Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Andrew Weil, MD (@DrWeil), a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
Dr. Weil received a degree in biology (botany) from Harvard College in 1964 and an MD from Harvard Medical School in 1968. From 1971 to 1975, as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, Dr. Weil traveled widely in North and South America and Africa, collecting information on drug use in other cultures, medicinal plants, and alternative methods of treating disease. From 1971 to 1984 he was on the research staff of the Harvard Botanical Museum and conducted investigations of medicinal and psychoactive plants.
Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Medicine and is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health. Through its fellowship and Integrative Medicine in Residency curricula, the Center is now training doctors and nurse practitioners around the world.
A New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Weil has written 15 books on health and well-being, including Mind Over Meds; Fast Food, Good Food; True Food; Spontaneous Happiness; Healthy Aging; and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. He is also co-founder of the restaurant chain True Food Kitchen and co-founder of Matcha.com, which offers extremely high-quality matcha that is difficult to find outside of Japan.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Andy, welcome back to the show. It’s nice to see you again.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah. Thanks, Tim. Good to see you.
Tim Ferriss: And I thought I would start with a little revisitation to one takeaway from our last conversation, and for people who didn’t hear the first conversation, I want to recommend they do go back and listen, because we cover a lot of biographical information and many different nooks and crannies that we won’t cover this conversation. But there’s one, which was the 4-7-8 breath that I believe you learned from Dr. Robert Fulford, who was, if I remember correctly, an osteopath. Am I getting that correct?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Correct, correct. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Do you still use the 4-7-8 breath?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I do it myself regularly. I do it a number of times a day. I teach it to almost everyone I meet. I teach it to all the doctors I train. I teach it to patients. Whenever I get the chance, I do it. When I give talks, I often end by doing it. I don’t even remember whether I told you last time. I was invited by the NSA to come in, and this was a few years ago out of the blue. The NSA asked me if I would come and talk to them about stress and how to manage it. So it was an audience of about a thousand, and then it was telecast to remote sites around the world. And I had them all doing the 4-7-8 breath, which was very satisfying.
Tim Ferriss: Could you recap just for folks what the 4-7-8 breath is, just the format of it, and then what it accomplishes? Because I did it earlier today and found it to be such a rapid state change mechanism. I had felt neglectful for not doing it more often since our last conversation, but if you could just do a recap.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Sure. First of all, if people just will Google my name and 4-7-8 on YouTube, you’ll find videos of me doing it, which gives details. And the last I looked, there were millions of hits on that YouTube thing. Anyway, the basic technique is to breathe quietly and through the nose to a count of four, hold the breath for count of seven, and then forcibly blow air out through the mouth for a count of eight, and repeat that for four breath cycles when you’re first learning it. Eventually you can go up to eight breath cycles, but no more than that, and to do this religiously at least twice a day. And the real effects come after doing this regularly for four to six weeks. And they’re really remarkable. This is the most powerful method I’ve found to access the relaxation response, and it’s the most powerful anti-anxiety measure I’ve ever come across.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about perhaps another tool that people might associate with stress alleviation, or at least some people use it for that. But you were one of the earliest public advocates of cannabis and advised Congress on an early cannabis policy, and also conducted and published human trials with cannabis. Your personal relationship to cannabis has changed over the decades, and I’d be curious to know what your current use, if any, looks like and for what purpose you use cannabis.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I don’t use it at all, Tim, and I have not used it for probably 20, 25 years. And my relationship’s changed so dramatically over the years. In my twenties, late twenties, early thirties, it was a source of great fun and pleasure and really stimulated my creativity, helped me write. Then I think gradually it turned into more of an introspective experience. And then somewhere in my late thirties, early forties, I really stopped getting useful effects from it, and I found that it just made me groggy and sedated. And I kept using it even though I wasn’t getting any valuable effects and finally stopped. And now I just haven’t used it in a long time. It has no interest for me.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any particular tools that you use, plants or otherwise, for writing? I imagine you still do a fair amount of writing. Is there anything that has filled that gap for you?
Dr. Andrew Weil: One is matcha green tea, and the other is coca leaf. As you know, I’m a great fan of coca leaf and I’ve worked for many years to try to rehabilitate coca to teach people the differences between coca and cocaine. And I’m delighted to see finally, after all this time, there is some momentum building around legalizing coca, making it available.
Tim Ferriss: What is that momentum, if you could speak to it? Because I’ve had very limited exposure to coca, but it was given to me when I suffered from altitude sickness in South America. I mean, literally, within 45 minutes, my symptoms had all but vanished. It was incredible to experience the effects firsthand. But what momentum — what changes are you seeing in the United States?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, first of all, there’s a lot of changes in Colombia and in other countries, and in this country too there are groups forming, really working to legalize coca, to make it medically available, to make it available to people, to teach people the differences between coca and cocaine. One group that I’ve been doing some work with that you may know of is the RiverStyx Foundation.
Tim Ferriss: I do. Cody Swift is the director.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Cody Swift. And they’re very interested in trying to fund coca research to document some of the medical benefits, but it’s the first time in 40-some years that I’ve seen any change in attitudes up here. And I think it would be a great thing for people to have access to coca. It’s not cocaine. It has distinct effects. It has unique medical effects. We should have access to it, not to mention the fact that this is the sacred plant of a great many indigenous people in South America. And it has been so demonized by our society, and I think given all the momentum around looking at indigenous cultures and rights, that this also plays into this, of rehabilitating the sacred leaf.
