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Andrew Weil
Andrew Weil
Profile of Andrew Weil Biography of Andrew Weil Interview with Andrew Weil Andrew Weil Photo Gallery

Andrew Weil Interview (page: 4 / 6)

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  Andrew Weil

As a result of your research into intoxicants and addiction, what has happened in the field?

Andrew Weil Interview Photo
Andrew Weil: It's been very gratifying to see how often that work is referred to by people working in addictions theory. I don't think it has influenced public policy very much yet, but I meet a lot of people in the neurosciences and addiction research who say they were very influenced by that book. Many people have told me that it validated their own personal experiences. They felt that they were bizarre or unusual because they had these inner experiences they never told other people about. Reading that book made them realize for the first time that they had a connection on that level with other people. I feel very confident about that book. It's just been reissued in a new edition, 26 years after it was first published.

Did you make changes?

Andrew Weil: I didn't find the need to make changes. I wrote a little bit of a new preface to it. I talked about the fact that these ideas have really held up over time and I still consider them very useful. I think they explain a lot of addictive behavior. I also feel that if we're going to change that kind of behavior in our culture, we have to begin by taking account of the fact that people have this great fascination with altered states of consciousness. We have to teach them to satisfy that need in other ways.

What prompted you to write that book?

Andrew Weil Interview Photo
Andrew Weil: I worked with a collaborator, Winifred Rosen, who's an old friend and who had written children's books. We had been approached by a number of parents who said that they didn't know how to deal with their kids, who were asking questions about drugs. The only messages they were getting was, "don't do it." That wasn't good enough; they wanted better information.

Our intent was to write a book that presented factual, unbiased information about all categories of drugs, both legal and illegal -- medical, recreational, over-the-counter -- that might affect the mind. So that young people could make up their own minds as to what they wanted to do about them.

Did you run this past children?

Andrew Weil: Yes, absolutely.

Your own?

Andrew Weil: At that point I did not have children. But over the years I have met many young people. I met one a couple of weeks ago who told me that reading that book as a young teenager had been very useful to him, and had gotten him through a very short period of drug experimentation. He no longer had the need to do that. Whereas he saw many of his contemporaries get caught up into very long and sometimes disastrous periods of drug experimentation.

You actually did your residency in Haight-Ashbury, didn't you?

Andrew Weil: I did an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, which serves the Haight-Ashbury district. I did that in 1968-'69, which was a very hot year politically and socially. There were all sorts of upheavals going on in the streets of San Francisco. It was an interesting time. I had made a conscious decision to do an internship at a very different kind of medical setting than I had been trained in. I had seen a lot of elite academic East Coast medicine and I wanted to work at a relatively non-academic hospital in a very different social and geographical setting, so that was very useful to me. I think the main thing that I came away with from that year was a strong sense that I would not be using very much of that kind of medicine in my practice. I didn't want to take further specialization in it. I didn't know what to do in its place, but I felt very strongly that I hadn't learned very much about how to prevent illness, and I'd always felt that the main business of doctors should be to teach people how not to get sick. I also became very wary of the kinds of drugs that I was taught to use. I became very respectful of their toxicity.

When you started thinking about that, was that another period where you felt pretty alone?

Andrew Weil: Yes, because first of all,

To drop out of medicine after one year of internship, there was very little professional or social support for that. I wanted to be licensed as a general practitioner, and at that time almost everyone that I knew went on to specialty training, so that was a big decision. Secondly, I did not hear other physicians questioning the risks of the methods that they were using. And the things that I was most interested in -- mind/body interactions, for example, natural medicine, the use of plants in medicine -- there was nobody doing those kinds of things. And so it was a very lonely path that I proceeded on when I left professional medicine.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Nevertheless, you felt comfortable actually making the break.

Andrew Weil Interview Photo
Andrew Weil: I did. But again, I felt really compelled to follow my own path. After I did that, I wrote The Natural Mind, and then I went off to South American for about three and a half years on a fellowship and began looking at healing practices in other cultures, and testing some of these theories that I'd developed. When I came back, about 1974, I settled in Tucson, by sheer chance, my car broke down there. I fell in love with the desert and never left.

I began writing about other kinds of medicine. The University of Arizona College of Medicine found out that I was living there, and asked me if I would come in to give a lecture on marijuana, because the students were very interested in this and they had no one on the faculty that knew anything about it. I gave a one-hour lecture to first year medical students about marijuana, which was very popular. They then asked me if I'd come back and give another lecture on addiction in general, which I did.

I got into a pattern of giving these lectures every year, but I finally told the woman who had recruited me that this work on addiction and drugs was what I had done in the past. My current passion was really about new models of healing and alternative medicine. So I said, "That's what I'd really like to talk to medical students about."

Starting about 1979 or so, I began giving lectures on alternative and holistic medicine, which may have been the first lectures given in a medical school in this country on those subjects. Eventually those lectures became the basis for the book Health and Healing, that was published in 1983 or '84. That was the first book that I wrote about health, and it remains the theoretical philosophical foundation of my later thinking.

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