Plants of the Gods — Dr. Mark Plotkin on Ayahuasca, Shamanic Knowledge, the Curse and Blessing of Coca, and More (#508)

Photo credit: Amazon Conservation Team 

Welcome to The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is usually my job to deconstruct world-class performers, to tease out their routines, habits, et cetera that you can apply to your own life. This time around, we have a very special edition featuring not one but three short episodes of the Plants of the Gods podcast, hosted by my friend and past podcast guest, Dr. Mark Plotkin. I’ve listened to all his episodes and chose a few favorites to share with you all.

Mark (@DocMarkPlotkin) is an ethnobotanist who serves as president of the Amazon Conservation Team, which has partnered with ~80 tribes to map and improve management and protection of ~100 million acres of ancestral rainforests. He is best known to the general public as the author of the book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice, one of the most popular books ever written about the rainforest. His most recent book is The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know. You can find my interview with Mark at

I am excited to share with you three episodes from Plants of the Gods—the first covering the adventures of the legendary ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schulte‪s‬, the second on ayahuasca, and the third on coca and cocaine. These episodes cover a lot of fascinating ground. 

If you enjoy them and want more, be sure to check out the Plants of the Gods podcast wherever podcasts can be found. You can learn about everything from hallucinogenic snuffs to the diverse formulations of curare (a plant mixture which relaxes the muscles of the body and leads to asphyxiation), and much, much more.  

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#508: Plants of the Gods — Ayahuasca, Shamanic Knowledge, Coca, and the Adventures of Richard Evans Schultes

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear my earlier conversation with Dr. Mark Plotkin? Lend your ears to our discussion about Richard Evans Schultes as a “trickster” in the shamanic tradition, how a shaman in the northeastern part of the Amazon cured Mark’s foot pain instantly when no one else could, the “holes” in Western medicine’s understanding, hallucinogenic frogs, the risks of ayahuasca and other Amazon-derived hallucinogens, and much more.

#469: Dr. Mark Plotkin on Ethnobotany, Real vs. Fake Shamans, Hallucinogens, and the Dalai Lamas of South America


  • Connect with Dr. Mark Plotkin:

