Body of Wonder Podcast

Episode #33 An Anthropological Perspective on Plant Medicine with Wade Davis, PhD

On today’s episode Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Victoria Maizes sit down with Wade Davis PhD, an explorer, ethnographer, writer, and filmmaker on this episode to discuss humans and the natural world. Wade spent years living among 15 indigenous groups while collecting 6,000 botanical specimens in Amazonia and the Andes. He’s traveled around the world studying traditional herbal medicine preparations and indigenous beliefs.

In this conversation, Wade examines how societal values shape our individual and collective perspective. According to Dr. Weil, there are problems arising from the separation of medicine and spirituality. Dr. Maizes suggests that our senses influence the way we perceive the world. By exploring the history of psychedelics through a cultural lens, Wade describes how indigenous use of the substance elevated consciousness.

Wade, once hailed as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity”, draws on messages and lessons from his time with traditional healers, including the oldest of them all – nature.


Please note, the show will not advise, diagnose, or treat medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your health.


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Guest Bio

Wade Davis

Wade Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Between 2000 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life's diversity."

An ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University.  Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow  (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland. 


Davis is the  author of 365 scientific and popular articles and 23 books including  One River  (1996), The Wayfinders (2009), Into the Silence (2011) and Magdalena (2020). His photographs have been widely exhibited and have appeared in 37 books and  130 magazines, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men's Journal, and Outside. He was curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. In 2012 he served as guest curator of No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World, at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles . He is curator of  Everest: Ascent to Glory , Bowers Museum, February 12-August 28, 2022. National Geographic has published two collections of his photography,  Light at the Edge of the World  (2001) and Wade Davis: Photographs (2018).

His   40  film  credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an 8-hour documentary series written and produced for the National Geographic. His most recent film, El Sendero de la Anaconda, a 90-minute feature documentary shot in the Northwest Amazon, is available on Netflix.

A professional speaker for 30 years, Davis has lectured at over 200 universities and 250 corporations and professional associations. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures. He has spoken from the main stage at TED five times, and his three posted talks have been viewed by 8 million. His books have appeared in 22 languages and sold approximately one million copies.


Davis, one of 20 Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, is  Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and  recipient of 12 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2015 Centennial Medal of Harvard University, the 2017  Roy Chapman Andrews Society's Distinguished Explorer Award, the 2017 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, and the 2018 Mungo Park Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2018 he became an Honorary Citizen of Colombia.


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Dr. Victoria Maizes

Hi, Andy.


Dr. Andrew Weil

Hi, Victoria.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

Today we will be speaking with Wade Davis, who is quite a famous cultural anthropologist.


Dr. Andrew Weil

One of my longest time friends and colleagues. We were both students of Richard Schultz's at the Harvard Botanical Museum. And I really look forward to our conversation.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

Well, let's get him on.


Intro Music


Dr. Victoria Maizes

Wade Davis is professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Between 2000 -2013, he served as explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society and was named as one of the explorers for the Millennium. He's been described as a rare combination of scientists, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life's diversity.


He holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany from Harvard. His 23 books have been translated into 16 languages, and he's authored more than 350 scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian voodoo and an Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians.



Dr. Victoria Maizes

Welcome, Wade. You have been described as a defender of diversity. Why is that so important to you?


Wade Davis

Well, I was very fortunate Andy and I both shared the same remarkable mentor Professor Richard Evan Schultz's when most people weren't even thinking about the Amazon, most people didn't even know where it was. We were taught by him that it was imperiled, not just the forest itself, but the knowledge of those who understood it best. I came to understand the importance of biological diversity


And I think for me, critically, I also embraced at a very early age the realization that the same forces impacting biological diversity were corroding cultural diversity. And for that, I can thank my undergrad with tutor and mentor in anthropology, David Mayberry Lewis, while I was his student, would create cultural survival, one of the great human rights organizations.


Wade Davis

I should say at that time, that connection between cultural and biological diversity wasn't quite so clear. There's a wonderful story of the first time that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to America, and his last talk on that tour was at Harvard. That same night, Ed Wilson was introducing a man called Norman Myers who had written a book called The Sinking Ark, which was one of the first books to sort of talk of the looming biodiversity crisis.


