Andrew Weil has always shopped
around, so to speak, in the marketplace of consciousness.
Even as a kid, he was Out There
and In Here, both at the same time, and more than happy to tell
others about it. Here’s how the future cartographer of nonordinary
reality described his first encounters with altered consciousness
in his landmark 1972 bestseller, The Natural Mind.
“I was an avid whirler,
could spend hours collapsed on the ground with the world spinning
around–this despite the obvious unpleasant effects of nausea,
dizziness, and sheer exhaustion (the only aspects of the experience
visible to grownups). From my point of view these effects were
incidental to a state of consciousness that was extraordinarily
fascinating–more interesting than any other state except the
one I entered at the verge of sleep. I soon found out that my
spinning made grownups upset; I learned to do it with other neighborhood
children in out-of-the-way locations, and I kept it up until
I was nine or ten.”
It wasn’t the last time Andrew
Weil would make “grownups” upset with his activities
and proclivities related to altered states of consciousness.
There was Harvard, before he graduated cum laude in Biology in
1964 and before he took an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in
1968, where he fell under the immense, translucent shadow of
Drs. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, renegade psychologists
intent on proselytizing the world on behalf of the wisdom and
wonders they’d discovered in LSD and psilocybin. And although
Weil was unable to participate directly in the set of experiments
Alpert and Leary designed with artists and convicts, addicts
and intellectuals (since the pair’s agreement with the university’s
administration precluded the use of undergraduates in their experiments),
he definitely got the beat–and information from Leary on ordering
his own supply of mescaline–and launched off on inner space
explorations of his own.
That ultimately set the stage
for a series of formal investigations in 1968 with Lester Grinspoon,
pioneering studies of marijuana that overturned many of the cherished,
but unfounded assumptions which then stood as common currency
regarding the “killer weed.”
The Natural Mind followed, and if any book ever created
a stir in the field of substance abuse, The Natural Mind was
it. Weil took what he had learned in his earlier formal and informal
research and turned that knowledge to a very good advantage,
indeed, arguing that human beings have an innate need for altered
states of consciousness and that attempts to eliminate this need–and
the personal and cultural expressions of this need–are doomed
to perpetual failure. Along the way, and in proving his point
that human consciousness is the true magical substance common
to all non- ordinary states, he took on nothing less than scientific
orthodoxy itself in the book, in a careful, reasonable dissection
of the structure and foundations of Western allopathic medicine.
Still he didn’t stop. After telling
middle-class America that everything it knew about substance
abuse was wrong, Weil stayed Out There, on the forefront of consciousness
manifesting itself, whether in Colombia studying the folkway
and production techniques of indigenous coqueros, or in Mexico
sampling the wares and sharing the psychospiritual good times
with shamans and mushroom cultists, or in Amazon rain forests,
getting down and getting
off on esoteric plants, processes,
and people. And all the while, he kept in touch with the rest
of us in the form of articles and books on his journeys, as if
communiques from a one-man Lewis and Clarke, with ever more to
tell about his continuing search for the psychospiritual Northwest
Passage. Making Weil unique–and most interesting among serious
con temporary chroniclers of drug use and abuse–is his willingness
to test the water for the wine) itself before reporting how warm,
or wet, it is. “I cannot see the value of trying to understand
consciousness through methods that exclude the most immediately
relevant source of information: direct experience of one’s own
inner states,” he wrote in The Natural Mind. “Nothing
is ever really known by indirect means, least of all the nature
of one’s mind.”
And understanding the nature
of his own–or our collective–mind continues as the main focus
of Weil’s work today. Subsequent works, such as The Marriage
of the Sun and the Moon and Chocolate to Morphine
continued his investigations into the complex intermixture of
drugs, consciousness, and culture, while his most recent work,
Health and Healing, published in 1983, closely examines
the enormous range of powers available to each of us–with or
He’s come a long way, but in
a very real sense, he’s still nine years old and he’s still spinning.
And he’s still happy to tell the rest of us about it.
The interview that follows was
conducted at Weil’s home north of Tucson, Arizona, by Newservice
Editor Jim Parker and Managing Editor Christy Dye.
NEWSERVICE: You’ve spent a good part of your life
systematically studying drugs and consciousness. Along the way,
you’ve really broadened that to include a lot of extraneous things,
from mangos to meditation to the nature of consciousness itself.
