Plants of the Gods — Dr. Mark Plotkin on Ayahuasca, Shamanic Knowledge, the Curse and Blessing of Coca, and More (#508)

Photo credit: Amazon Conservation Team 

Welcome to The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is usually my job to deconstruct world-class performers, to tease out their routines, habits, et cetera that you can apply to your own life. This time around, we have a very special edition featuring not one but three short episodes of the Plants of the Gods podcast, hosted by my friend and past podcast guest, Dr. Mark Plotkin. I’ve listened to all his episodes and chose a few favorites to share with you all.

Mark (@DocMarkPlotkin) is an ethnobotanist who serves as president of the Amazon Conservation Team, which has partnered with ~80 tribes to map and improve management and protection of ~100 million acres of ancestral rainforests. He is best known to the general public as the author of the book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice, one of the most popular books ever written about the rainforest. His most recent book is The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know. You can find my interview with Mark at

I am excited to share with you three episodes from Plants of the Gods—the first covering the adventures of the legendary ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schulte‪s‬, the second on ayahuasca, and the third on coca and cocaine. These episodes cover a lot of fascinating ground. 

If you enjoy them and want more, be sure to check out the Plants of the Gods podcast wherever podcasts can be found. You can learn about everything from hallucinogenic snuffs to the diverse formulations of curare (a plant mixture which relaxes the muscles of the body and leads to asphyxiation), and much, much more.  

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Tonal smart home gym; LinkedIn Sales Navigator, the best version of LinkedIn for sales professionals; and Athletic Greens all-in-one nutritional supplement. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#508: Plants of the Gods — Ayahuasca, Shamanic Knowledge, Coca, and the Adventures of Richard Evans Schultes

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear my earlier conversation with Dr. Mark Plotkin? Lend your ears to our discussion about Richard Evans Schultes as a “trickster” in the shamanic tradition, how a shaman in the northeastern part of the Amazon cured Mark’s foot pain instantly when no one else could, the “holes” in Western medicine’s understanding, hallucinogenic frogs, the risks of ayahuasca and other Amazon-derived hallucinogens, and much more.

#469: Dr. Mark Plotkin on Ethnobotany, Real vs. Fake Shamans, Hallucinogens, and the Dalai Lamas of South America


Connect with Dr. Mark Plotkin:

Website | Plants of the Gods Podcast

Amazon Conservation Team | Twitter | Facebook

Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest by Mark J. PlotkinThe Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know by Mark J. PlotkinWhere Is Punt? | NovaThe Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes | The Amazon Conservation TeamHarvard Museum of Natural HistoryEast Boston | Global BostonBoston Public Library Celebrates 150th Anniversary of East Boston Branch | Boston Public LibraryNotes of a Botanist on the Amazon and the Andes by Richard Spruce | AmazonWhat Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects | HealthlineMescal: The Divine Plant and Its Psychological Effects by Heinrich Kluver | Giorgio Samorini NetworkThe Economic Botany of the Kiowa Indians as it Relates to the History of the Tribe by Paul A. Vestal and Richard Evans Schultes | HathiTrust Digital LibraryShamanic Origins of Religion and Medicine by Weston La Barre | Journal of Psychedelic DrugsTeonanacatl: The Narcotic Mushroom of the Aztecs by Richard Evans Schultes | American AnthropologistFly Agaric | US Forest ServiceVisken (Pindolol) | RxListPlants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers by Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, and Christian Rätsch | AmazonPhotography of Richard Evans Schultes | Covinda GalleryChiribiquete National Park – “The Maloca of the Jaguar” | UNESCO World Heritage CentreMuseum of Comparative ZoologyThe Biology of Consciousness: From William James to Richard Schultes by Brian D. Farrell | ReVistaThe Dose Makes the Poison Concept | ToxicitySacred Plants of the Putumayo | ESRIRichard Evans Schultes: World War II and the Rubber Industry | Our Amazing WorldThe Sherman Tank SiteBr’er Rabbit and the Briar Patch | Study GuidesPlant Admixtures to Ayahuasca, the South American Hallucinogenic Drink by Homer Virgil Pinkley | LloydiaYoco, The Natural Caffeine High by Dr. Andrew Weil | High Times via 420 TeleportQuinine | RxListColombia’s Cofan Still Fighting for Survival | SFGateColombia Creates Rainforest Reserve to Protect Medicinal Plants | MongabayTop 10 Machu Picchu Secrets | National GeographicThe Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen GinsbergThe Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name by Brian Muraresku | AmazonThe World’s Largest Psychedelic Research Center | The Tim Ferriss Show #385Altered Minds: Mescaline’s Complicated History | NatureDiplopterys Cabrerana (Chaliponga) | Erowid VaultAyahuasca Molecules Named “Telepathine” by Early Scientists | KahpiWhat Is Yopo? | Zamnesia BlogCoca: The History and Medical Significance of an Ancient Andean Tradition | Emergency Medicine InternationalCoca Leaf: Myths and Reality | Transnational InstitutePicea Rubens (Red Spruce) | Native Plants of North AmericaLarch | Dr. HauschkaSapodilla (Manilkara Zapota) | Rainforest AllianceAbout the Kogi | Tairona Heritage TrustMoche Civilization | World History EncyclopediaRoyal Tombs Museum | PeruErotic Gallery | Museo LarcoThe Coca Wine Fad: A Brief History | The Drinks BusinessFact Check: Cocaine in Coca-Cola? | SnopesGuns, Heroin Syringes, and Sex Hygiene Equipment: Archaeological Dig Reveals Sordid History of Storyville Red Light District of New Orleans | The IndependentThe Yucuna Indians (or Yukuna) | Laurent FontaineThe Tanimuca and Letuama Indians | Laurent FontaineErythroxylum Coca Lamarck | The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive PlantsMambe Series: Staying Still to Be Smart with the Plant | The City Paper BogotáSoroche Suffering: How to Prevent Altitude Sickness in Peru | EphemerraticThe Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd | Amazon MusicReefer Madness (1936) | Inter-Pathé