And he was speaking Kitty Corner and Andy will remember this at the Lowell Lecture Hall, and His Holiness was at Sanders Theater on the other side of the street. And naturally, all the kids and faculty were there to see His Holiness. And if you can believe it, in apologizing to Meyers for the sparse audience in the Lowell lecture hall.


Ed Wilson, one of the greatest biologists of our era, one of the greatest humanists, said, and I quote, if even Harvard students can't get their priorities right and they'd rather be across the way listening to that religious kook, you know how far we've got to go to educate the public at large. But that really indicates nothing bad about the wonderful Ed Wilson.


Bless his soul, he passed away at Christmas, but rather where that chasm was. Then, between the naturalists and the anthropologists, the naturalist saw people as part of the problem, indigenous people in particular. And of course the anthropologists couldn't abide the misanthropic kind of elite ism of the naturalists. And those two worlds, of course, have been bridged in this amazing way by population genetics, where we have finally come to understand that we really are brothers and sisters.


You know, we are all cut from the same genetic cloth. We do share the same genius. Every culture has got something to say. Each deserves to be heard.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

I want to ask you a question that's a little bit of a complex question, and I'd love for Andy to weigh in. Some years ago, you gave a lecture where you talked about how the Polynesian navigators navigated, and it was using so many of their senses and not just watching the stars. And the question I have is about the way in which we most denigrate those subtle abilities.


And we don't necessarily recognize the range that humanity may have. This is relevant, I think, to integrative medicine in that some areas, for example, energy, medicine or even the ability to manipulate and to subtly feel changes in muscle tension or in ligaments and their placement are often really discounted and not valued. So I'd love to hear you articulate what this what's been lost essentially as we have let go of the awareness of the richness of the senses.


And Andy, I'd love to hear from you why this really matters as we think about practicing medicine.



Dr. Andrew Weil

Well, let me give you one example that was very striking to me. In the 1970s, when I was living in South America, I met with a number of Iowa scarers people who used the hallucinogenic vine ayahuasca. And this is always a mixture of different elements ayahuasca itself, the vine has a chemical called harmeline in it, which produces an intoxication and alteration of consciousness but does not cause visual changes.


Dr. Andrew Weil

And the natives always mix this with another plant, often with the leaves of another species that had DMT in it, which is a very visual, vision inducing psychedelic. But DMT has broken down in the stomach by an enzyme monoamine oxidase. So when anthropologists and ethnobotanist first recorded this process, they said that DMT couldn't be active orally and was not contributing to it.


It turns out that harmeline inactivates that enzyme, so this mixture produces an orally active form of DMT. So the question how did these natives discover that sitting in classrooms up in Cambridge, they answer all these words by trial and error. And when I was taking notes, it's okay, they did it by trial and error. But when I was down in the forest with some of these people, you look around, it's very hard to imagine that they said, Oh, today's Monday, I'll try this plant.


You know, Tuesday, I'll try this. I asked the number of these shamans how they discovered that, and they all said the same thing. They said that the divine ayahuasca showed them in visions, the other plant to use. So that's relying on some kind of intuitive sense and some kind of connection with the natural world, which I think we have lost and that we discount.


And in the way we train physicians and many other people, we teach them to disregard intuition that that's not trustworthy and instead to rely on objective data. And I think that's a great mistake.


Wade Davis

Yeah. You know, there's a great story of Schultz's with the Sequoia who had something like 17 varieties of the Woody Liana that Andy referred to, all of which were referable to his Harvard trained taxonomic eyes, the same species. And yet they, you know, recognize them consistently at distances in the forest. And he'd ask them the nature of their taxonomy or their classification, and they'd say, “The plants teach us.”


And he also said they also told him that you take each one of the varieties on the night of a full moon, and it sings to you in a different key. Now, that's not going to get you a Ph.D. at Harvard, but more interesting in counting flower parts. But it speaks to something really interesting. You know, if you look at the literature, whenever anthropologists talk about what the shaman experience, when they take yagé, ayahuasca, we always say they go to the supernatural world, the metaphysical realm.


