Transcript for Hamilton Morris on Chemistry, obscure compounds and working with VICELAND

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strangers thank you for listening people

that aren’t necessarily self-destructive

or want to have this type of response

it’s an accident based on the fact that

these markets are completely unregulated

and it’s really easy to hurt yourself

when there’s so much uncertainty so much

basic uncertainty various situations

you’re in Africa you’re looking for

quaaludes and you’re kind of hanging out

with this guy that is on them and he

offers them to you and you’re just like

no you know the fact that Native

Americans are allowed to use peyote in

that religious context is a very

important legal triumph

I believe in experimentation I believe

in exploring the possibilities and I

think as soon as people enter into this

very prescriptivists dogmatic attitude

not only does it limit the potential

therapeutic scope of these compounds it

makes people more vulnerable


what’s up guys you are listening to the

human experience and wow what an

interesting episode with mr. Hamilton


Kelton is a chemist he appears on a vice

documentary series called Hamilton’s

pharmacopoeia this interview was

incredibly last-minute impromptu it’s an

it’s actually a really really

interesting the conversation on the

different compounds and his chemistry

background his relationship with

Alexander Strickland you guys will love

love this conversation if you’re into

any of that stuff I highly recommend

checking out

Hamilton’s show Hamilton’s pharmacopoeia

it’s a highly entertaining watch thank

you guys so much for listening


the human experiences in session my

guest for today is mr. Hamilton Morris

Hamilton my good sir welcome to hxp

thanks for having me so Hamilton uh I

found out about your work through your

vice program Hamilton’s pharmacopoeia

but our listeners might not know what

that is yet

so what sparked the interest in

chemistry why is that so fascinating for

you um I would say the first person in

the psychedelic scene that really

interested me was a chemist named

Alexander Shulgin yes and he wrote two

books B Collins he called it I think are

absolute masterpieces and are kind of

unrivaled in terms of psychedelic

literature they are really illuminating

his scientific texts but they also say

an enormous amount about the history of

psychoactive drugs the botany the

qualitative effects psychopharmacology

it’s really has almost everything yes

that you could possibly want in these

two books so Alexander shelygin was

first and foremost a synthetic organic

chemist I think that his technique in

his way of thinking about it a

psychoactive drugs is very chemically

oriented and it seemed to me to be the

best framework for researching and kind

of investigating what was out there I

think that his worked exploring

completely unknown compounds was

incredibly brave and important for

current understanding hmm so that’s what

really got me and and the category is

not all that difficult for a lot of

these and ethylamine and tryptamine

compounds it’s it’s sort of accessible

to people that aren’t necessarily

chemists you don’t need to have like a

multi-million dollar lab you do need to

have some training in chemistry and an

understanding of the subject but it’s

accessible chemistry and and there’s a

lot left to be done so

that was what I found interesting is

when you read these books throughout the

books they’re full of these little hints

these little clues like maybe there’s

some unknown compound that could have

really interesting qualitative effects

are really interesting are mycological

characteristics go forth and investigate


yeah and that’s that’s what I love about

you you have this sort of highly

explorative mind you go into a subject

and you explore it thoroughly and just

jumping into your vise program when I

was watching it I found it kind of

hilarious that you’re in these various

situations you’re in Africa you’re

looking for quaaludes and you’re kind of

hanging out with this guy that is on

them and he offers them to you and

you’re just like no but jumping back to

Alexander struggling you got a chance to

meet him as well right yeah many times

and you know what was what was he like

when I was going down to the Shogun farm

it was sort of the end of his life in

the end of his career

and he wasn’t in his prime anymore but

even then he was kind of a remarkably

unpretentious funny weird character who

at least when I first met him was still

doing a little bit of synthesis that was

kind of at the end of his career he was

dedicated to exploring these derivatives

of the compound five methoxy d alt so he

was making the methyl a lil all the

propyl a lo all these different kind of

adult compounds and and that in and of

itself was inspiring to me that this

person could be you know almost blind

but still dictating the synthesis to an

assistant in the lab and still so

dedicated to his life’s work you know

the great thing about shelygin is that

he wrote these books and the books

really – incredible job documenting his

work so even though not everyone has the

opportunity to meet him I truly believe

that you can get the impact of that from

reading his books and he’s his lab

notebooks were so rigorously capped that

you can even further explore his life’s

work through all of that as well if you

want even more there’s no shortage of

material to explore for anyone that’s

interested in Alexander Shulgin

got a copy of both to Collin pickle but

they are kind of just library tokens

