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How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

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Could psychedelic drugs change our worldview? One of America's most admired writers takes us on a mind-altering journey to the frontiers of human consciousness When LSD was first discovered in the 1940s, it seemed to researchers, scientists and doctors as if the world might be on the cusp of psychological revolution. It promised to shed light on the deep mysteries of consci Could psychedelic drugs change our worldview? One of America's most admired writers takes us on a mind-altering journey to the frontiers of human consciousness When LSD was first discovered in the 1940s, it seemed to researchers, scientists and doctors as if the world might be on the cusp of psychological revolution. It promised to shed light on the deep mysteries of consciousness, as well as offer relief to addicts and the mentally ill. But in the 1960s, with the vicious backlash against the counter-culture, all further research was banned. In recent years, however, work has quietly begun again on the amazing potential of LSD, psilocybin and DMT. Could these drugs in fact improve the lives of many people? Diving deep into this extraordinary world and putting himself forward as a guinea-pig, Michael Pollan has written a remarkable history of psychedelics and a compelling portrait of the new generation of scientists fascinated by the implications of these drugs. How to Change Your Mind is a report from what could very well be the future of human consciousness.


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Could psychedelic drugs change our worldview? One of America's most admired writers takes us on a mind-altering journey to the frontiers of human consciousness When LSD was first discovered in the 1940s, it seemed to researchers, scientists and doctors as if the world might be on the cusp of psychological revolution. It promised to shed light on the deep mysteries of consci Could psychedelic drugs change our worldview? One of America's most admired writers takes us on a mind-altering journey to the frontiers of human consciousness When LSD was first discovered in the 1940s, it seemed to researchers, scientists and doctors as if the world might be on the cusp of psychological revolution. It promised to shed light on the deep mysteries of consciousness, as well as offer relief to addicts and the mentally ill. But in the 1960s, with the vicious backlash against the counter-culture, all further research was banned. In recent years, however, work has quietly begun again on the amazing potential of LSD, psilocybin and DMT. Could these drugs in fact improve the lives of many people? Diving deep into this extraordinary world and putting himself forward as a guinea-pig, Michael Pollan has written a remarkable history of psychedelics and a compelling portrait of the new generation of scientists fascinated by the implications of these drugs. How to Change Your Mind is a report from what could very well be the future of human consciousness.

30 review for How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "There is so much authority that comes out of the primary mystical experience that it can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures." - Roland Griffiths, quoted in Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind "To fall in hell or soar Angelic You'll need a pinch of psychedelic" - Humphry Osmond I have family that struggle with addiction, depression, PTSD, and anxiety. The idea that one group of compounds (psychedelics) could transform how we view and treat these various challenges to the human con "There is so much authority that comes out of the primary mystical experience that it can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures." - Roland Griffiths, quoted in Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind "To fall in hell or soar Angelic You'll need a pinch of psychedelic" - Humphry Osmond I have family that struggle with addiction, depression, PTSD, and anxiety. The idea that one group of compounds (psychedelics) could transform how we view and treat these various challenges to the human condition is VERY excititng. Pollan's book does a great job of juggling the memoirist experience with psychedelics (think of this partially as a 21st century version of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater) with a narrative nonfiction exploration of the history and current science surrounding primarily LSD, Psilocybin, and 5-MeO-DMT (the Toad). Michael Pollan writes well (he's not quite, for me, upto the level of John McPhee -- but he's close). He both annoys and seduces at the same time. He reminds me of a well-produced TED Talk. He is both interesting and compelling, but also a bit like a worn and comfortable shoe (say a Birkenstock) that represents a group I already feel comfortable both simultaneously walking with and yes kicking. Most of Pollan's book focuses on LSD and Psilocybin (which makes sense because that is where most of the history and science are). I was familiar with Leary, Ginsburg, Huxley, and even James' takes on mind-altering drugs and states, but it was nice to see it framed by Pollan. I was also thrilled to be introduced to a bunch of characters I had never heard before. I feel a movie could/should be made about JUSt Al Hubbard. There is a huge part of me that finds the idea of psychedelic experience very compelling (I've got friends who are well-respected doctors, writers, and attorneys who feel the same way). However, my issue with most drugs (especially pot), is most people take them to GET close to where I feel I am already. I have a lot of awe, wonder, don’t get depressed, feel no guilt, exist with very low anxiety, etc (although I’m absolute shit at meditation). I think I do a pretty good job of hanging in the present (while being able to look both forward and back when needed). So, I'm not sure I would be seeking LSD or Psilocybin (or smoking the Toad) for any reason except curiosity and [gasp] recreation. That's the draw. The reason I am skeptical still is I'm not sure I trust most of the product (clarification, after reading this I trust the product more than say the manufacturer, deliverer, source). I'm a bit suspect of taking candy OR street tacos from complete strangers so "smoking a Toad" that I didn't catch and milk myself doesn't exactly seem like something I'm going to run off and do anytime soon. But, if the practice comes above ground, standardizes, or I'm dying -- all bets are off. Bring me the TOAD.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    Michael Pollan’s Brain – on Drugs Neither LSD nor magic mushrooms harm you. They are not addictive, toxic, debilitating or destructive. They cause no illness and have no side effects. They seem to unlock receptors in the brain, causing mashups and unexpected connections (and therefore perceptions). They dissolve the ego by restricting blood flow to the Default Mode Network of the brain, which can cause users to lose the border between their persona/self/ego and everything else (eg. the universe). Michael Pollan’s Brain – on Drugs Neither LSD nor magic mushrooms harm you. They are not addictive, toxic, debilitating or destructive. They cause no illness and have no side effects. They seem to unlock receptors in the brain, causing mashups and unexpected connections (and therefore perceptions). They dissolve the ego by restricting blood flow to the Default Mode Network of the brain, which can cause users to lose the border between their persona/self/ego and everything else (eg. the universe). They do not take over (unless you allow it). You can manipulate your bad trip as well as your good trip if you so desire. You can switch from love to hate, you can send demons away, and explore more of what you are appreciating. It’s something like directing your dreams, except you will remember everything, and it will change your outlook. Possibly for life. Michael Pollan has done the research and tried four different psychedelics, always under the administration of guides, either underground/outlaws or in labs. They were psilocybin (mushroom), LSD (artificial chemical compound), DMT (the venom of the Sonoran toad), and ayahuasca (Brazilian plant compound). How to Change Your Mind is an exploration of the experience and the potential of these chemicals. From what Pollan has seen, it is all very positive. And he is not alone. Engineers, doctors and other researchers all seem to have one thing in common: once they’ve tried psychedelics themselves, they want absolutely everyone to try them too. No other drug has that rep. The mind-expanding powers of psychedelics is a function of the infinite connections the brain goes through when its receptors are unlocked and the Default Mode Network (DMN) powers down. The DMN runs the core brain and defines the ego/conscious/persona. It fights to keep control and sends corrective signals to reinforce what it has learned over its lifetime, to the point of denying/correcting what you see in front of you. We spend our lives specializing, becoming more expert in an ever-decreasing number of subjects. To the DMN, anything that diverts from that is irrelevant and a waste. The ego actively suppresses them. So we lose our childlike appreciation of most everything. We also become set in our ways and our perceptions. By opening up to all the possibilities at once, users flood themselves with new appreciations and insights – to plants, animals, the planet, the stars, music – anything that pops into their minds during their trip. Instead of all inputs being directed to their appropriate receptors, it is possible for music to have shape and color, for rocks to become animated, for objects to melt into the scenery. And for the now borderless, bodiless self to merge with nature (“I was swimming in the ocean. I was the ocean” for example). Suddenly, absolutely everything is possible. For