That's not true. They don't have a concept of a spiritual world beyond the natural one. Where they go is into the forest, you see, because that is the divine, you know, the most profound insights of the Barasana and Makuna, for example, is that plants and animals are just people in another dimension of reality. The shaman is less physician in a way, with.


In particular, he's more like a nuclear engineer who periodically goes to the heart of the reactor to reprogram the world. And his engagement is not on some super realm. That was an imposition from the Christian Judeo Christian notion of a heaven. They don't have that separation. You know, we are products of our own beliefs, of our own traditions.


We don't exist outside of that. Culture myopia has been the great curse of humanity. The idea that my world is the real world and everybody else is a failed attempt at being me. Like everybody else, every other culture. We are a product of our beliefs and in our tradition, at a critical point, we wanted to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of absolute faith.


It was called the Enlightenment, or before that, the Renaissance. And when Descartes said that all that existed was mined material matter in a single gesture, he de-animated the world to the point where Saul Bellow would say that science made a housecleaning of belief, and the idea that the flight of a bird could have meaning or that a mountain could be a sacred deity, was ridiculed, dismissed as ridiculous.


And so in that sense, the entire world just became a stage upon which the human drama uniquely unfolded. And that really accounts for the way we have de-animated the world, so that for us, a mountain is a pile of rock, a forest is cellulose and bored feet. Every creature is just to be exploited by us. And because of the power our tradition, because of the ubiquity of its paradigm, we think of it around the world has been the norm, but it's not.


It's highly anomalous. Most cultures around the world do not base their interactions with the natural world on some kind of extractive model, but rather on reciprocity, some kind of iteration of the basic idea that the Earth owes its bounty to people. People owe their fidelity to the Earth. And that's why for most indigenous people, human beings are never the problem.


We're the solution, because only through the human imagination can beauty the world come into being. And this has real consequences in terms of the way that we are ecological footprint. I mean, if you're raised to believe that a mountain's a pile of rock ready to be mined, you can have a different relationship than if you're raised, for example, in the southern Andes to believe that it's an apu diety that will direct your destiny.


Again, the issue isn't who's right and who's wrong. It's about the metaphor that creates the relationship between the human society and the natural world. And one thing that they carved throughout with the bathwater was not just magic, mysticism, but also metaphor. And so I think that applies. And he was one of the first to write about this in terms of health and well-being.


We're not separate from the natural world. We're enmeshed in whatever energy flows are around us at all times. And the sacred doesn't exist in someplace called heaven. It's around us in the numinous energy of life. Every single moment.


Dr. Andrew Weil

Having gone for as a botany major, as an undergraduate to Harvard Medical School, the disconnection from nature of medicine was so apparent to me, and I felt that was one of the great mistakes. And one thing wrong with the medical education that I received and the first principle of work of integrative medicine is to go back to Hippocrates, teaching of Revere the Healing Power of Nature.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

Andy, you have written and spoken about the power of the shaman, and obviously in ancient times and in some of the cultures, current and indigenous peoples, the link between medicine man, and shaman, the healer. The shaman hasn't been severed. So what do we lose when we sever that link?


Dr. Andrew Weil

Well, I think that the medicine, religion, magic have become totally separate in our world, and I think that's to the detriment of all of them. I think it Wade talked about another way of perceiving reality, a different metaphor. I think medicine has greatly reduced its understanding of health and illness and its ability to modify them by cutting itself off from those other kinds of realities.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

You know, one of my mentors, Rachel Naomi Remen, has a question she likes to ask patients who say, “oh, no, I don't follow any religion.” That's all, you know, untrue. And, you know, there's nothing to that, she says. Have you ever had an experience of awe something that you cannot explain and then these amazing stories often tumble forward.


I think we often forget that, you know, what is religion? Religion is basically people trying to wrestle with eternity and coming out on top. Religion is all about death. And like my father said, every church or temple ought to have a billboard outside of it saying important if true, but the sacred. The sacred is not about death.