Why the shift?
WElL: I think it all really grows out of the same interests.
You know, I really have been interested in drugs as tools for
changing consciousness and giving windows on possible states
of consciousness. I’m particularly interested in how, when you’re
in different conscious states, your body works differently and
you experience the world differently. Everything I’ve written
since then is just an extension of that.
NEWSERVICE: A quote I associate with you Is something
to the effect that “The laws designed to solve the drug
problem are the drug problem.” Do you still feel that way?
WElL: I said, in The Natural Mind, that I often
have the suspicion that everything that we do in the name of
stopping the drug problem is the drug problem. It’s not just
the laws but the whole mentality that sees drugs as the problem
and tries to fight them. By doing that I think we’ve made it
I’m very sympathetic to Thomas
Szasz’ viewpoint. I think he states it in an extreme way, but
if you go back and read about what the United States was like
a hundred years ago–before we had any drug laws or “drug
abuse problem”–there were a lot of drugs in circulation
and there were problems associated with them, but I think that
on balance everything was much better than it is now. We’ve made
more people abuse more drugs in worse and worse ways. I think
it’s all a consequence of our trying to fight drugs.
NEWSERVICE: So where did drug abuse come from in
the first place?
WElL: I think a lot of it is directly a product of the
medical profession. Every time it’s gotten its hands on a powerful
new psychoactive drug, it prescribes it very carelessly and people
get strung out. Then, when it’s called on that, it takes the
position that it didn’t have anything to do with the problem,
that it’s a bad drug. So they take it away, it’s banned or put
on restriction, which creates a tremendous black market for it.
And that’s been a pattern that’s happened with everything, from
morphine and heroin to cocaine. and amphetamines, for the past
NEWSERVICE: How do you resolve that?
WElL: I think it all comes down to better education and
information. And I think doctors are in as much need of that
as anybody else. And sometimes more, I’m afraid.
I really think most of the drug
abuse in this century has been created or started by doctors…Because
psychoactive drugs really make people feel different–and often
better, temporarily–and it’s very rare in medicine to be able
to do that.
Drugs also have the great advantage
of making people go away satisfied, so there’s an enormous appeal
to both doctors and patients. But unless you’re also doing something
to deal with the problems, drugs tend to be very bad medicine
because when the drug wears off the person feels terrible again.
So you invite repetitive dosing and that’s the way you become
dependent on things. It’s not a good way to make people feel
better unless you’re also doing something for the underlying
NEWSERVICE: It also reinforces the whole notion that
a physician does something for people they can’t do for themselves,
that treating illnesses involves having to do something for someone.
WElL: And giving drugs. Patients play a strong role in
that, too, because there is an enormous expectation to be medicated.
A patient who goes to a doctor and doesn’t get drugs, doesn’t
get a prescription, is likely to feel very disappointed and go
to another doctor until they do get drugs. So doctors are under
great pressure to do that.
It’s on both sides. I think doctors
have been very badly informed and educated about a lot of mind-altering
drugs that they’ve handed out and their tendency has been to
give them for everything.
NEWSERVICE: So what else needs to happen?
WElL: I think the whole apparatus of dealing with the
drug problem through criminal law, that whole mentality has to
go away. I think until that doesn’t exist we’ll continue to have
a drug problem.
For one thing, I think the drug
laws and the prohibition mentality are directly responsible for
inciting curiosity on the part of young children about experimenting
with drugs who otherwise wouldn’t care. I think that’s a direct
product of that. You tell kids this is forbidden and–especially
if you’re hypocritical about your own drug use–the main effect
is to make them want to try it. And I strongly feel they wouldn’t
want to try it otherwise. I’ve seen it.
One of the best examples I’ve
seen of this are the Indian societies in the Amazon, where every
house has this prepared coca that they make. It’s a big thing
among the adults, but kids don’t use it, adolescents don’t use
it. And I’d ask about it, all the kids I could find in that tribe:
‘Don’t you want to try coca?’ And they’d say, ‘No.’ I’d say,
‘Well, aren’t you curious about trying it?’ ‘No.’ ‘Don’t you
want to know what it does?’ They’d say, ‘We’ll wait till we grow
up.’ I’ve never heard that over here. And I think that’s an example
of what can be in a society where you don’t make prohibitions
and it’s just social custom that you just don’t use (some thing)
until you’re a grown up.