all the dozens of trips Pollan describes, the most common change is being one with nature or the universe (for some it is seeing God). No one seems to have incredible sex or become fabulously wealthy. It’s not about peace on Earth, but merging with and appreciating the facets of the universe. And as Pollan found, “You bring a different self to the journey every time.” Perhaps disappointingly, he says, the most common takeaway from psychedelic trips is that love is everything. Trite, but that by itself seems to change everyone who tries them. When directed by guides, psychedelics help the dying be relieved and appreciate their position and role in the universe. (Aldous Huxley had his wife inject him with one final dose of LSD on his deathbed.) It has stopped people from smoking because smoking is so superficial and irrelevant. It can reverse depression and anxiety. And it’s all quite illegal, thanks in large part to Timothy Leary. There is a long tale of Timothy Leary in all this. He is reviled by the community for making such loud and obnoxious noises that all such compounds became illegal and research all but completely halted. Leary set back the discipline by decades, though at the same time, he made it known to the world. His gleefully unscientific approach (Tune in, turn on, drop out) remains a horror to medicine to this day. They’re still trying to live down that reputation. Pollan is not the most economical of writers. The book could have been a hundred pages shorter and still imparted the same information. There is a lot of description, history, speculation and self-questioning that becomes a little tiresome. It often reads like an infomercial, with endless testimonials from satisfied customers – including Pollan – that on television would be followed by an 800 number. But the information he delivers is valuable. He dispels myths, corrects wrong impressions and sets the record straight. The science of the brain is fascinating. We are still just cracking the code. Importantly, Pollan shows how seriously beneficial such compounds can be, and how seriously research scientists take them. There is a huge future for psychedelics in medicine. How to Change Your Mind tackles the small-mindedness (in every sense of the term) and beats it up pretty good. David Wineberg

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is an epic book about the history of psychedelics, and their potential for improving the human condition. My first thought on the subject was of people tripping on LSD, and making a mess of their lives. But, this does not have to be the case at all. Many mental illnesses could be cured with "psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy". The first half of the book is about the history of psychedelics. Before 1965, Time-Life Publications were enthusiastic boosters of psychedelics. For example, in Life This is an epic book about the history of psychedelics, and their potential for improving the human condition. My first thought on the subject was of people tripping on LSD, and making a mess of their lives. But, this does not have to be the case at all. Many mental illnesses could be cured with "psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy". The first half of the book is about the history of psychedelics. Before 1965, Time-Life Publications were enthusiastic boosters of psychedelics. For example, in Life magazine in 1957 had an article by R. Gordon Wasson, a banker, who may have been the first white person in recorded history to eat divine mushrooms. Wasson hypothesized that some religions may have been inspired by a psychoactive mushroom. The Spanish had tried to crush mushroom cults in South America because they saw them as a "mortal threat to the authority of the church." LSD was used in the 1950's and early 1960's to successfully treat thousands of alcoholics in Canada and the United States. Therapeutic sessions with LSD had success rates of 70% for anxiety neurosis, 62% for depression, and 42% for OCD. But sadly, this history has been all but erased. Experiments showed that success depended on the setting and environment of the treatment. Simply giving someone LSD in a sterile environment, without any discussion ahead of time or real-time guidance, is a recipe for failure. The downfall of LSD in the 1960's was unintentionally assisted by Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard. He did "experiments" that had little scientific value. He famously told a reporter, "Psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them." LSD became illegal in 1966. All research was shut down, except for the large program at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at Spring Grove. Research there continued to explore the potential of psychedelics to treat alcoholism, schizophrenia, and the distress of cancer patients. I thought the following anecdote was hilarious. Andrew Weill was a young doctor working in the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in 1968. He saw a lot of bad LSD trips and developed an effective treatment. After examining a patient and determining that it was a panic reaction, he would tell the patient, "Will you excuse me for a moment? There's someone in the next room who has a serious problem." This was an immediate cure! So, the real question is why psychedelics can be helpful for such a wide range of mental illnesses. Brain scans (fMRI's) have shown that the default mode network is turned off in people undergoing psychedelic sessions. The default mode network is the portion of the brain that is active when not actively thinking about anything. It acts as a filter on the fire hose of sensations that the body encounters, and also acts as a filter on the subconscious. The hypothesis is that the ego temporarily loses its dominion, and the unconscious, now unregulated, comes to an observable space. Brain scans show that psychedelics rewire the brain. Whether this rewiring is temporary or permanent is not known. It is interesting that the brains of experienced meditators look very similar to those on psilocybin. Both dramatically reduce activity in the default mode network. The problem with performing scientific research, is that it is very difficult to perform double-blind studies that have become the foundation of testing for pharmaceuticals. The reason is that both the patient and the research can know almost instantly whether the medication is a psychedelic or a placebo. In addition, it is difficult to isolate a single variable. A psychedelic/therapeutic session is not simply a matter of ingesting a chemical; it is only successful with the proper guidance, and this can be a subjective matter. A single guided psilocybin session is sufficient to remove depression from 80% of cancer patients. The fear of death is a function of our egos, and a psychedelic can suppress the ego. The resulting journey yields a "heightened sense of purpose and consequence." The journey can shed light on "how best to live the time left." A study of smoking cessation found that most participants stopped smoking. Those who had the most complete mystical experiences had the best outcomes. But, pharmaceutical companies might not be interested in psychedelics. The LSD patent expired long ago, and psilocybin occurs in nature. And, if a single dose/session is sufficient, there may be little profit. The author, Michael Pollan, has written another wonderful book. My attitude toward psychedelics is completely turned around. Hats off to a fascinating story!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    A cursory glance at the cover of Michael Pollan's new book examining the science of psychedelics manages to say a lot with very little. There are no vivid colours arranged in mandalas, no kaleidoscopic landscape, no face with eyes replaced by swirls of sickening colour combinations. Instead, a black, text-laden page is only broken up by the not-quite-square dimensions of a window that looks out onto a blue sky. In one sense, this encapsulates the book perfectly: it is an attempt to reorient the A cursory glance at the cover of Michael Pollan's new book examining the science of psychedelics manages to say a lot with very little. There are no vivid colours arranged in mandalas, no kaleidoscopic landscape, no face with eyes replaced by swirls of sickening colour combinations. Instead, a black, text-laden page is only broken up by the not-quite-square dimensions of a window that looks out onto a blue sky. In one sense, this encapsulates the book perfectly: it is an attempt to reorient the reader from the counterculture, 1960s, Timothy Leary-infused legacy of LSD and psilocybin to the scientific and social future of psychedelics. It may not be of a comparable level to the cognitive expansion made possible by psychedelics, but this book certainly opened my mind to the potentials and pitfalls of this science undergoing its second go-around. As in The Omnivore's Dilemma, a favourite of mine from last year, Pollan acts a superb narrator and a stellar scientific journalist. While reading or listening to some nonfiction and scientific journalism can feel like your most dry undergraduate course, Pollan always manages to write in a fashion that is compelling, thoughtful, and mindful of narrative. Part of what makes this book work so well is that Pollan tackles his own hopes, misgivings, and flagrant disbelief in a way that endears the reader to his quest to understand psychedelics. Additionally, I couldn't help but be excited to listen to Pollan talk about his own trips on several different psychedelics. His attempt to lay structure upon ineffable experience is admirable, interesting, and emotionally honest. Of course, it helps Pollan that his subject matter is controversial and, at least to me, inherently interesting. If you've ever wondered about the limits of consciousness or been curious about the trips induced by psychedelics, then this book is definitely going to pique your interest. I was taken in by Albert Hofmann's