Tim Ferriss: I agree with that a hundred percent, and I want to give RiverStyx Foundation, Cody Swift, and his team also a nod for their work with respect to an organization called The Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative, IPCI, which purchased a tract of land in Texas, so not too far from where I live, although Texas is effectively a country. It’s gigantic, so don’t underestimate drive time. And it has become such a symbol of hope for so many Native American groups throughout the United States, including groups who historically would not necessarily automatically get along. It’s been this unifying, catalyzing project. So I want to give them a nod for that. Could you speak to and explain The Beneficial Plants Research Association?
Dr. Andrew Weil: This is a — well, it’s a research foundation that I started in 1979, way ahead of its time. We had a stellar advisory board, including Dick Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin. I mean, it was an amazing advisory group. And the purpose of this was to look at plants that had been neglected or unrecognized that could be of great benefit up here, starting with coca was one of the main ones. But we looked at other kinds of stimulants, kava, which at that time was relatively unknown. So the idea was to get research going on these, to teach people about them. And as I say, it was just way ahead of its time. So eventually we folded, but I’m really interested in resurrecting this.
And a common interest that of Cody Swift and mine is looking at demonized plants. And my feeling has always been — a theme of my writing has been that there are no good or bad drugs. There are just good and bad relationships with drugs. And I think you can broaden that to plants as well, and coca being a prime example. We’ve said that is a bad plant, the source of all sorts of trouble. But the problem is how we’ve related to that plant, taking cocaine out of it, and making that available. And I think if you look at — there’s a whole bunch of other plants that we consider problematic, and it’s really how we’ve related to them that’s the problem. And I think it would be interesting to try to rehabilitate some of them, just as an example, things like ephedra and khat, opium poppies, tobacco, even, that it’s our misuses of these that have caused trouble. It’s not the plant itself.
Tim Ferriss: I was going to mention the last, tobacco, which I never thought in a million years I would develop an interest in because I grew up hating smoking and everything related to cigarette smoking. But after spending more time in South America and reading books — I’m going to get the title wrong, but it’s something like Tobacco and Shamanism in South America. I think it’s Johannes Wilbert or Johannes, excellent book, very dense. It’s not light reading. For people who are looking for something to snack on before bed, it’s probably not the book.
But let me come back to one that you mentioned, and that is kava. So a friend of mine reached out to me recently to get my two cents on a new supplement that he’s taking in place of his evening cocktail. So he’s decided — he’s in his seventies and has decided to cut back on alcohol intake because he sees how alcohol affects his sleep using an Oura Ring and other devices. And he switched to this supplement, which contains two things, kratom and kava. And I know very little about kava. Kratom I have some thoughts on. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on, contains mitragynine. It seems to hit opiate receptors, so I believe there are people who abused kratom who have now developed dependencies that are in rehab. At least I’ve heard some stories related to that, but I know far less about kava. Would you mind elaborating on kava?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Kava is the major psychoactive plant that’s used in Oceania, in many islands throughout the Pacific. It’s the very large root of a large plant in the black pepper family. And it has unique chemistry. In many of these islands, people make a beverage from it, originally by chewing the root and spitting it into a bowl and mixing it with water or coconut juice, or now more often drying it and powdering it and mixing it into a liquid. And it functions as a social stimulant and lubricant, but it is a natural sedative and calmative, and probably the most important anti-anxiety natural product out there, extremely useful and essentially no toxicity. And so it does not interact with alcohol. It does not interact with other sedatives. It’s quite safe, and I recommend it very frequently to people.
Tim Ferriss: Do you know what effect, if any, it has on sleep quality? My friend has the subjective experience of it helping him to wind down and go to sleep. But I wonder what effect it has on sleep quality, because you look at some say sleep aids like Ambien and so on, which help you to fall asleep, but they affect the cycles of sleep and depth.
Dr. Andrew Weil: That’s putting it mildly. All of these sleep aids —
Tim Ferriss: Understatement.
Dr. Andrew Weil: — whether over-the-counter or prescribed, I think are dangerous drugs. First of all, they don’t reproduce natural sleep. All of them suppress dreaming, which is an essential component of good sleep. They distort sleep architecture. They’re addictive, and they interfere with cognitive function. So I think there’s really no justification for using them unless for very short term use because of situational insomnia. But kava has none of these ill effects. It can be used long term regularly. I don’t know that we have good studies on how it affects sleep quality, but I don’t know of any indications that it has any of those adverse effects that the usual sleep aids do.
Tim Ferriss: And I suppose I should actually just go back to my friend who’s, granted, tracking imperfectly, but he’s tracking his sleep with the Oura Ring that does capture some biometric data that is interpolated to land on percentage of sleep as different phases, including REM and so on. So I should actually just go back to him.
Dr. Andrew Weil: But the problem, Tim, is that he’s using kratom also, which is a significant agent. And we really would like to see this with kava alone, what it does.
