Greg Ferenstein is a nerd. And damn proud of it. In many ways, he is a modern-day Richard Evans Schultes, having explored the frontier of modern-day psychedelic use through his forays into legal psilocybin truffles in the Netherlands. But he’s also a maverick microdoser, tracking his every use with numbers, voice transcriptions, and specific integration practices.
It was a pleasure to have Greg over to my old office in Emeryville. We went for a short walk, found a comfortable place to sit down, and then proceeded to have an insightful and entertaining hour-long conversation.
00:00 Paul Austin: Welcome to The Third Wave Podcast. I'm your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs, and medical professionals. We're exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let's go, and let's see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
00:38 PA: The Third Wave Podcast is brought to you by Magic Mind. Do you want more creativity, flow, and energy in your day to day routine? Then go to magicmind.co and get the two ounce shot that contains 12 magical ingredients scientifically designed to improve your productivity. I've been using Magic Mind over the last couple months. It has replaced my morning coffee. It has matcha, lion's mane, and a number of other nootropics, and I can't say enough about it. It is so, so useful. So if you're interested in Magic Mind, go to magicmind.co, and enter promo code "thirdwave" to get 10% off and try it for yourself.
01:18 PA: As longtime listeners know, yoga and meditation have played a huge role as complementary practices to my own responsible psychedelic use. And that's why we're excited to be working with Half Moon Yoga as a partner for the podcast. They carry everything from basic yoga supplies to more advanced things like bolsters and sandbags, to meditation cushions that are super comfy to sit on. And right now they're offering a 15% discount to Third Wave listeners with the promo code "thirdwave". I'd encourage you to check them out at shophalfmoon.ca if you're looking for tools to support your yoga or meditation practice.
01:52 PA: As of late, I've had quite a few friends on the podcast. People that I've gotten to know from a professional perspective, from a personal perspective. Not necessarily huge names, but people who I trust, people who I've worked with, people who I've healed with, who have been great teachers and healers. And I think amplifying these voices and bringing them out is what this podcast is for. Yes, it's easy to interview some of those big names out there that everyone knows, but bringing these smaller stories to light that show the nuance of what's going on in psychedelics is so, so amazing. And so in today's podcast, I interview Greg Ferenstein. Greg is a data scientist. He's a journalist. He's someone who has written extensively for Forbes about psychedelics, but also TechCrunch and a number of other platforms. He's a published author, and he's one of the most brilliant people that I've had a chance to sit down and chat with.
02:51 PA: And so, Greg came over to my office in Emeryville, in March, 2020. We went for a little walk, found this dope little spot in the Emeryville Bay Area, Marina area, by a number of yachts and overlooking the San Francisco city skyline. Just sat down and chatted about data. We chatted about protocols. Greg has some really interesting protocols that he uses for his microdosing in teens. We had a chance to dive into how psychedelics have helped Greg with shame, how they've helped him to become much more in touch with his emotions and his intuition. So I think this episode is really gonna resonate for people who are a little bit more biohacking oriented, people who are a little bit more like, "How can psychedelics help me to be more in touch with that emotional side of myself?" And those who just wanna hear a great story. I compare Greg in this story to Richard Evans Schultes who was the famous ethno botanist, who was one of the first Westerners to go down to the Amazon, and be an ethnographer and live with indigenous people down there and work with Ayahuasca and come back and tell that story to the West. And so Greg has some similar parallels in his own story, and we'll get into those in our conversation today. So, without any further ado, I bring you Greg Ferenstein. Greg Ferenstein, welcome to the podcast.
04:06 Greg Ferenstein: It's good to be here. I love talking about psychedelics.
04:08 PA: It's great to have you. I'm so excited that we get to do this.
04:12 GF: I read your stuff, I'm a fan. It's always nice to be asked to talk with a person who you're a fan of.
04:18 PA: So how would you describe the current scene? You're the writer in the room.
04:22 GF: Ex-journalist. But so it's a crystal clear blue sky day in Oakland, California. We're on a peninsula facing the bay, and we're kind of sandwiched between a jettison spot where a city comes into the bay and we're looking on the hills and on the other side of this we're sandwiched by this yacht harbor. And we have slowly bumping waves water. It's a very calming scene.
04:53 PA: It is a very calming scene. We're in Emeryville, for anyone who's wondering.
04:57 GF: There's seagulls.
04:58 PA: Blue skies, palm trees, flags flapping in the wind.
05:03 GF: Yeah, it's much nicer than a stuffy office because that's where most podcasts happen. I don't know if anyone's ever seen a podcast space, but they're usually a square room with a bunch of wires and microphones for a lot of different reasons, mostly because anywhere you do a podcast, real estate is hyper expensive, and you just [unclear speech] but that's what most people can afford. All conversations in the world should happen in places like this. I think everyone would be a lot nicer to each other.
05:28 PA: More time outside. Well, let's get into it. Who is Greg Ferenstein? That's the first question. How do you define yourself? How has that shifted and changed as you've done psychedelics? Let's get right into it.
05:41 GF: I feel like this is a first date. [chuckle] Well, I grew up in Nebraska. And then I moved around a bunch. I am a social scientist by occupation. Technically a data scientist. I like to work out.
