sam Harris earlier. His Waking Up app I find to be very, very, very good for this, particularly if people have previously had an allergy to how meditation can sometimes be presented.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I’m a great admirer of his work. And another one of the books that I have commonly given out to people is The End of Faith. You know it’s a very slim little volume. And the combination of being a neuroscientist, somebody who really questions religious dogma, and also accepts the mystery of existence, I think that’s a very unusual combination.
Tim Ferriss: It is. Yeah. It is very unusual. Yeah, I was thinking about your cooking remark because I only in the last handful of years discovered cooking in the process of writing my third book and have often wondered why I find cooking so meditative, as you put it. And one theory that I have is that much like why I – it is for similar reasons that I find certain types of sports and physical training meditative, and that is that there are actually some consequences built in. You have to pay attention if you’re finely dicing vegetables or you have three things on different heats on the stovetop.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I was kicked out of the kitchen, growing up. My mother said I should be out playing. But I was always fascinated watching people do it. And I really got into it when I was in medical school. In those days, you had to work really long shifts in hospitals. And they were ghastly places. And when I came out of them, I was in such bad mental and emotional states. And I found that imagining something that I could cook for myself and getting the ingredients and then doing it, that this put my head back in a very good place. So from a very early time, I discovered that power of cooking for me. And I’ve gotten to be a very good home cook. And over the years, many people have said, “You ought to open a restaurant.” And I never was interested in that because I knew I knew nothing about the restaurant business. And it looked like a very tough business.
And then about 12 years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to a successful restaurateur here in Arizona. And I proposed to him the concept of a restaurant that would serve delicious food that was also healthy. His immediate response was, “Health food doesn’t sell.” I think he thought I was talking tofu and sprouts. I eventually asked him and his wife to come out to my place. I cooked dinner for them. They liked the food. But he was very skeptical. But his wheels turned. And he said he was willing to give this a try. But he was very doubtful. But he got a piece of real estate in Phoenix, which was a coffee shop. And we converted it and opened the first True Food Kitchen 11 years ago. It was, from the moment it opened, an immediate success. A lot of my recipes, my concept based on my anti-inflammatory diet. It’s delicious, wonderful looking food. It also happens to adhere to good, nutritional guidelines.
And we now have 25 of these around the country. Very successful. We’re going to open eight more this year. I’m still a minority owner in it and oversee the menu. And that’s been great fun. And watching people eat the kind of food that I eat and loving it is great.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a location here in Austin, True Food Kitchen, about a few blocks from where I’m sitting and recording. And I was actually there two nights ago having dinner – for those people who might be interested, the seasonal ingredient salad with chicken added to it – and with Dan Engle, who is also a previous guest on the podcast. So I’m a fan. Why do you think – given the fatality rate and not just the fatality rate but the infant mortality rate of restaurants and new concepts, to what do you attribute it being successful from the get-go? Did you guys do a lot of testing beforehand?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No, we didn’t. No, we didn’t. I think my partner, Sam Fox, his taste and mine couldn’t be more different. He likes cheeseburgers and steaks. And we butted heads over a lot of things. But he knows the restaurant business. So in our compromises, I think we worked out a formula that worked. One reason for the success is we have something for everyone, something for meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free people. And we’re willing to modify recipes to whatever diners want. The restaurant has created its own culture that’s very distinctive. And it draws people to work there who live the lifestyle. The servers, the cooks really all follow the kind of lifestyle that I preach.
And that’s visible when you go into one of these places. I just can’t tell you – a lot of people tell me that people eat there four and five times a week. Some of our dishes, like the kale salad, have become so popular. We created a shortage of organic kale on the west coast some years ago. And I’ve had parents come up with kids and say their kid’s favorite dish is the kale salad, and they have to make it for them at home. Who would have ever thought that American kids would be eating kale salad? So I think there’s this culture that’s apparent when you go into the restaurant. We’ve had really no successful competition. And the food speaks for itself. It’s beautiful. It’s delicious. Flavors come through. And the fact that it makes you feel good when you leave I think is what draws people back.
Tim Ferriss: So I was just thinking – as you mentioned the kale shortage, I was thinking for all the hedge fund managers listening to this, they should try to get inside information on pending menu additions, so they can go long whatever that – or look at the secondary and tertiary effects of whatever the shortage will be which is a real thing. I remember the almonds in California. In any case, so you mentioned True Food Kitchen. This is a good opportunity for me to ask you about investments. You’ve thought about investing in many different ways. And I’d like to talk about investments, not of money but time, energy, and so on.