Tim Ferriss: So could you expand on that please?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I don’t know that much about kratom. It’s been used in Indonesia where it’s native to help people break opioid dependence. And it has sedative effects and opioid-like effects. I think there is a downside to it and some concern about people using it in not good ways, but I’m not an expert on kratom.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll mention to folks who are interested in perhaps learning a bit more about it. There’s a good episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia or Pharmacopeia. I never know how to pronounce that second word, that covers kratom and mitragynine and goes into the chemistry and the history, and also environmental costs depending on how these things are harvested, which I can recommend to folks. So that can be found wherever you find your finest videos, Amazon Prime and other places for sure. Since I invoked the name of Hamilton Morris, I want to actually jump into a separate episode of his, where he attempts to identify the first known use of Bufo alvarius, the Sonoran Desert toad.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes, I remember that.
Tim Ferriss: Now his conclusion was that there’s no compelling evidence to suggest indigenous use, and in fact the first documented use of at least smoking the crystallized venom from the Sonoran Desert toad was documented in 1989 by this amateur chemist named Ken Nelson, I think it was. Are you aware of other use of that species or other species? I know you’ve looked at this.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I think I’m one of the first people to have smoked toad venom. I did that with Wade Davis, and we wrote the first scientific paper about Bufo alvarius. We have not been given much credit for that, but we really were the first people to report on it scientifically. And we speculated that it was possible that there was indigenous use of toad venom for all sorts of suggestive reasons. I don’t think there is any definitive evidence of that. I think this graduate student published a paper in which they identified 5-methoxy-DMT in the venom, making this unique among toads. And some people read that and got the idea of using toad venom, and it spread among hippies in the Southwest. And that’s where I learned it, from a hippie friend named White Dog. I think he’s mentioned in the Hamilton Morris. He was a great character.
And I lived out in — I had a property in the desert that bordered on Saguaro National Park, and I was surrounded by toads in the summer. They’re eating machines. They just eat insects all the time. And I had outdoor lights, and they’d hop in the house, and these are huge animals. They’re football sized. I would pick them up. They’d pee on you as soon as you’d pick them up. And they’re so strange looking. And I milked the venom, and Wade Davis and I smoked it, and amazing because this is the first known occurrence of a psychedelic drug from an animal source. So that’s scientifically very interesting
Tim Ferriss: Would you mind just providing a snapshot of who Wade Davis is and why you’re firing The Beneficial Plants Research Association back up at this point in time?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Wade was a graduate student of Richard Evans Schultes sometime after — Schultes was my mentor as an undergraduate at Harvard. And then I had a very close association with him at the Harvard Botanical Museum for many years. So I got to know Wade when he was a graduate student. He’s now a very well-known anthropologist, ethnobotanist, prolific writer and traveler, and a good friend, very bright guy. And he like me is also very interested in the coca project and works with RiverStyx.
And my feeling is that, as I said, The Beneficial Plant Research Association was way ahead of its time. But now I think there is traction out there to look at a lot of — there’s so many plants yet to be discovered that have beneficial effects, not just psychoactive ones, but things with medicinal effects, stimulants, sedatives, all sorts of things that are potentially useful. And I’m a great believer in natural products and think that in many ways many of them are superior to synthetic, chemical drugs. And I like to help people know about them. And I want to see research on them and discovery of more of these. So I think it’s time to try this again.
Tim Ferriss: Also, for folks who may want to double click on Wade Davis, a couple of notes. I believe it was One River that he wrote, which chronicles much of Richard Evan Schultes’ adventures, who’s also considered in some respects the sort of godfather of modern ethnobotany, I suppose it would be fair to say. And his name has come up with Dr. Mark Plotkin on this podcast before. So we’ve spent some time chatting about Richard Evan Schultes. Also, if anyone who’s watching — if you’re of my vintage or older, because the movie is a little older, has seen The Serpent and the Rainbow, it’s not a purely factual account, but still touches on the investigation of zombification and zombie potions in Haiti, and is one of the trippier historical investigations that you can imagine.
Dr. Andrew Weil: And that was made from a book. That was Wade’s first book, was The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Tim Ferriss: He’s a very good writer, very good speaker, has quite a few TED Talks, I think.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Can I tell you a Schultes story?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please.
Dr. Andrew Weil: So in my first year at Harvard, I had to choose a major. I had no idea what I wanted to study, because I was interested in too many things. I was flipping through the Harvard course catalog, and I came across this course called “Plants and Human Affairs.” I mean, that was a strange name. So to register for this, you had to go to the Harvard Botanical Museum. It was this old Victorian brick building. And when I went in, coming out of it was the first long-haired man I’d ever seen, a proto hippie. This was in 1960, who was probably up in the library, which had the greatest collection of books on psychoactive plants.
So Schultes’ classroom was decorated with blow guns from South America and all sorts of artifacts from his travels. And Plants and Human Affairs was about economic botany, plants that are of economic importance other than ornamentals. And it included sections on food plants, medicinal plants, drug plants, and each week we had a laboratory in which we tried things. And for instance, there was a fruit of the week that people would, from all over the world, send him fruits which were in a freezer, and we’d get to try these exotic things. But then there was a lab on making soap and one and making ink and one on drug plants in which we tried this really obscure stimulant plant from South America called yoco that has the highest percentage of caffeine of any known plant. I think it’s the only academic course I ever took in which I learned things of practical value. It was fabulous. And so I really formed a close connection with Schultes and stayed associated with him for many years after.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s stay on Harvard for a minute. So you and your history weave into science, botany, psychedelic history in so many different ways. But before we get to that, in the course of trying to find novel questions or topics to explore in this conversation so as not to duplicate the first, so I came across a note. I think this is actually on DrWeil.com. “What’s Funny About Turning 72?” was this blog post. So I’ll just read a paragraph, and I’d love for you to expand on this.
