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PSYCHOACTIVE

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Drugs, drugs, drugs. Almost everyone uses them. Almost everyone has an opinion about them. Drug policy pioneer Ethan Nadelmann gets to the bottom of our strange relationship to drugs by talking with those who love them, hate them, and study them. We’d love to hear your stories and ideas. Send us a note at psychoactive@protozoa.com or leave a voicemail at 1-833-PSYCHO-0 (1-833-779-2460).
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The notion of legalizing any sort of illicit drug seemed preposterous to most people just twenty years ago. Now cannabis is being legalized in a growing number of states and countries, psychedelic legalization is proceeding much faster than anyone expected, and in Colombia the president and other leading political figures are talking openly of lega…
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It ain’t easy getting old but the right drugs, used in the right ways, can help. Charley Wininger is a psychotherapist, called “The Love Doctor,” who recently authored of Listening to Ecstasy: The Transformative Power of MDMA. I talked with him and his wife, Shelley, about the ways in which MDMA has proven invaluable in their love relationship, in …
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There’s more or less never been a drug free society in human history but scholarly examination of the history of psychoactive drugs was surprisingly sparce until just a few decades ago. Paul Gootenberg is a distinguished professor of history, author of books on the history of cocaine, editor of the recently published Oxford Handbook of Global Drug …
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The renowned ethnopharmacologist and research pharmacognosist, Dennis McKenna, wrote "The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna," ten years ago. That book is being republished, with a new afterword by Dennis, this month, so it seemed the right moment to talk about their relationship and respective evolutions, the experien…
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I’ve long been fascinated by khat, the psychoactive plant that is legal and consumed widely in Yemen and the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti) but that was criminalized in recent decades in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world as Somali and other émigré communities grew. Its history and uses are somewhat analogous to…
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I’m often a guest on other podcasts. Among the conversations I most enjoyed, and which many listeners may find particularly interesting, was with Giancarlo Canavesio on his Mangu.TV Podcast. He asked me to be his first guest in a series entitled “Psychedelic Confessions,” during which we reflected on our respective experiences with psilocybin mushr…
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The Prohibition era (1920-33) plays a far more significant role in U.S. history than is commonly assumed. Yes, it clearly failed in its objectives. And, yes, the assumptions that led to the rapid enactment of the 18th Amendment were massively flawed. But Prohibition was, as Lisa McGirr, professor of history at Harvard, argues in her book, The War o…
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“Our culture’s skewed idea of normality,” says the well known physician and author, Dr. Gabor Maté, “is the single biggest impediment to fostering a healthier world, even keeping us from acting on what we already know.” Some years ago, his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, touched and helped a tremendous number of people looking for insight into…
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Kava is a psychoactive beverage from the South Pacific that has a growing international market. Chris Kilham is “the Medicine Man,” an author, educator and TV personality who has conducted medicinal plant research in over 45 countries. We discussed the scientific evidence behind claims that kava is effective at reducing anxiety , alleviating pain a…
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Ellen Scanlon started a weekly podcast, “How to do the Pot,” in 2019 for women interested in cannabis. She’s used it to give advice about how best to incorporate cannabis into one’s life, whether to relive stress or pain, enhance sex, help with sleep, or just generally lead a healthier, happier and more productive life. We talked about pregnancy, n…
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This is a bonus episode of PSYCHOACTIVE. The next episode of PSYCHOACTIVE will be my interview with Ellen Scanlon. She’s the host and creator of the podcast, 'How to Do the Pot,” a weekly podcast for women, by women, that tries to demystify cannabis for people looking to learn safe and trustworthy advice about a topic they might know little about. …
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Many people have achieved remarkable success in overcoming a longstanding addiction through ingesting ibogaine. It is a powerful psychedelic drug derived from the iboga shrub, which can be found in the West African country, Gabon, and its neighboring regions. Unlike most other psychedelics, ibogaine can dramatically reduce withdrawal symptoms and c…
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CBD has exploded in popularity over the past decade. I talked about the power and promise of this cannabinoid with one of the world’s leading experts on the subject: Martin Lee, author of two highly acclaimed books, Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, and co-founder and director of ProjectCBD.org. We covered topics including what is CBD and how does it …
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Chelsea Handler is the famous comedian, author, talk show host, documentary maker and activist whose millions of fans relish her revealing and humorous stories about sex, drugs, relationships and politics. Our conversation focused, of course, on drugs: on how getting in trouble with drugs launched her career in comedy, on why she prefers marijuana …
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Millions of women use drugs when they’re pregnant. Some are punished when their pregnancies end with a miscarriage or stillbirth, or even when they give birth to a healthy baby. No one knows more about this than Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). We discussed the scientific evidence regardi…
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An extraordinary number of the greatest jazz musicians were deeply involved in psychoactive drug use – to the extent that the history of jazz and the history of drugs during the middle third of the 20th century are inseparable. The King of Jazz, Louis Armstrong, never went a day without marijuana. The great “Lady Day,” Billie Holiday, became during…