they just sit there right now I haven’t

had a chance to crack them open yet what

about what about you sure okay why why

do you think I should you know like

there’s been a lot of emphasis on the

therapeutic qualities of psychedelics

and I think that’s great

increasing the social acceptance and

understanding of these compounds but I’m

really interested in just knowing what’s

out there hmm

whether it’s good or bad therapeutic or

toxic it doesn’t really matter I’m just

curious what like what is this and when

you look through those books you see all

these compounds that have really

remarkable and sort of unexpected

qualitative effect that fall outside of

this general umbrella of psychedelic you

have compounds like two methyl five

amiyo DMT that seems to maybe have like

a aphrodisiac effect or two methyl DMT

that seems to have a semi selective

tactile hallucinogenic effect or a DI PP

which has a semi selective auditory

distortion effect and and even if you

think might not have the same

therapeutic applications that’s

something like MDMA or psilocybin has

they could be very important and useful

tools for studying consciousness and

how we perceive the world

where have you been that was the most

remarkable for you is there a location

that sticks out in your mind the most I

mean you I know you’ve been around to

all around the world to different places

to find these psychoactive compounds

maybe what stood out to me more than

anything was actually this now-defunct

laboratory that was in New Zealand

operated by a new widely disliked

synthetic cannabinoid Baron named

map-out and who I think is did a really

amazing kind there was there’s kind of a

an odd thing that happened in New

Zealand a few years ago where for

whatever reason the social stand of

cannabis was such that it was totally

inconceivable the cannabis could ever be

made legal in Zealand there every drug

policy expert every politician that I

spoke with wouldn’t even consider the

possibility of cannabis being made legal

yet they were incredibly open-minded

about the possibility that a synthetic

cannabinoid could be developed under a

sort of semi pharmaceutical standard

where there would be like a almost like

a clinical trial but for a recreational

drug and they were willing to allow this

to happen to allow the construction of

what was essentially a pharmaceutical

company for recreational drugs in New

Zealand and I was called Stargate

International and it was run by this guy

in that Bowden and that was such a

revolutionary thing I don’t think people

fully appreciated how extraordinary that

was you know it was so amazing that as

soon as I heard about it I thought well

I want to move to New Zealand to work at

this company I wanted to get involved in

the in the synthesis and the research

and development because this is a really

amazing opportunity to explore

psychedelics in a in a capacity where

you’re able to do rigorous work you know

they were doing screens for off-target

binding most of these compounds or

cannabinoids but they would screen them

in serotonin receptors and dopamine

receptors to see if there was any off

target activity they’d look for a Patou

toxicity kidney toxicity they’re doing a

lot of

you know semi rigorous work and the data

that they collected was really

impressive and so going to that lab and

seeing this kind of futuristic taste of

what it could be like in a world where

this sort of research was sanctioned by

the government where people had to free

them to explore whatever they wanted to

optimize the qualitative effects of

these psychoactive compounds it was

really inspiring and I really liked Matt

Bowden a lot and really liked the

pharmacologist that he worked with it I

thought they’re both kind of brilliant

people even though I think that a

cannabinoids are so stigmatized at the

moment that people have a lot of

difficulty even acknowledging the

possibility that what they were doing

could have been a good thing there seems

to be this resurgence of psychedelic

usage and the research that’s coming out

on psychedelics and the positive impact

that LSD MDMA ayahuasca can have on the

brain what’s your stance on this and how

do you see the policies changing over

time I think it’s all great research

it’s not the work that I find most

compelling but I think it’s necessary

and I’m very happy that it’s happening

you know I was at the recent psychedelic

science conference in Auckland and

there’s a huge emphasis on clinically

relevant work with these things MDMA for

PTSD psilocybin for addiction treatments

for depression from a PR perspective

it’s really brilliant because you know

all the stuff looks good then it’s much

more likely that percepted and you’re

helping people so that’s all that’s all

great work to be done it’s just not I’m

a little bit more interested in the

basic science in the chemistry and I

always find it a little bit ironic that

when you go to these conferences you

know the two most important figures in

the psychedelic community the two

biggest names Albert Hofmann and

Alexander Shulgin

they’re both synthetic organic chemist

and yet at these conferences there will

not be a single presentation on

chemistry not a single one it’s all

clinical it’s all there repeating so I

mean that’s the the one thing that I

wish that people would have a little bit

more appreciation for the basic science

for the pharmacology for the chemistry

for the people that are constructing new

compounds because

as wonderful as evolution is and has

been for designing or creating these

compounds like mescaline and psilocybin

