The Tim Ferriss Show – Hamilton Morris on Better Living Through Chemistry: Psychedelics, Smart Drugs, and More

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Key Takeaways
  • Check out the book Pihkal (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved): A Chemical Love Story
  • Watch Hamilton’s TV Show – Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia
  • The dose makes the poison – “If there’s one thing that is not talked about enough in the realm of psychedelics and drugs, it’s dose”
    • For a common person, they have access to two things – LSD and psilocybin containing mushrooms, and they don’t know the dose of either
    • “These are serious experiences, there’s a lot of uncertainty going into these experiences. At the very least, it helps to have the knowledge of what and how much  you took. This can’t be underestimated in its value.”
  • On drugs – “It’s everything. It’s your consciousness, all of medicine, all of pharmacology. This is not a niche. It’s one of the most important areas known to mankind, and it has been for thousands of years.”
  • On drug experiences – “You want to minimize the uncertainties as much as you can, because your own mind is already infinitely uncertain”
  • Ibogaine seems to be very effective at curing many compulsive behaviors and addictions. It’s also proving to be a promising treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Hamilton’s favorite smart drug? – Nicotine gum
  • Hamilton (@hamiltonmorris – Twitter,  @hamiltonmorris – Instagram) is writer, documentarian, and scientific researcher who studies the chemistry and pharmacology of tryptamines at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
  • He is the creator of the TV series Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia
    • Tim loves it
  • Check out these Podcast Notes from Hamilton’s appearance on Joe Rogan
Hamilton’s Idol – Alexander Shulgin
  • A chemist who “has a career so amazing, you’d think he couldn’t be a real person”
  • Check out his Wikipedia
  • While working at Dow Chemical Company, he developed Mexacarbate (Zectran) (which is an insecticide)
    • While still working there, he started manufacturing a variety of new types of psychedelics, and testing them on himself
    • He eventually started doing his own research at his own house, and publishing it
  • Alexander is credited with reintroducing MDMA as a psychotherapeutic tool into society
  • Hamilton is absolutely fascinated by him
  • “What made him great was he had a perspective on science that a lot of people don’t have. A lot of people think whatever they’re doing right now is state of the art. They don’t think, ‘What if all this research proves to be a waste of time a decade from now? What won’t prove to be a waste of time? What research is certain to be timeless?’ Alexander understood that.”
  • How did Alexander minimize risk when experimenting with new drugs he had created, on himself?
    • He started small – at about 1/10th of whatever the smallest imaginable dose was for a certain compound
    • Over the course of days, he would up the dose
    • Doing this, would extremely minimize the  likelihood he would poison himself
    • Hamilton brings up a good point – “We haven’t resolved very basic aspects of the toxicity of the most widely used drugs on earth”
      • There’s still a fundamental debate going on about whether or not cannabis decreases IQ with long term use
      • “Before we magnify the potential danger of unknown substances, we shouldn’t minimize the potential danger of the known substances”
What would Hamilton recommend someone do, if they wanted to gain a basic understanding of chemistry?
Psychedelics and Salvia
  • Hamilton’s always been interested in psychedelics, especially after reading Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy 
  • Growing up, his dad was very against them, and being a self-described nerdy kid, Hamilton didn’t partake in psychedelic use, but he was always interested – “I was afraid of them, and didn’t use them in high school, although I was fascinated by their power”
  • Although he did use salvia
    • “I tried it and it was utterly amazing”
    • “This made me appreciate the fact that these things (drugs) were not only very different from the way they had been described, they were in some extent not describable to begin with”
    • Check out some Youtube videos of people smoking it
      • “It is fairly well known as something that people do only once” – Tim
  • Why is salvia culturally misunderstood?
    • There’s no place for it really
      • It doesn’t fit into any spiritual or religious framework
      • Scientifically (at least when Hamilton first used it) it was barely studied
      • “There isn’t a lot to do with it, so it becomes marginalized, almost because there’s almost no where for it but the margins”
    • Check out some of the salvia Erowid experience reports
Spirituality and Some Other Positive Side Effects of Psychedelics
  • “I’m not a spiritual person at all, I’m not even sure what that word means”
  • “There is a very tangible value that comes from these psychedelic experiences, along with the visual distortions, and the distortions of time and sense of self. There’s often these very simple positive things that emerge – like a sense of love for one’s parents, love for your friends, an appreciation for being alive, gratitude, and often a desire to work hard so your time on earth will benefit other people.”