“I also had a brief career at Harvard as a letter-writing prankster – I would procure letterhead stationery from powerful people and organizations by various means and send prank letters to self-important people who I thought needed deflating. Fun, but also dicey at times, and I had to give it up.”
Could you please elaborate a bit on this?
Dr. Andrew Weil: We probably shouldn’t go into that, but I got very good at this. And as a result, people would actually commission me to write prank letters, and give me stationery. I had White House stationery. I had mayor of New York stationery. I did terrible things. I had this gold embossed stationery from the mayor of New York’s office. I had the president of Princeton University’s stationery. And I gave an honorary degree to the mayor of New York from Princeton and invited him to come speak at commencement, for example.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wow.
Dr. Andrew Weil: So often I had no idea —
Tim Ferriss: Bold.
Dr. Andrew Weil: — what the results of these were. They just sent them out there, and I didn’t know what would happen.
Tim Ferriss: So this is in the days before Photoshop. Did you have Frank Abagnale of Catch Me If You Can just forging this stationery, or did you somehow procure it?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No, it was real —
Tim Ferriss: You got it. You got the real deal.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I got some myself, and I had agents who would procure it for me.
Tim Ferriss: Now agent, this makes me think of something I also dug up, which was your time as a let’s call it a double agent at The Harvard Lampoon and at The Harvard Crimson. Am I getting that right?
Dr. Andrew Weil: You are. That was never done. These were rival organizations, and nobody had ever been on both at the same time. So that was a little uncomfortable, but it made for some interesting times.
Tim Ferriss: All right. And for people wondering, I mean, The Harvard Lampoon is a satire magazine that has produced, I mean, Conan O’Brien. You go down the list, I mean, a long list of famous comedians and writer producers and so on, including a few people who’ve been on this show. And then The Crimson is the school paper. I was doing some searching just to see what has happened in the last few years in terms of news coverage including your name, and one came up that is related to let’s just call it the psychedelic renaissance as some people have called it that we are witnessing now. And the headline is “At Harvard, Psychedelic Drugs’ Tentative Renaissance.” And I’ll just read the intro, and then I had a question.
“In the early 1960s, the Harvard Psilocybin Project made national headlines for its unethical research methods and controversial leader, psychologist Timothy F. Leary.”
A lot of people will recognize that name, someone Nixon called the most dangerous man in America.
“Now, sixty years after Leary’s departure, Harvard is again part of the conversation around the future of psychedelics. From research in the lab to conversations among the student body, psychedelics are making a tentative yet undeniable renaissance on campus — a renaissance conscious of Harvard’s checkered history with the substances, yet working to move beyond it.”
And so I found your name in here because, at The Crimson, you wrote about, as I understand it, Leary and who was then Richard Alpert, later Ram Dass. So could you just describe the coverage, how that came about, how you relate to it now, what effect that had? Because it had a huge effect. I mean, it seemed to have a huge impact on mainstream culture.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I was the only, I think, member of The Crimson who had a science background. I was majoring in biology. So it felt I was assigned to be the writer about this controversy as it developed. I met Leary and Alpert in the early days. By the way, I think the early research they did was really terrific. They were the first people to really emphasize set and setting as really important determinants of drug experiences. They documented very positive effects of psychedelic experiences on prisoners in Concord Reformatory, I mean, really interesting stuff. And that was before they started — a kind of cult grew up around them. The faculty got very upset, and I was the one who wrote stories about that. I have mixed feelings about that, but I’ve come to peace with it. I made peace with Leary sometime a few years after I graduated, and then Ram Dass I knew over the years. I did fundraisers for him when he had his stroke. And a few years before he died, I had a really good meeting with him in Maui, in which he said that I had done him a blessing by forcing him out of Harvard because otherwise he wouldn’t have been Ram Dass.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, almost certainly true! And it’s worth folks who are familiar with Ram Dass going back and looking at the early photos of Richard Alpert.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Quite different.
Tim Ferriss: Very different look.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Tim, can I also say, you talking about the psychedelic renaissance, it astonishes me the momentum and the mainstreaming of this. A few months ago, Town & Country magazine, of all places, had a major article titled, “Why Is Everyone Smoking Toad Venom?” In Town & Country magazine?
Tim Ferriss: That’s wild.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah, really.
Tim Ferriss: It seems like something out of a South Park episode from a few years ago.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s actually talk about the newest chapters, and I guess this is kind of a two-part question. So if you’re open to it, you said you’d sort of had mixed feelings and come to peace with the early writing. I’d love for you to just expand on that, if you’re willing to. And then from your perspective and observation of what’s happening now, what you think people are paying too much attention to or too little attention to?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Everywhere that I have gone to speak in the past few years, no matter what topic I’m talking about, whether it’s nutrition, healthy aging, integrative medicine, I get questions about psychedelics. People want to know where they can access them, how they can have these experiences. I mean, there is just a hunger out there, and I find that amazing, and I think it’s a very good thing happening in our society, maybe one of the only good things I see happening in our society. And I think the more people who have positive psychedelic experiences, that may lead to the change in consciousness which I think is the only thing that can turn things around for us.