discovery of LSD and its brief journey through the halls of science before being derailed and made publicly available by figures such as Timothy Leary. It was compelling to hear the accounts of researchers devastated by the public consumption of substances they were still trying to understand, and having that quest for understanding cut short by the government. Following the account of several of Pollan's trips, the medical and neurological research ongoing into psychedelics makes for a smooth landing of a difficult to pilot vessel. I was perhaps most taken by the psychedelic experiences of palliative cancer patients, who reported decreased or absent existential dread about their death after their guided experiences on psychedelics. These and other avenues of psychedelic research are all guided by trained psychologists or physicians, which seems a far-cry from the dreadlocked, Burning Man, tie-dye psychedelic experience you might expect. It is in these chapters that Pollan makes both his most compelling argument for continuing the study of psychedelics while distancing them from their tumultuous childhood. Leaving the book, I'm definitely more curious about psychedelics than I was beforehand. Pollan lays out potentials and pitfalls of the future of psychedelics. There will be a precarious balance between entrenched public perception (held by many people: most of my family and friends with whom I discussed the subject quoted myths and prejudices discussed by Pollan), the possible danger of these molecules, and their therapeutic potential. I really enjoyed this book and was impressed throughout by Pollan's ability to remain objective even when dealing with the most zealous anecdotes. This is a great one: expand your mind with a listen!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Self and Spirit define the opposite ends of a spectrum, but that spectrum needn't reach clear to the heavens to have meaning for us. It can stay right here on earth. When the ego dissolves, so does a bounded conception not only of ourself but of our self-interest. What emerges in its place is invariably a broader, more open-hearted and altruistic – that is, more spiritual – idea of what matters in life. One in which a new sense of connection, or love, however defined, seems to figure prominentl Self and Spirit define the opposite ends of a spectrum, but that spectrum needn't reach clear to the heavens to have meaning for us. It can stay right here on earth. When the ego dissolves, so does a bounded conception not only of ourself but of our self-interest. What emerges in its place is invariably a broader, more open-hearted and altruistic – that is, more spiritual – idea of what matters in life. One in which a new sense of connection, or love, however defined, seems to figure prominently. How to Change Your Mind dovetails so nicely into my reading interests about the brain and consciousness and picks up some related threads that other recent reads wove for me (in particular, What Are We Doing Here by Marilynne Robinson and Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich), and continues a course of inquiry that I left dangling decades ago (with reads like Zen, Drugs, and Mysticism by R.C. Zaehner and The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda) – left dangling because, as someone raised on shocking Afterschool Specials, the flashback scene in Go Ask Alice, and the horror story of kindly Art Linkletter's tripped-out daughter jumping off a building because she thought she could fly, I knew that I would never consume acid or 'shrooms or peyote as a shortcut to enlightenment; institutionalised fear worked its trick on me. How odd to have been sent this ARC of a book by Michael Pollan – whose only previous work I had read was The Omnivore's Dilemma, back when I was interested in the philosophy of food – just at the time that other books started talking about the resurgence of research into psychedelic therapy. This book came at such a good time for me, and so perfectly suits my interests, that's there's some danger of me overrating it; I'm giving it five stars anyway. (Usual caveat: As I read an ARC, quotes may not be in their final forms.) How to Change Your Mind is divided into sections covering the history of research into and the eventual banning of psychedelics (and especially the invention of LSD and the introduction of psilocybin – the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” – to the West, which both occurred in the mid-twentieth century), Pollan's recent personal experiences with psychedelics, a brief section on neuroscience and how psychedelics impact the brain, and the uses to which these chemicals are being put to therapeutic study today. As a journalist first, Pollan is present in each part of the book – interviewing subjects and describing his own experiences – and every bit of it was interesting to me. Pollan writes that nearly every culture on earth has used psychedelics – the exception being the Inuit, who simply don't appear to have access to the right chemicals in their environment – and with reference to the “Stoned Ape” theory (that prehistoric experimentation with psychedelics might have shocked the brains of early hominids into becoming us; although this theory isn't widely accepted, at any rate, these early visions of “the divine” might explain the persistence of religious belief throughout human civilisations), he makes the case that their use has been widespread throughout time and place. There are, of course, nonchemical ways of achieving a psychedelic experience: the characteristic dissolution of the ego can be attained through meditation or hypnagogic breathing techniques; the nineteenth century Romantics – Emerson, Whitman, Tennyson – were so in awe of nature that they became one with it and wrote about it in language that prefigures the accounts of acid trips; Appollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell describes his sudden mystical experience when viewing the Earth and its place in the universe from space: Suddenly I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of my spacecraft, the molecules in the bodies of my partners, were prototyped, manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. [I felt] an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness...It wasn't 'Them and Us,' it was 'That's me! that's all of it, it's one thing.' And it was accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense of, 'Oh my God, wow, yes' – an insight, an epiphany. I can't help but think that if most of us can't achieve (or won't put in the work to train ourselves to achieve) spontaneous mystical experiences that have the potential to show us that all of humanity is connected and deserving of love, then what's the harm in guided recreational use of psychedelics? On the other hand, you can kind of see why there was such a backlash against Timothy Leary in the Sixties: if everyone does tune in, turn on, and drop out – if everyone suddenly sees the pointlessness of their worker bee lives – then who will keep the lights on and the grocery stores stocked and streets ploughed while the rest of us are seeking higher consciousness? It feels ironic to read of Aldous Huxley's enthusiasm for widespread LSD use so many years after writing Brave New World, where he seemed to be advocating for the more authentic life lived by the savages in the wild who weren't blissed out on Soma. One way or the other, psychedelics are making their return to respectability: So maybe this, then, is the enduring contribution of Leary: by turning on a generation – the generation that, years later, has now taken charge of our institutions – he helped create the conditions in which a revival of psychedelic research is now possible. Recreational (or religious/shamanic) use of psychedelics has never gone away – and Pollan was easily able to find trained and experienced guides to help him safely use LSD, psilocybin, and “the toad”. I was impressed by the level of attention that all of these guides paid to preparation (the set and setting that primes the mind), their care of Pollan during the experiences, and their training in helping him make sense of his trips after the fact. I was also impressed by Pollan's efforts to describe the ineffable, as well as his apparent transparency in sharing what seems such private encounters with himself. These guided trips seem to be like compressing years of therapy into a weekend (it can be Freudian or Jungian, depending on how you prepare your mind beforehand), and that sounds valuable. Even more remarkably, there are reputable institutions currently conducting research into using psychedelics to combat depression, addiction, and obsessions (what all of these seem to have in common are brains that are stuck in destructive modes of thinking that can literally be rebooted – like shaking a snowglobe – by a single acid trip.) Terminal cancer patients who are given psychedelic therapy discover their loving place in the universe and accept death as nonthreatening, smokers realise that their habit is pointless, people with depression (so far, temporarily) see the beauty in life – even Bill W, the founder of AA who had quit drinking after tripping on belladonna, is said to have wanted psychedelic therapy available to alcoholics; his philosophy of fellowship and surrendering to a higher power comes directly from what he experienced on his own psychedelic trip. Love is everything. Is a platitude so deeply felt still a platitude? No, I decided. A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion. To re-saturate that dried husk with feeling is to see it again for what it is: the loveliest and most deepest of truths, hidden in plain sight. A spiritual insight? Maybe so. Or at least that's how it appeared in the middle of my journey. Psychedelics can make even the most cynical of us into fervent evangelists of the obvious. Pollan is careful not to conflate the metaphysical with “God” – even avowed atheists who could only describe their experiences as having been “bathed in God's love” still assert that they don't believe in God after it's over – but as the common experience seems to be seeing oneself as a part of all creation, and as this fosters a feeling of love for all humanity, it's hard to see what governments are afraid of by banning the recreational use of psychedelics (except for that whole needing the worker bees to keep the lights on and the grocery stores stocked and the streets ploughed). Full of history, science, and personal experience, How to Change Your Mind suited me and my interests perfectly.