Can you think of one of or any of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? It could be money. It could be money in the sense that I’ve had people on the podcast like Amelia Boone who was an attorney but paid for her first competitor ticket to the World’s Toughest Mudder. She ended up being a four-time world champion. And it really changed her life. So it could be money but not in the strict sense of investment into a stock or a company, if that makes sense.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, one of them has to be True Food Kitchen. I did invest money in it, but I invested a great deal of time. And the reward that I’ve gotten back has been manifold. I’ve created a private foundation, the Weil Foundation, which funds integrative medicine, education, and research in this country and other countries and been able to give away $7 million in the past few years since that was created. That’s been very fulfilling to me. In terms of time investments, I guess I’ve invested an awful lot of time in writing. And that’s not the easiest occupation, as you know. But that has also been incredibly rewarding to me. Publishing is a very uncertain business these days. And I was fortunate enough to be in it at a time when it worked and to reap the benefits of that. And that’s been very satisfying. But that’s been a major part of my life.
Tim Ferriss: What about on the conver – if we look at the other end of the spectrum, can you think of any failures or apparent failures that set you up for later success? Do you have any favorite failures?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Let me think about that.
Tim Ferriss: Or just things you viewed as catastrophes or real awful occurrences that turned out to be blessings in disguise.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, for a lot of years, the kind of medicine that I advocated, people thought I was nuts. And as I said, none of my medical colleagues took me seriously. They thought I’d gone off the deep end. So I knew that I was on the right path. And I’ve always had great trust in my intuition and my inner light. And even in periods when I did not get much confirmation of that from the outside world. I think I developed the ability to just hold true to what I knew to be right and keep following my footsteps.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any positions or opinions in the last few years – or it could be way back. It doesn’t have to be in the last few years – that you’ve changed substantially where you’ve shifted your position or completely changed your mind?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I change my position all the time. And I think that’s one thing that people respect about my work. I’m quite willing to say that I was wrong about something. Or as new information comes out – you mentioned though, I do have a very good ability to spot trends and to pick up on things that may take the mainstream culture years to come around to. For example, I was warning people about trans fats probably 15 years before people saw how dangerous they were and there was any attempt to ban them from food. So I’m just really good at stuff like that.
Tim Ferriss: How did that come about? Do you mind giving us a little bit of background on how –
Dr. Andrew Weil: A lot of information comes across my desk. And now that I have all of these students out there that I’ve trained, they constantly send me things. I don’t have great patience to read whole articles. But I’m very good at getting the gist of things very quickly and putting together with other information that I know. And so, with the anti-inflammatory diet, I saw this – it must be, again, 15-18 years ago.
But there was this hypothesis out there that chronic, low-level inflammation may be the root cause of many diseases that we had thought were unrelated like heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. And I picked up on that idea very early. And that led me to develop this anti-inflammatory eating plan. There’s now a tremendous amount of validation of that. So all I can tell you is I’m very intuitive about that. I pick up on things. I see the connections to other things. I’m willing to start advocating them before the evidence is all there. But most of the time, the evidence comes in.
Tim Ferriss: There are certain things you’ve done for a long time. You mentioned the cooking really beginning in if I’m remembering correctly, medical school. In recent memory, it could be the last few years, the last five years, are there any new beliefs or behaviors or habits that have really improved the quality of your life that come to mind?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I’m fascinated by the stuff that’s been out there on intermittent fasting. That’s something that I’ve been experimenting with. I think the biochemistry of it is fascinating. I think there are all different ways of doing it. I haven’t figured out exactly what’s right for me. But I’m sure there’s something there that’s valuable. And I will continue to experiment with that. What else?
Tim Ferriss: Are there any resources or particular people who led you to look into that closely?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I can’t think of one person. I think it’s from hearing that from a variety of sources and reading the medical literature about it.
Tim Ferriss: So I have maybe a strange question to ask you. But I feel like I want to ask, nonetheless. It’s not a scary question, but it might be odd, which is: when is the last time you remember crying tears of joy? And this is a question that was used as an opener at a group dinner once. And I thought it was going to completely fall flat and could be a catastrophe. Michael Hebb. I want to give him credit. And it opened the portal to such an incredible conversation among strangers that I’ve jotted it down.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I don’t know that I actually cried tears of joy. But I feel myself welling up in certain circumstances. And I think a number of times when people have written me or told me in person that something that I wrote or said had really saved their life, literally. I have a very strong emotional response to that.