Wade Davis

The sacred is all about life. It's all about the numinous force that surrounds us at all time. You know, ritual becomes the vehicle through which the sacred becomes manifest in culture. But the sacred is that that reservoir that we reach into to experience all. And I think one of the one of the things, you know, Andy and he's done so many things.


But I mean, I think when people look back on him 300 years from now, they will be obviously speaking about his contribution in transforming medicine, but his contribution to our understanding as to why people have an inherent desire to period ethically shift consciousness, raise consciousness, invoking some technique of ecstasy to get out of this ordinary reality. And how that has been used and exploited through the discovery of these remarkable sacred medicines, you know, the nature of human drug use.


Nobody has ever spoken about it more eloquently than Andrew Weil. And when you think about that, Andy, when I may, you know, ask, did you ever take psychedelics? I always say, you know, not only do I take them, I wouldn't think the way I think. I wouldn't write the way I write. I wouldn't have understood culture I remember I mean, my mother used to always say, don't take these things. You'll never come back the same. And my poor mum didn't understand. That was the whole that was the point. Yeah. That was, you know when I and I think, you know, for example, you know, it's very interesting that when we look at the kind of the ingredients in the recipe of social change that I alluded to earlier, the role of women, gay people, people of color, attitudes for the environment, the earth itself.


You know, it's interesting that one kind of ingredient that we somehow expunge from the record is that millions of us lay, as you say, prostrate before the gates of law, having taken a psychedelic and I think I think that, you know, when people talk about the psychedelic renaissance underway, I can't speak to the to the value of these substances in therapy.


I think, obviously MDMA can be great for couples therapy, stress, maybe the tryptamine means for end-of-life care. But I think the most important healing we have to do is with the Earth itself, and for that the psychedelics have no parallel particular.


Dr. Andrew Weil

Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more, Wade. I think that's the one great cause for optimism that I see. I think that the psychedelic renaissance promises the transformation of consciousness that might get us out of a lot of the jams that we're in.


Wade Davis

Yeah, you know, Andy, I remember when I was with Tim, our old friend Tim Plowman, and we discovered this new species of San Pedro cactus in Bolivia. And we're just about to separate after a wonderful 15 months together. And we took this big, heroic whack of it on a beach south of Lima.


And, you know, I saw Tim like Icarus going at the sun. And I sat all afternoon staring at a single blade of grass emerging from that parched desert. And, if someone observed me from the outside. I would have thought that I was psychotic. But in the moment I was having the revelation of my my life. I tried to send a telegram to Schulz's saying professor, we're all ambulatory plants and mercifully, Tim cut me off at the pass. But when I got back to Harvard that summer, having never studied biology or botany in my life, even in high school, I just jumped into it. And on the night that I understood the metabolic pathway that gave us that photosynthesis, the formula of life itself, you know, the idea that that, you know, carbon dioxide and water sparked by photons of light can give us the air we breathe and the food we eat.


I went nuts and I raced around the science library. I was actually escorted out by the security guards.


For disrupting the peace because I just to me, it was like I had seen God himself or herself. Right. And and I think that if we can encourage people to embrace nature itself in such a way, that may be also a key to our salvation, if you will.


Dr. Andrew Weil



Dr. Victoria Maizes

One of the things I understand that the two of you have been in conversation about recently is coca. Tell us what you're talking about and why is coca so important?


Dr. Andrew Weil


Well, you know, coca is a sacred plant of large indigenous groups in South America. I think the story of coca and how our society has dealt with it, European society is a perfect example of what not to do with the natural world. You know, we have demonized the plant and we released one element of it, cocaine to the world, which caused a lot of problems.


And now we blame all the trouble on the plant. And Coke is one of many demonized plants. I think that's a great way we've gone wrong with nature. I started writing about Coca and its potential therapeutic uses long ago and Wade quite recently has been really involved in political and social efforts to try to get that changed.


And I think there's a real possibility now. Wade, do you want to say something about.