The Shamanistic Nature of Psychedelics
  • The shamanic cultural tends to believes psychedelic plants are the be all end all – Hamilton doesn’t necessarily agree
    • “Plants are a wonderful starting place, and they introduce us to so many things”
    • There’s things like DMT (which has been traditionally used for quite some time), but there’s also many derivatives of DMT that Hamilton has tried
      • “What I can say, after having tried all these tryptamine derivatives of DMT, is that they all have different properties, and might be better for different things. We don’t need to use them in a one size fits all manner.”
      • DMT tends to be very about “you”
      • DPT feels more universal – “My DPT experience could have been anyone in the world”s DPT experience”
    • “The shamanic root tends to hold a lot of dogma, a lot of thought along the lines of, ‘This is the way to do it, this is what’s traditional’, and experimentation is strongly discouraged”
      • “We have a lot to learn from these traditions, but we haven’t figured everything out, and I’m in favor of anyone trying to push things forward, people who want to make these substances better than they are”
      • For example – this might mean altering a substance’s half life so it lasts for a shorter amount of time
The Dose Makes the Poison
  • “If there’s one thing that is not talked about enough in the realm of psychedelics and drugs, it’s dose”
    • Dose makes a HUGE difference
    • “The difference between a medicine and the poison is the dose”
  • With psychedelic plants, it’s very hard to know the dose – there’s so much variability
  • The real tragedy for psychedelics right now…
    • For a common person, they have access to two things – LSD and psilocybin containing mushrooms, and they don’t know the dose of either
      • Two grams of magic mushrooms will differ in psilocybin content across the board
      • Even for the same species, grown on the same substrate, there can be a variation in potency between two different mushrooms
      • Someone may say a tab of acid contains a certain amount of LSD, but – “Making the assumption it’s exactly 100 micrograms per blotter is a huge mistake”
      • “These are serious experiences, there’s a lot of uncertainty going into these experiences. At the very least, it helps to have the knowledge of what and how much you took. This can’t be underestimated in its value.”
      • “If you’re going into what is potentially a very profound experience, you really want to have the baseline confidence that “I took this much of something'”
Hamilton’s Book Recommendations
Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia
  • Why do a TV show?
    • We’re so eager to demonize the people who run underground drug labs – The types of people providing these drugs (like LSD, psilocybin etc.) to the public, so normal people can use them
      • “They’re typically not bad people. They just do it because they think it’s the right thing to do with their lives.”
    • Hamilton wanted to clear up a lot of the misconceptions regarding clandestine drug synthesis
    • “I also wanted to tell drug stories that hadn’t been told, and present a basic case for understanding the value of these things”
      • One of his goals – convince people to “think very carefully before making a plant illegal”
    • It’s easy for people to reduce the importance of all this
      • One might tend to think “it’s just drugs”
      • “It’s everything. Its your consciousness, all of medicine, all of pharmacology. This is not a niche. It’s one of the most important areas known to mankind, and it has been for thousands of years.”
  • Which episode should someone who is a scientist start with? – A Clandestine Chemist’s Tale
    • This episode is about clandestine MDMA synthesis and how difficult the war on drugs is making it for people to have home labs
  • Which episode should a novice start with, or someone who has never taken a psychedelic? – Magic Mushrooms in Mexico
  • Another top pick for Hamilton – The Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism
  • What about the over confident psychedelic user? – Wizards of DMT
    • “It’s good to take these things seriously. 5-MeO-DMT use is a serious experience. I would say it’s no less serious than being reborn.”
In Hamilton’s career, has he ever experienced anything dangerous or difficult, drug wise?
  • Hamilton describes an experience of going undercover to China, to report on a lab focusing on the production of a synthetic cannabinoid called UR-144
    • Hamilton ended up trying it with his camera man in their hotel room- it came in a crystal form, which they smoked
      • He didn’t have a scale, so he just guessed at the dose
    • “As I got more and more high, I started experiencing a fractal of uncertainty”
      • He doubted it was actually UR-144, and began acknowledging he didn’t actually know anything about it
      • Hamilton started thinking – “Was it pure UR-144? What if it has toxic impurities? What if I just consumed an overdose?”