So I think the reason everybody
moans and wails about younger and younger kids experimenting
with drugs is directly linked to making more and more fuss, more
and more prohibitions, more and more laws. The more you do that
the more the age drops. That wasn’t true a hundred years ago.
NEWSERVICE: A lot of the same people who are moaning
and wailing the loudest, though, say that if you give kids the
kind of non-moralistic information you give in Chocolate to Morphine
that you really incite curiosity. How would you answer critics
WElL: First of all, I don’t think there’s any evidence
that that’s true. I don’t know of any evidence, anyway.
On the other hand, whenever anyone’s
attempted to survey before and after results of the current kind
of drug information, the main effect you can demonstrate is increased
curiosity about drugs. It’s the same argument about sex education.
NEWSERVICE: Timothy Leary once said the same thing:
that fifty years ago the only acceptable kind of sex education
was saying ‘No.’ Now, the only acceptable drug education is saying
WElL: Right. It’s the same fear: If you give kids information
about sex, then they’re going to go out and do it because you’re
not telling them not to. On the other hand, there’s a lot of
evidence that shows that by not telling them you increase the
very problems everybody is afraid of–teenage pregnancies and
NEWSERVICE: How does that belief, that misinformation
actually spurs drug use, square with your philosophy that people
have an innate need to get high in the first place, to achieve
high states? It would seem almost counter to it in a sense.
WElL: No, I think that there’s a deeper problem, that
in this society there’s no recognition of that need and there’s
no instruction about how to get high in other ways. I think that
part of what drug education should do–and I tried to do this
in Chocolate to Morphine–is to include some description about
why non-drug highs are better.
But I think there’s a real problem
here, in that drugs are appealing and always will be because
they work right away. There’s no work and they’re easy. Other
methods don’t work so easy. You know, it requires an input of
time and practice. The advantage of (non-drug highs) is that
they work better over time, and drugs invariably fail you if
you use them too frequently. But it is very hard to explain that
to kids. I think that’s something people may have to discover
I’m all for doing that. But it’s
not just enough to say, ‘Get high in other ways.’ I think you
have to be prepared to give some practical instruction, and I’m
all for that, too.
But I think realistically there’s
always going to be kids who experiment, so for those I’d rather
give information. But I think both should go on simultaneously.
And it would help greatly if there were different attitudes in
the society about high states and other states of consciousness.
As long as the dominant view is that they’re pathological and
they’re things you shouldn’t do, then that’s always going to
feed into everything that’s wrong about drugs.
NEWSERVICE: Why is that?
WElL: I think there really is an inborn need, at least,
for varying your conscious experience. Boredom is in a very strong
way something people want to get out of. There is a real need
for variety. You see that in animals, especially monkeys, and
humans even more. You know, if you put monkeys in cages, they’ll
do anything for variety–even things you’d think would be unpleasant.
So I think we have a real need to vary our conscious experience.
And drugs are so powerful and so easy. And they’re all over the
place. And if you deny people access to the better ones, the
ones they want, they’ll turn to worse ones, ones that are more
NEWSERVICE: Witness the fallout of our failed attempts
at control, like Operation Intercept.
WElL: Exactly. Then you’ve got people eating Jimson weed
or you’ve got them eating worse things. There’s no way of eliminating
that. So it’s difficult to deal with.
I think it’s worth explaining
to kids how drug highs are like other highs, and why they’re
not the best one to rely on. And I think maybe you can get a
segment of the young population that you can, you know, scare
away from trying them in the first place. So I’m all for that,
but I think there’s always going to be a substantial percentage
of the population that try them and use them.
NEWSERVICE: One of the things I find interesting
about your drug writings is that they are so participatory. Is
Andrew Weil an experimenter or a responsible user?
WElL: I think I’ve tried about every drug in Chocolate
to Morphine, although there may be one or two there that
I haven’t. I wouldn’t write about any I didn’t try, or if I did
I would say that I hadn’t tried it. There’s a lot of things I’ve
never come back for a second try for and there’s some things
I’ve used for varying periods and then stopped using.
NEWSERVICE: A two-parter: Have drugs ever been a
problem for you? And has your credibility ever suffered as a
result of your unusual research techniques?
WElL: I’ve never run into that too much. People have
attacked stuff I’ve written–attacked it for all different reasons.