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Kurt Schmoke’s life and mine intersected at a pivotal moment in the spring of 1988, as the war on drugs was approaching its most feverish pitch. I was a 31 year old assistant professor at Princeton University who had just published a prominent article which explained why the drug war was as doomed and counterproductive as alcohol Prohibition. Kurt …
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Boris Jordan is a fascinating figure. An American of White Russian ancestry, he played a pivotal role in Russia’s roller coaster economic transformation during the 1990s. Today he is best known as the founder, executive chairman and principal shareholder of Curaleaf, which is in many respects the world’s largest cannabis company. We started off by …
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“We could not have civilization without intoxication,” says Professor Edward Slingerland in his important new book: Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization. Indeed, “the use of intoxicants should puzzle us as much as religion does.” This episode examines how and why intoxicants – and particularly alcohol -- have played su…
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Jockeying over patents is driving investment and competition among the growing number of people and companies trying to profit from the psychedelics renaissance. Graham Pechenik is one of the smartest and most respected attorneys specializing in this area. We started off by discussing a recent victory against the DEA, which had tried to put a numbe…
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Here's a bonus episode of Psychoactive. I was was recently a guest on the Dear Chelsea podcast, a weekly advice show hosted by comedian Chelsea Handler. I thought our listeners might enjoy hearing this fun, lively discussion, so we're dropping it in your feed as a bonus episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.…
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There is probably no other country in the world with such a fluid and counterintuitive history of drugs as Iran,” says Maziyar Ghiabi, professor at the University of Exeter, in his book, Drugs Politics: Managing Disorder in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its problems with illicit drug misuse are among the greatest in the world. It is unique among Mu…
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The Narcotic Farm was a remarkable institution. Opened in Lexington, Kentucky in 1935 and closed in the 1970s, the massive hybrid prison/treatment facility was for many decades one of the only publicly available drug treatment facilities in the United States. The writer, William Burroughs, spent time there, as did his son. So did jazz musicians lik…
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Chesa Boudin, a public defender and child of “radical royalty,” was elected as district attorney of San Francisco in late 2019 and recalled by voters in mid-2022. Derided by critics as soft on crime and heralded by supporters as a principled and effective proponent of reforms that voters actually favored, we talked about his accomplishments and cha…
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Many people consider ayahuasca “the queen” of psychedelic plant medicines – and few people know more about ayahuasca than the Brazilian anthropologist, Bia Labate. She has authored, co-authored or co-edited over twenty books about ayahuasca as well as other plant medicines, shamanism, ritual, religion and drug policy. The U.S.-based educational and…
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Hitler’s military forces achieved immense success in the early years of World War II by making the Blitzkrieg (or “Lightning War”) central to their offensive strategy. Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, tells the story of how methamphetamine enabled this success, sometimes over the opposition of medical and military skeptics…
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"You know, it's a funny thing,” said President Nixon to his aide, H.R. Haldeman, “every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews." Well, today you'll find out. Eddy Portnoy is the curator of a novel exhibit at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City entitled “Am…
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Immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s famous book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the Merry Pranksters were a pivotal link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and both the Grateful Dead and the hippie generation that emerged later in the 1960s. Mountain Girl was romantically involved, and had children, with both the Pranksters’ leader, Ken Kesey (auth…
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Philip Morris International (PMI) is a leader in Big Tobacco, profiting from the sale of Marlboro, Chesterfield, Virginia Slims and other cigarette brands. It’s also at the forefront in transitioning to the sale of non-combustible nicotine products, which now make up 30% of PMI’s revenue. André Calantzopoulos has worked for PMI for almost forty yea…
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Rick Doblin founded the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in 1986, and we’ve been friends since shortly thereafter. He and his organization stand at the forefront of the movement to destigmatize and legitimize MDMA and psychedelics for therapeutic purposes and even more broadly. We talked about his battles with federal ag…
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Netflix released a new documentary series last week, How to Change Your Mind, based on Michael Pollan’s book by the same name about psychedelics and medicine. The next episode of PSYCHOACTIVE, out Thursday, is my interview with Rick Doblin, who has played a pioneering role in psychedelics research and advocacy for four decades. He is featured in ep…
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Dr. Julie Holland is a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist who has written and edited many outstanding books about drugs, including most recently Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics. Julie and I teamed up last year to answer questions submitted by Psychoactive listeners. We enjoyed it so much, and the feedback was…
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What is microdosing? Why do so many people swear by it? But does it really work? Dr. Sophia Korb is a therapist and researcher who worked for the Fadiman Group on the largest microdosing study in the world. We talked about the findings from that study, including perceived benefits and downsides, why people start or stop microdosing, and patterns of…
