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#605: Hamilton Morris & Dr. Mark Plotkin – Exploring The History Of Psychoactive Substances, Synthetic Vs. Natural Options, Microdosing, 5-MeO-DMT, The “Drunken Monkey” Hypothesis, Timothy Leary’s Legacy, And More | Tim Ferriss Show

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Check out the Tim Ferris Show episode page

Key Takeaways

  • The dose makes the poison: rarely are things always bad/inherently toxic or always good/inherently therapeutic
  • Scrutinize your own experiences and conduct work in an evidence-based manner – we’re all vulnerable to the placebo effect
  • There’s an endurance & prideful component to the rituals around psychedelics in some cultures: you’re strong enough and can support yourself through sensory deprivation, fasting, etc.
  • Rituals today mix and match pieces from various cultures and contain multi-substance experiences on the same journey – use caution, it shouldn’t be a buffet, and this is probably not constructive
  • The psychological dimension of medicine is not often well-integrated despite the fact that it will change the outcome for the patient
  • The pace of patents and papers coming out about psychedelics is more rapid than we’ve seen in decades – it’s an important time in history


Hamilton Morris (@HamiltonMorris) is a journalist, documentary producer, chemist, and science journalist. Hamilton is the writer and director of the documentary series Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, in which he explores the chemistry and traditions surrounding psychoactive drugs.   

In this special episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin, Ph.D. (@DocMarkPlotkin) fills in for Tim Ferriss and interviews Hamilton Morris for an episode of the Plants of the Gods podcast.

Host: Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)

Book: Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice by Dr. Mark Plotkin

Ecological Impact Of Iboga And 5-MeO-DMT Popularity

  • Iboga has a lot of promise for opiate addiction and global demand is likely to accelerate
  • Sustainability concerns: iboga tree has to be about five years old before it can be harvested
  • The tremendous burden on natural reserves of iboga, ayahuasca, and other plant-based therapies
  • Sonoran Desert Toad (bufo alvarius): a toad that produces 5-MeO-DMT (AKA God molecule) when milked, a psychedelic alkaloid
  • Difference between 5-MeO-DMT and DMT: DMT induces visual distortion; 5-MeO-DMT experientially feels like a near-death experience without personal visual distortion but more about life itself
  • There’s no compelling evidence to suggest indigenous or historical use of toad as a source of 5-MeO-DMT – but – there is evidence of indigenous use of 5-MeO-DMT containing plants
  • Toad has become popular in psychedelic circles but has a concerning ecological impact
  • 5-MeO-DMT is pharmacologically, chemically, and psychologically distant from psychedelics – you become largely unresponsive at high doses, mimicking more of a near-death experience
  • Synthetic production: 5-MeO-DMT can be produced industrially through pharmaceutical companies and is currently being explored to offset ecological harm and keep up with demand
  • “Frogs and toads are capable of biosynthetic feats that are difficult for human chemists.” – Hamilton Morris


  • Difficult in defining microdose: it’s difficult to define using an exact dose because the inherent concentration of the substance will vary; some define it as “sub-perceptual” while others define it as “low dose”
  • The therapeutic endpoints are not often well-defined in microdosing studies – people are pursuing microdosing for a wide array of desired outcomes
  • Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are highly sustainable and suitable for microdosing with less ecological impact
  • The dose makes the poison: rarely are things always bad/inherently toxic or always good/inherently therapeutic

The Polarization Of Drugs & Psychedelics

  • Drugs and psychedelics have a complex history in society
  • We tend to fall on either side of the spectrum: these substances are the downfall of society – or – these substances can save lives
  • Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS): a rare condition that leads to repeated and severe bouts of vomiting (only alleviated by hot showers) among daily long-term users of marijuana this is among smokers who are literally stoned all the time
  • CHS is a new-use disorder that emerged recently, signaling the high volume consumption of marijuana in current times
  • Use drugs and psychedelics with reverence and caution

Synthetic Versus Natural Products

  • If something is a natural product it will contain traces of radiocarbon (only detectable with the device, not harmful); if something is synthesized it will not
  • Theoretically, there’s nothing different between synthetic versus natural products
  • Psychological mediation: there’s nothing chemically different but consider the placebo effect – if you value the natural essence of plants, you’ll probably have a better experience with the natural substance (and vice versa)

Ritualization Of Psychedelics

  • The ritual can be important for accentuating and emphasizing certain dimensions of an experience
  • In places outside the U.S., psychedelic use is highly ritualized and is an important part of the experience
  • In the U.S. guided trips are generally sensory deprivation experiences – in a dark room, with a therapist, wearing an eye mask
  • In other places psychedelic use is the opposite – you dive far into experiences that push you to the brink of experiencing your own mortality
  • Psychedelics ceremonies in other places include entire families, children and babies included
  • The ritual can be as powerful as the substance itself – the ritual can amplify the therapeutic property of the drug
  • Traditions and rituals are not static: ceremonies have been mixed and matched across geography and culture
  • Rituals evolve to reflect the environment and best practices

Medicinal Psychedelic Use & Tourism

  • LSD was originally only thought to be used for the betterment of healthy people
  • Psychedelics under the medical system will only be used for disorders and diseases since that’s the way our healthcare and insurance systems are setups
  • Psychedelic tourism: people seeking out experiences are often the most desperate to find a solution and the most vulnerable – this can be a disastrous setup if you travel for a retreat, have a bad experience, and there’s no follow-up
  • In our culture, you go to the doctor and you’re done – we’ll need to manage the aftereffects of psychedelics if used medicinally; in a village with a shaman, you’d be able to go back days later and discuss what’s come up since the experience  

Geographical Distribution Of Psychedelics  

  • There are a lot of known psychedelics from central and south America but little from Africa or Asia
  • One possible reason – people weren’t looking
  • There’s a new species of psilocybin-containing mushrooms discovered in Congo recently (which would be interesting in terms of ancestral use)

Theories About The Evolution Of Consciousness, Culture, And History

  • “Stoned Ape” Theory: once we discovered mushrooms and mind-altering substances, consciousness was created, and we began to wonder
  • “Drunken Monkey” Hypothesis: ancestors live in the trees and since the ripest fruit would fall to the ground, which is also the sweetest fruit possibly fermented and buzz-inducing
  • People get into trouble when they try to explain everything with psychedelics
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Notes By Maryann

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