I’ve never gotten that one too much and I’ve never tried to hide
that when I go on television or radio. When people ask me, I
usually say I’ve tried different drugs that I write about. And
there’s some things I’ve abused as well, and I’m happy to talk
about them and write about them because I think that’s part of
my way I’ve experienced things.
NEWSERVICE: How do you explain what appears to be
a movement in recent years away from drugs?
WElL: I hope that’s true. I think overall though, if
you include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and medical drugs, plus
the illegal ones, I don’t think it’s decreased any.
NEWSERVICE: So what do you make of research that
shows an ongoing decline in the use of marijuana by high school
seniors over the past four or five years?
WElL: I think some of that reflects what might be a cycle
that we’re in. I’m not so sure that if you look at pot and alcohol
together, (the decrease in pot use) hasn’t been compensated for
by an increase in alcohol. That might go along with the general
conservatism in society at large. Or it might be a cyclic phase.
But I don’t know that there’s been an absolute decrease. I hope
so. It would be nice.
NEWSERVICE: I think what most of the surveys show
is that fewer younger kids are experimenting with illegal drugs,
but people who have been using drugs recreationally for years
are still active. And use has also shifted onto drugs like cocaine
instead of acid.
WElL: There’s another amusing example–something I heard
just the other day at the University of Arizona, from one of
the administrators of a large branch of the Navy program to stop
drug abuse in the Navy and Marines through urine screenings and
The woman who runs that program
says that one thing that’s happened is that there’s been a huge
shift to acid among those personnel–and the Navy didn’t want
to know about it. She said that people on nuclear submarines
were high on acid all the time–that it was easy to conceal and
so on. She also said that though they can do a urine test for
it, they don’t. She said they seemed actively unwilling–they
didn’t want to know about it for a lot of reasons. I think one
is because it’s a scary thought, and another is that they don’t
want us to see that that was the effect of their program. Another
point she made that was interesting was that these people didn’t
have any experience of the sixties and acid, so they don’t have
any of those associations with it. They’re using it just to get
NEWSERVICE: Speaking of the sixties, some people
have argued that drugs have been one of the most important forces
in our society in this century–in the sense that they’ve contributed
to a new understanding of who we all are and who we might be
and they’ve provided a sense of the wide–open possibilities
that human consciousness represents.
It even seems that, in a real
way, the fallout from the drug revolution continues to be reflected
in everything from art and music to the human potential movement
and body-mind therapies to exercise spas and vegetarianism. What
part do you see drugs having played in modern culture?
WElL: Well, I think they’ve made people question values.
I think they directly showed people possibilities of other ways
of perceiving the body and the world. Their drawback, of course,
is that they don’t enable you to maintain those perspectives
by themselves, but they certainly show you that things are possible
and get you to work at them. I know people that just would never
believe that certain things were possible unless they’d had a
drug experience. And then they’ve gone from them to other ways
of doing it.
NEWSERVICE: It’s almost like Carlos Castaneda and
Don Juan in the sense that they point out the relativity of experience
and that all we know about the world is a description of the
world. Ever meet Castaneda?
WElL: Yes. Once. A long time ago.
NEWSERVICE: So he’s a real person, alter all?
WElL: Yes, he was a real person.
NEWSERVICE: He was?
WElL: Well, it’s been a long time. I assume he’s still
a real person. I don’t know. He was a real person when I met
NEWSERVICE: Getting back to the point you made earlier
about criticism your work has received as being somehow pro-drug:
How do you respond to those kinds of charges?
WElL: I say quite honestly it’s not my business to either
encourage or discourage anybody to use drugs. I think that’s
an individual decision. And I don’t think anything in my writings
is that way.
I’ve tried to be very even-handed
in presenting both positive and negative aspects of drug experience.
I do see it as my function to try to present accurate information,
as accurate as I can, so that it might help people make those
decisions. And if they do decide to use them, (hopefully they’ll
choose) to use them in ways that are less harmful. But it’s just
not my purpose to tell anyone whether he should or shouldn’t
NEWSERVICE: Something else I associate with you
is the idea that there’s no such thing as good drugs and bad
WElL: Absolutely. I feel that very strongly. And I think
again that’s one of the hang-ups of this society, and probably
of all societies. But it’s a real problem when you classify drugs
as good or bad, and the ones you use are good (some times to
the point of not even being seen as drugs) and other people’s
drugs are bad.