05:58 PA: So we're in this beautiful location and I first heard about your work I would say a couple years ago. I think I first figured out who you were when you published this piece for Forbes, and it was about how Psilocybin mushrooms were legal in the Netherlands. And how you went to a yoga class where people were microdosing and on a psychedelic society retreat. And maybe those were two different posts. Those may have been two different posts, but I would just love to start there in terms of why did you attend a Psilocybin retreat with the London Psychedelic Society? What was the impetus behind that?
06:32 GF: First and foremost, I identify myself as a scientist. To me, the scientific process and what science represents is just one of the most important things for humanity. I was a formally trained social scientist and I took this class when I was a graduate student that was about ethnography in the scientific process. And ethnography is just like going out in the field and just asking open-ended questions. And so whenever I wanna get curious about something, for me, the first part of good science is just buying a plane ticket somewhere and diving head first into all of the things that it represents. And psychedelics became very personal to me a few years ago, and I was like, "I wanna explore this world more. I wanna learn about how people are doing it, especially in places where it's definitely above board."
07:27 GF: And one of those places was Amsterdam. And in addition to these formal retreats, where they had very structured activities with a high dose Psilocybin ceremony on the second day, the Dutch society also had weird experiments of mushroom yoga, another event where I met my spirit animal on small doses of Psilocybin. I think part of being a good scientist in the ethnography phase is not judging too much and being circumscript with where you go and just allowing people who have lived in that world to guide you. And so that's what I did, I said yes to everything. Which in the Netherlands, is on Facebook. They can be like, "Hey, we're doing mushrooms. Come to our event." And I did and I learned so many wonderful techniques. I learned about the people and that's probably where you saw one of the articles I wrote.
08:22 PA: So Richard Evans Schultes?
08:24 GF: Yeah.
08:24 PA: That name rings a bell?
08:25 GF: No.
08:26 PA: He was an ethnographer who went to the Amazon in the 1930s and '40s, an ethnobotanist.
08:32 GF: Okay.
08:33 PA: And essentially lived with local indigenous people who were utilizing Ayahuasca. And was basically the first Western person to go deep into the Amazon, and as an ethnobotanist study how they were using Ayahuasca. So your story reminds me a little bit of him. So I think Greg Ferenstein is a modern day bourgeois version of Richard Evans Schultes. How does that feel?
09:00 GF: I'm gonna take that as a compliment, because I don't know what it means. And a few years ago, I took this rule that if I don't understand what someone's saying about me, I just take it as a compliment because I can. So thank you.
09:08 PA: It's an absolute compliment because Richard Evans Schultes is he's a legend. And his work in Ethnobotany has... It informed William Burroughs when he went down to the Amazon in the 1950s to look at Yage. It informed Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna when they were down there in the late '70s, going into that. So his work informed this whole Western movement into Ayahuasca. And so what I'm comparing it to is in some ways is with you going into Amsterdam and the Netherlands and getting deep into the Psilocybin scene where it is now legal, when Psilocybin becomes legal everywhere else, some of that initial research that's going on there will be really useful in terms of, well, how does this actually become integrated into Western culture and how we live?
09:52 GF: Thank you.
09:52 PA: Which I think is important, and that dovetails well with your background in data scientist. So, let's go deeper into what did you experience in those journeys when you were in the Netherlands? What were, let's say, three things that stuck out to you about how the Netherlands works with Psilocybin in a legal way?
10:14 GF: One of the things that I've gotten is, and I wrote, is the Netherlands is kind of a glimpse of the future, right? It's exceedingly easy to buy magic mushrooms or Psilocybin containing material in the Netherlands. You basically go to the equivalent of a 7-Eleven and you pick it up in a shiny package. It's as easy as buying a banana nut muffin. They don't ask any questions.
10:36 PA: I love a good banana nut muffin.
10:38 GF: It's delicious. And they don't ask any questions, they don't do anything. They don't take an ID. They're just like, "What kind of mushrooms do you like?" And it's so hilariously unregulated because different strains of mushrooms, and they sell a variety in these different commercial packages, will have different strengths. And they judge the strength of the mushrooms by the number of Saturn stickers on the box. A week version will have three and a half stickers, and a strong version will have six stickers. And you ask the people at the shop, who have been doing mushrooms, I don't know, sometimes their entire lives, and you say, "What's the difference between three stickers and six stickers?" And they say, "I don't know." And yet, and this is how they advise tourists who jump off of a plane and then do a hallucinogen for the first time. From a regulatory standpoint, it is like a comic book nightmare of a scenario. And yet, yet it's pretty okay. There's very, very few incidences of abuse or harm. And so I found it a fun way to look into the future or one possible future if the United States adopts one of many different regulatory frameworks for how to sell Psilocybin to people.
11:53 PA: Let's talk about that, because Oakland, who recently decriminalized all plant medicines, they're starting this framework called Grow-Gather-Gift. Are you familiar with this?
12:02 GF: Yes.
12:02 PA: Can you explain it to our listeners from your understanding of it?