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    I have such a wide range of non-fiction reading interests that sometimes, until I actually see the book and its subject, not even I knew that I wanted to read it! But if it is something I am eager to know more about, I know right away. Let me start by saying, the only drugs I have even taken are those prescribed for me by a doctor, so I have no idea about other drugs, including psychedelic ones. What I do know about is how strong painkillers (morphine, fentanyl, buprenorphine, oxycodone etc) can I have such a wide range of non-fiction reading interests that sometimes, until I actually see the book and its subject, not even I knew that I wanted to read it! But if it is something I am eager to know more about, I know right away. Let me start by saying, the only drugs I have even taken are those prescribed for me by a doctor, so I have no idea about other drugs, including psychedelic ones. What I do know about is how strong painkillers (morphine, fentanyl, buprenorphine, oxycodone etc) can certainly have a big impact on the way your mind works while taking them, so this book intrigued me in that respect. In "How to Change Your Mind", Michael Pollan aims to discover whether psychedelic drugs can alter your worldview. When LSD was discovered in the 1940s, it seemed to researchers, scientists and doctors as if the world might be on the cusp of psychological revolution. The sort that would lead to groundbreaking discoveries on consciousness, as well as bring relief to addicts and the mentally ill. But in the 1960s all research was banned. However, in recent years this work has begun once again on the potential LSD, psilocybin and DMT. Pollan bravely volunteers as a guinea-pig and writes a remarkable history of psychedelics that paints a compelling portrait of this extraordinary world. The narrative is accessible and will appeal to researchers, scientists, doctors and the general public alike. Pollan is clearly a guy that takes pride in his work, even taking psychedelics himself in order to make this study as reliable as possible. It's testament to his character that he chosen to do this, where others may have merely consulted those who have experience of taking the drugs. Many thanks to Penguin Books (UK) for an ARC. I was not required to post a review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I read the Pollan essay in the New Yorker about psychedelics and so I picked this up right away. And I'm convinced. I totally want to try this! Wish it wasn't illegal. What was really brilliant about this book is his exploration of the ego and how that leads to so much stuckness and unhappiness. The book is a sober, in-depth account of a radical idea.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Remarkable book. I hope this will gain the same prominence that Omnivore's Dilemma did several years ago.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Theiss

    Prepare to change your mind about the role of psychedelic drugs in western culture. Or, if you have experience as a psychonaut, get ready for a broad, expansive review of history, research, and the possibilities for public policy. When LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and other psychedelic drugs first became known in the 1950s and 1960s, academic and medical researchers explored their potential for relieving depression, addiction, and other mental problems. The promising research results were abandone Prepare to change your mind about the role of psychedelic drugs in western culture. Or, if you have experience as a psychonaut, get ready for a broad, expansive review of history, research, and the possibilities for public policy. When LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and other psychedelic drugs first became known in the 1950s and 1960s, academic and medical researchers explored their potential for relieving depression, addiction, and other mental problems. The promising research results were abandoned when Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor, began urging young people to “Tune in, turn on, and drop out.” The federal government ultimately outlawed hallucinogenics for all uses, including research. In the late 1990s, research on psilocybin and other mind-expanding drugs resumed and the results are rather stunning. The vast majority of subjects reported experiencing ego-shattering, transcendent trips that resulted in a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of themselves with the universe and a new openness to experience. Guided psychedelic experiences lead subjects to deep insights. For example, in a tobacco cessation program, participants describe feeling a deep realization of the destructive nature of tobacco and a powerful connection to the universe. Why would one disturb the life force that empowers them with the destructive force of tobacco? In research on the impact of LSD on existential anxiety in cancer patients was especially impressive. It allowed subjects to let go of narrow conceptions of materialistic death and embrace a more holistic sense of death as a transition to another state of being. Confession: I am a child of the 60s who experimented with mescaline and LSD. I count these experiences as among the most formative of my life. I am a more creative, happy person because of them. I learned that humans are entirely intertwined among ourselves and every other animal, plant, and mineral on the earth. We are stardust. We are golden. Everything counts and yet nothing really matters in the context of the millennia. I read Pollan’s descriptions of his own forays into psychedelia with a sense of familiarity. The potential of psychedelic drugs to change the world for people suffering from depression, existential anxiety attendant to life-threatening disease, and addiction seems settled. What stands in the way is Nixon-era prejudice and fear. The scientific community seems to have developed some consensus that psychedelics can play an important role in healing several resistant diseases of western civilization. Where public policy goes from here will depend on the policy community paying more attention to data and less to prejudice.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Jane

    I thought the writing was great but the more I read, the less interested I became in this topic. One description of someone’s trip was fine, by the tenth description I was bored.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    What a great book. What a fun book. What a wonderful, interesting, informative and even transformative read. I loved it, not because of the novelty of the subject, but because of the absolutely appropriate caution, charming naivety and utter lack of pretense with which the author Michael Pollan handles the subject. I’m 50, I grew up in a university town, and my parents and our family fiends and acquaintances came of age in the swingin’ 1960’s. So needless to say, far (far far far) too much of my What a great book. What a fun book. What a wonderful, interesting, informative and even transformative read. I loved it, not because of the novelty of the subject, but because of the absolutely appropriate caution, charming naivety and utter lack of pretense with which the author Michael Pollan handles the subject. I’m 50, I grew up in a university town, and my parents and our family fiends and acquaintances came of age in the swingin’ 1960’s. So needless to say, far (far far far) too much of my youth was spent listening to baby boomers ballyhoo endlessly about psychedelics, leftist politics and new age spirituality. I have quite a bit of personal experience with each of those endeavors, including many of the magic molecules that are the protagonists of this text. But all of my youthful excursions occurred in the opaque cognitive and cultural shadow cast by said boomer evangelists, and consequently, many of the conclusions I came to regarding the meaning and value of these experiences were heavily influenced by that particular set and setting. In contrast, Michael Pollan is 60 something, but he’s kind of a square, and as it were, he’s one of those guys who never did acid, not even in college. So he takes to the psychedelic venture rather late in life, with a fully developed critical facility, coupled with a beginners mind refreshingly free from the aforementioned hippy hyperbole. In other words, he trips with the sober, curmudgeonly skepticism of a smart, responsible ‘saving for retirement’ type ‘dad guy’, mixed with the curios, open and friendly here n’ now enthusiasm of a good natured golden retriever. Pollan somehow manages to render the quintessentially ineffable psychedelic experience into something rather sensible and perhaps even effable (Harris, 2018). It’s a very different, more grounded, more responsible, less contrived, more skeptical, more broadly considered take on the subject than what we’ve come to expect from the likes of Huxley, Alpert, Leary and Kesey. My previously mentioned personal experiences were a wonder to be sure. Absolutely enriching without a doubt. But I have labored as an adult to put their lasting value into precise language. My sense was that these were immensely valuable and formative introductions to the expanded mind, but beyond that, the experiences remain rather implicit, as opposed to explicitly understood and usefully integrated. In yet