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Penelope Patsuris, 05.15.03, 8:00 AM ET
NEW YORK - Dr. Andrew Weil launched his career by quashing the cult-like community springing up around Timothy Leary, when the LSD poster boy was a professor at Harvard University. Ironically, Weil then went on to establish his own cult of personality--albeit one far more lucrative than Leary's ever would be.
As a Harvard undergraduate in the late 1960s, Weil did a series of stories for his college newspaper, The Crimson, exposing Leary's advocacy of psychedelic drugs, which led to Leary leaving the university. "He was shifting from studying [the drugs' effects] to advocating them within the university community," Weil recalls. Mind-altering substances were familiar territory for Weil, since he had studied them at Harvard as a botany major and later as a medical student. (Indeed, the controversial nature of his own work nearly led Harvard to withhold his medical degree.)
It was that work that sparked Weil's interest in the curative powers of natural remedies, diet and spiritual therapies, a philosophy that has since made him a self-help star. His pitch: Combine alternative treatments with traditional medicine, a modality he calls integrative medicine. His day job is as a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and he directs its program in integrative medicine, which he founded.
Weil's celebrity status is artfully perpetuated by a blitz of best-selling books which have sold a total of 25 million copies, as well as self-help CD's and videos, health supplements and myriad television and public speaking appearances. All this hustle has made Weil a very wealthy man. His books alone have probably netted him about $20 million. But unlike most self-help gurus, he hasn't stopped there.
Say what you will about Andrew Weil's theories--and it's all been said in the eight years since he burst onto the alternative health scene with his 1995 bestseller Spontaneous Healing. Whether he is truly a visionary, a crackpot or a master of stating the obvious, he is an indisputably brilliant businessman still brimming with marketing mojo at age 60.
Having just returned from Okinawa, Japan, where he opined via satellite for Larry King Live about potential natural remedies for SARS, Weil talked about his latest brainstorm: health tourism--or, in other words, spas with a new spin. Great minds think alike: Fellow self-help star Deepak Chopra already has one of his own, called the Chopra Center, located at the tony La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif.
"I'm interested in designing models of whatever would come after spas, which I like to call healing centers," Weil says. "These will be places where people go to learn about the healthy aspects of living."
That may sound like the majority of spas around, most of which do focus on exercise and nutrition, but Weil says he can one up them. "Spas have too much of a narrow emphasis on pampering and appearance," he says. "They don't address a healthy lifestyle."
Weil's healing centers, which are still in preliminary development, might be a tough sell in a harsh economic downturn. But then again, the spa industry did $11 billion in sales during 2001, the year the markets crashed and the most recent for which the International Spa Association has figures available.
Weil sees Okinawa as a logical place to start, given Japan's renown for its residents' health and longevity. "I met with Okinawa's governor about the potential for developing the concept there," he says. "They could really capitalize on their reputation. I think it would be a huge hit."
He's not just targeting globe-trotting dilettantes. Weil sees plenty of mass-market opportunity in the U.S. "I think a lot of the smaller community hospitals will go bankrupt in the near future, and I think we could fill that vacuum with these healing centers," he says, adding his I'm-not-a-crackpot mantra that critical injuries and grave illness should always go to hospitals.
How to make healing centers accessible for folks who can't otherwise afford frills like aromatherapy? His plan is to hit up insurers, which sounds like a stretch in this day and age of ever-dwindling health coverage. "We have to argue the insurers into doing this," Weil says. "There is a tradition for this in Eastern Europe, which used to have state-supported spas. And they had evidence that they improved the population's health."
Further evidence of his optimism about converting corporate America to his way of thinking are his efforts to create workplace integrative medicine programs, which he vows will lower employer health-care costs. "We're developing a retreat for executives to give them the experience of integrative medicine. We want to get them fired up about it and take it back to their corporations," says Weil.
When Weil isn't dreaming big, he and his staff are running what is already a considerable enterprise. His Web site, AskDrWeil.com, offers advice and sells health care products. Those profits are sent to a foundation devoted to furthering Weil's views, but most of his endeavors are not philanthropic.
He has 300,000 subscribers who pay $18 per year for his monthly Self-Healing newsletter, and does consulting work with medical schools such as those at the University of New Mexico and the University of Minnesota that have their own integrative programs. He's in talks with producers about a television show, and he's working on his next book that he says will be a scathing criticism of the antiaging industry. Taking on another hot self-help sector is sure to grab public interest.
He has in his crosshairs antiaging vitamin supplements, pricey beauty creams and cosmetic surgery. "I think it's bad to deny the aging process, which cannot be reversed," he explains. "I'm very bothered by the rise of antiaging medicine, which is big business," Weil says, without a hint of irony.
-------------------- Actually, it's very easy to isolate a super producing sclerotia strain.
Follow the strain isolation technique on Let's Grow Mushrooms, and then select sectors early which are brown in color. By the second or third transfer, you'll see stones developing, and this is only about 1 month after the original swipe of spores on agar.
Now, take each stone and move it to a new dish. Soon, the mycelium will grow out and you'll see fresh stones developing, and if they're good strains, the sclerotia is forming long before the mycelium reaches the edge of the plate. Pick strains which form four or five stones within two weeks and use these for your grain masters. -- RR