Tim Ferriss: Is there anything that you – besides looking at intermittent fasting, is there anything in particular that you are working on these days? Do you do anything like New Year’s resolutions? Or do you have any rituals around the New Year?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No. First of all, I don’t believe in the New Year. I think it’s just an artificial concept on a calendar. I was always fascinated by the fact that the Jewish New Year is at the time of the autumn equinox. And it’s not in the first month of the Jewish calendar. So that’s odd that the new year begins not in the first month. And in some ways, it’s calling attention to the importance of the autumn equinox. And I think that’s a very special time. I think the symbolism that I have there is that if you plant root crops at that time, they develop in the dark. They put roots down. You don’t see any sign of them.
And then in the spring, shoots come up. And the result of all that work in the dark manifests itself. So the idea is that at that time of year, in that equilibrated time of year, that the mental patterns, the life patterns that you set may manifest when spring comes around. At that time of year, I think about what I want to do. But since I’m mostly doing what I want to do, I don’t have to change too much.
Tim Ferriss: Are the first 60 minutes or 90 minutes of your day fairly scripted at this point? If so –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: — when do you wake up? What does it look like?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I wake up pretty consistently at 4:00 a.m. Although it changes through the – I tend to wake up when it gets light. But my pattern now is I wake up at 4:00. And I usually go to bed at 9:00. So I like to get seven hours of sleep. And I sleep with my dogs. And if I don’t wake up at 4:00, the female dog wakes me up exactly at 4:00 by licking my head very vigorously. Anyway, so I get up. I brush my teeth. And then I sit down and do my meditation, however long that takes. And then I go in and I usually feed the dogs. I may feed myself. And then as soon as it gets light, I take the dogs out. There’s a pretty wild wash near my home where they run off leash [01:23:38, audio cuts out] walks very early in the morning.
Tim Ferriss: What are your default breakfasts if you do have breakfast?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I love Japanese breakfast. And I know you and I are both Japanophiles. I hated breakfast growing up as a kid. There was nothing I was served that I liked. And I went to Japan when I was 17. This was in 1959. I was there with a student exchange group. I lived with Japanese families outside of Tokyo and in Kobe. And I suddenly discovered this is what I want to eat for breakfast, that a piece of broiled fish and miso soup and steamed rice and some seaweed and pickles and green tea, that just suits me fine. And if I can, I have things like that for breakfast.
Tim Ferriss: It’s gotta be the best breakfast on the planet. I’ve tried so many breakfasts.
Dr. Andrew Weil: That’s my favorite.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s just so good.
Dr. Andrew Weil: The American breakfasts make me feel horrible. When I’m on the road, that’s the meal I have most difficulty with. By the way, let me also tell you another story. When I was first in Japan, it was – I arrived in – I think it was November 1st of 1959. Was with this family outside of Tokyo in Urawa city. And there was no language in common. None of them spoke English. I didn’t speak Japanese. So there was a lot of gesturing. But on the second night that I was there, the mother of the household took me next door to her neighbor who was a practitioner of Chanoyu tea ceremony. And I experienced a tea ceremony for the first time and was served matcha. And two things about it fascinated me. One was the color of the powdered tea. I had never seen a more beautiful green powder. And the other was the chasen, this whisk that’s made from one piece of carved bamboo that’s just a miracle of carving.
And something about the shape of that just fascinated me that was used to whisk the tea into a froth. So as you can imagine, when I came back to the states in 1960, nobody knew about Japanese food. Every city had one Japanese restaurant that was named Ginza or Sikora. And they had miso soup and clear soup. They had some tempura and some kind of broiled salmon. The idea of eating raw fish would never be there at all. And if anybody had told me that Americans would be eating sushi the way they are now, I would never have believed it. So anyway, I became a fan of matcha from that time. And that’s another example of something that I came across and turned people on to many, many years before it became popular.
And in recent years, I found a sourced really good matcha in Japan in Uji which is the town outside of Kyoto where most of the tea growing goes on. And I’ve been making this available to – I helped start a company called Matcha Kari. The website is matcha.com. And it’s just amazing to me to watch matcha suddenly being discovered here. And I’ve seen it on – there was a recent episode of Madam Secretary where –
Dr. Andrew Weil: — preparing a bowl of matcha for somebody. That’s amazing. So I was, I think, 40 or 50 years ahead of that one.