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Marijuana was integral to the evolving culture wars of the 1970s, with long criminal sentences meted out to some while others flouted the law with alacrity. No one was more central to the battles over marijuana policy than Keith Stroup, who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1970 and directed the organizat…
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How does marijuana affect driving? Can one learn to drive safely while high? Are there reliable tests for detecting marijuana-impaired driving? How accurate are simulator tests of people driving under the influence of marijuana? Why do marijuana users tend to think they’re driving worse than they actually are? Has marijuana legalization resulted in…
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Is it possible that MDMA and psychedelics offer a master key for reopening the “critical periods” in our infancy when the brain’s development and maturation is strongly dependent on experience or environmental influences? Gul Dolen, a brilliant neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, has approached this crucial question by administering these d…
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Vancouver’s drug policies are among the most progressive in North America but the city still suffers from high rates of fatal overdose, mostly involving fentanyl. Garth Mullins has been part of the drug scene in Vancouver for many years: as a former heroin consumer who now takes a daily dose of methadone; as a journalist who joined with other drug …
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In spite of a massive spike in overdose death, BC’s government still refuses to offer a genuinely safe supply of drugs. Eris Nyx and Jeremy Kalicum tell the story of how the Drug User Liberation Front has stepped up to do what the policy makers refuse to do themselves: offer people a safe version of the drugs they already use. Then, Crackdown’s sci…
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I first met Amanda Feilding in the late 1990s, when she was launching the Beckley Foundation to conduct and support research on psychedelics. I must admit that I failed to anticipate how successful and influential she would become, with Amanda described in the media as “the queen of consciousness” and her Beckley Foundation playing a leading role i…
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David Simon is the co-creator and head writer of the HBO series “The Wire” (2002-08) and “We Own This City” (2022) as well as other outstanding TV series on policing, drug dealing, music, porn and the potential for fascism in the United States. We discussed the ways in which the war on drugs has undermined, distorted and corrupted effective policin…
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Adam Strauss is an actor and comedian who created a play, The Mushroom Cure, about his own struggles with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and his attempts to cure, or at least ameliorate the symptoms, with psychedelics. Critics have described his show as “a hilarious ride through OCD,” “a fabulous, perceptive trip,” and “hugely intelligent and …
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Drug policy in Russia is -– no surprise -- highly repressive. But that was not entirely the case in the early 2000s, when dozens of harm reduction programs operated around the country and a drug liberalization law resulted in fifty thousand people being released from prison. Anya Sarang is probably Russia’s best known harm reduction advocate. We di…
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When Rodrigo Duterte became president of The Philippines in 2016, he launched a drug war that was distinguished by his encouragement and approval of extra-judicial killings by police officials and their associates. Although widely condemned by foreign governments, this drug war, which has killed between ten and twenty thousand people, appears to re…
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Until it was supplanted by LSD in the 1950’s and 60’s, mescaline was the best known and most popular psychedelic in the world. It’s the key psychoactive ingredient in peyote, which has been used for millennia among indigenous people in the Americas and often demonized and prohibited by civil and religious authorities who feared it. Mike Jay, whose …
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Chef Nikki Steward is one of the most famous and talented of chefs who cook and bake with cannabis. She describes her brand “The High End Affair” as a traveling “infused culinary experience" and has curated large dinner parties for Snoop Dog, Dave Chapelle, DJ Khaled and many other celebrities. I’m an eager consumer but an inexperienced chef so I p…
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Sam Quinones is a distinguished journalist and author who has reported on America's opioid crisis for over a decade. His 2015 book, Dreamland, examined the spread of prescription opioids and then heroin across the country. His new book, The Least of Us, focuses on the spread of fentanyl and P2P methamphetamine, and their devastating impact on peopl…
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Few countries have suffered the consequences of ineffective prohibitionist policies for so long or severely as Mexico. Professors Alejandro Madrazo and Catalina Perez are among the world’s leading experts on this subject. I wanted to know: How did the criminal organizations that traffic in drugs get so powerful? Why is it a misnomer to call them “c…
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I took a short subway ride from my home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to East Harlem to visit OnPoint NYC – the first overdose prevention center, a.k.a. safe injection site or supervised injection facility, to operate openly in my country with the permission of the mayor and other top officials. Executive director Sam Rivera, senior director of pr…
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Philippe Bourgois, along with his co-author Jeffrey Schonberg, spent over a decade getting to know a group of homeless people in San Francisco whose lives revolved around their injection drug use. The result of their research was one of the greatest of all drug ethnographies, a book called Righteous Dopefiends. It's a remarkably intimate book, full…
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Do you ever wonder about the actual lives of people who sell illicit drugs – their fears and aspirations, their family lives, their business models and moral codes, and their fates once their drug dealing days are behind them? Philippe Bourgois is a distinguished anthropologist, currently teaching and directing the Center for Social Medicine and Hu…
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