12:05 GF: Well, so it's hard to explain because the laws that come out of Oakland aren't exactly built on any measure of precision or scientific backing. They're often these grassroots efforts by people who have a general idea about a class of drugs they think are similar, and then they will put that in the law. So whenever I describe a law coming out of Oakland, realize, if it sounds weird, it's because it is. The Oakland folks doing the law want to come up with some sort of regulatory framework where people can grow and gift or give away Psilocybin and other botanical psychedelics. Their overall purpose is to bring a Psilocybin market outside of a traditional commercial setting, and so they're deliberately trying to avoid things where people sell it. Now, how that ultimately manifests, I don't know.
13:05 PA: From my perspective, having read through some of the language, just getting a sense for how that will compare to a more medicalized framework, it seems like their intention is, you can't charge for the mushrooms, which is where the gifting part comes from. You can just gift the mushrooms to others.
13:20 GF: Okay.
13:22 PA: But you can charge for the service of holding space for others.
13:25 GF: Okay, that may be how the final law is written, if Oakland is even allowed to adopt anything like that. If a city local can do it because typically drug enforcement is done by state and feds. I don't think anyone's gonna stop Oakland.
13:38 PA: This is the beautiful part about where we're sitting right now with this. It's like we get to create the future through the laws and the research and all these other things that psychedelics are now becoming integrated into, which is exciting.
13:53 GF: Having gone to different countries where psychedelics are either de-criminalized or legalized, I don't think the policy framework will matter so much about the ultimate adoption. People kinda tend to do what they wanna do. And often it's put forth by groups, whether it's indigenous groups, or activist groups, because they want the medicines consumed in a certain way. They have kind of an orthodoxy, which they believe in. They don't wanna attach to a commercial enterprise or they only want it done in indigenous ceremony. And inevitably, people get ahold of it and they do it in the exact way they want to. And that's how it's happened in Amsterdam. I don't think anyone ever thought that it was gonna be sold at 7-Elevens, but there you go. Even though there is a robust kind of professional retreat network in the Netherlands, most Dutch don't even utilize it. Whereas, foreigners from all over the world are flying in. So as prescriptive as I think the Oakland folks are gonna try to be about policy and regulation, as soon as it hits the open market, it's gonna be a free for all.
15:01 PA: Well, let's get into that a little bit because I think what I'm hearing from you is prescription isn't all that useful.
15:06 GF: I think useful is the wrong word because I don't think you can do much. I think you can present people opportunities. So in the medicalization of Psilocybin, I think one exciting opportunity is that for people who can't otherwise afford it, they might be able to get medical reimbursement for taking mushrooms. That will channel a certain number of people who might have otherwise gone to traditional mental health prescriptions to go down a psychedelic route. Now, I don't think that's gonna stop anyone from selling it in the way they want to, from having a VC-funded start-up or doing self-optimized Psilocybin at the workplace. None of the laws are gonna stop anyone from doing what they want, just as they're not doing it now. But they may provide access for folks who otherwise wouldn't have been able to take part.
16:00 PA: So when you were in Amsterdam, and you're in the Netherlands, you saw this more loose regulatory framework or maybe non-existent regulatory framework, we could even say, and yet there aren't high levels of abuse, there's not anything crazy going on. What we hear from a lot of the, I would say, researchers and scientists in the psychedelic space is that this needs to be medicalized, this needs to be in a clinic, this needs to be in an institution. If it's not like that, we're gonna have chaos, we're gonna have a backlash, things are gonna go terribly wrong again, which I think is mostly bullshit. What's your take on that? If we already have legal Psilocybin and we're not seeing any of that, what does say about the opinions of some of these leading researchers and scientists who are saying we need this in clinics, we need this in institutions, we need this in academia for it to be proved that we can use it.
16:46 GF: I'd say two things. One, I just find it comically inaccurate because, having worked in government policy for most of my life, you really get a sense of just how little laws impact society. I mean, keep in mind, we have a wholesale prohibition on psychedelics and yet I am talking to someone who makes a decent amount of their living coaching people on how to do psychedelics with a fancy website, right? So the idea that you're gonna hand down a law and it's gonna change the way people behave in some meaningful way immediately, it's just open your eyes. That's not the way laws work, especially with drug policy. The second thing is, to everyone holding a hammer everything looks like a nail. The job of a doctor and a researcher is literally to tell people what to do. That's why you're a doctor. You get to become a doctor because you have a license to tell people what to do. And so, of course, they believe they should be able to tell other people what to do. It's why they love their job and there's a philosophy behind that and good on them. People are only gonna take them seriously to the extent that they're persuasive. And whether they're persuasive or not is gonna happen regardless of what the law is.
18:05 PA: Well, and this is what I've noticed, is that a lot of academics and researchers in the psychedelic space believe that data persuades. And what I've noticed is that data only persuades if the emotions agree. In other words, we first think with our gut and we first think with our intuition, and only then do we rationalize and say, "Oh, because I feel this way... And look, there's this external science or data that proves that I'm right." And so what I'm noticing a lot with a lot of people in the psychedelic space, we all know that these should be legal. We all know that these should be available. We all know that these are medicines, that they're worthy of healing and transformation. And this is where I found with microdosing, we were talking about this on Facebook the other day, I'm just skeptical, highly skeptical, that clinical research on microdosing is going to validate it enough to be culturally accepted. I think microdosing will become culturally accepted whether or not there's conclusive data that it works for depression or anxiety for the same reason that CBD has become culturally accepted regardless of the data that's come out on it. What are your thoughts on that?