Tim Ferriss: Do you see people getting anything wrong or making mistakes, overemphasizing things, anything that you’d like to draw attention to when you observe this, given your decades of observation in the space?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I’m sure there are still plenty of people who are using psychedelics just as party drugs and recreational drugs. I guess that’s fine, but I think they miss out on the real potential of these things. I think the medical profession is really slow to look at how they can make use of these drugs. We’re still waiting to see them moved out of Schedule I and made legally available. There’s a great need for people trained in how to guide psychedelic experiences. There’s an awful lot of circling around of commercial interest, looking at how they can capitalize on all this, so a lot going on. I don’t know how it’ll all play out.
Tim Ferriss: Just a sidebar. This is not intended to be a major branch in this conversation. But another little known fact to me at least is something I found. This is on Psychedelic Review.
“In 1977, he” — that’s you — “authored a scientific article on the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. His study of mushrooms inspired the name of a psilocybin species” — or I guess it’s psilocybe species — “discovered in 1995…” I don’t know how to pronounce this.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Weilii, weilii
Tim Ferriss: Weilii, there we go, “Psilocybe weilii.” How did this come about?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, my good friend, Paul Stamets, who I’ve known for 40-some years named that species for me. You cannot name a species for yourself in botany science, but you can name it for someone else, so he did that to honor me. I’m very honored. There have been attempts to knock the species off saying it’s not a legitimate name, but it has most recently been confirmed as a separate species.
Tim Ferriss: This may be a boring question for almost everybody listening, but I’m curious. Where does the naming convention come from? So I think of — is it Lophophora williamsii, or williamsii, where you have the double I after the name of the person who discovered it at the end as the second component of the species name. Do you know where that naming convention comes from?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I think it goes back to Linnaeus, who was the, really, founder of modern taxonomy. And there are international rules of scientific nomenclature. The names are often put in Latinate forms. So Williams, who described that species, he becomes williamsii in the botanical name.
Tim Ferriss: That’s just to satisfy my own curiosity on that. I also found a mention of your experience of dysthymia, which I believe is mild to moderate depression —
Dr. Andrew Weil: Correct, yep.
Tim Ferriss: — for much of your life, emerging from it “only in my early fifties.” This is you. How did you emerge from it in your early fifties?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I wrote a book called Spontaneous Happiness, which is about emotional mental health. And it really goes into great detail about how to manage depression, anxiety with non-medication means, knowing that the medication is there if you need it. But for depression, we have tremendous evidence of the value of physical activity, both as a preventive and as a treatment. Tremendous evidence for the use of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, or fish. There’s an enormous variety of psychological methods, things like cognitive therapy, which I think are extremely useful. There’s a whole range of spiritual techniques that should be looked at, whether it’s meditation, mindfulness, or even gratitude. There’s very interesting research showing that just the simple act of keeping a little journal of things to be grateful for and making a note of that as you go to bed can improve mood for lasting effects for a month.
Another area of research that I find fascinating is that moods are contagious, and you can track them through a population just like you can track movements of an infectious disease. If you live within a half mile of a happy person that you know, your chances of being happy are increased by a certain percentage, and the effect falls off with distance, I mean, fascinating. So you want to think about who you associate with. If you’re prone to depression and you hang out with people who are depressed and you watch sad movies and read sad books and listen to sad music, probably that’s going to worsen your depression, I mean, simple stuff like that.
Tim Ferriss: When did you go to Japan for the first time?
Dr. Andrew Weil: In 1959, in the fall of 1959, when I was 17 years old.
Tim Ferriss: How did you end up going to Japan when you were 17?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I was a student in an experimental school called The International School of America. This was the first year of its operation. It took a group of 22 students and six faculty people around the world for eight and a half months, living with living with native families —
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible.
Dr. Andrew Weil: — in various countries. And our first stop out of the US was Japan. And I can remember this distinctly, flying on a propeller plane from Hawaii to Tokyo. It was an endless flight.
Tim Ferriss: That must have taken a long, long time.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Hours, and arriving in Tokyo on a cold, rainy morning on November 1st, taken to meet our host families. They all had sons majoring in English at Keio University, but it turned out they couldn’t speak any English. So I was then driven a great distance to Urawa City, which is outside of Tokyo, lived with this middle class family with almost no verbal communication possible. But oddly, I felt at home in that home, and I loved the food. I loved everything. I really felt I had past lives in Japan. I had some deep connection with it.
Tim Ferriss: How many times have you been back since?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Probably 50, I mean, many times.
Tim Ferriss: Now you’ve been to Okinawa quite a number of times. And I’ve spent a little bit of time there. Okinawa is considered a blue zone. In certain portions of Okinawa, a population that contains, I guess, the — let’s just call it per capita highest percentage of centenarians or something along those lines. What are some of the lessons you’ve taken away from that or observations that you’ve made?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, it’s such a different world there. They live in a Pacific paradise with clean water and air. They have an unbelievably varied, fascinating diet, very different from the Japanese diet. They get physical activity. But one of the things that most struck me was the different attitude toward aging in that society, that old people are valued as national treasures. Efforts are made to include them in all aspects of social life, very different from what you see here, where we like to isolate old people with other old people and not have to deal with them.