Wade Davis

You know, the background here is that Schulz's got a great grant for Tim Plowman to study, not just the botany and the ethnobotany of coke, but nutritional value of coca back in the seventies. And Andy was involved in that work as well because he was also looking at Coca, the medicinal potential of coca.


And together with Jim Duke, they did the nutritional study that revealed that coca was chock full of vitamins, more calcium than, any other plant, perhaps enzymes that enhance the body's ability to digest carbohydrate at elevation, all of which made it perfect for the Andean diet. And with one simple assay that they put in the stock profile of the draconian efforts to eradicate the fields, which incidentally began 50 years before there was a cocaine problem and showed that this was a plant had been used with no evidence of toxicity, let alone addiction, for 8,000 years.


Coca is still cocaine. What potatoes are to vodka and and, you know, the demonization of coca went along with the demonization of cocaine. People just assumed that coca was to cocaine, what opium was to morphine.


And but critically, the efforts to eradicate it began 50 years before there was a cocaine problem and there's a chasm between one anthropologist quipped that, you know, the difference in cocaine and coca was the difference in traveling by jet plane and mule. But the clever line but misses the total point. Cocaine culture is all about sticking $100 note up your nose, damp with the snot of a stranger.


Coca is about meditation. It's about reverence, it's about love. It's about it's about the sacred? And the critical thing is that the totality of the use of coca in indigenous culture, it's not just about using a mild stimulant, it's about the definition of who you are. And therefore, efforts to eradicate the traditional use of coca are not like, for example, keeping the Germans from their beer or the Indonesians from their Beatle nut, the Chinese from their tea, to keep people of the Andes in the Northwest Amazon from coca is something different. It's an act of cultural genocide.


Dr. Andrew Weil

And what do you think are the prospects for rehabilitation?


Wade Davis

I think the prospects are really good Andy because, first of all, the new president of Colombia, Petro, has certainly said all the right things, including in the United Nations. I mean, look, the bottom line is that the war on drugs, which began simply because Nixon in 1972, wanted to isolate his opponent and and win that election, and he never gave a damn about drugs.


It's now been over 50 years, over $1,000,000,000,000. And as Andy has written, there are more people using worse drugs and worse ways than ever before. And and not only has the war on drugs been the most egregious and example of public policy failure with no one being accountable, it's actually caused a real war in Colombia, and 450,000 people have died.


7 million people have been internally displaced, 5 million people forced to leave their homes. How would the United States feel if Canada had patterns of drug consumption in bars and boardrooms across the country, laws that prohibited the sale, but sanctions that did nothing to curtail the sale by the criminal element such that 85 million Americans would be forced from their homes.


Well, that's what happened per capita in Colombia. And the Colombians, like the Bolivians and like the Peruvians, are saying, enough, we've had it. We're tired of bearing the brunt of your social problems with drugs. The really exciting thing, however, is not to see what coca is not… coca is not cocaine. Coca is not a drug, but rather what it is not just a sacred medicine, as Andy said, but simply the most benign stimulant ever brought into domestication by humanity. I mean, if you look carefully at the reports in the 19th century, when coca was readily available, all of the physicians are simply wielded with amazement.


Here is a stimulant that is not a stimulant. Here's the plant that you can use that has these incredible beneficial effects, but you have no sense whatsoever of being under the influence of any stimulant. The thing that's incredible about coca is that it works. Just imagine if I could tell you there is a substance that you could use that gave you a slight sense of well-being and lightness to your foot and ability to focus all day and concentrate on task with a little bit of a kind of a bump of creative inertia, you know, and such that you just felt good all day.


And at the end of the day, with no side effects, not even having sense that you had this substance, you had taken it, you went home to your family and had your dinner, went to sleep, and you could do it all over again the next day. And you suddenly found yourself having your productivity, your quality of life, your sense of well-being, your mood gently elevated in the subtlest way.


I mean, who wouldn't want that? When you think about it, I mean, we talk a lot about mylasse. You know, we you know, there's illness and this kind of existential malaise, you know, the kind of thing we all deal with every day getting up. We haven't got that report done. We're trying to get our kids off to school.