19:08 GF: This is a topic that I like to get really nerdy about because it excites me in the geek part of my identity. I think people have a too narrow understanding of what evidence is. So let's just take it to an everyday example. If you ask your friend about the Paleo diet, and you wanna know whether the Paleo diet helped them lose weight.
19:30 GF: We don't consider that evidence, right, 'cause that's not in a clinical setting, right? A doctor will say, "Well, the Paleo diet compared to the Keto diet and it was the Keto diet was a little bit better in this population in a peer-reviewed study. I think a more expanded definition of science, you asking your friend if the Paleo diet worked for them is a more important piece of data than any peer-reviewed literature. Because a peer-reviewed literature will only tell you about a certain population and a distribution of that population, what happened on average. But your friend is more like you. They probably have the same habits, they have the same challenges, they like the same things. So for me, evidence is every single person talking about their experience on Facebook and Reddit. That's evidence. And the reason it's more people aren't doing microdosing is because the evidence is pretty mixed. It works for some people, it doesn't work for others. And people are trying to figure out is, given who I am, given what I care about, given the kind of foods that I eat, and the challenges that I'm going through, and the way that I would wanna explore microdosing, are there people like me who have had experience that can predict if I try it, it'll happen in the same way? People very much need evidence, but there is very, very, very little evidence that can tell just your average person whether it will work for them.
20:50 PA: That's a really good point. And when I think of microdosing, I think of fish oil. Regardless of what anyone says, the more people who take fish oil, the better. The more people who can balance their omega-3s, their omega-6 better because what it does is it affects inflammation in the body. Someone can tell me I'm not taking fish oil because I don't think it works. But I'll just say back to them, "I don't believe you." I think it works regardless of what you think because it's helping with balancing the omega-3s to omega-6. And I think the same thing with microdosing. Microdosing, especially with Psilocybin, but also with other substances is known to be highly anti-inflammatory. So if it's highly anti-inflammatory, and we know that inflammation is the main thing that's linked to chronic disease, then any substance that helps with inflammation is going to help that regardless of what X, Y, and Z person tells me.
21:34 GF: That is a delightfully brazen recommendation for people. It's funny, I was talking to a mycologist in the mushroom space. A guy named Paul Stamets. And he had this idea that's not out there, but one he was considering, and I think he's considered in public, that in the future Psilocybin will be considered kind of a vitamin. You'll just take it with your morning vitamin. They'll just be a little bit of Psilocybin in it.
21:54 PA: Like fish oil.
21:55 GF: Yeah, just like fish oil. And so I think there's some scientific validity to that hypothesis. I don't know if I would start telling everyone to do mushrooms because it's good for them, but...
22:06 PA: This is not medical advice. I want [laughter] I want to make sure that's very clear.
22:10 GF: I don't think anyone thinks you're a doctor.
22:11 PA: Good.
22:13 GF: If I had to think about a world in which everyone took mushrooms, versus a world which no one took mushrooms, yeah, gun to me head, I would say, that world is probably better for a variety of reasons, probably both mental health and physical health. And why I'm probably a little bit more lackadaisical just with me personally trying Psilocybin outside of the available research or even things that I can find on the internet because in general, when I do it, I don't notice any negative effects. Now, could there be contraindications for people with psychosis or cancers or who knows what else? I don't know. I'm just one guy and it works for me.
22:54 PA: Yeah, so I think that's a good thing. It's N equals one, it's to always do your own research. It's looking for potential contraindications. I have a friend of mine who is highly allergic and sensitive to various things that she even told me, "I can't really use mushrooms because there's something to do with the fungus, and it could catalyze something that would be like an allergic reaction." So there are certainly people who shouldn't be taking mushrooms, but my point is no rules are absolute. This isn't 100 or zero. This isn't black or white. But the point is, just like taking fish oil is generally healthy as a supplement, like Paul Stamets said, Psilocybin will be used as a vitamin. I think generally, the more people who microdosing as a supplement is generally healthy. And I would feel very comfortable making that statement because the impact that we know Psilocybin has on inflammation in the body, which is still I think going deeper into this, the impact that psychedelics have on inflammation is the most under-researched element of psychedelics. We've seen so much research on the mind and neuroscience and the two hemispheres of the brains connecting, but we really have seen very little research on overall chronic inflammation, which is the biggest contributor to chronic disease.
24:10 GF: There are some months where I'll microdose psychedelics a lot, almost every day or in very small amounts. I'm trying to think, do I feel better on them? Do I get sick less often? It's kinda the thing that I didn't think to even reflect on. Maybe next time I go through a microdosing session or a more intensive period, I'll be like, "Am I getting sick less? Do I feel better?" I'll journal about that and we'll see what happens. I'm excited to.
24:37 PA: So let's get into that. You do some really cool journaling stuff and you just showed it to me before. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your own methodology and protocol for how you track and measure the impact that microdosing, social dosing, and high doses have on your general well-being?