I think that strategic modification some

of their therapeutic qualities could be

further improved mmm yeah it’s a really

interesting point I really like that

you’ve been around to these different

places what is your take on the

shamanistic aspect of things you said in

the pre-show we were talking about

you’re taking a trip to Peru to study an

aspect of this what’s your take on the

different types of shamanism around the

world a lot of these shamanic practices

I believe are widely misunderstood by

people I think one thing especially that

people often don’t appreciate as a

Christian a lot of these practices are

you know a lot of the mushroom and

salvia shamanism in Mexico is very much

oriented toward the worship of Jesus

Christ and this is something that most

people don’t want to think about because

they would prefer to imagine these

things as these kind of like

uncontaminated a historic lineages that

stem from the original religious impulse

and have no association with the

conquest or industrialized Society but

when you really get down to it there’s a

lot of syncretism there’s a lot of

hybridization of beliefs and a lot of

these things are hurt a lot newer than

people would want to admit you know the

the Native American church in the United

States is a very good institution you

know the fact that Native Americans are

allowed to use peyote

in that religious context is a very

important legal triumph but it was only

a probably a very small minority of

Native American tribes in the United

States who were actually have a long

history abuse of peyote and that would

be you know the tribes that were located

sort of in the southern Texas region

this was certainly not something that’s

extended toward the northern parts of

this country

you know what would you say is a

compound that has the most exotic

effects I mean it’s something bizarre or

strange that wouldn’t find with other

compound there are a lot of compounds

with really unusual facts some of these

synthetic cannabinoids one I believe am

3344 causes either instantaneous

deafness after it’s smoked that that is

reversible unless seemingly about 24

hours then users regain their ability to

hear or extreme instantaneous tinnitus

so again you know like a lot of these

things you think oh that’s a bad thing

why would anyone use that cannabis is

has this established history of safety

why would anyone Bob there with these

things in on this level of safety I

agree completely it’s completely true

that these things have no history of

human use and the risks are far greater

but I think within these superficially

bad responses there’s something

important that can be discovered maybe

this could be used in investigation of

deafness or tinnitus maybe you could use

this to create a an animal model

tinnitus and test drugs that might

reverse that and that you know the same

is true of this drug MPTP which was a

contamination in samples of a synthetic

opioid that caused instantaneous

Parkinson’s disease superficially it was

a terrible who have happened and kind of

be the quintessential synthetic drug

scare story like how do you know that

this new drug being discovered isn’t

gonna be the next mttb how do you know

that it’s not gonna cause an continious

Parkinson’s disease or death but again

even in the case of this really horrific

opioid that caused paralysis and every

didn’t become a really important method

for chemically inducing Parkinson’s for

testing therapies so you know there’s a

lot of

a lot of weird superficially negative

things that are being published in the

toxicology literature at the moment but

I think if you take a step back there’s

also a lot of really interesting things

to be learned from it outside of the

tragedy that people are forced to use

yeah and um you know kind of retouching

on the point that you were making

earlier about the policy changes in

having this sort of unfettered access to

synthesize these compounds and do the

actual research on them I mean which is

which is why we’re the policy is and

where the policy stands is so important

for me and why we do shows like this one

why we cover the positive effects of

ayahuasca why we cover the positive

effects of MDMA is because I mean I

don’t know if you remember the just say

no campaign everything that was with

that in our view of drugs was just so

isolated and so propagandized what’s

your take on that

I think it’s really unfortunate it’s a

really big problem it’s a bigger problem

than people even recognize this kind of

basic ignorant surrounding psychoactive

drugs and and the way people categorize

you know illegal drugs and one way

pharmaceutical drugs in another way all

these kind of illusory categories that

are constructed by the government go a

long way to encouraging this distorted

and Confused view of drugs there’s

something like it’s considered like

subversive or naughty to use a

psychoactive drug in our culture like

it’s like a bad thing like oh hi I went

out I drank did cocaine on Friday night

oh so Noddy on Friday you know and a lot

of cultures that just doesn’t exist

it’s the abuser just plants right and

everyone uses for Tom in the south of

Thailand is working on a rubber farm

because it gives them energy to harvest

rubber at night you know that’s simply

that it’s just a tool it’s like you know

so as I was interviewing them maybe the

most interesting thing about it was how

boring it was that this drug has so much

cultural baggage is it addictive is a

dangerous does it kill people is that

this is it that and and then when you

talk to people in Thailand about it it’s