    • He ended up being fine but it made him realize – “You want to minimize the uncertainties as much as you can, because your own mind is already infinitely uncertain”
  • “The negative experiences I’ve had with drugs, have almost always have been a product of uncertainty and inadequate preparation”
  • Some comments on why Hamilton did not feature an episode on Ayahuasca on his show
    • He wanted to do a story about the death of Kyle Nolan
      • Kyle went to Peru, where it’s common to go to have an Ayahuasca experience with a shaman, and he ended up disappearing
      • He ended up dying (cause of death not determined), and the supposed “shaman” just buried him in a pit
      • This shed light on how dangerous it is to go to places like Peru for Ayahuasca experiences – “People care more about what they perceive as traditional, than what is effective or safe”
        • Some shamans don’t even watch over you during the trip
  • Ayahuasca is very easy to make – “The idea that you have to go to a foreign country and be with a different culture to experience it, is flawed”
    • “It doesn’t make your experience non valid if it wasn’t conducted in South America”
  • “Exactly what makes an Ayahuasca experience difficult, is what makes it valuable. To have that experience, by yourself, with no one explaining anything to you, to be confronted by the full magnitude of the mystery, with an absence of explanation, is one of the most powerful experiences that you can have.”
  • What is some internal self talk, that you can use, to help shed some positive light on these large existential questions you’re facing during an Ayahuasca experience?
    • “The more you can direct these things towards values that will help your life – that’s good. Too much destabilization isn’t healthy.”
  • Hamilton describes his first really strong Ayahuasca (which was Pharmahuasca – aka synthetic DMT with Moclobemide) experience …while his friend was watching Seinfeld in another room
    • “I came out of it thinking ‘That was a deconstruction of everything I have ever known and ever will know. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what year it was, time had completely deconstructed.'”
  • Hamilton says that at lower doses, Ayahuasca has had much more practical benefit for him
    • He describes a situation in which he took 45 mg of DMT w/ 300 mg of Moclobemide while writing, and how effective it was at making him really enjoy the process
    • He thought some nicotine gum would enhance his writing even more, but then he realized – “This is the thought that underlies all compulsive behaviors and addiction. ‘It’s not good enough the way it is.’ The nicotine gum is already inside me, I already am the nicotine gum. I don’t need this. It’s my acetlycholine receptors that would have been activated by the gum. I can activate them on my own.”
      • This is why many psychedelics have an anti-addictive effect
  • An alkaloid found in the roots of a central West African plant called Tabernathe iboga
    • An alkaloid is material isolated from a plant that contains a basic nitrogen atom
  • “It’s a pretty amazing molecule”
  • It’s very difficult to synthesize
  • It’s been found to be very effective at stopping opioid addiction
    • However, it’s a schedule 1 drug, so this effect hasn’t been studied as much as it should have
    • It also seems to work for many other compulsive behaviors – alcoholism, methamphetamine addiction, OCD
    • Hamilton’s guess is that there are alternative dosing strategies, like micro dosing or taking lower doses over longer periods of time, that may result in similar anti compulsive behavior effects – compared to taking a single high doe
  • It is cardio toxic – it’s been associated with a number of deaths
  • Ibogaine seems to have an effect on the protein GDNF (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor)
    • This protein is very useful in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease
    • GDNF, which ibogaine tends to release, causes the regrowth of dopaminergic neurons (Parkinson’s results from the loss of dopaminergic neurons)
    • There’s an underground community of people, who report taking 20 mg of ibogaine daily to treat Parkinson’s disease
    • “It’s very sad to see the same treatments being used for Parkison’s disease that were used 30-40 years ago”
  • Ibogaine also seems to have anti-depressive effects

Smart Drugs and Nootropics
  • “There’s a major problem with self-assessment in the realm of nootropics. Just because something makes you feel smarter, does not mean you are smarter.”
  • A quick detour into the Duning-Kruger effect
    • This essentially says the more competent someone is in a given task, the more likely they are to underrate their ability and vice versa
    • So would a true cognitive enhancer make you feel increasingly aware of all the things you don’t know? What does a true nootropic do?
  • It seems that most people can agree, an improved memory is a good marker for smart drug effectiveness
  • What has Hamilton found effective?
    • Nicotine improves memory and increases focus – Hamilton uses nicotine gum (he doesn’t give the dose)
      • It helps him read scientific texts
    • Caffeine
    • Ritalin on occasion
      • “Stimulants are addictive. It’s a bad habit to get into. But I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say low dose (10mg) Ritalin didn’t help me.”
Wrapping Up
  • “I can’t overestimate the value of the book Pikhal: A Chemical Love Story for understanding these things. It’s a fantastic book. It will tell you everything you need to know about psychedelics and drugs in general, and it’s a really great love story.”
  • Tim’s highly recommends Hamilton’s show, Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia
  • Tim thinks Hamilton should have his own podcast
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