24:54 GF: For me, good science starts with just something that sparks your curiosity. Something that says, I can't believe the world is that way. And for me, the first time I did psychedelics was that. All of a sudden, I became this radically different person. I was talking to people differently, and I had these weird moments where I was like, "I can't believe I'm saying things to people like this." And the responses I got were even more extraordinary. My capacity to fundraise, my ability to have, get into meaningful romantic relationships skyrocketed in an unexpected ways that I didn't fully understand. I was observing something in the world that I didn't get, but was really important to me.
25:40 GF: And so as a good scientist, I was like, "Alright, so I'm gonna continue doing the things that correlated with fundraising, or romance, or deeper friendships." And I was gonna see what happened and I was gonna take diligent notes. And so I first started just typing everything that I could be aware of. How was I talking? How were those people responding to me? What were the outcomes of those conversations? And then I eventually got a process where I take voice notes on my phone. It auto-transcribes and gets logged into a spreadsheet so I can catalog everything more efficiently and I can review those notes and I can be like, "Alright, well, I think what's happening is, is like I'm being more vulnerable in conversation or I'm using more emotionally latent language, I'm talking about fear and anxiety and I'm using those words in conversation, and that has a meaningful difference about the course of that conversation and then I can try those out as little hypothesis." I was like, "Alright." In this business conversation day, I made the unusual step to talk about my anxiety with a particular project or how I'm feeling lonely working from home. And how did that change the tenor of the conversation? Did it deepen the professional relationship? I don't know, maybe, let's think about it out loud. And so I just do that systematically through what are now transcribed voice notes.
26:58 PA: Can you walk us through how you've set that up just so that our listeners... We'll probably include this in the show notes as well? But if they wanted to do something similar to help start to track and measure how things are impacting them, what's the protocol for that?
27:09 GF: I use something called Zapier which is this website that allows you to kinda link apps with other apps through what's called an API. You don't have to code, it's very easy to do, you just click some buttons. And so what I do is I use one of a different variety of cheap transcription voice notes software, you can use otter.ai, O-T-T-E-R.ai or Temi, T-E-M-I, both of those are pretty good at auto-transcribing what you say in real time. And then I set up a trigger on Zapier that connects to a Google spreadsheet, I will take a voice note, the voice note triggers an email, then email gets labeled. Zapier can recognize Gmail labels and every time it's labeled, that will produce a new row on a Google spreadsheet.
28:02 PA: What's your process reviewing that spreadsheet and integrating that information to start to make practical changes in your every day life?
28:08 GF: Either I or a therapist will review my notes and then they become to-dos in a to-do app that I use called Asana.
28:17 PA: What are those to-dos consist of? What would be a few examples of the information or insight that you glean? What are some of those to-dos from an integration perspective?
28:25 GF: One thing that I learned when I microdosed for conference calls on let's say synthetic medicines, it just made me like so, just infectiously curious. Normally when I would get on a conference call, I would be like, "Hey, how's your day? How's the weather?" And we'd go through this very small talky thing. And when I did the synthetic medicines, I would be like, as soon as someone picked up, I'd be like, "Oh, I am so excited to talk about you, I have so many questions, I am so appreciative of the way you've been thinking about this problem and I just wanna ask you a billion things. Let's get started right now." And it takes them back, but it makes the conversation so much more delightful, so I don't do, so now I don't do small talk in the beginning of conference calls anymore, I just jump right into it with unhinged curiosity.
29:12 GF: And the way that would come about is the first time I did it, I would be like, "Hey, I noticed I didn't have small talk." And so I'd reflect about that, and that might go into the spreadsheet. And I'd be like, "Hey, that's really interesting. Let's put that on the to-do list, next time you have a conference call and you're completely sober, let's not have any small talk, but just jump straight into the conversation about how you're really excited to talk and be curious about what the person has to offer you in this conversation." And that's how the whole process would work. Then I would do further journaling about how that changed the conversation and if it was comparable an outcome to when I was doing the microdosing.
29:50 PA: Fascinating. You're so nerdy.
29:52 GF: Yeah, yeah, [chuckle] I'm a nerd. But that's what the Bay Area is for, that's what I like, that's what keeps me in this place is, I can be super nerdy about something, and so long as I'm... In high school, I definitely would have been ashamed of this side of myself, but in the Bay Area, you can really open up and I think as so long as you're authentic and not pretentious about the nerdier side of yourself, people welcome it.
30:17 PA: How has psychedelics helped you with loving that part of yourself?
30:21 GF: Oh, I was such a ball of self-conscious angst. Psychedelics really helped me love the part of myself that I was proud of. Not in a judgy way, but I like that I'm a nerd, I like that I'm systematic and I think it's benefited me and I think when I do stuff that's difficult for me, that's challenging for me and I come up with learnings that are useful to people that I care about in life, I have friends that regularly ask me about my psychedelic habits because I've been so nerdy about being able to describe the things I do in ways that are easy to adopt for the people that I care about in my life. In a previous life, I would have been ashamed about that, because it was just kind of unorthodox, but psychedelics help you meditate on the things that you really care about in life, and so long as the outcome is good, and you're doing it from a space of decreased ego, it allows you to love the things about yourself that from this nebulous social point of view, you would think you shouldn't.
31:28 PA: It's helped me just deal with a lot of shame. I think it helps a lot of people dealing with a lot of shame and letting go of a lot of shame and working through a lot of shame. Even you were even saying before, before, you would have been ashamed of this nerdy side of yourself and now you can just fully love it and accept it and realize that it's probably some of the best parts of who you are.