Tim Ferriss: And matcha, for those people wondering on the spelling is M-A-T-C-H-A. Matcha.com. That’s a hell of a URL.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I know. Not bad. Matcha, it literally means powdered tea. And this is the only form of tea in which the whole leaf is consumed. So you’re getting all of the nutrients, phytochemicals there. And it’s a labor-intensive process of making it, but it’s just – matcha’s a beautiful thing.
Tim Ferriss: It is a fantastic tea. I consume matcha regularly. I have some at home. And you can use the whisk. If you want to be sacrilegious but really efficient, you can also use one of those battery-powered frothers.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I like iced matcha also, especially in warm weather. And I just put the matcha in cold water and use one of the electric whisks to whisk it and then ask ice to it. I don’t sweeten it. And that’s, again, beautiful green and a wonderful drink.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Green is my favorite color. And if someone were to ask me what shade of green – I used to know the exact Pantone number, which is pretty nerdy. They’re one and the same really. It’s the color of maple leaves in July on eastern Long Island or when the sunlight hits the backside or matcha green tea.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Matcha. Right. Great. I like it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s so beautiful. Let me ask just a few more questions. And then maybe we’ll do a round two sometime. But I’d love to break bread in person in the meantime at some point. But if you could have – well, actually, no. I’ll start with a different one. I’m going to ask you my usual, “What would you put on a billboard?” question. But we’ll get to that. In terms of small purchases, are there any purchases of $100 or less that have positively impacted your life in recent memory? People always love specifics. But is there any little thing –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes. Well, one of them I’m holding in my hand right now. And my daughter turned me onto these. She’s now 28. Computer glasses, which I got on Amazon. I don’t know. They were less than $20. But these are yellow-tinted glasses that enlarge things slightly. That has totally changed my comfort in sitting in front of a screen. It cancels out the blue light. And that’s been a great thing to have in my life.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect. So going from the micro to the macro – so we have the computer glasses. And then something that probably wouldn’t require glasses which is a gigantic billboard. This is more of a metaphorical question. But if you could get a message out to millions or billions of people, it could be a word, could be a sentence, could be a quote, could be anything non-commercial, what might you put on such a billboard?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think it’s that all the good stuff is inside you. That was the main point of The Natural Mind is that the highs that you get from drugs are inside you. They’re in the nervous system. The drugs act as a releaser. Healing is a potential inside you. Various treatments where people can activate that or release it. But it’s that everything really is within.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you don’t have to – I’m not saying this for you. I’m saying this for people listening. You don’t have to believe in witchcraft and fairy dust to come to that conclusion. If you read the article that I mention – I’ll put it in the show notes for everybody as well – on the placebo effect, on how the placebo effect various culturally, on how it’s become stronger in the United States, on looking at the outliers in the control groups, these placebo groups, like you mentioned, if you’re looking at the tables of studies, it’s so exciting to explore. And I am so excited to see how it is further studied and utilized in medicine because it’s –
Dr. Andrew Weil: Tim, this is another one that I think I was onto long before people got into it. I don’t know if you’ve read my book called Health and Healing that came out shortly after From Chocolate to Morphine. It was the first book that I wrote on medicine and medical philosophy. There are two chapters in that on placebos. And I would recommend go back and read them because it’s all this stuff that we’ve been talking about.
Tim Ferriss: Medical Nostradamus strikes again. Andrew, people can find you at drweil.com, medicine.arizona.edu. You’re on twitter @drweil. That’s W-E-I-L. Do you have any final asks or requests or suggestions for people listening to the podcast just in the process of finishing up?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No. I think my work is out there. It’s easily accessed. And I think it’s relevant to many people today. And I really enjoyed talking to you. It’s been a while since we were together in person. I hope we can remedy that.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Definitely. I think there might be more locations of True Food Kitchen popping up in the very near future and not necessarily too far away from either of us. So perhaps we can rendezvous at one of those. Or even better, if I could sample some more produce from your garden which was just incredible, and maybe we can invite some bald eagles which was also something I had never seen before while we’re after it, that would be really wonderful. But I really appreciate you taking the time. I’ve been wanting to have you on the podcast for quite a while. So it’s nice to finally reconnect and certainly hope it’s not the last time any time soon.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Good. Thanks for having me.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So thank you. And for everybody listening, everything we talked about, the books, the various websites, the matcha, you name it, all of those will be available in the show notes as always, at tim.blog/podcast. So you can find links and extended links to everything, studies and so on. And Andrew, thank you again.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: And to everybody listening, be safe. Experiment and experience widely. Use your brains. Pay attention to your body. And until next time, thank you for listening.
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