I forgot to do that. The garbage didn't get taken out and all that stuff. That is actually what kind of is a daily blanket of kind of not angst but kind of, you know, you know, irritation that we carry. What if I could tell you there's a little substance you could take that just dissolves all that, you know?


And when you think that in our modern age, what does work become? Work is being doing what we're doing now, staring at a screen. I mean, that's what work is. And if I could suggest that there was a substance that made that not just pleasant but productive and you could do that with great contentment in a way that no other stimulant can deliver.


I mean, you have five cups of coffee and you know that does to you even five cups of tea, five cups of chocolate. You just become a kind of a a jangle of nerves, incredibly irritating. And yet coca can get us off those other stimulants, get us on to something infinitely more benign, I think get people off cocaine because it's it satisfies that sense of kind of slight mood elevation.


And cocaine is just a really awful crummy drug. So, so it's not just it's not just that the prohibition of coca leaves has caused such agonies in Latin America and elsewhere. It's that the prohibition has also, in a more positive sense, robbed all of humanity of one of the most beneficial plants ever brought into being by the genius of human beings and agricultural domestication.


Dr. Andrew Weil

Well, I love it that you were working to change that Wade, and anything I can do to help, I will do.


Dr. Victoria Maizes

Wade, one of the things that I learned in preparing for this podcast is that corporations are calling on you. Tell me why.


Wade Davis

Well, I think corporations are calling on all of us. You know, obviously in the new psychedelic space.


And I think frankly, in the recent Michael Pollan books and the Netflix series, for reasons I don't understand, Schultz's is very much overlooked. And we were very lucky to have been brought together by his example and his charisma.


And so I think at this point, people are reaching out us. I mean, I think the thing with Coca is that I actually do believe it has this kind of potential for good. If I was a coffee grower, I'd be nervous. I think I think coca completely can displace coffee as a stimulant of choice if given a chance.


And I think companies are trying to figure out how to get a wedge in that potential market. You know, the promise of cannabis hasn't been realized because I don't think cannabis is a very interesting plant. I mean, it's obviously good for some people, for some uses, but it's one of those substances that I think once it became legal, people sort of understood why it was called dope, perhaps. I don't know.


But I but I think again, I think this is an example of how if we legalize drugs, you'd be shocked to see that use would plummet, because what drives the illicit trade is not the pharmacology of the individual plant. It's the money being made around that treat. And once you legalize, that all falls away. I mean, obviously, just as an aside, the reason the war on drugs persists is that neither side has any interest in it coming to an end.


The DEA is deeply invested in maintaining their budgets, which are untouchable in Washington. Of course, the cartels are terrified that legalization would cut into their grotesque profits. Right. I mean, at one point at the height of the Median cartel, the marketing accountants were budgeting $1,000 U.S. a week to buy elastic bands. So that gives you a sense of how much money was being made.


Right. And but I think with coca, there are challenges. You know, how do we how do we respect the rights of indigenous people who revere the plant from the commercialization of the plant, which serves the needs of, for example, in Colombia, the 150,000 families that grow it and can only grow it for their well-being.


So we have to sort of create a market that that both respects the rights of indigenous people, but also recognizes that no one society controls the intellectual property of a plant that's been used for 8,000 years by every pre-Columbian civilization and virtually every community from northern Argentina to southern Colombia and on to the Sierra Nevada on the coast of Colombia.


But the point is that the potential is there, and people in Colombia there are any number of companies now producing coca products. You know, coca flower, coca soft drinks, coca. It's almost like the 19th century in the end, cocaine turning up in everything. But I think we make a mistake when we try to market decolonized coca products because it sends a message that there's something wrong with coca, which there is not.


But the more interest we can generate in the plant, the more people who understand its remarkable benefits and the greater chance we have of of of opening up international markets, it probably won't happen in the States.


And Andy, maybe you want to talk to that about it being scheduled to and not one. Yeah.


Dr. Andrew Weil

So it is a schedule two substance because cocaine is scheduled to because it has some limited medical uses. So technically, doctors could prescribe coca if there were illegal source of it, which there's not. But that's something that I will work to create.