31:45 GF: One of the things that psychedelics help you do is they help you prioritize. No one's asking me to create a Google spreadsheet, right? No one. I enjoy it and if I enjoy it and it's making me and my life better and potentially my friends and my loved ones better, then psychedelics help you get over that hump of yeah, they just, I don't know, they help you be more authentically reflective.
32:12 PA: But we haven't yet talked about who Greg was before psychedelics. And maybe we don't need to go deep into that story, but just like, let's talk a little bit about what shifted for you when you started working with psychedelics? And maybe career-wise, let's focus on that. Like career-wise, what were you doing before you started to get into psychedelics and how have your psychedelic experience has shifted what you care about, how you spend your energy, where you invest your time?
32:36 GF: This is a topic that I really like talking about, and I think it's the most important for anyone who does psychedelics to talk about. For me, I spent a long time trying to be as precise as I could on how psychedelics changed me and for me it was emotions. Psychedelics helped me integrate emotions into the way I thought. I was classically trained political scientist and then academic since the age of 14. And everything in my education said, "Your worth in life is how smart you are." How much of a Wikipedia-like Android you can be and the way people make a difference in the world, and your value is you have to be the smartest person in the room, and you have to have all the ideas that people love you for and you have to be this encyclopedic tone. And that's how academia and government and much of journalism values people.
33:39 GF: And I just took on that role, because it made sense, it was a part of a system, we had set up of how you do good in the world. And that was for me, that was the essence of all the academic and education and public policy training I got. Be smart, being knowledgeable, be the person that other people listen to just because of the facts you have inside your head. And then, psychedelics came around unexpectedly. I did them at festivals. And all of a sudden I was gushing with emotions, curiosity, loneliness, sadness, joy, you name it, anger. I felt them all. And what psychedelics do is especially when you take them in higher dosages, like, especially mushrooms, it's very difficult to do anything like walk or think or talk without first meditating on whatever particular emotion the mushrooms want you to think about. And when I would do microdosing at a party or a festival, I would have to meditate, I would have to go into a corner, and I would have to meditate. And I have to be like, what emotion is coming up for me? And I'd really have to think about that and feel it deeply.
35:04 GF: And that changed the tenor of the conversation. It wasn't like this effusive thing where I was just crying, and leaning on people's shoulders. The conversations helped me again, like do better in business, deepen my friendships, come up with new ideas and new business things to think about. It was because I gave so much attention and time to feeling an intensity of emotion before I started analyzing that good things started happening. So that's what happened to me. I became a person who valued emotions, who cultivated emotions as part of the thinking process, and it made me less egoistic in that like, "I have all the answers, come to me" and more I was grateful to listen and talk with other people because it became this joyous way of being cathartic with however you were feeling, anxious, lonely, sad, joyful with this other person and the new ideas and relationships and visions that you could dream up in any conversation because of it. And that was a big shift in how I related personally. Now, I'm still not that person sober, but I work systematically on trying to be that person.
36:24 PA: I disagree with that, just based on a few conversations that we've had. And I think part of the process of psychedelics is you never fully become that person, you're always on a continual path of unwinding and just becoming. So you're certainly more of that person than you were before you did psychedelics and you certainly will become more of that person as you continue to work with psychedelics and other modalities, but just in like, from our interactions, you embody a lot more of the emotion, and it's almost like a color 'cause I've struggle with the same thing, where life became very black and white, life became very Androidy. I was stuck inside of my head all the time, I was ruminating. It was intellectual thought, intellectual thought, intellectual thought and like you, I was like, "I wanna be the smartest person in the room." And psychedelics helped me to realized like that's important and it's useful, but it's only an important and useful if it comes from the soul or if it comes from the gut or if it comes from this deeper intuition that we just have to tap into and pay attention to.
37:22 GF: I wanna know who that person was, and how that changed because it was such a fundamental shift in everything. It's one of the reasons I left opinion journalism because, I mean, it was my job to know stuff and I didn't wanna be that person anymore. For a lot of different reasons. A, I didn't think it was an effective way to change the world anymore, and I saw the folly of that system, but B, it made me into like a toxic pretentious person and I was definitely that person before I did psychedelics, I still think I am. I have to really try not to have those tendencies, and it's hard for me 'cause they're so ingrained 'cause I get very uncomfortable when I don't have something interesting or witty to say in conversation, because I think that's why people want me around whether it's like a date or a dinner party or whatever, like those instincts are very very hard to unwind and I have to be like, "I need spreadsheets to unwind those things out of me."
38:18 PA: And I think eventually it's like maybe you always use spreadsheets, but what I've also gotten too it's like, external structure is useful so we don't have to be as internally structured.
38:29 GF: Yeah.
38:29 PA: Right? So if we can rely on external structure that allows us as beings to be more fluid and flowy and lose and chill and whatnot, because we can trust that, "Oh, we don't need to keep everything up here." But we have this external way to keep track of shit.