One of the stories I collected over there is that a common cause of sibling fighting in traditional Okinawan society is over who is going to get to take care of the aging parents. That’s a little different from what we see here. So I think that’s extremely important. I took my mother there when she was, I think, 90 — 89 or 90. I was invited to give a talk at a conference in Okinawa, and they like to trot out their centenarians at all events. So there was a bunch of them at an opening party. And they would all come up to my mother and say, “I’m 101. How old are you?” And she was very embarrassed about her age. And I think it was interesting to watch her be in a culture where people were proud of being old. So that’s one of the lessons I learned.
Tim Ferriss: I spent a bit of time, I want to say four or five days, in this village called Ogimi in Okinawa.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes, I know it well, right.
Tim Ferriss: So Ogimi is sort of the crème de la crème of the centenarian Olympics. And every person I met who seemed to be, say, in their nineties or eighties, nineties or beyond, I would ask, “What’s the secret?” And I got back a different answer from just about everybody. But there were a few things that closely line up with what you’re saying. One was old people were active. I mean, people were out in the gardens. People were members of choral societies. We had a driver at the time for a couple of days, and he would say, “Well, I’m still young. I’m still a young whipper snapper, basically.” And he was in his mid-eighties. And we drove by a number of places where he would point out, and he’d say, “That’s where the old people just sit inside watching television. That’s the end.” He’s like, “That’s when it’s over.” And it really seemed to be, as you mentioned, the inclusive nature of senior living in that area, and also the fact that they’re very engaged with community and very, very active. I remember going to market where they have the purple taro, which I’m sure you’ve seen. Yeah. And as you mentioned, the diet is very — I mean, it’s becoming more Japanasized, but it’s very different from what we typically think of as Japanese food.
Dr. Andrew Weil: But I have to tell you, Tim, that over the period of time that I was going to Okinawa, Okinawan longevity has plummeted, especially among men. And that’s been attributed entirely to the increasing consumption of American fast food. And I remember there was an article in The New York Times about that, and they quoted a middle-aged Okinawan man who said the first time he tasted a McDonald’s hamburger, he thought he had died and gone to Heaven. I mean, how could that be? I mean, these people have the most wonderful food available, but there you go. In just such a short space of time, you can see the effects of that.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have an opinion on fermented turmeric tea? Because I remember that was ubiquitous. I don’t know if that’s tourist shtick or if there’s something actually to it.
Dr. Andrew Weil: No, it’s a very good thing. It was drunk cold, unsweetened, and it was very pleasant in hot, humid weather, which is common there. And I was so taken with this that I developed a relationship with the company that’s making the fermented turmeric and began to import it. First I had a ready-to-drink product. This was, again, probably way ahead of its time. But now through my matcha company, Matcha Kari at Matcha.com, we sell fermented turmeric, the powder. It makes an instant drink. First of all, it’s delicious and refreshing. I like it cold and unsweetened. And turmeric, as you know, is the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent, and many health benefits documented.
Tim Ferriss: Lots of health benefits, including, as I understand it, there’s some literature to suggest — I don’t know if protection is warranted, but some mitigating effect on neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Andrew Weil: And prevention of cancer, protection of liver function. It’s got wide ranging effects. It’s good to include in the diet, and fermented turmeric tea is an easy way to do that.
Tim Ferriss: So why matcha? I’ve had matcha. I love matcha. Why decide to dedicate your energy to matcha, at least in part?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Let me say, on the second day that I was in Japan, back in November of 1959, my host mother took me next door to meet her neighbor who was a tea ceremony practitioner. So the three of us sat around, and this woman did a tea ceremony and presented me with a bowl of matcha. And I was completely taken by it, first by the color, also by the chasen, the whisk, which I just thought was marvelous, and the taste of it. I fell in love with it. So when I began going to Japan more regularly in the 1970s, every time I was there, I’d bring matcha back to the States and turn people onto it. Nobody had ever heard of it here. And I just thought this was a great thing to make available. This was before I knew anything about its health benefits.
And I partnered with a matcha company in Japan and began selling it through my website. Again, like The Beneficial Plant Association, way ahead of its time. This was in the 1980s. I just always thought this would be a great thing here. So when I had the chance, when I saw matcha becoming popular here, it bothered me that so few people had access to good matcha, because if matcha is not prepared correctly and if it’s not stored correctly, it oxidizes very quickly because it has such a huge surface area. And it loses that bright green color. It loses the good flavor, has a bitter taste. And many people here had never tasted really good matcha. So I was determined to make that available. And that’s why I started this company. And the great coup was getting the URL Matcha.com. People in Japan can’t believe that we got that, but there it is.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s discuss the health benefits. And let me also just ask a question for myself. I would imagine most people who listen to this and have had tea before, they imagine tea leaves or a tea bag put into water. You steep, and then you remove the tea leaves, and you’re left with this colored water, and that is what you drink. But matcha is, if I’m understanding correctly, whole leaf. So there would also be an incredible importance, or you could place incredible importance on quality or sourcing in so much as, if you’re consuming whole leaf tea that has been exposed to pesticides, you’re going to be getting a much higher toxin load as well. Am I thinking about that correctly?
Dr. Andrew Weil: You are, and there is organic matcha available, but not nearly as in great supply as conventional matcha. But we’ve monitored matcha for pesticide levels and are assured that this is not a problem. But the way matcha is grown, how it’s prepared, it’s a long, labor intensive process. And matcha is the only form of tea in which the whole leaf is consumed, as you say. I think we have the most research on the health benefits of green tea in general. And there are many forms of green tea that I like, but matcha has the highest level of antioxidants and of L-theanine, the calming amino acid that modifies the effects of caffeine. So it’s unique in that regard, and I think there are health benefits of matcha that are distinctive among all forms of tea.