Wade Davis

And we shouldn't forget that. Of course, you know, Coca Cola still imports coca leaves by the ton and it's the coca flavonoids and the essence of the leaves with the cocaine having been extracted and sold on the legal pharmaceutical market. That makes Coca Cola the real thing.



Dr. Andrew Weil

So, Wade, How optimistic or pessimistic are you about our future?


Wade Davis

Well, I always think and this may be an indulgence that that in a world in peril, pessimism is indulgence, you know, despair or a kind of insult to the imagination or orthodoxy, the enemy of invention. I mean, what generation has ever been born into a world free of troubles? And I think one of the really terrible things that has come out of the climate movement is the impact it's had psychologically on the youth.


You look at poll after poll of young people in all sincerity saying they shouldn't have children, pessimistic about the future. Will the world be around in 15 years? And the answer is it will be it may be changing, as it always has, and human beings will have to adapt to as they always have done. What is life, Andy?


But a story we lose power of comprehending as we get old. What is the worst thing an old person can say to a young person? Oh, it used to be great. You missed it. I mean, think of it. You know, you epitomized the 1960s. You put your stamp is all over the 1960s. But my friend, look at the movie Woodstock and you just want to have a bath.


I mean that great right? I remember when you once told me 30 or 40 years ago that you were going to change the face of medicine in America.


And you have and you have. So how can we be pessimistic when such changes can happen? You know, I sit back, you know, think about it. You know, in our lifetime, women have gone from the kitchen to the boardroom, people of color from the woods shared to the White House, gay men and women from the closet to the altar.


You know, when I was a kid, just getting people to stop throwing garbage out of a car window was a great environmental victory. Nobody spoke about the biosphere or biodiversity. Now these words are part of the language of schoolchildren. And, you know, it all began on Christmas Eve and that seminal moment when we went around the dark side of the moon and suddenly we saw the earth ascendant.


Right. And I think there's been a similar scientific revelation percolating beneath the surface, equally significant. And that's what I just alluded to a moment ago about genetics. Race is a fiction and that hasn't caught on yet, but it will. You know, we all are cut from the same genetic cloth. We all are descendants of Africa. But the critical thing here in terms of anthropology is and this is what I think is so incredible, is that this shows the intuition of Franz Boas and his incredible condrey, who gave us the modern world to be correct.


You know, they just thought cultural relativism made sense. They thought that people invented their own kind of realities. They thought that everybody shared the same collective human genius, but they were fighting against, you know, years of evolutionary bias. You know, in 1911, the superiority of the white man was accepted with such assurance that there was no entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word racism.


It didn't exist as a concept, and now we are realizing that we are cut from the same genetic cloth. But here's the amazing thing. If we are, it means that every human population shares the same genius, and how they use that genius is just a matter of choice. There is no hierarchy in culture, every culture is just a unique answer to that fundamental question What does it mean to be human and alive?


And when the peoples of the world answer that, they do so in the 7000 voices, the languages of humanity. And that becomes their kind of collective repertoire for dealing with things in the future. When I was that, you know, why do these cultures matter? Two words climate change. Not to suggest that we go back to a pre-industrial past where they quote unquote, be kept from the genius of modernity, medicine, technology, whatever.


It's to suggest that the way that we live is just one way. And it puts a lie to those of us in our own tradition who say that we cannot change when we all know we must change the fundamental way in which we inhabit the planet and we are doing so. It just takes time.



Dr. Victoria Maizes

Well, Wade, this has been a wonderful conversation and we so appreciate the richness that you bring, the long trajectory of your work in this field and the passion that you have for changing our society. So thank you so much.


Wade Davis

Well, thank you. And, you know, I mean, I always say to Andy that he ought to be charging royalties on all the lines of his that I've stole here. You're more honest. You know, I just want all your listeners to know when. If you ever feel that you don't have an influence in the world, just look at those people that you inspire in my life and thinking in my entire career would not have happened without the influence and the mentorship and the friendship, the love of Andrew Weil.


Dr. Andrew Weil

Thank you. I am so pleased to see what you do in the world.


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