I don’t think you can ever come
to any kind of sensible policies about how to deal with drugs
as long as you do that because you’re only concerned with the
drugs you don’t like. And it’s all the same thing whether they’re
legal or illegal or approved or disapproved. Drugs are drugs.
I think the only point that good or bad comes in is in individual
use of drugs. I have no hesitation to say that somebody is using
drugs in a good way or bad way. It just doesn’t really have anything
to do with the drug they use.
NEWSERVICE: It seems to me that drug abuse comes
from an almost fundamental assumption in our society–that no
matter who you are, you’d better have the right stuff, own the
right things and use the right products, or you’re not going
to make it. And that seems to come from an attitude that people
aren’t really responsible for themselves, for who they are and
how they feel.
WElL: Absolutely. And that’s really dangerous, that’s
got far more implications than drugs. The other side of that
is that an awful lot of people don’t want to be responsible for
their own trips. They want other people to make their decisions
for them. That, I think, is a very dangerous trend. I think that’s
what leads to cults, both religious and political, and fascism,
and that’s a very dangerous trend in our society.
NEWSERVICE: Attempts to control seem almost an outgrowth
of that. Because if I live my life out of being the opposite
of you, I become you because I’m exactly like you. The only difference
is that you move your right hand and I move my left hand.
WElL: Right. And if you look at these trends, whether
it’s religious fundamentalism or political stuff, at root is
wanting to surrender authority over your own life to somebody
else. And I think that’s usually motivated by fear. And in any
area where that happens, whether it’s in medicine or drug abuse,
it’s not healthy.
The opposite of all this is there
are no good drugs, either. As long as there are no bad drugs,
there are no good drugs, either. I think it’s easier for me to
see this because I’ve had a lot of cross-cultural experience.
When you go to other societies where people have totally different
values, you get a sense that there really aren’t good drugs and
bad drugs. Everybody has a different idea of what the good ones
are and what the bad ones are.
I sometimes tell audiences when
I talk to them, that any drug you care to name I can show you
people who are in bad relationships with it and good relationships
with it. I’ve collected a few case histories of people who have
had fantastic experiences with PCP. It’s incredible–one who
had really high religious experiences on it, others who developed
supernormal body powers. Now that may not be usual, but it happens.
They were able to do it with PCP and they don’t understand why
it has such a bad reputation.
I have wonderful case histories
of chocolate addicts–really interesting stories because it’s
really gross stuff. There’s one woman who eats a pound-and-a-half
to two pounds of chocolate a day, dark slab chocolate. She thinks
it’s a health food. Actually, her only problem with it is that
she’s worried about her supply. She’s Swiss and she only likes
really good quality Swiss chocolate. When she came here to take
a job, she was 28 and she brought only the clothes she wore.
She filled her luggage with chocolate. You don’t find people
doing that with lettuce or bread. That’s drug behavior.
NEWSERVICE: Over the years your work has moved beyond
drugs in the direction of the powers of the mind. Did one lead
to the other?
WElL: I think that was always my interest. In some ways,
my new book Health and Healing is really just a great
generalization of the basic ideas of The Natural Mind.
The basic idea in The Natural Mind was that highs are
internal, that drugs act as triggers or cues for certain states
of consciousness that are potentially there all the time. I think
it’s good to understand that, because it’s that misunderstanding
that leads you to seek the thing in the drug and use it too much
and become dependent on it.
In Health and Healing,
the basic idea is that healing is an internal capacity of the
mind and body and that outside treatments can elicit it, bring
it out, but healing is not outside you. It’s the same idea as
before, except expanded.
NEWSERVICE: It seems almost a Christian Science
or Silva Mind Control approach to the mind’s control over the
WElL: Right. There’s an awful lot of evidence to support
that and I think it’s a shame regular medicine has neglected
that whole area. Not realizing you have the power inside is really
the basis of addiction also–thinking something you want comes
from outside you, that an experience you like is coming from
a substance and not from your own brain.
NEWSERVICE: Which also ties in closely with current
research into endorphins and neuropeptides, the body chemicals
that have been called the “brain’s own drugs.”
WElL: The best thing about endorphins is that they’ve
suddenly convinced scientists that a whole lot of things are
real that they never thought were real, like placebo responses.