Tim Ferriss: How does L-theanine modify the effects of caffeine?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think it takes the jittery edge off of caffeine. I think the effects of caffeine and tea and then coffee are very different. Coffee produces, I think, a jangling effect in many people. There’s often a crash after a period of stimulation. Many coffee drinkers are physically addicted to it and have a withdrawal syndrome when they stop. You don’t see anything like that with tea, and I think some of that is because the L-theanine has a calming effect that changes the effect of caffeine, and as I say, matcha has more L-theanine in it than any other form of tea.
Tim Ferriss: And why is that? Is it that it’s contained in some of the fibrous components of the leaf that are discarded when it’s prepared?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No. I think it has to do with the way the tea is grown, because what’s unique about matcha is that, about three weeks before harvest, the plants are heavily shaded with shade cloth that cuts out about 70, 80 percent of the sunlight. And in response to that, the leaves grow bigger and thinner and produce higher amounts of antioxidants and L-theanine. So I think that’s very unique. The same shading process used to make a very high quality brewed green tea called gyokuro that I’m sure familiar with that’s quite delicious. So that also has these high levels.
Tim Ferriss: So that’s fascinating to me. So it almost seems like an adaptive stress response by the plant to fortify itself.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Exactly, right. Well, it makes more leaf surface in an effort to get more light exposure, and it develops more chlorophyll which accounts for the bright color of matcha. So I don’t know how the Japanese discovered this shading process, but it is unique.
Tim Ferriss: And for people who have not seen — even if you never have matcha — I certainly would suggest that you consider it. But even if you’re never going to drink matcha, go find photographs of exceptionally good matcha. The color is unlike anything else you have ever seen in your life. It is like a phosphorescent, almost phosphorescent green, and I’m biased because green is my favorite color.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Oh, good.
Tim Ferriss: It really is something something special.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Can I say that Matcha Kari, I think, has some of the finest matcha available. We’re very particular about our sourcing, and listeners to your podcast can get a generous discount if they use the code Tim.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a listener exclusive, folks! Use code TIM. and that’s easy to remember, Matcha.com, M-A-T-C-H-A.com. And we can come back to this, but you mentioned your mom. And if my research is accurate, she lived until 94. Is that right?
Dr. Andrew Weil: 93.
Tim Ferriss: 93. So that is still — it may not be a world record in Ogimi, but that’s still quite a long lifespan, all things considered. Is that true on both sides of your family?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No. My father died at 80, had cardiovascular disease, so my mother was much healthier. And until her last year, she was quite active. And I think in pretty good shape. I traveled with her a lot. It was fun to take her to Japan and other places. One of the things — I think part of her philosophy that may have contributed to this, she said, “It’s very important never to lose your sense of humor.” She said, “You always have to be able to see the ridiculous side of life.”
Tim Ferriss: Now is that something that she cultivated in you as well? Or did she just encourage it? Was there a form of play that helped to weave that into your being, your coding, so to speak?
Dr. Andrew Weil: We loved to laugh together. I mean, I have a lot of pleasant memories of that, and I think the main thing that she did and my dad did too was to encourage my curiosity. I’ve always been a very curious, inquisitive person, and I think they worried about me a lot in some of my experimentation and wanderings, but they always said that I should follow my passion. And they encouraged me to be curious.
Tim Ferriss: What did they think of — I don’t know how much of a window they had into this, but your fascination with not just botany and plants, but also psychoactives?
Dr. Andrew Weil: But those plants!
Tim Ferriss: Those plants! Yeah.
Dr. Andrew Weil: So just I’ll tell you one thing I remember. This must have been after I was out of medical school, but I remember going to visit them in their apartment, and they were living in New Jersey at that time. My mother never said anything to me, but she’d leave newspaper clippings by my bed about marijuana causing brain damage.
Tim Ferriss: And this was in our first conversation, and please tell me if I’m screwing this up, but I believe the very first time that you took mescaline, your mom called and said, “I hope you’re not doing something stupid like taking mescaline.” And you were like, “Oh, God!”
Dr. Andrew Weil: She had mom intuition and telepathy for sure.
Tim Ferriss: I could see that putting a bit of English on your experience of mescaline.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Once they visited me in Arizona. This must have been in the 1970s. And I had coca leaves that I brought back from South America. And we all chewed coca leaves together. So they acted as if it was a very daring thing. They got quite silly. It was fun to do.
Tim Ferriss: So how did they feel? My experience of coca chewing or tea is that it’s pleasantly mild, but it is far milder to me than a strong cup of coffee, let’s just say. What was their experience like?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think they probably had minimal effect. I think it was more their expectations than anything pharmacological.
Tim Ferriss: How old are you now, Andy?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I turned 80 on June 1st.
Tim Ferriss: Happy belated birthday.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Thank you. But I have to tell you, I have a very good friend, a cardiologist who’s the same age as me, who said that his mother always told him, “Joe, don’t get old. You won’t like it.”
Tim Ferriss: How do you relate to getting older? I mean, you look great for 80, certainly. I mean, I hope I look as good. I lost the hair early, so I passed that Rubicon thankfully.
Dr. Andrew Weil: By the way, the meaning of psilocybe — it’s a Greek word — is bald head.
