/Hamilton Morris on Better Living Through Chemistry: Psychedelics, Smart Drugs, and More (#337)

Hamilton Morris on Better Living Through Chemistry: Psychedelics, Smart Drugs, and More (#337)

(Photo: Danilo Parra)

“It’s good to take things seriously. You don’t want to be afraid, but it’s a serious experience. I would say it’s no less serious than being reborn.”
— Hamilton Morris

Hamilton Morris (TW: @hamiltonmorris, IG: @hamiltonmorris) is a writer, documentarian, and scientific researcher who currently studies the chemistry and pharmacology of tryptamines at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

His writing has been featured in Harper’s Magazine, Playboy, and Vice, and he is the creator of the television series Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, which recently completed its second season, and it is absolutely one of my favorite series of the last five years.

Hamilton is exceptionally good at explaining complex subjects simply and making science sexy, as you’ll discover in this episode.


Want to hear another podcast discussing psychedelics?— Listen to my conversation with Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Stream below or right-click here to download.

This episode is brought to you by Inktel. Ever since I wrote The 4-Hour Workweek, I’ve been frequently asked about how I choose to delegate tasks. At the root of many of my decisions is a simple question: “How can I invest money to improve my quality of life?” Or “how can I spend moderate money to save significant time?”

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This episode is also brought to you by Leadership: In Turbulent Times by the ever-amazing, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin — who you may have heard on this podcast recently (if not, I recommend checking out our conversation at tim.blog/doris).

Leadership: In Turbulent Times is a culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, which offers an illuminating exploration of the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership drawing from the experiences of four presidents — Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ. Goodwin asks and answers questions like: Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times, or do the times make the leader? This seminal work provides an accessible and essential roadmap for aspiring and established leaders in every field. I highly recommend Leadership: In Turbulent Times, and you can find out more about it at doriskearnsgoodwin.com.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Hamilton Morris:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


  • Alexander Shulgin: man or myth? Hamilton gives us a brief synopsis of the amazing life of the late “godfather of ecstasy” and his contributions to science. [07:05]
  • What chemists and non-chemists can get out of reading Shulgin’s books. [14:20]
  • Like Goethe, it was Shulgin’s unique perspective that made him nearly peerless. [16:10]
  • Examining how Shulgin mitigated the risk of testing his newly synthesized compounds prompts another question: how much do we really know about the long-term effects of substances already in wide use? [19:37]
  • Resources Hamilton suggests for anyone who seeks basic literacy in chemistry. [23:28]
  • Where did Hamilton’s interest in psychedelics originate? [27:10]
  • The 12-year-old Hamilton was a discerning consumer of street psychedelics. [27:45]
  • What was Hamilton’s first experience with salvia like? [29:55]
  • Why are consciousness-altering substances so culturally misunderstood, and how might this change in the future? [30:40]
  • Does Hamilton consider himself a spiritual person? What’s the value in substance-induced spiritual experiences for those who don’t consider themselves spiritual? [33:18]
  • Weighing the experimental approach of a scientist toward psychedelics versus the traditional, “shamanistic” approach within a cultural framework. [35:06]
  • The difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose, and the method for finding the right dose varies from person to person. [39:21]
  • One hitch in pinpointing an ideal dose: not all substances (particularly those deemed illegal) are measured consistently, and there can be a variation of potency even between two specimens of the same species of mushroom grown in the same substrate — or between the cap and stem of the very same mushroom. [41:53]
  • Recommended reading on psychedelics. [43:35]
  • What inspires the journalism behind Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia? [46:02]
  • Which episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia would Hamilton recommend to a scientist? [50:02]
  • Which episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia would Hamilton recommend to a non-scientist with an interest — and maybe a fear — of psychedelics? [52:26]
  • Which episodes seem to have the most popular appeal — and why does Hamilton think this is the case? [54:00]
  • Which episode would Hamilton recommend to someone who doesn’t have a healthy respect for the potential dangers of psychedelic substances? [57:56]
  • The attitude Hamilton finds most effective for covering his subject matter with journalistic integrity. [59:07]
  • The seed of most negative experiences Hamilton has had under the influence of substances — and how he’s talked himself out of them. [1:01:02]
  • A cautionary tale for anyone wondering “What’s the worst thing that could happen under the influence of 5-MeO-DMT without lucid supervision?” [1:05:23]
  • Should a documentary show things the way they are — even when they’re potentially unsafe — or should it strive to set an example for people who don’t otherwise know any better? [1:07:31]
  • Why hasn’t there been an episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia about ayahuasca? Hamilton addresses elitist attitudes, manufactured traditions, and media frenzy surrounding this tea — and why you don’t have to go all the way to the Amazon to experience it. [1:08:55]
  • Why do people cling to interpretive, conceptual frameworks for psychedelic experiences, and are these experiences enhanced or diminished by the presence of a guide (such as a shaman)? [1:14:02]
  • What self-talk helps Hamilton keep his experiences from being negative or overwhelming? [1:16:13]
  • Is watching Seinfeld really the best way to cap off a profound session of reconceptualizations? [1:17:09]
  • How has Hamilton found ayahuasca “almost cartoonishly” practical for finding internal motivation, and in what way do such experiences have an anti-addictive effect? [1:18:33]
  • Who is Wade Davis, and did he prove that zombies are real? [1:21:44]
  • What is ibogaine, and how might it be useful for recovering addicts and Parkinson’s disease sufferers? [1:25:32]
  • How sustainable is the harvesting of natural compounds, when is synthesis a reasonable alternative, and what might we be missing in the long run? [1:31:25]
  • What is (and isn’t) an alkaloid? [1:37:26]
  • Hamilton’s take on nootropics, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and the difficulty with self-assessing and defining intelligence. [1:38:58]
  • Pondering 2CD and the induction of synesthesia-like effects for memory retention. [1:42:41]
  • Sometimes solving a problem just takes seeing things from a different — not necessarily better or smarter — perspective. [1:44:33]
  • If nicotine gum is in Hamilton’s pole position, what are in second and third place when he needs to get his brain in motion? [1:45:05]
  • Assessing before and after effects on cognition and parting thoughts. [1:46:32]


Posted on: September 20, 2018.

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