Weil, Andrew Thomas

Weil, Andrew Thomas
▪ 1998

      Once described as a practitioner of integrative medicine, an ethnobotanist, an educator, and a writer, Andrew Weil by 1997 had become more commonly viewed as a guru of alternative medicine. A strong proponent of the body's potential to generate its own healing, he emphasized this belief in two best-selling books, Spontaneous Healing (1995) and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health (1997). His directives for achieving this harmony were, however, often met with trepidation.

      Weil was born on June 8, 1942, in Philadelphia, the only child of parents who owned a millinery supply store. As a child, he developed a strong interest in plants, which he said he inherited from his mother and grandmother. After graduating from high school in 1959, Weil, on a full scholarship from the American Association for the United Nations, traveled around the world learning about other cultures and their practices. He then entered Harvard University, majoring in biology with a concentration on the ethnobotany of medicinal plants and graduating cum laude in 1964. He entered Harvard Medical School, not with the intention of becoming a physician but rather simply to obtain a medical education. In 1968 he received his medical degree, although the Harvard faculty had threatened to withhold it because of a controversial marijuana study Weil had helped conduct in his senior year. In 1969 he worked briefly at the drug studies division of the National Institute of Mental Health but resigned in order to pursue personal research ambitions and to write his first book, The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness (1972). In this book Weil suggested that altered states of consciousness could be achieved without the use of drugs, later stating, "Highs come from within; they are simply triggered by external agents in the right conditions."

      In a subsequent coauthored book entitled Chocolate to Morphine: Understanding Mind-Active Drugs (1983), Weil aroused the ire of a Florida senator, who demanded that the book, a veritable encyclopedia of various drugs and their effects on humans, be removed from schools and libraries. In Health and Healing: Understanding Conventional and Alternative Medicine, also published in 1983, Weil contended that current medical practices were more curative than preventive, too expensive, and too reliant upon drugs, surgery, and technology. In his vision of health care in the future, Weil saw a shift to preventive therapies, to the understanding of the benefits of using natural drugs in diluted forms, and to a better understanding of the mind-body connection. In Spontaneous Healing and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, he advocated a mix of herbal medicine, good nutrition, and a healthful lifestyle. This information was parlayed into television specials and also was incorporated into Weil's Internet site.

ANTHONY L. GREEN

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Universalium. 2010.

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