like interviewing someone about what

they think of drinking tea in the

morning they have very little to say

about it are they addicted to it maybe a

little what would happen if it

disappeared they just stopped using it

not a huge deal and that’s that yeah

yeah I loved that perspective man thank

you for sharing that and so let’s talk

about this vice documentary series that

you’re on the first season just finished

airing I think and you’re moving into

the second season that’s correct

what’s the premise behind this you just

kind of travel around to find these very

obscure compound

yes sometime compounds sometimes it’s

about characters that I find interesting

the drugs often end up being a

springboard to get into tangentially

issue that I find interesting the season

finale in the first season was about two

different chemists in the relationship

one is Daryl Amer the other is Casey

Hardison Casey artisan is a legendary

LSD and then sterile air was one of the

first people to manufacture MDMA on a

large scale in the United States it’s

about stories that I find interesting

and I have a lot of creative freedom to

explore the things that I want to

investigate also known as the most

interesting job ever I mean um we talked

about different areas that you’ve been

that have been a little bit obscure I

mean is there an area than the world

that maybe people haven’t heard about

yet sure I mean did a whole piece and

Madagascar for the previous season or

Scott’s these various policemen genic

Fischer these reports of fish that

caused hallucinations I was certainly

very exotic but that was actually an

example of a sort of story that I don’t

believe works all that well for

television you know there’s a lot of

incentive of TV to get results you want

to have positive results it’s something

that comes together cleanly sort of tie

a bow on it and connect the viewer as a

story that makes sense

and the truth is that a lot of genuine

investigations especially scientific

investigations do not have clear answers

a lot of experiments are inconclusive or

have negative results and my attempts to

solve this mystery surrounding these

hallucinogenic fish you know I can’t say

that I succeeded but it’s it was ported

of this weird mystery and on that level

you know it’s good to make people aware

of all the things that are still unknown

and maybe the next person who comes

along to investigate it will figure it

out hmm okay has there been a location

or situation where you were I mean we’re

talking about drugs here so I mean it

have you been in a dangerous situation

where you were

maybe scared for your life or in a

situation like that

here’s my life this is a question that

I’m asked a lot and I feel like the more

interesting response would be that to

say that I’m often scared but for

whatever reason I think I have a kind of

high threshold or beer in these

situations simply because it’s not a

good way to react to any of these things

if you’re afraid of people you’re never

gonna be able to connect with them we’re

gonna be able to gain their trust you’re

never gonna be able to have a genuine

interaction with them so I try not to

think about it that way I try not we’ve

go into a situation thinking this is

sketchy this is dangerous I’m at risk

and the truth is you know a lot of these

people that maybe to a common person

would be frightening or you know they’re

technically criminals so people are

afraid of them on that level but they’re

very vulnerable people I mean they’re a

huge risk talking to me a much greater

risk than I am talking to them they’re

people that could be locked in a cage

for the rest of their life or

cultivating a cactus or doing some type

of in my opinion completely innocuous

work-related psychoactive drugs although

they are attacking criminals that in the

eyes of the law and that is frightening

to a lot of people I do not generally

find these people all that frightening

okay there was a piece that you did on

salvia and it seemed pretty frightening

I mean I think there was a video of a

guy smoking it and then he he

subsequently jumped out of the nearest

window in your mind is there a sort of

guideline for you know people who are

exploring this area of you know

experience and life that that we should

follow when ingesting these compounds

encountering these compounds

I think that at the very least you want

to have a basic understanding of what it

is you’re doing the origin of it the

purity of it the dose that is being

consumed you know these are the baseline

most fundamental things that people

should owe and yet they don’t they very

rarely have this information available

when they ingest a psychoactive drug

that’s right there’s a child on the

window above me doing crazy stuff it’s

hard to find a place that a beautiful

day in the Orica runs out that’s okay

you know in and on one hand you could

kind of wag your finger at people and

say you know you’re being so

irresponsible for using all of these

substances without having any knowledge

of purity or the dose you’re consuming

but what are people supposed to do you

know we live in a society where it’s

very difficult to have these things

tested even if there are chemists that

want to lend their services you know

raves or dance parties or whatever there

are a lot there’s a lot of legal red

tape that makes it difficult to do this

sort of analytical chemistry so it’s

hard for someone using a street drug to

know what it is they’re consuming and

that’s what’s really responsible I think

for the vast majority of these reported

negative responses or toxic reactions to

