What Are Traditional Medicinal Substances When Separated from Traditional Ways of Life?

A trend in integrative health is to identify and apply in conventional treatment modalities medicinal substances used, for instance, by indigenous people groups. In this lecture, I will rely on Pierre Hadot’s understanding of “way of life,” (Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. M. Chase, Blackwell, 1995), to argue that separating a medicinal substance from the way of life in which it had its original application changes the substance’s mechanism of action. For Hadot, people adhered to a particular way of life for the purpose of engaging in its practices. These practices were spiritual because they intended to effect a modification and a transformation in the subject who practiced them. Adherents did not affirm the way of life’s world view as true, but rather, as a guide for how one needed to live for this effect to occur. The mechanistic separation common in the current trend in integrative health seeks to identify the truth of a substance’s action on the body but neglects the effect the way of life’s spiritual practices was to have on adherents. Absence of these spiritual practices means that the substance’s mechanism of action has changed. The question remains about whether ways of life’ spiritual practices can be incorporated into integrative health when traditional medicinal substances are used.


Dean and Professor Mark Lazenby began his lifelong pursuit of positive social transformation in southern California, working as a community organizer with underserved youth in East Los Angeles. The Blythe, CA, native brings with him a belief that the profession of nursing is a powerful driver of social transformation, particularly for social and racial justice and sustainability and health.

As an international expert on psychosocial cancer care, Dean Lazenby has studied the spiritual support of cancer patients from minority religious backgrounds and the implementation of emotional distress screening in routine cancer care.

Prior to joining UCI, Dean Lazenby was professor of nursing and philosophy and served as the associate dean for faculty and student affairs at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing from 2019 to 2022 and associate professor of nursing at Yale Nursing School and jointly appointed as an associate professor of religion and health at Yale Divinity School from 2009 to 2019.

Dean Lazenby earned his PhD (2001) in the philosophy of religion from Boston University. He earned his master's in nursing (2009) at Yale and became an advanced practice oncology nurse after witnessing how nurses cared for his dying parents.