Tim Ferriss: I did not know that. That’s incredible.
Dr. Andrew Weil: So Psilocybe weilii is pretty good. Anyway, cognitively I don’t feel any different. I mean, I really don’t feel any different from the way I felt when I was in my twenties, but I really feel changes in my body, especially musculoskeletal changes, annoyances that I didn’t have before. I think my sleep has changed. But I think watching the body change and its inevitable deterioration, I think that’s an important thing to look at.
Tim Ferriss: And do you have any plans for how you’ll spend, say, the next five years? Certainly you have this matcha project, which I’m glad you’re bringing to the world, because I just selfishly want high quality matcha. I love matcha. But in addition to that, do you think about projects you want to do kind of longitudinally over a period of time?
Dr. Andrew Weil: I don’t feel compelled to do anything. I don’t have the drive that I did when I was younger. I don’t feel like I want to write anything else. I’ve written everything I have to say. I want to see integrative medicine really get on a solid footing and become really mainstream, which it’s poised to do. I feel very deprived of travel during these pandemic years, and I want to make up for some of that. I’m going to Japan next month, and I’m really looking forward to that. So I’d like to get some travel in while I can.
Tim Ferriss: Well, our mutual friend, Kevin Rose, also Japanophile, and it would be fun to actually meet up at some point in Japan. I mean, I’ve certainly been quite a few times. I’m still in touch, very close touch with my host mother who I lived with when I was 15 years old. So we’re still still close, and that would just be a blast.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, I’m creating this place for you to stay in Norikura Kogen, so I expect you both to come.
Tim Ferriss: I can give you the green light, the thumbs up on that, without any problem. Well, Andy, is there anything else that you would like to mention today in this conversation or explore? People can find Matcha Kari on Instagram at Matcha Kari, M-A-T-C-H-A K-A-R-I, the website is Matcha.com. They can find you on Twitter, DrWeil, and DrWeil.com. And we’ll put all these in the show notes.
Dr. Andrew Weil: I’d also urge people to look at the website of The Center for Integrative Medicine, now The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, which that’s hard for me to say. But it’s IntegrativeMedicine.Arizona.edu, and look at the range of our activities and educational programs, some of which are available to the general public and are very good.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Andy, it’s always nice to see you. We’ll link to all these things in the show notes. Anything that you would like to see researchers in the realm of psychedelic science focus more on or consider focusing on?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah. I am somewhat discouraged to see all the emphasis on mental, emotional health, because I think there’s such tremendous potential for psychedelic experience in physical medicine, for really changing the course of chronic disease, for really affecting how people experience their bodies. I’ve just seen so many dramatic effects of psychedelic experiences on people who’ve had chronic illness, and I want to see more exploration of that.
Tim Ferriss: For a tasting of some of that, people can listen to the first conversation where we talk about your experience with cat allergy, which is also just one of those head scratchers that is worth digging into.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, there’s a lot of stuff like that out there, and we want to take it seriously and look how we can make use of it.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a book called The Fellowship of the River. I think I’m getting that right, about a Western-trained physician who ends up engaging very heavily with ayahuasca specifically, and in that account talks about how certain things respond or don’t respond, or I should say rather appear to respond or don’t respond more often than other conditions, let’s just say. And some that seem to respond well — and this is not medical advice. I’m not encouraging people to go to the Amazon and drink ayahuasca. Speak to your GP first, but are many of the autoimmune diseases
Tim Ferriss: IBS, Crohn’s disease, et cetera.
Dr. Andrew Weil: That’d be top of my list of things to explore the uses of psychedelics in.
Tim Ferriss: So do you think that is then not necessarily a physical response to ayahuasca specifically with its harmine and everything else in the vine or the DMT necessarily, but something that could be observed with, say, psilocybin?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah, I do. I think it’s hard to disentangle all that, but I don’t think it’s specific to those chemicals.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, it’s a brave new world. There’s certainly a lot of research being done, even more companies being formed. And I suppose it will be ultimately survival of the fittest and survival of the most interesting from a scientific perspective, so I’m cautiously optimistic. But you’ve been in this space for many, many decades now. Is there anything left for you to experience personally within the realm of psychedelics? Or do you feel like you’ve scratched that itch sufficiently?
Dr. Andrew Weil: My first book, The Natural Mind, Alan Watts wrote a blurb for it, which was great.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a good blurb.
Dr. Andrew Weil: And the last line of it was, “When you get the message, hang up the telephone.” And I feel that way. I think I’ve gotten the message about psychedelics. I don’t feel the need to do further experimentation.
Tim Ferriss: When you get the message, hang up the phone. And let me just mention a few places where people can find you. I already did, but we’ll link to the Center for Integrative Medicine, which is IntegrativeMedicine.Arizona.edu. Is that right?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And then certainly you can just search Andrew Weil or Dr. Weil and then the platform of choice, and it’ll pop right up. And they can ffind you at DrWeil, W-E-I-L.com, and certainly can find the Matcha Kari at Matcha.com. Is there anything else, Andy, that you’d like to add?
Dr. Andrew Weil: No, that was a wide-ranging conversation, which I have enjoyed greatly.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for taking the time, Andy.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: And to everybody listening, until next time, be a little kinder than is necessary to your fellow humans, fellow animals. I suppose we could throw plants in there as well, but let’s not get too ambitious! And as always, until next time, thanks for tuning in.
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