38:42 GF: It's a lot to juggle. It's a lot to mentally juggle. That's why I do it, and I think that for me is... And I've been working diligently on... The one thing that I think I will eventually have to offer, which is a unique perspective is how important like... People ask why psychedelics work. They often ask me that 'cause I spend so much of my, much of my time thinking about them now and I was working on other problems of national import, welfare policy in Congress, right? And they're like, "Why do you care about psychedelics and why do they work so well?" And for me, the answer was... Is emotions. Like, I wish our society and our education system and my social circles really valued emotion more, psychedelics help me use emotions functionally in my life and it's an extraordinary tool to deepen friendships, to be more creative in business. Ultimately, I think that's what you're seeing behind the peer-reviewed literature, like you read all these things about what happens with people, but in the moment, when a soldier with PTSD takes MDMA or mushrooms, what's happening is they are reflecting on their emotional state, the guilt, the anger, the isolation that they had felt that had crippled them and they're like, "I have gratitude for this particular emotion, and it can help reframe the way I've been thinking of how I wanna live in the world."
40:06 PA: Which then leads to social dosing, which we haven't really spoken about. You've mentioned it a couple of times, but I just wanna go deeper into that, because you wrote this piece in 2018 on the back end of Michael Pollan's, "How to Change Your Mind," Where he had a number of Medium posts that were published about psychedelics and you wrote about this concept of social dosing. And for our listeners, the first time that I "microdosed" was really a social dose, and it was at a friend's wedding in 2015 and...
40:33 GF: Weddings!
40:34 PA: I took about, I don't know, maybe 25 micrograms of LSD.
40:37 GF: Okay.
40:37 PA: So you had mentioned 30 in the piece, but you know, 25, 20-25 and was just like, "This is unbelievable 'cause I'm here, I'm cognizant, I'm present and I'm way more extroverted, I'm way less in my head, I'm way more engaged with the world around me. I'm fun, I'm interesting, I'm dynamic. I can dance like a mother fucker." [chuckle] So how did you... Like what led you to that decision to start social dosing, and to start writing about it, why do you think it's useful? Let's get into that a little bit.
41:05 GF: So the first time I ever did psychedelics was in a social context. I did MDMA at a festival and all of a sudden, so I think I'm ready. I think, I don't... It was really the first time I'd ever done a hard drug, and I think I'm just gonna go rave and hit on... I was in, I don't know, I was young, right? I was like, "We're gonna go hit on chicks or dance and have an awesome time. Yeah, drugs!" And it was weird. So I'm there and I'm rolling with some buddies, pretty amped up to go party and all of a sudden I turned to one of my friends, 'cause I get this warm feeling inside, and if you've ever done ecstasy, it kind of like warms you up, and gives you some tingles, and I turned to him and I say, I'm angry a lot and it was like the first time in my life where I wasn't angry at myself and I wasn't angry at the world, and then, oh, my poor friend, I just had like a therapeutic episode. I was like, "Holy shit." I have been carrying all this baggage and unnecessary hate for the world. I started pouring out my feelings and having these deep meaningful connections with friends in ways that I hadn't before, and so, that's how social dosing happened to me, because I did it in a social context, good things came out of it, and I wanted to do it more.
42:35 GF: And so, then what I wrote about this kind of Michael Pollan publication on Medium for, was how I regularly do slightly larger doses than microdosing of psychedelics for conference calls, tech conferences, weddings, birthday parties, everything.
42:51 PA: What's the protocol for that?
42:52 GF: The protocol now is to do about a third of a recreational dose. So if that's acid, that's about 30 mics, micrograms, if it's mushrooms, say recreational doses start at about 1.5 grams. So I'll do anywhere from 0.3 to 0.5 grams. MDMA happens to be a little bit more social, so I can do a third of a dose of MDMA and then I'll take it and I won't eat anything before and I'll meditate, I'll check in with my emotions, I'll be like, "Where am I? Where am I feeling, what am I feeling anxious about, what am I feeling excited about?" And then I dive into the conversation or the event. If I go to a birthday party and I'll do mushrooms, sometimes... It's a plant, and sometimes you do a little bit more [chuckle] and it like hits you a little bit later and I'll just, I'll go into the bathroom or I'll find a bedroom and I'll just meditate for 15 to 20 minutes, and I'll just remove myself until I feel that I've reflected on my emotions in a way that can bring me back in to conversation.
43:55 PA: So as you look at the next five to 10 years, you have been a journalist, a data scientist, the second iteration of Richard Evans Schultes, there's lots of good things here. I'd love just to hear some of your thoughts on how does this space develop, the psychedelic space develop this decade? What relationship are we going to see between the Decrim movement, and the medicalization of psychedelics? What are some of the risks and things to be aware of as this grows in popularity? I would just like to hear you sort of wrap on the future of psychedelics.
44:27 GF: For me, psychedelics are in a really exciting time, where for the first time in... Well, let's say western human history, people can share their knowledge openly, 'cause people are gonna do psychedelics if they want to. Like most people listening to this podcast have probably done psychedelics or have easy access to psychedelics. You could fly to Amsterdam, you could do whatever you wanted. But because of the way the laws are structured, it's very difficult for people to share their experience in a way that's structured, in a way that has business backing, so you can accelerate learnings and reach more people. So over the next decade or so, we are A, gonna unearth all the wonderful ways that people have found out about doing psychedelics, and those will be public and people will have access to those. And then through modern science, and business, and culture, people are going to experiment, and test, and refine these ways to come up with either more precise or more innovative ways of doing psychedelics for different situations. So it's gonna be a radically innovative decade for psychedelics.