another autobiographical example of youth wasted on the young, I was more enamored with the splashy perceptual effects of the drugs than the subtle lessons they can facilitate regarding self transcendence. But my interest in introspection was sparked, and this ultimately led me to meditation. Like many of my boomer predecessors, I began my serious meditation practice working in a Hindu tradition, with the psychedelic experience as my most proximal frame of reference. Analogously, I spent too much time and energy in this stage chasing cathartic spiritual ‘fireworks’ rather than digging in and drilling down to their source. The catharsis was valuable, but again, not explicitly or clearly useful in any practical sense. My later life meditation practice occurred in the Buddhist context, and this is when all of the introspective practice really took hold and provided traction in life. Bringing concentration, clarity and equanimity to absolutely ‘butt normal’ experiences enabled real life progress, reduced suffering and facilitated a more flexible, less binding sense of self. I entered the field of psychotherapy in order to share this fantastically liberating way of being with anyone who cared. The problem is, it’s really hard to do, and almost nobody cares. Most people don’t want subtle. Most people desperately want those cathartic epiphany and release experiences, and look at you like you’re a total dick if you challenge that even a little. And maybe that’s just the way it is. Maybe people just need a little thunder and lighting in order for the rain to come and soften the ground for new growth. This book helped me realize how helpful those early psychedelic experiences were. They captured my youthful imagination, and slaked my thirst for the numinous, while concurrently providing the foundation for more subtle work later on. Plus they we just plain giggly wiggly fun. I’m still WAY more interested in what good therapy combined with really good meditation instruction and practice can do for a person. But after reading this book, I’m slightly more open to how (precisely) a psychedelic experience, occurring within a therapeutic context, can jump start, or even rocket boost a process of personal exploration, radical acceptance and spiritual growth in a reasonably stable and sufficiently mature individual. I’m not interested in groovy acid orgy deadheaded pestilence, or teeth gnashing, amphetamine fueled dance party revelry, or burning man dehydration festivals, or shamanic shitlock crystal pleasures, or anything of the sort. I have WAY been there and TOTALLY done that. It’s really fun, but it’s kids stuff, and when the party is over, it’s not so cute. At this stage of life, my fundamental concerns are: freedom, connection, health, well-being, and meaningful accomplishment. Ultimately, it’s my assumption that you have to be pretty dang sober to get all of those things in a durable and lasting way. But I’m a grumpy old man who has the benefit of some truly adventurous, borderline degenerate youthful life experiences to draw from. My current relative rigidity was something I developed, rather late in life, out of sheer necessity. Sobriety, sober community and structure are my magic at this particular juncture of my ‘one wild life’. But if someone is languishing in a state of icy, turgid, spiritual paralysis (many many good examples come to mind), than I can absolutely see how a little molecular magic, in the proper set and setting, could defrost and ignite the engine of enlightenment. This book really helped me warm up to this exciting frontier of therapy. Thank you Michael Pollan :-)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    5 🍄 🍄 🍄 🍄 🍄 You can’t always get what you want but you just might get what you need. Among many others, what do Anaïs Nin, Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick, André Previn, James Coburn, Aldous Huxley, Bill “W”, Ram Dass, Andrew Weil, Ethyl Kennedy, Steve Jobs, and Cary Grant have in common? Psychedelic therapy. Are there other uses for mushrooms beyond sautéing them in butter, garlic, and dry sherry? Yes! They can wipe out carpenter ant colonies, clean up pollution and industrial waste, and act as a 5 🍄 🍄 🍄 🍄 🍄 You can’t always get what you want but you just might get what you need. Among many others, what do Anaïs Nin, Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick, André Previn, James Coburn, Aldous Huxley, Bill “W”, Ram Dass, Andrew Weil, Ethyl Kennedy, Steve Jobs, and Cary Grant have in common? Psychedelic therapy. Are there other uses for mushrooms beyond sautéing them in butter, garlic, and dry sherry? Yes! They can wipe out carpenter ant colonies, clean up pollution and industrial waste, and act as agents to fight bioterrorism. What else? That’s what some people want to find out. I came of age after LSD was banned by the government (thanks in no small part to Timothy Leary) so my knowledge of it was primarily negative and I was definitely too scared to try it despite hanging out with people who used it freely. Come to think of it, they are probably why I was scared to try it. But up until 1966 it was legal and there were 70 serious research programs at prestigious institutions throughout the 50s and early 60s exploring its potential to treat depression, schizophrenia, ease a person’s death journey, and help cure addictions to nicotine and alcohol. All these decades later there is renewed scientific and personal interest. Oh, the potential. What if we could: ➤experience no doubt, know instead of just believe ➤experience the very worst of what life can throw at you, including death, and regard it objectively and accept it with equanimity ➤become more open at an advanced age when the grooves of mental habit have been etched so deep as to seem inescapable ➤go on a journey that could be among the two or three most profound experiences of your life The author went above and beyond attempting to find some answers for himself and the reader. I have nothing but praise and respect for his efforts. This was #1 on our library’s most requested list for good reason. Fabulously researched, fascinating, and worth my reading time—and convincing? My mind has definitely been opened and changed and all I did was read the book. You might be curious how many tabs I used writing this review—a lot let me tell you! I’m talking about the little sticky colored ones to mark favorite book passages. Would I like to sign up for a session? Tomorrow Never Knows 🎶

  13. 4 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    This is probably the most boring book of someone telling about his experience of smoking toads and using psychedelics in general. It got a little bit better towards the end, and it was interesting to read about psychedelics therapy, but I can't say that I would be reading it again or that it was a revelation. There was a lot of history in the book, and actually not enough science. The main thing is that were some stories, that I am sure could be told in a more engaging way. I also felt that it w This is probably the most boring book of someone telling about his experience of smoking toads and using psychedelics in general. It got a little bit better towards the end, and it was interesting to read about psychedelics therapy, but I can't say that I would be reading it again or that it was a revelation. There was a lot of history in the book, and actually not enough science. The main thing is that were some stories, that I am sure could be told in a more engaging way. I also felt that it was very repetitive and the two words that I remember the most is psychedelics and Aldous Huxley. I did like the spotlight vs lantern consciousness allegory, which is actually not a Pollan thing, but that's the first time I encounter that. In The Philosophical Baby, Gopnik draws a useful distinction between the “spotlight consciousness” of adults and the “lantern consciousness” of young children. The first mode gives adults the ability to narrowly focus attention on a goal. In the second mode—lantern consciousness—attention is more widely diffused, allowing the child to take in information from virtually anywhere in her field of awareness, which is quite wide, wider than that of most adults. (By this measure, children are more conscious than adults, rather than less.) While children seldom exhibit sustained periods of spotlight consciousness, adults occasionally experience that “vivid panoramic illumination of the everyday” that lantern consciousness affords us. To borrow Judson Brewer’s terms, lantern consciousness is expansive, spotlight consciousness narrow, or contracted. So overall, too much anecdotal 'evidence', and not enough engagement on my side. About 2.5 stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    viktoria

