What did this mean for you in terms of leaving old thinking and medical or allopathic colleagues behind?
I never practiced allopathic medicine. When I got out of my clinical training, I felt I had not been trained to do prevention, which was what I was most interested in. I also felt that the methods I learned were too dangerous to be used generally. So from that early time, I began investigating other ways and putting together what I first called “natural and preventive medicine.” At the beginning, it was rather lonely. I knew I was on the right path and I was doing what I was supposed to do. I was just completely ignored by medical colleagues. And while I’ve never practiced allopathic medicine, my program receives grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The medical establishment has charged that you can cite only anecdotal evidence, not clinical trials, to support your recommendations. How do you respond?
There is a lot of evidence out there that the medical establishment just doesn’t pay attention to. Secondly, what I teach and how I practice is that we should use a sliding scale of evidence: The greater the potential of the treatment to cause harm, the stricter the standards of evidence should be. A lot of what is done in conventional medicine is extremely harmful and does not have solid evidence behind it.
Written when you were a student at Harvard, your exposé for The Crimson on LSD’s being supplied to students was instrumental in Professor “Turn on, tune in, drop out” Timothy Leary’s being forced out. Later, after your own experiments with marijuana, you went on to conclude, “There are no good or bad illicit drugs, just good or bad uses.” What would the good uses be?
There is an enormous range—everything from relaxation, as we do with alcohol, to exploring mind-body events like healing, to stimulating creativity, to social connection. I look at what people do. I’m not trying to tell people to do drugs or not do drugs. I have a whole book on this subject called From Chocolate to Morphine. But it is stupid to cut ourselves off from marijuana as a medical drug, as we do in this country, because it is so nontoxic compared with pharmaceutical drugs. And it has many interesting uses. Similarly, there are poor pain-control methods in this country. In England, for example, doctors can use heroin as a pain control method because it has some advantages over morphine. There is so much irrationality in U.S. drug policy. It is completely rooted in fear and superstition and really has nothing to do with the scientific facts. Yet the drugs that we encourage and promote the use of and make money from, such as alcohol and tobacco, are, in any way you look at it, the most dangerous medically and in terms of addictiveness and social costs. In my youth, in the ’60s, I used marijuana and psychedelics. These days, I don’t. I’m a moderate consumer of alcohol. I drink green tea moderately. I like dark chocolate.
You’re 65 and often described as cherubic, a polite way of saying a little chubby. You admit to liking chocolate. Are you really following your own advice?
Absolutely! I don’t think you’d find me chubby now. A lot of that was the legacy of the book tour that I went on, eating on the road all the time. It took me about a year and a half to recover. I will never do that again. And I do not tell anyone to do anything that I do not do myself.
Last year, you were criticized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI] because you sell the supplements you promote in your books and on your Web site. They also cited your $14 million deal with Drugstore.com.
I began selling supplements for several reasons. One was selfish: I wanted access to products that fit my specifications, and I couldn’t find them out there. Secondly, I was besieged by readers who wanted me to direct them to products that fit my standards. And thirdly, and most important, it was the only way that I could see to fund the academic work that I do. Our program at the University of Arizona has a $4.5 million annual budget. We depend on a lot of private philanthropy. It’s been tough. And by creating my foundation, which receives all of my after-tax profits from these products, there is now the beginning of a steady revenue stream to support the program and other programs around the country.
CSPI also claimed that only a little of the money you earned on supplements actually goes into your program or foundation, even though you’ve stated otherwise.
The Weil Foundation gave away half a million dollars last year. This year, we expect it to be 1 million dollars, and in the near future, many millions of dollars. I was really angered by that story. There were a lot of inaccuracies in it. And I think it was mainly motivated by the center’s antisupplement bias. There is nothing to hide. The money from the supplement sales flows through to the program and the foundation. And anyone is welcome to look at it.
Why do you think the public is so intrigued by medical mysteries, like the TV series House or DISCOVER’s Vital Signs?
Clearly, people are obsessed with health. It is the number one topic on everybody’s list. I think this was probably always the case. But in addition, commentators have written that physicians in our culture have filled the role of priests and shamans in pretechnological societies. We invest them with the same kind of belief and power. And even though we may be very unhappy with today’s whole system with doctors, I think that’s still there.
What’s next for you? Do you plan to retire? And since your daughter, Diana Dakota Weil, is writing columns on your Web site, are you grooming her to take over?
My daughter wrote four columns for my Web site, and I hope she will do more of them. She’s only 15, and she thought she might want to be a journalist or a writer. So I encouraged her to write some columns for my Web site from a kid’s point of view. Unfortunately, she’s been too busy to continue.