drug people that are necessarily

self-destructive or want to have this

type of response it’s an accident based

on the fact that these markets are

completely unregulated and it’s really

easy to hurt yourself when there’s so

much uncertainty so much basic


I mean there’s always uncertainty

there’s enough uncertainty if you know

the exact chemical structure of the

compound that you’re consuming and you

know the purity and you know the exact

dose there’s still uncertainty based on

set and setting and a number of other

factors there still uncertainty but if

you’ve removed that as well I mean it’s

it’s surprising that people have as few

negative reactions as they do with

things like street cocaine which is

routinely contaminated with a drug

called live a muscle or Street heroin

that is now routinely contaminated with

fentanyl or derivatives of fentanyl and

then with synthetic cannabinoids where

there’s no dosage information and the

variety of different compounds that are

found in these potpourri type smoking

blends that are you know it’s it really

staggering in the chemical diversity

it’s so interesting the world that we

live in what we’re faced with and and

where we are in our time now you know it

since sort of starting this show we get

a lot of contact and we get of a lot of

emails the other day I got an email

asking where the best ayahuasca Center

where to go drink this tea and you know

Western medicine it’s failing you know

they’re seeing that they’re noticing

this and so they’re reaching out to

these sort of more esoteric psychedelics

ayahuasca is almost gone mainstream

it’s very much in the news and more and

more people are finding out about it has

there been a compound that you’ve seen

that has effect similar to IOSCO

something like ayahuasca

sure yeah I mean that you know there’s a

lot of compounds that have similar

effects if you substitute DMT in

ayahuasca with MIT or Det or DPT

you can experience variations of that

same sort of ayahuasca a factor you

substitute the botanical maoi with a

pharmaceutical Mao I like mclubbe amide

you can modulate the nature of the

effect in that way I mean these things

are endlessly modifiable which again I

find very interesting there’s a lot of

dog surrounding these substances a lot

of people that say that they should be

done a certain way in a certain context

and I am NOT one of those people I

believe in experimentation I believe in

exploring the possibilities and I think

as soon as people enter into this very

prescriptivists dogmatic attitude not

only does it limit the potential

therapeutic scope of these compounds it

makes people more vulnerable because you

know what happened with a lot of these I

ayahuasca retreats and Peru’s there was

this proliferation of documentaries

extolling the virtues of ayahuasca and a

lot of people I want to have this sort

of authentic therapeutic experience I

want this transformation but they felt

that the only way to do it was to go to

South America right you know none of

these people would ever say hey these

plants are actually dirt cheap this is

actually a tea that you’re all capable

of making on your own maybe the most

valuable context to do this would be

within your own community you don’t need

to go to the Amazon to have it a

transformative experience maybe you can

have it in your own home so you know

part of it has to do with the idea that

the shaman has experience and if they

will act as a guide then I think that’s

great I think it’s always good to have

someone who’s experienced and

knowledgeable there to protect people

but what you started to see in the

Amazon is a lot of exploitation of the

tourist market you noticed there’s been

a number of these shamans that are

sexual predators at the very least you

have people overcharging enormous

amounts of money for the ayahuasca

turned into a business

as soon as any of these things turn into

a business I think that there’s a lot of

opportunity for

corruption and misuse yeah that’s

another interesting point I think that

we’re making here you know it is to be

considered that you know as though

awareness on these topics grows and as

more and more people find out about this

type of stuff like the healing

properties of these types of compounds

there is an exploitation that happens

with these tourists that are travelling

down to Peru and dropping you know eight

thousand dollars to sit with the shaman

for you know six hours is there a

personal favorite for yourself is there

a drug that you are would be what I

would choose this is what I like the


you know I’m much more interested in

exploring the unknown been repeatedly

using any known substance I’ve you know

I think a lot of the classic

psychedelics are classics for a reason

they really are you know fantastic

substances obviously LSD mescaline

psilocybin are all really kind of

miraculously good compounds and we’re

very lucky that they exist and I think

EMT especially is is really fantastic

you know I’m not a big fan of physical

discomfort if it can be avoided I

understand that there are a lot of

traditions that kind of contextualized

nausea and vomiting and this bodily

discomfort is like a purging a

metaphorical purging of spiritual

disease but you know if I can avoid that

kind of thing I I see no reason why it’s

necessary to suffer in these ceremonies

so that’s one reason that I like working

with pure compounds is I think that they

can allow you to experience all of the

positive aspects without being

distracted by physical discomfort


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