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    A few weeks ago, I was raving here about the first book I ever read by participatory journalist Michael Pollan, 2006's The Omnivore's Dilemma which permanently changed the way I now shop at grocery stores; and now I can say that I've had an equally great experience with my second Pollan book, his newest, the 600-page behemoth How to Change Your Mind, which looks at all the latest post-hippie, 21st-century, Western-medicine research into the links between psychedelic drugs, mental health, mindful A few weeks ago, I was raving here about the first book I ever read by participatory journalist Michael Pollan, 2006's The Omnivore's Dilemma which permanently changed the way I now shop at grocery stores; and now I can say that I've had an equally great experience with my second Pollan book, his newest, the 600-page behemoth How to Change Your Mind, which looks at all the latest post-hippie, 21st-century, Western-medicine research into the links between psychedelic drugs, mental health, mindfulness and Buddhist-style meditation. To make my biases clear right away, back in my early twenties I did LSD in college a handful of times, mostly in a mindful and deliberate way (although admittedly a couple of times at raves for fun too), thus making it natural that I would be interested in what Pollan had to say; and he essentially takes this mindful, medicine-type approach too, presenting not just an exhaustive history of the subject as it first became known in the US in the 1920s and '30s, blooming into national mainstream popularity and then just as quickly burning out in the 1960s, but also concentrating just as much on the quiet, more sober research that's being done in our current age, where contemporary doctors and scientists are looking at the ways that LSD and psychedelic mushrooms might in fact be a "magic cure" of sorts for such mental conditions as depression, anxiety and addiction. It all boils down to a term that's suddenly been gaining a lot of mainstream traction recently, called the "Default Mode Network;" as we're learning with more and more certainty, this is the part of the brain that essentially acts as the "CEO" or "orchestra leader" of all the other parts of your brain, the section of the brain that's most active precisely when you're doing nothing particular at all, and the section that allows you to think about the past, to anticipate the future, to project a sense of "self" to yourself, and basically all the other activities that we've typically associated over the centuries with what is conveniently called the human "soul." Modern MRI research is showing us that, when someone is on psychedelic drugs, its main effect is to shut down the default mode network; that basically lets the other sections of your brain talk to each other in unexpected and random ways, which is what produces the "hallucinations" so commonly associated with the drug. And since it's the default mode network that directly causes mental disorders like depression (obsessive worrying about the past) and anxiety (obsessive worrying about the future), research is showing more and more that psychedelic drugs can act as essentially a way to "reformat a corrupted hard drive," and to let people with unhealthy behaviors towards the past and future basically reset and permanently change their behaviors. And, incidentally, it turns out that this is the same exact process the brain goes through during mindfulness-based meditation, which is why it's no coincidence that Buddhism and psychedelic drugs are so closely associated with each other in our society, and why Buddhist-style meditation has been shown in recent years to work even better than anti-anxiety drugs on PTSD-suffering veteran soldiers. Pollan's book is about all kinds of other things too, including his own first-person forays into psychedelics and what exactly occurred to him during his "trips;" and as always, it's written in his engaging if not often opinionated conversational style, which I love but I learned during The Omnivore's Dilemma drives other people crazy, so be warned. An illuminating and fascinating book that will (here we go again) permanently change the way you think about psychedelic drugs, meditation, and mental illness, it is so far the one book in 2018 that I most recommend general audience members picking up. Destined to make my top-ten list at the end of the year, if not come in at the number-one spot altogether.

  16. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    this is precisely where psychedelic therapy seems to be operating: on a frontier between spirituality and science that is as provocative as it is uncomfortable. michael pollan is one of those authors who can, with ample research, elucidatory prowess, and a captivating writing style, make nearly any subject wholly fascinating and engaging. so it is with his new book, how to change your mind, wherein he explores the intriguing background of psychedelics (mostly lsd and psilocybin) and the great p this is precisely where psychedelic therapy seems to be operating: on a frontier between spirituality and science that is as provocative as it is uncomfortable. michael pollan is one of those authors who can, with ample research, elucidatory prowess, and a captivating writing style, make nearly any subject wholly fascinating and engaging. so it is with his new book, how to change your mind, wherein he explores the intriguing background of psychedelics (mostly lsd and psilocybin) and the great promise they show in treating a host of medical and psychological maladies. if the experience of transcendence is mediated by molecules that flow through both our brains and the natural world of plants and fungi, then perhaps nature is not as mute as science has told us, and "spirit," however defined, exists out there—is immanent in nature, in other words, just as countless premodern cultures have believed. what to my (spiritually impoverished) mind seemed to constitute a good case for disenchantment of the world becomes in the minds of the more psychedelically experienced irrefutable proof of its fundamental enchantment. flesh of the gods, indeed.as in many of his books, pollan immerses himself first-hand within his chosen subject (in this case, ingesting the very substances he writes about). after a lengthy history on the origins of psychedelics, their recreational and therapeutic uses, and mid-century studies into their efficacy, how to change your mind also delves into the neuroscience of how these drugs work on and affect our brains. perhaps the most compelling chapter is "travelogue: journeying underground," which recounts pollan's own psychedelic experimentation, as his insights, musings, and philosophical ponderings provide considerable food for thought (as he's forced to confront his own fears, hesitations, beliefs, and ego). so perhaps spiritual experience is simply what happens in the space that opens up in the mind when "all mean egotism vanishes." wonders (and terrors) we're ordinarily defended against flow into our awareness; the far end of the sensory spectrum, which are normally invisible to us, our senses can suddenly admit. while the ego sleeps, the mind plays, proposing unexpected patterns of thought and new rays of relation. the gulf between self and world, that no-man's-land which in ordinary hours the ego so vigilantly patrols, closes down, allowing us to feel less separate and more connected, "part and particle" of some larger entity. given pollan's reputation and popularity, how to change your mind will likely engender a much larger national conversation about psychedelics and their place in treating addiction, ptsd, depression, as well as in palliative care for end-of-life patients. psychedelics have had, in this country, a history fraught with political posturing, fear-mongering, and general apprehension, yet, as pollan makes abundantly clear in his book, the attitude towards these remarkable substances is softening (as more studies show their unparalleled promise), with a sea change perhaps just on the horizon. how to change your mind is an important, timely book, and pollan deftly charts the forefront of modern psychedelic research. *4.5 stars

  17. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Siegel

    I feel lucky to live in a world where Michael Pollan has now written, sometimes quite beautifully, about tripping.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Michael Pollan is a phenomenal writer, and he shines once again with his newest book. He takes a deep dive into the history and science of psychedelics, all while weaving in his own personal narrative. It is an engaging and fascinating read; one that propels the reader on a journey through the re-emergence of this scientific field. For anyone at all interested in the topic, this is probably a must-read. Highly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mason Neil

    I have been fascinated by psychedelics ever since I experienced psilocybin a few years ago and experienced an almost immediate loss of some negative habits that had been having a negative effect on my mental health. Michael Pollan's perspective was particularly attractive to me because I already have a lot of respect for him after reading In Defense of Food and The Omnivores Dilemma. His approach is skeptical and honest, and I found that he wrote with a candid tone that I hadn't heard in his oth I have been fascinated by psychedelics ever since I experienced psilocybin a few years ago and experienced an almost immediate loss of some negative habits that had been having a negative effect on my mental health. Michael Pollan's perspective was particularly attractive to me because I already have a lot of respect for him after reading In Defense of Food and The Omnivores Dilemma. His approach is skeptical and honest, and I found that he wrote with a candid tone that I hadn't heard in his other writing that I am familiar with. The book began with a formality that I found uncomfortable, but this stiffness was quickly lost as Pollan began recounting his own experiences. I think the overall shift in style of the writing reflected the difficulty that arises when writing about psychedelics—their effects are personal and resist logical explanation so well that bending a discussion of them into a scientific and rigid text would be almost impossible. The book delicately balanced an exploration of known scientific research with a legitimate discussion of mystical experiences, all without falling into a condescending or distrusting tone that would discount the experiences of others. This was a fantastic read and I am already planning on purchasing copies to give to some family members.