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Andrew Weil

This was that I had become cured of a lifelong cat allergy. If a cat touched me I would get hives. If a cat licked me I would get hives and my eyes would swell. So I always avoided them. 

Then, one day when I was twenty-eight, I took LSD with some friends. It was a perfect day. I was in a wonderful state of mind, feeling totally relaxed and at one with everything, and a cat jumped into my lap. My immediate reaction was to be defensive, and then I instantly thought, well, here I’m in this state, why don’t I try to pet the cat. So I petted the cat and I had no allergic reaction. I spent a lot of time with it, and I’ve never had an allergic reaction to a cat since. 

So, to me, that’s an example of a potential of those drugs, and if they were legally available I think that I would use them as teaching tools to show people that you can change chronic patterns of illness, because even if you aren’t cured of an illness the psychedelic may show you that it’s possible. Another experience that I’ve written about with psychedelics is when I was learning yoga, and had a lot of difficulty with some positions. The one I had the most trouble with was “the plow,” where you lie on your back and try to touch your toes behind your head. I could get to about a foot of the floor and I had horrible pain in my neck. I had worked at this for weeks and made no progress. I was on the point of giving up, just thinking I was too old. I was twenty-eight then. I thought I was too old, that my body was too stiff. 

Again, an experience with a psychedelic, where I felt completely happy and elastic, showed me otherwise. I noticed that my body felt very free. So I tried that posture, and I thought I had around a foot left to go when my feet touched the floor and there was no pain. I kept raising and lowering them, and it was just delightful. The next day when I tried to do it I could get to a foot within the floor and I had horrible pain in my neck–but there was difference. I now knew that it was possible, and I think that’s a model for how these drugs can work. 

Psychedelics can show you possibilities. They don’t give you information about how to maintain the experiences, and if you try to rely on the drug for the experience the drug stops working after a time. But, in this case, just having seen that it was possible, I was motivated to keep working at it, and in a few weeks I was able to do it. I don’t think I would have pursued that if I hadn’t seen the possibility. So I think they’re potentially tremendous teaching tools about mind-body interactions and states of consciousness.

David: What are some of the new medical treatments that you foresee coming along in the near future?

Dr. Weil: First of all, there are all the high-tech ones, which are great. I think these are fabulous possibilities. Now, whether they will become practical realities or not, I don’t know. I would say that a huge area is genomic medicine–the possibility of being able to individualize treatment  to patients, including pharmaceutical drug treatment. Just as an example, there’s a lot controversy now about soy and it’s ability to protect from breast cancer. Some of this seems to have to do with how women metabolize soy. Some of the them are able to metabolize one of the phytoestrogens of soy to a protective compound and other women are not. If you could identify those women who could do it, then those are the ones you would want to get to eat soy regularly. The other ones maybe not. 

With cigarettes there are a lot of people, especially Asians, who are able to smoke like chimneys all their life and have no increased risk of lung cancer. They have different enzyme systems. It would be nice to identify that group, and then there’s some people to whom you could say, you must never smoke because you’re at high risk. And to other people we could say, if you want to do it maybe do it, although you might still be at risk for other problems from it. And the same way with how people respond to pharmaceutical drugs and surgical treatments. So I think that there is this promise out there on the horizon of customized medicine, based on people’s genetic makeup. At the moment it’s promise; we don’t have the practical techniques to do it. The other question is that some of these new techniques may be too expensive to deliver to everybody, so it’ll be medicine for the affluent. Anyway, I think there’s a lot stuff like that out there on the horizon that looks great.

David: What are your views on euthanasia?

Dr. Weil: I think it’s great that this issue, at least, has been raised to the level of public discussion. I don’t think it’s appropriate for doctors to be involved in that, although I think patients should be able to discuss that issue with doctors. I think that for people with overwhelming diseases, for whom life has become really difficult, that they should have that choice, and that there should be mechanisms provided for helping them with that. I think the experience in the Netherlands is very positive, and I don’t see abuses there of it. So I would like a society where that was possible.

David: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Weil: I’m not interested in taking on another book for awhile. My main focus is developing curriculum for the program in Integrative Medicine, which, eventually, I hope will be in all medical schools, and really increasing the numbers of doctors out there that we’ve graduated. We now have over three hundred. My focus is really on having that be a new generation of physicians and nurse practitioners who get it, and have this kind of knowledge that’s been omitted from medical education. I think that’s my main focus. I’m interested in doing more work in radio and television. I may want to write something for kids. I’m very interested in trying to effect public health policy, especially on nutrition, and I’m also looking at ways of reforming the healthcare system. So all that stuff. And having more leisure time for myself is also high on my agenda.

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