Who was Richard Evans Schultes, and how did Mark’s path first cross with his? [07:32]Why was Schultes (generally) so well-regarded by colleagues, students, and the indigenous people he worked alongside? [11:57]How did Schultes’ background prepare him to approach his career with the fresh perspective of a respectful outsider, what brought ethnobotany into his sphere of interests, and what experience cemented it as his primary pursuit? [14:28]The spirit to explore and experiment that made Schultes a superior botanist to his less adventurous peers, and the compounds he was able to retrieve for the benefit of all as a result. [19:18]How did an expedition into the Amazon influence William James, the father of American psychology? [24:45]That time Schultes went to Colombia to find medicinal arrow poison and came home with an orchid never before seen by Western eyes. [26:47]How Schultes was recruited to use his skills as a botanist to aid the American effort during WWII instead of being sent to fight on the front lines when he tried to enlist. [28:45]On Schultes’ introduction to yoco and the allure of the Chiribiquete. [30:22]Who was Alexander Hamilton Rice, and what was his contribution to ethnobotany? [32:35]How do the Yacuna people dance the Baile de Muñeco for three days straight? [35:30]On Schultes’ introduction to ayahuasca and differing accounts about how it all went down. [36:21]How Schultes’ legacy lives on. [38:43]Biocultural conservation is not about saving rainforests, saving the indigenous people there, or saving their shamans. They are intricately linked. [42:48]Schultes on ayahuasca. [45:15]Were Christianity and Judaism founded under the influence of mind-altering substances? [46:14]Why previously isolated shamanic substances are increasingly becoming mainstreamed into Western medicine. [47:03]How Mark’s Amazon Conservation Team is working with the indigenous people of the Amazon and local governments to preserve, cultivate, and learn about the compounds to be found there for the benefit of those who live among them. [49:33]On the now global reach and importance of the once-obscure ayahuasca, and how it’s been used in the Amazon since antiquity. [52:04]Western reaction upon first experiencing ayahuasca and other mind-altering compounds hasn’t always been welcoming. [54:40]The reason behind the naming of the Banisteriopsis caapi. [56:01]Admixtures added to ayahuasca to alter the type, intensity, and duration of the experience, and the mystery of how shamans brought some of them together from such disparate ecosystems. [57:17]What might be expected from a first-time experience with ayahuasca. [1:00:47]The difference between an ethnobotanist and an anthropologist. [1:02:04]Mark’s worst ayahuasca experience. [1:03:19]Why ayahuasca and comparable compounds are rightfully called plants of the gods. [1:05:04]Humans have been using coca for at least 8,000 years. [1:06:04]How a famous houseguest’s abandoned stash of chicle led to the invention of a multi-billion dollar industry. [1:06:31]The varieties of coca and their uses. [1:08:44]For the Kogis of Northern Colombia, exchanging coca leaves is the ultimate bonding exercise. [1:10:21]What we know about coca use in antiquity. [1:10:58]Coca was an instant hit when it was “discovered” by Europeans in the 1500s. Here are just a few of its most creative applications. [1:12:38]What Mark considers to be the most interesting use of coca. [1:15:02]How admixtures work with coca-derived substances. [1:16:55]How to know if they’re selling you the real deal next time you’re at a market in the Andes. [1:21:39]What to do if you’re suffering from altitude sickness in the Andes and you hear Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at half speed. [1:22:08]Is non-addictive ipadu unfairly maligned in the same way cannabis was in the age of Reefer Madness? How does Mark envision a future where coca can be sustainably cultivated in a way that benefits the people of the Amazon? [1:23:25]


Richard Evans SchultesBrian HettlerDr. Paul CoxWade DavisRichard SpruceOakes AmesHeinrich KlüverWeston La BarreWilliam SaffordAlbert HofmannLouis AgassizWilliam JamesBrian FarrellParacelsusHomer Virgil PinkleyAlexander Hamilton RiceFrancisco de OrellanaSimón BolívarHiram Bingham IIIEleanor Elkins WidenerSalvador ChindoyWilliam S. BurroughsBrian MurareskuStanislav GrofConstantino TorresJose Chantre y HerreraBronwyn GatesAntonio López de Santa AnnaThomas AdamsTim PlowmanThe Lord of SipánKing TutLady of CaoSigmund FreudThomas EdisonUlysses S. GrantHenrik IbsenJules VerneJohn Pemberton

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