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    An eye-opening and readable book about a taboo topic. Author Michael Pollan weeds out the science from the politics and reveals research that's been suppressed for decades. Psychedelic substances have shown huge promise for dealing with addiction, depression and especially depression in terminally ill patients, and research has shown that, contrary to the scary tales we were told in the 70's, it is virtually impossible to overdose on these substances and that, in safely controlled settings, subj An eye-opening and readable book about a taboo topic. Author Michael Pollan weeds out the science from the politics and reveals research that's been suppressed for decades. Psychedelic substances have shown huge promise for dealing with addiction, depression and especially depression in terminally ill patients, and research has shown that, contrary to the scary tales we were told in the 70's, it is virtually impossible to overdose on these substances and that, in safely controlled settings, subjects in experiments have reported overwhelmingly positive experiences. Some quite amazing data in here. Worthwhile reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    I have led a boring life, at least as measured by the topics covered by this book, Michael Pollan’s "How to Change Your Mind." Not only have I never taken any psychedelic drug of any type, I have never taken any illegal drug at all. Similarly, I have never had any type of mystical experience whatsoever, though I am certainly open to such a thing and have total confidence that many other people have. Just not me. But here, as in many matters, others go where I have not tread. Pollan, famous mostl I have led a boring life, at least as measured by the topics covered by this book, Michael Pollan’s "How to Change Your Mind." Not only have I never taken any psychedelic drug of any type, I have never taken any illegal drug at all. Similarly, I have never had any type of mystical experience whatsoever, though I am certainly open to such a thing and have total confidence that many other people have. Just not me. But here, as in many matters, others go where I have not tread. Pollan, famous mostly for books on food, decided to explore drug-induced alterations of consciousness, and this book is the measured result of his spelunking in the caverns of the mind. I suppose that psychedelics might be interesting for me. Among other benefits, they are said to provide a lasting uptick in the personality characteristic “openness to experience,” in which I am very low indeed, according to test results. But I am a bone-deep paranoid, of whom long ago it was said that my core belief is “bad people are everywhere, and they must be put down.” Therefore, the chances that I would perceive ghostly enemies in my fever dreams, and then reach for my boot knife, seem to me far too high to risk taking any drug that alters perception of reality. So all this is abstract to me, and will remain so. As far as the book, this is, disappointingly to some, not a book about Pollan’s own experiences with drugs, although those do figure. Those expecting an updated version of Aldous Huxley’s florid "The Doors of Perception" will not find it. This is a book mostly about history and science, cut with ten percent description of the author’s closely controlled personal experiences with psychedelic drugs. In other words, Pollan is not an evangelist or proselytizer for drug use; his advice is thoughtful, rather than enthusiastic. The first two hundred pages are history. It should have been fewer, and could have been fewer, if Pollan had cut out the unbelievable number of references to the “moral panic” that we are told resulted in psychedelics being suppressed in the 1970s, largely a result of the clownish behavior of Timothy Leary. I am perfectly willing to believe that there was a somewhat unjustified overreaction, but the constant characterization of the suppression of psychedelics as only a panic, and therefore wholly irrational, are obviously wrong even on Pollan’s own account, and smack of an aging baby boomer’s moral preening. In any case, Pollan starts by talking about recent revived interest in using psychedelics, primarily psilocybin, derived from mushrooms, to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety among terminal cancer patients, as well as more mundane problems like nicotine addiction. Then we are taken backward, to the original 1943 synthesis of LSD and its use, and misuse, over subsequent decades, as well as the history of other psychedelics. The focus is on psychedelics as a class, not on the many varieties thereof, few of which are specifically delineated. Pollan mostly talks to various figures, ranging from scientists now carefully studying psychedelics in accordance with strict regulations, to elderly hippies and their younger disciples still flogging LSD as a miracle that will bring mankind together. Many of the latter are flakes, prone to what Pollan charitably calls “intellectual extravagance.” The scientists, on the other hand, are mostly hesitant to ascribe mystical powers to these drugs, including one who boldly goes way out on a limb, saying “I’m willing to hold the possibility these [mystical] experiences may or may not be true.” Along the way, we learn what psilocybin mushrooms look like, how they grow, and how to take them, which might be useful for some of us, especially since many mushrooms that look very similar permanently crash your liver. Finally, we get to what everyone really wants to read, which is Pollan’s own drug travelogue. He took, at separate times, three drugs: LSD, psilocybin, and something obscure named 5-MeO-DMT, or “the Toad,” extracted from, you guessed it, the venom of a Mexican toad. He details the run-up to each use in excruciating detail, and also narrates the actual experiences, which are pretty disappointing, both to the reader and, for the most part, to Pollan. He did not have any earthshattering mystical experiences, and the Toad was terrifying. He did have various experiences revolving around dissolution of the ego, the most common characteristic of all psychedelics, something that he, a mostly no-nonsense, goal-oriented person, found quite interesting and valuable. He saw and interacted with dead relatives. But all in all, this is pretty pedestrian, and most of what is interesting about drug trip descriptions in this book comes from quotes from people other than Pollan. Then, after fifty pages of travelogue, it’s back to another two hundred pages of the more boring stuff, in this case science, especially examinations of how precisely it is psychedelics work (answer: nobody knows anything very concrete, and from notes and parentheticals, it’s evident Pollan is exaggerating what little agreement there is), along with possible present-day applications of psychedelics to medicine. These actually seem quite promising, even if phrases like “it could be” and “isn’t entirely clear” keep cropping up. Certainly, if I suffered from untreatable depression, or someone close to me did, I would consider psychedelic therapies. And that’s it for the book. Frankly, it’s on the boring side. Still, we can pick out of this several interesting facts, or at least facts I found interesting. For one example, there is substantial evidence that young children’s minds have much in common with the mind of an adult on psychedelics. Adults develop useful mental shortcuts that cut out the sense of open-ended wonder, and the drugs seem to, in some instances, restore it, or a facsimile of it. (This reminds me of the classic science fiction story “Mimsy Were the Borogroves,” in which a brother and sister can see the real meaning of the Lewis Carroll nonsense poem “Jabberwocky,” and use it to vanish into thin air, watched by their father, “in a direction he could not understand.”) For another, the effects on any individual of any psychedelic drug are tremendously dependent on the setting in which the drug is taken, and even more on what the user expects to happen. Pollan notes that there is substantial debate about whether the popularity of Huxley’s book in fact created much of the experiences that users have since had, and whether if that book had not been written, those experiences might have been largely different. There is also a side-mention, not explored further, that Europeans have far fewer mystical experiences under the influence of psychedelics than do Americans, which seems like it would bear further exploring, but the topic never recurs. More broadly, all the discussion in the book offers an obvious question—what does the use of psychedelics, and what they appear reveal to the user, say about the nature of reality and of consciousness? Despite the desperate flailing of materialists like Steven Pinker, there is no evidence whatsoever that consciousness is the product of the brain, rather than an external phenomenon mediated by the brain, as Henri Bergson, among others, would have it. Of course, there is little evidence of the latter, either. We just don’t know. Pollan, certainly, is sympathetic to the idea that psychedelics reveal evidence for the latter, though he is very cautious in his approach. No doubt, listening to the stories of drug users, many of whom are utterly convinced of having had, in William James’s terms (from "The Varieties of Religious Experience"), an ineffable, noetic experience, one feels the pull toward believing that psychedelics can provide direct evidence of, and direct access to, a wholly different realm. On the other hand, I think that one single fact, that neither Pollan nor anyone else that I know of discusses, strongly suggests that all psychedelic experiences are merely internal manifestations of the mind. This is that no new substantive knowledge is ever gained. If the individual consciousness were actually being exposed to, or subsumed into, or enfolded with, some universal or greater consciousness, some set of until-then unknown truths would seem certain to emerge. That could be anything—a scientific fact, the existence of aliens with specific verifiable facts about themselves, or merely exposure to another consciousness merging with yours (as exposed to the interactions with internally generated avatars of others that seem common, separately from the merging phenomenon, which Pollan himself experienced), or some kind of telepathy. But not once is such a thing ever mentioned, which strongly suggests that