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.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

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

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.

#313: Michael Pollan — Exploring The New Science of Psychedelics

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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]


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23 Replies to “Hamilton Morris on Better Living Through Chemistry: Psychedelics, Smart Drugs, and More (#337)”

  1. I’m hoping you can help: During one of your amazing podcasts, the interviewee mentioned for just a moment (or you did, Tim) how psychedelics help people who are going through chemotherapy. I can’t recall if it was MDMA or something else, and have a friend going through chemo right now. Have been through the transcripts of the Pollan interview but still can’t find it. If you recall, would love to know. Thank you in advance!

    1. I’m not sure, but I think it was Michael Pollan talking about people going though a chemo and how using several sessions of psilocybin has helped them overcoming the fear of death.

    2. It was likely the Paul Stamets episode. Turkey Tail, or Trametes Versicolor, are said to have tumour inhibiting affects, and boosts the immune system (non hallucinogenic). See Stamets, TedMed talk on YouTube. The mycelia form is said to be stronger, so taking it as a capsule may be better fungiperfecti.com. I grow it, dry it, shred it in a blender, and then consume it as a tea. It’s non-edible on it’s own, as it’s very tough and could cause stomach upset.

  2. Also what a phenomenal discussion and resource list – this could be a course. Thank you so very much for your efforts.

  3. Tim, thank you so much for this episode. As per your request on your 5 bullet Fridays email – this was the place to connect with you. I have been a fan of yours for many years, an avid podcast listener, and have gained value from all of your books. Im an acupuncturist and meditation teacher – I know this is a stretch but I would love to share my online meditation course with you and anyone who you think may find it valuable. As per your request i will not enter the url here – but feel free to ask for it.

    thanks Tim!

  4. I find it interesting that he dismissed the role of a shaman and says that anyone can brew ayahuasca in the house. That’s not what I’ve heard from people like Dennis McKenna, Graham Hancock and Chris kilham. I wonder why that is.

  5. Great podcast, as always with many inspirational ideas! Also, nice thoughts about the smart drugs not actually making you smarter. The part I got upset with was what your interviewee said about ritaline – being addictive and that you could have the same effects of clarity with discipline, because it puts quite a heavy stigma on people who rely on this substance because of ADHD. I believe that’s not what your interviewee inteded to do, but the way he phrased it – any stimulant being addictive, not differentiating between taking it as a “smart drug” or by clinical prescription, implies ritaline would be addictive when taken as prescribed in small doses at a fixed scheme, which it is not, as numerous studies show.

    Concentration problems caused by dopamine imbalance are sure not to be solved with more discipline – discipline can be useful in general, but it does not provide the dopamine level needed for the brain to filter out distractions the same way an average brain does. Actually you would assume that someone without ADHD who takes ritaline would indeed feel stimulated by the extra dopamine – awake, a little jittery, a little euphoric, so they might feel more motivated to go on reading and studying for hours, but the actual ability to concentrate and memorize actually gets worse with too high levels of dopamine. Someone with ADHD who takes a slightly higher dose than that works best also has more difficulties concentrating – so it’s not the more dopamine the better, but it’s about finding the right dose. And if one needs ritaline to concentrate it’s okay and safe to take it (after diagnosis, under medical supervision) and should not be ashamed by the distorted thought they could do the same with more discipline.

    I don’t know what your thoughts on the topic are, Tim and I respect your ability to listen to and respect all sorts of divergent opinions, but in this case to me personally it’s more that just an opinion because it can be hurtful to people with ADHD and their loved ones and frustrating for professionals working with clients with ADHD that’s why I feel the urgent need to write this awfully long comment and motivate people to think about what words like that feel like for people who are struggeling with ADHD.

  6. Was looking up PubChem info on Psilocybin and this para came up under toxicity:

    “11.1.1 Antidote and Emergency Treatment

    For patients with a “bad trip” or panic reaction, provide gentile reassurance and relaxation techniques in a quiet environment. Treat agitation or severe anxiety states with diazepam or midazolam. Butyrophenones such as haloperidol are useful despite a small theoretic risk of lowering the seizure threshold. Treat seizures, hyperthermia, rhabdomyolysis, hypertension, and cardiac arrhythmias if they occur. /LSD and other hallucinogens/

    Olson, K.R. (Ed.); Poisoning & Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill. New York, N.Y. 2004., p. 249”

    I wonder if your guest can give some good examples of “gentile reassurance” one might use in such circumstances.

    Thank you 😉

  7. I loved this episode. And any of your podcasts that explore alternative medicines. How about interviewing a Shaman or someone who can speak about shamanism as it relates to the medicines. Merging the science with the spiritual. There’s actually a lot of science in the spiritual. I have some ideas. But hate to name drop on an open forum.

  8. Not sure which episode it was mentioned in but looking for recommendation on mujo. I’ve never studied Buddhism but interested in learning more about the concept of impermanence.

  9. Hi,

    Having watched all episodes of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia & watched Hamilton walk into a lab with fellow associate & have watched the extraordinary lengths in obtaining Desired Results in quite Spacious Labs Yet I Wonder the Complexities already worked out by ‘Higher Intelligent Beings’ referencing *Alien’s* – who in Thier Ultimate Wisdom Concised a Laboratory into small spaces such as ‘Plant’s’ – Would Hamilton concider explain in Future Series perhaps the Small Intricacies of these Mini Laboratory’s some time into the Future . . .

    Thank You for letting me have this say . . .

    James Dang-ers . . .

  10. To Hamilton Morris:

    Don’t worry about responding to this email. I have watched your tv show

    on VICE for some time. I am consumed with admiration for you. Being a

    76 old woman (shaman and Alexandrian HPs) I MUST say: I WISH YOU WERE MY GRANDSON. I’d give about anything I have to have contributed

    to your dna.

    Signed with sincere admiration,

    Markianne Williams

  11. Wondering if you’ve considered talking to Tao Lin. I’d love to hear you in particular talk to him, especially about Glyphosate and it’s affects on physiology and consciousness. “Trip” was a mind-blowing read and it also introduced me to ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison and her vast experience with shamanic plants (another potential guest?)

    ps too lazy to change my Eddie Lacy fantasy football avatar from 4 years ago.

  12. I really enjoyed this episode, but I beg to differ on the recommendation of the books by David Klein: ‘Organic Chemistry as a Second Language’ (‘First Semester Topics’ and ‘Second Semester Topics’) for those who don’t have a strong background in chemistry but who want to fast track their knowledge. I purchased both books on your recommendation, but found the treatment of topics to be virtually incomprehensible. No introduction, no ‘baby steps’. It is a book for those who already know the material. Not useful at all for people who aren’t mainlining chemistry.

  13. Thank you for your extensive documentation of all those amazing books and people mentioned! I wish there was a 4 hour funnel to absorb it all! You are a really great interviewer and Hamilton is astounding yet so humble. Worth listening to again and again!