And suddenly there’s a biochemical mechanism that they can get
a handle on and it’s real. So that’s terrific.
NEWSERVICE: And that ties in with another major focus
of your work over the years, involving the whole issue of psychological
‘set,’ of attitude and expectation: that what shows up for people,
in a drug experience or in life, is what they expect to show
up. If you think you can walk on fire, you can walk on fire.
WElL: Exactly. I came to the same conclusion in Health
and Healing, that belief in treatment is the greatest factor
in determining whether it works or not–on the part of both the
doctor and the patient. And if that’s operating full-blast, even
treatments based on absurd theories produce real cures. And vice-versa.
It’s the same thing, it’s set
and setting, in determining whether medicines cure people.
NEWSERVICE: Given your cross-cultural experience,
do you see Americans being more circumstantially–based in the
way they look at their lives than other cultures? I’m wondering
if we place more emphasis on things, on our external circumstances
being somehow responsible for the quality of our lives, than
do other cultures.
WElL: I think it’s a consequence of modern, technological
Western society, urban society. It’s hard to say. In traditional
societies there’s often as much externalizing, but it’s on to
different things–whether it’s spirits or magic, it’s the same
One trend that’s very strong
in America is the fear of nature, which I think is dangerous.
It’s as if technology is somehow more comfortable and secure
than nature, and nature is fundamentally hostile and out to get
you. And I think that, combined with the externalizing trend,
leads to bad results and creates distrust in yourself.
I run into this attitude so commonly–that
somebody would go out and eat a wild plant, that that’s crazy,
whereas you never question taking pills that you buy in a drugstore
that your doctor gives you. There’s all these scare things that
I read about herbal medicine, terrific warnings about the horrors.
They cite these rare cases of people who die, but that’s just
nothing compared to what happens from medical drugs, that routinely
kill people and poison people. But somehow the priorities are
so screwed up there.
NEWSERVICE: Isn’t herbal medicine a primary focus
of your work now at Harvard?
WElL: Yes. Research on medicinal and psychoactive plants.
Research on coca is what I’m
doing now. I’m also interested now in some Chinese mushrooms
which are supposed to stimulate the immune system. And that might
be a treatment for things like cancer and AIDS and viral diseases.
Also a lot of South American plants. Coca is the most spectacular
one and it is so notorious now. That’s one thing I really regret
because the whole cocaine thing has just made it awfully hard
to do research and that annoys me. I think cocaine is really
out of hand in this culture and that’s something we did. We created
that entirely, first by the medical profession misunderstanding
it and giving it out like water and addicting a lot of people
to it and then rejecting it. We’ve also made coca disappear from
our world and at the same time have created an enormous and growing
black market in cocaine, which doesn’t have the good properties
of coca. It’s a shame. I’d at least like to be able to do research
on that, and people are scared to touch it because of the associations
with cocaine. It’s crazy.
NEWSERVICE: Your position as I recall it is that
there are alkaloids in coca that counteract much of the refined
drug’s more harmful effects.
WElL: Well not counteract it, but change it and make
it different. The pharmacology of coca is different from the
pharmacology of cocaine and I think some of that is due to these
other alkaloids that modify the cocaine. For example, the cocaine
molecule has a very unusual structure that very few people pay
attention to. It does not have the molecular structure of a stimulant,
it has the molecular structure of atropine, the nightshade drug.
Atropine paralyzes the intestines, stimulants do the opposite.
Now in South America coca is used to treat both constipation
and diarrhea. That doesn’t make any sense in Western pharmacology.
A drug, according to our model, should be one or the other, but
it can’t be both. If you give cocaine, all it does is stimulate
the intestine, it’ll cause diarrhea, but it has the molecular
structure of something that does the other thing. So I think
what happens is when it’s combined with those other alkaloids
they intensify that side of it because they also have that structure.
And then it can act….
You know, the Chinese are big
into what they call ‘normalizing’ or tonic drugs that bring something
back to normal, from whatever direction it’s off. I think there’s
a real pharmacological explanation (for the actions of coca)
about how that might happen, but that’s not true with cocaine.
You just see the stimulant side of it.
NEWSERVICE: Nobody likes to blow it as a prophet,
but you made a prediction several years ago that the whole structure
of drug laws was either going to shift or dissolve in the direction
of decriminalization, if not outright legalization. What happened?
WElL: Well, I still think that eventually will be true.