Website | Plants of the Gods Podcast

Amazon Conservation Team | Twitter | Facebook


  • Who was Richard Evans Schultes, and how did Mark’s path first cross with his? [07:32]
  • Why was Schultes (generally) so well-regarded by colleagues, students, and the indigenous people he worked alongside? [11:57]
  • How did Schultes’ background prepare him to approach his career with the fresh perspective of a respectful outsider, what brought ethnobotany into his sphere of interests, and what experience cemented it as his primary pursuit? [14:28]
  • The spirit to explore and experiment that made Schultes a superior botanist to his less adventurous peers, and the compounds he was able to retrieve for the benefit of all as a result. [19:18]
  • How did an expedition into the Amazon influence William James, the father of American psychology? [24:45]
  • That time Schultes went to Colombia to find medicinal arrow poison and came home with an orchid never before seen by Western eyes. [26:47]
  • How Schultes was recruited to use his skills as a botanist to aid the American effort during WWII instead of being sent to fight on the front lines when he tried to enlist. [28:45]
  • On Schultes’ introduction to yoco and the allure of the Chiribiquete. [30:22]
  • Who was Alexander Hamilton Rice, and what was his contribution to ethnobotany? [32:35]
  • How do the Yacuna people dance the Baile de Muñeco for three days straight? [35:30]
  • On Schultes’ introduction to ayahuasca and differing accounts about how it all went down. [36:21]
  • How Schultes’ legacy lives on. [38:43]
  • Biocultural conservation is not about saving rainforests, saving the indigenous people there, or saving their shamans. They are intricately linked. [42:48]
  • Schultes on ayahuasca. [45:15]
  • Were Christianity and Judaism founded under the influence of mind-altering substances? [46:14]
  • Why previously isolated shamanic substances are increasingly becoming mainstreamed into Western medicine. [47:03]
  • How Mark’s Amazon Conservation Team is working with the indigenous people of the Amazon and local governments to preserve, cultivate, and learn about the compounds to be found there for the benefit of those who live among them. [49:33]
  • On the now global reach and importance of the once-obscure ayahuasca, and how it’s been used in the Amazon since antiquity. [52:04]
  • Western reaction upon first experiencing ayahuasca and other mind-altering compounds hasn’t always been welcoming. [54:40]
  • The reason behind the naming of the Banisteriopsis caapi. [56:01]
  • Admixtures added to ayahuasca to alter the type, intensity, and duration of the experience, and the mystery of how shamans brought some of them together from such disparate ecosystems. [57:17]
  • What might be expected from a first-time experience with ayahuasca. [1:00:47]
  • The difference between an ethnobotanist and an anthropologist. [1:02:04]
  • Mark’s worst ayahuasca experience. [1:03:19]
  • Why ayahuasca and comparable compounds are rightfully called plants of the gods. [1:05:04]
  • Humans have been using coca for at least 8,000 years. [1:06:04]
  • How a famous houseguest’s abandoned stash of chicle led to the invention of a multi-billion dollar industry. [1:06:31]
  • The varieties of coca and their uses. [1:08:44]
  • For the Kogis of Northern Colombia, exchanging coca leaves is the ultimate bonding exercise. [1:10:21]
  • What we know about coca use in antiquity. [1:10:58]
  • Coca was an instant hit when it was “discovered” by Europeans in the 1500s. Here are just a few of its most creative applications. [1:12:38]
  • What Mark considers to be the most interesting use of coca. [1:15:02]
  • How admixtures work with coca-derived substances. [1:16:55]
  • How to know if they’re selling you the real deal next time you’re at a market in the Andes. [1:21:39]
  • What to do if you’re suffering from altitude sickness in the Andes and you hear Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at half speed. [1:22:08]
  • Is non-addictive ipadu unfairly maligned in the same way cannabis was in the age of Reefer Madness? How does Mark envision a future where coca can be sustainably cultivated in a way that benefits the people of the Amazon? [1:23:25]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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4 Replies to “Plants of the Gods — Dr. Mark Plotkin on Ayahuasca, Shamanic Knowledge, the Curse and Blessing of Coca, and More (#508)”

  1. Hey Tim,

    I’m a law student at the University of Cambridge – huge fan of all your material. I’ve been following your stuff since high school and you’ve played large role in getting me to where I am. I don’t know if you’ll read this, but from reading and listening to all your material over the years I feel as if you might be at least somewhat willing to be hear me out…

    I’ve got a bit of a rogue and out there request. I’m trying to find a scholarship to fund an offer that I received for a masters at the University of Oxford. The masters programme is often regarded as the best in the world, and the most challenging academic experience for law students. Only a handful of students in the world are accepted to the programme. Its known for producing Supreme Court justices. I’ve been successful at law school, winning various prizes for the highest marks in exams and winning a scholarship for full tuition at Cambridge.

    The thing is, its costs £34,000. I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve only been able to attend university through scholarships. I’m from a first generation university student from a single parent working class family. I’m trying to find potential funding and its hard. But I know there’s lots of generous people out there who are willing to invest in a peoples education. I just don’t know where those people are. I don’t have those connections. But thought, I ‘know’ someone who does – Tim. Your podcasts are full of generous and interesting people. If you have read this far, all I’m asking is if you could put me in touch with someone who you think might be willing to interview me for a scholarship. I realise you’re super busy, but would love if you got in touch.

    Best wishes,

  2. You must have Dr. Hillary Mcbride on your podcast. Legit one of the nicest and smartest people on the planet.

  3. Love your podcast. Please get David Frawley if you can. Expert on all things Vedic/yoga/Ayurveda.
    Have a look at [Moderator: Amazon link removed.]
    to give you an idea.

  4. Having travelled to Colombia and crossed Cogi people villages I remember them using the coca leaves, saliva and sea shells. Wish the guides had been more insightful into the real culture behind it – or maybe that I paid more attention back then. 🙂 Thanks for another episode taking us on an adventure!