45:40 PA: How do you think the push towards personalized medicine will impact psychedelics?
45:45 GF: Psychedelics are kind of inherently personalized. Right, because that's more therapeutic. And I think any kind of mental health treatment tends to be more personalized, so I haven't, I mean... Yeah, I don't know. I haven't really thought about that, but I don't... Nothing strikes me. That was kind of a leading question. Kind of leading question, it was definitely a leading question. So just tell me, 'cause I don't know, I wanna know if it's the same.
46:12 PA: Well, I think psychedelics is what will mainstream personalized medicine. So right now personalized medicine is I would say limited to bio-hackers, and limited to people who are willing to wear an Oura ring, which we're both wearing, and take blood tests and like...
46:28 GF: Do all those things.
46:29 PA: You know systematically track and measure how psychedelics are... You're like... That's what I mean, you're a perfect example of a bio-hacker. Of someone who's utilizing this from a personalized medicine perspective to see how it impacts your well-being.
46:41 GF: Yeah.
46:42 PA: And I do some of that, not to the full extent, but some of that. And it feels like, to me, the way that medicine is shifting and heading is towards this personalized approach, because we're realizing that an industrial type approach that looks at just data sets and bell curves and standard distributions, it doesn't actually get into the nitty-gritty of what an individual needs to heal and transform. And the thing is, with psychedelics, is since no person is alike, everyone's psychedelic experience is going to be different, because as non-specific amplifiers psychedelics are just going to amplify whatever deep shit a person has within them.
47:18 GF: I very much agree with that. And I think the reason why psychedelics are so important for... I would say self-improvement, kind of personalized self-improvement, is because it just makes it enjoyable. Right? Like if you...
47:31 PA: It makes it fun again.
47:33 GF: For a lot of people, self-improvement is a chore, it's a pain in the ass, it's a source of shame. Like, "Oh I need to go to the gym again so my ass can look better." Right? And maybe that's not what they're telling other people, but that's what it is. They're like, "Oh I feel fat, I need to go on a diet." Right? It's... Self-improvement is... It just sucks for a lot of people. And if you wanna be good at self-improvement, if you wanna be good at diets, and exercise, and meditation, you just have to explore a lot of shit. Like most of what you will do in the self-improvement space especially for health, it just takes a long time. It took me a dozen, two dozen diets to figure out what worked for my body, and if I didn't enjoy the process of trying out different foods, and going to different restaurants and like enjoying exploring myself and enjoying that part, I don't think I ever would have landed on something that eventually worked for me. And psychedelics makes self-improvement in an exploratory way enjoyable. And so, it's more... It'll increase people who have access, or who want to do self-improvement processes, and it'll probably make them more successful.
48:43 PA: Why do you think that is? Why do psychedelics do that?
48:46 GF: In some ways Psychedelics just help you enjoy experiencing the world more. So if you do mushrooms and you do LSD, you go outside and you look at a tree and you just enjoy looking at that tree more when you're on mushrooms. And that little switch, that little switch that says, "Hey I'm gonna enjoy reading about this article on a diet, rather than feeling guilty but with the way it makes me feel because I'm trying to learn how to do a diet." Just enjoying reading about and learning about a new way of doing things, makes the difference between liking self-improvement and hating it. Does that make sense?
49:19 PA: That's the process of just enjoying being. The phrase that I've come up with to describe this is, "Existential wealth." How does that sit?
49:27 GF: I like it, I don't know if I like the word wealth, but like existential something, I don't know why I'm being critical. It's a... I like it. I'm not gonna be critical, I like it, it's original, I enjoy it, I understand what it means. Thank you.
49:40 PA: 'Cause it's like a shift from material wealth, right, where we for the past 300 years through industrial culture we've defined ourselves by how much money we're able to accumulate. And instead now we're shifting towards existential wealth, which is we're defining ourselves by how we can be ourselves.
49:56 GF: Or I would say enjoying that we are alive and get to experience life. And that's like a non-trivial thing, yeah, it's pretty heady and I don't think it would come out anywhere but on a conversation about psychedelics. It really makes a difference, like enjoying being alive and enjoying the process and the struggle of life, makes an enormous difference. Literally every moment of your life. And learning... Life sucks, but learning how to enjoy it, for me, has made me more grateful, more creative, it has enriched my personal relationships. And it's hard. It's hard to look at this world in all of its shit and find a reason to love it. But that's what psychedelics helped me do, and I think I'm better because of it.
50:46 PA: Boom. Thank you Greg Ferenstein for a fantastic interview. If our listeners wanna find out more about you, where should they go, what should they do?
50:56 GF: I'm on Twitter, my last name, after I did psychedelics I changed my avatar on Twitter, which is just a minion with giant heart eyes. And I did that because I didn't wanna be a skeptic anymore. Most of my tweets now are just telling people that I appreciate them. So I don't know how much information followers are gonna get out of that. Yeah, you can follow me on Twitter.
51:12 PA: Perfect Greg. Well thank you so much Greg.