I don’t know when.
NEWSERVICE: But it’s still in the picture?
WElL: I don’t know. I can see both trends happening.
I definitely see much better information around about drugs available
now. I see much more understanding about the counter-productivity
of drug laws. It’s still such entrenched polarized emotion over
that, that I don’t when that will happen.
I originally thought that it
was just a matter of spreading truthful information. And when
I did marijuana research in 1968, the literature was so wrong.
Nobody had done experimental stuff and the laws were based on
such wrong ideas, that I thought marijuana would be decriminalized
in three years. It was just a matter of people seeing the truth
about it, that it wasn’t a narcotic, that it didn’t lead to heroin.
Well, obviously I was very wrong about that. Because the fact
is it isn’t a rational issue, it’s a very emotional political
issue. You don’t convince anybody with a rational argument. So
I have no idea when that will change….
Have you seen that book called
The Heroin Solution? You see more and more people like
that, people who aren’t drug users themselves, who aren’t pro-drug,
who have no axe to grind, and yet they just come to those conclusions
on the basis of logic and understanding the problem, that the
laws are counterproductive and create the very thing they are
meant to stop. I hope that will eventually change. And I really
think–as long as things stay that way, things are really not
going to get that much better. That process has to be undone,
but that can’t happen until people are better educated about
drugs. That is the only thing that really works. I’d like to
see decriminalization because I think that would help. I wouldn’t
want to see the drug laws disappear over night, I don’t think
people are ready for that, but I don’t think anyone should be
dealt with by the criminal law for the possession of drugs for
personal use. Let them continue to prosecute traffickers and
importers, but they should stop prosecuting users. That would
just be an enormous improvement and would start to let things
move in a better direction.
NEWSERVICE: I wonder if education is even sufficient.
Because it seems that the place where the screwed-up solutions
come from is the same place that the problem comes from, seeing
people as things that have to be controlled, as things that can’t
be responsible for themselves.
WElL: Absolutely. And seeing drugs as good and bad,
and seeing drugs as the problem and thinking that you deal with
things by prohibition.
NEWSERVICE: Okay. So, in the end, what is it that
you’d say you’ve learned over the years about who we are and
what we’re likely to become?
WElL: Well, I’ve always suspected this and all my work
continues to lead me to believe that our potentials are fantastic
and that we express very few of them. I don’t even know potentially
what the limits are in what we can do and be. And yet, the dilemma
is that in the relative world of day to day existence we narrow
our options. But there’s so much evidence in everything I look
at that points to how much more we can be than we are. And I
think that’s a consequence of our upbringing and education, that
we accept these limited views of ourselves.
Just as an example, I’ve recently
gotten very interested in multiple personality disorder, which
is becoming very popular–both among patients and doctors. And
what used to be a very rare thing, now more and more people are
being diagnosed with it, and it’s very in, there’s conferences
on it and articles about it. It’s always fascinating to read
NEWSERVICE: The Billy Milligan and Three Faces of
WElL: Yeah. And whatever you think is going on there,
there’s one aspect of it that hasn’t been studied that really
catches my attention and that’s the physiological differences
between the personalities. Like in Billy Milligan, all those
24 were left-handed, but one was right-handed. That’s very interesting.
One of them was a cigarette addict. Now what does that say about
addiction? In some others, there were cases of allergies–some
of them were allergic and the others weren’t, and the allergies
instantly stopped when the others came in. That’s interesting.
Their EEGs were also different.
It gives you the sense that the
brain is infinitely programmable and that you can substitute
programs and that they change who you are and how your body is.
Whatever your genes are– obviously, all these people have the
same genes, and still even with that there is incredible latitude.
That’s real interesting stuff. And that’s the kind of stuff I
like to home in on.
NEWSERVICE: So what’s the future going to be like?
How do you think this is all going to turn out? Are we going
to make it?
WElL: Who knows? I wouldn’t even attempt to predict.
I think the future could be as different from what we are now
as we are now looking back at cave men.
I think it’s all possible. And
I think you just first have to believe that it’s possible. Until
you believe that it’s possible, you’ll never experience it. But
I think we’ll constantly be surprised at what our possibilities
are. We shouldn’t rule anything out.
NEWSERVICE: So possibilities are like drugs, eh?
No bad possibilities?
WElL: No. (laughs) There are no bad possibilities.