My fascination with medicine—more accurately, with the human body and how it lives, heals, and ages—began early. So too did my interest in mushrooms and psychoactive plants, from cannabis to coca. I never thought I’d practice conventional medicine; I considered my years in medical school to be an educational, not professional, endeavor. The direction my life took after those four years has been eccentric, often controversial, always tremendously gratifying. I was recently invited to tell some of the stories of those early years for readers of Harper’s magazine. I hope you’ll take the time to read the article, titled “Saturn Return.”
In it I talk about my internship in San Francisco in 1968-69, when I became a frequent smoker of cannabis and user of psychedelics. In my last year of medical school I had conducted a human study of marijuana that concluded it had less impact on the body than alcohol. My research was published as a lead article in Science and was reported on the front page of the New York Times.
After my internship year, I was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Public Health Service and assigned to the National Institute of Mental Health. I write about that experience in the Harper’s piece and explain why it turned me away from conventional Western medicine.
The health establishment in Washington, D.C., didn’t have much patience for my perspective. I resigned my commission and sought and received conscientious objector status to avoid going to Vietnam. I then set out to learn how to be healthy, how to use natural remedies, and how to draw on traditional wisdom and alternative healing methods to find a new way of practicing medicine.
In the article I candidly share my experiences as an expert witness in court cases involving illegal drugs, from cannabis to cocaine to LSD. I drew on both my studies and my own experiences to challenge state and federal laws and was able to save several good people from bad legal outcomes.
I also describe my experiences with the Cubeo people in a Colombian village deep in the Amazonian rainforest. I went there to learn how the Cubeos prepare and use a unique form of powdered coca, and I had some wild times with them.
The Harper’s article contains more than a few surprises. It will give you chuckles as well as insight into how I developed a new philosophy of health and healing.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Enjoy my memoir here.