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Pharmacopeia Host Hamilton Morris Travels the World Looking For Weird Highs on Vice TV

  • Written by  Chris Martins
  • Video
Hamilton Morris is a filmmaker and psychonaut. Hamilton Morris is a filmmaker and psychonaut.

Hamilton Morris, 24, travels the world for Vice TV in search of rare highs — the opioid excretions of an Amazonian frog, foul teas containing hallucinogens, Haitian zombie dust — but his M.O. isn’t what you might assume. The son of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, this Brooklyn-dwelling psychonaut approaches his subject with an intense scientific curiosity. Meanwhile, the harrowing travel involved and his surreal but matter-of-fact banter make Hamilton’s Pharamcopeia feel like a combination of IFC’s bizarro classic Fishing With John and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Morris recently wrapped a three-part series on Holland’s leading “magic truffle” producers, and he’s currently working with Joe Rogan on an installment focusing on sensory deprivation tanks. Rosebud dove down the rabbit hole with Morris.

What is the mission of Pharmacopeia?

To create intelligent, scientifically informed content about psychoactive drugs in a way that’s free from prevalent biases. The anti-drug attitude is so pervasive that even when people think they’re producing unbiased reportage, they still feel the need to qualify any positive statements.

You don’t consider yourself part of the Timothy Leary, Daniel Pinchbeck lineage. Why not?

I’m more interested in the quieter, medicinal chemists who do private work than the psychedelic gurus who preach to large audiences about spiritual transformation. I think Pinchbeck is a smart, awesome guy who’s ultimately good for psychedelics. There is definitely something to learn from studying shamanism, but I get annoyed with the dogma that there’s a right and wrong way to use psychoactive substances. When you say, “Oh, they’re doing it to party. I’m doing it spiritually,” you’re putting yourself in the same position as the government.

In your travels, have you seen or felt anything you couldn’t explain?

Not exactly. But Haiti, the whole place is like a giant psychology experiment because that type of magical thinking surrounds you 24 hours a day. Every single person you meet has no sense of rationality. I mean, it’s common for people to threaten, “I’m going to turn you into a goat,” and it causes people to back off. You’d think after 30 years of never seeing that happen, you’d suspect something, but they’re working on a different system.

Where were you the most concerned for your well-being?

In Haiti there were gunshots and all our guides were armed, but it was also to their advantage to make us feel afraid because we’d give them more money to bring on additional guards. I don’t know how much of that was real, but I was in agony every waking moment in the Amazon. I was ill, and it was inhumanly hot, and when you have a few hundred mosquito bites, so that every square inch of your skin is covered and your whole body is a red, bumpy flaming pile of pain. . .it doesn’t get more miserable.

Have you had trouble with the law as result of the show?

So far, no, but I’m increasingly wary. A lot of people want me to be this Hunter S. Thompson character, always going to the next level of extreme drug use. I don’t even drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. I am profoundly interested in drugs, read about them every single day and am in a lab on weekends studying chemistry, but someone else can be the crazy drug clown. I don’t talk about my own use unless it’s in an experimental context.

What’s next? Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I’ve wanted to do a piece on psychoactive honey in the Yucatan for some time. There’s almost no proof of contemporary use, but there is ancient evidence. I’ve looked into getting money for films. I’m working on a book. And if science schools are willing to accept my idiosyncrasies, I’m hoping to do graduate work in pharmacology. Of course, a lot of them would be terrified.

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Hamilton Morris goes in search of the Haitian Zombie
Last modified on Tuesday, 26 June 2012 18:18

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