psychedelic experiences are purely internal, though I suppose they might be revealing underlying structural truths, even if they do not reveal identifiable higher level or new knowledge. The most interesting elements of the book, though, concern the intersection of religious belief and what is perceived under the influence of these drugs. It’s not just the drugs—even before he took LSD, Pollan’s “guide” had him do basic breathing exercises that put him in a hallucinatory trance, completely without drugs. (This is probably why the Orthodox, in repetitious prayer regimens, strongly caution against the untutored engaging simultaneously in the breathing exercises sometimes done by monks.) But there seems little doubt that many users experience effects that are the same as those identified as mystical religious experiences in William James’s classic book. The question is, what does that mean, or show? We have to clear out some underbrush first. Pollan, a genial atheist, seems completely unaware, no doubt because everyone who touched this book before publication was equally unaware, that many of the supposedly novel thoughts that come to him under the influence of psychedelics are commonplaces about reality in Christian theology. “I felt for the first time gratitude for the very fact of being, that there is anything whatsoever. Rather than being necessarily the case, this now seemed quite the miracle. . . . Everybody gives thanks for ‘being alive,” but who stops to offer thanks for the bare-bones gerund that comes before ‘alive’?” Every well-educated Christian, that’s who, and Pollan could do worse than reading David Bentley Hart on this topic, though any major Christian writer from the first century A.D. onward would do. Similarly, the idea of ego dissolution in an overwhelming and loving whole, which at the same time mystically maintains the individual’s ability to perceive, is nothing more than an attempt to describe the traditional Christian view of Heaven, best expressed in the Orthodox concept of theosis, though here lacking the presence of God, what Catholics call the Beatific Vision (the absence of which, again, suggests to a Christian that all this is purely internal to the drug user, though perhaps not less relevant for that). So, Pollan says of an atheist’s drug use, “Not only was the flood of love she experienced ineffably powerful, but it was unattributable to any individual or worldly cause, and so was purely gratuitous—a form of grace.” Any Christian would recognize this as an everyday description of Christian belief; the only things of interest are the direct experience, rather than its mere narration, and that the woman who experienced it described it as “being bathed in God’s love” and had lost her fear of death, yet insisted she was still an atheist, which seem highly unlikely, unless “atheist” is code for “my friends will think I’m weird if I say I believe in God.” This offers the second obvious question—does this imply that psychedelic drugs offer evidence of the truth of Christian belief, given how closely some of these visions align with core revealed truths found in Christianity? There may also be parallels with certain threads of Buddhism (about which I am ill-informed, hence my hesitation), although the retention of the individual’s viewpoint after the dissolution of ego runs counter to what I understand of “nirvana.” At the beginning of the book, Pollan notes that the original acid trip of the inventor of LSD, Albert Hofman, exhibited “neither the Eastern nor the Christian flavorings that would soon become conventions of the genre.” And then Pollan never returns to either “convention.” This was extremely disappointing to me. The only later mention of Christianity is the vision of a hard-core alcoholic mother, who admits she completely failed her children, being told by Jesus that she shouldn’t spend any time beating herself up, because nonjudgmentalism. That may be a Christian flavoring to the drug experience, but more likely, it’s what Oprah told the woman last time she was drunk, which was yesterday (the alcoholic, not Oprah, though maybe Oprah was drunk yesterday too). What I wanted to hear was if anyone under the influence of psychedelics ever had direct, specifically Christian revelation, such as regarding the Trinity, or Christ saying something not banal, or even an inkling of the Communion of Saints. I suspect not, or we would have heard of it. Which, again, suggests all this is internal, or at least it suggests that to a Christian. Regardless, none of this means it’s a good idea for Christians to take drugs. In fact, it’s almost certainly a very bad idea. Shortcuts generally mean trouble, and I am reminded of the words of Abraham to the rich man, pleading to return to Earth to warn his brothers of the wages of sin, “‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that only pleasant or truth-telling invisible realities would be revealed by a drug that could tear the veil of the world. Although Pollan does not mention it, one psychedelic, dimethyltryptamine, often gives the user the perception of contact with intelligences, so called “machine elves” or “chattering angels.” That sounds dangerous. No, on balance, these are things to be avoided. Still, that’s not to say that there’s no benefit in undercutting materialism by recognizing what psychedelics may be and do. Somewhere, Steven Pinker is rending his garments, wailing that the peasants shouldn’t be permitted to believe in a transcendent reality, because then they will be insufficiently enlightened, and will immediately go back to burning witches, led by priests who believe in vampires. To me, opening the possibility of a broader reality in this gray, de-magicked age is a feature, not a bug, regardless of whether there is any underlying reality to what drug users are shown under the influence.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ericka Clouther

    Really interesting book. Though it's central theme is psychedelics, it's topic is really consciousness, the experience of being, the fear of death, willpower, and mental illness. The book was well-written as Pollan never disappoints. I definitely found new information and the book definitely challenged some of my assumptions about the world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Marciano

    Riveting, inspiring, this book opens so many new, exciting perspectives. Hopefully it'll help reverse the stigma on psychedelic substances so they can be used by science to open new doors in our consciousness, something we really ought to do if we wish for a better world. Really excited after reading this, I wish we could all use some LSD as the antidote to our existential angst, depression, fear of death and blindness to the perfection of the natural world which we are destroying. Well done onc Riveting, inspiring, this book opens so many new, exciting perspectives. Hopefully it'll help reverse the stigma on psychedelic substances so they can be used by science to open new doors in our consciousness, something we really ought to do if we wish for a better world. Really excited after reading this, I wish we could all use some LSD as the antidote to our existential angst, depression, fear of death and blindness to the perfection of the natural world which we are destroying. Well done once again Michael Pollen!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    “I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” (p.23). Albert Hoffman, discoverer of LSD wrote those words in 1943. He had unintentionally absorbed some of the synthesized substance through his skin. When I read that description it reminded me of the “Stargate” sequence in Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001, a Space Odyssey, released in 1968. There is no direct evidence of a Kubrick-LSD connection. In fact, Kubrick denied “I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” (p.23). Albert Hoffman, discoverer of LSD wrote those words in 1943. He had unintentionally absorbed some of the synthesized substance through his skin. When I read that description it reminded me of the “Stargate” sequence in Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001, a Space Odyssey, released in 1968. There is no direct evidence of a Kubrick-LSD connection. In fact, Kubrick denied he had ever taken LSD. However, Pollan cites a source claiming Kubrick, like many prominent Hollywood celebrities, underwent a regimen of LSD enhanced psychoanalysis in the 60's (Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond, by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain). Film maker and researcher Michael Benson states that Fred Ordway, a scientific consultant on Kubrick's film, contacted Dr. Walter Pahnke who conducted an LSD experiment known as the Good Friday Study under the direction of Timothy Leary. There is no evidence of any actual correspondence between the two (Space Odyssey; Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece). Was Kubrick being truthful about never taking LSD or was he distancing himself from a bit of baggage contradicting the artistic breakthrough he envisioned in this film? In any case, the contrast reflects the prodigious turn of events that transpired in a mere decade. In 1960 LSD was at the forefront of an edgy new frontier. By 1970 it was illegal. Pollan matches the experiences of researchers, meditation and spiritual pedagogues, and his own assisted triptamine experiments with these profound cultural shifts. He opens with a historical compendium, working both backwards and forwards from the year 2006. In that year the Supreme Court ruled against the government's attempt to block the União do Vegetal Church from importing the vines used for making hoasca, a hallucinogen. In the same year, Dr. Roland Griffiths, a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins, published a study of psilocybin's effects; it was praised for the scientific rigor of its design. Pollan traces a trajectory beginning with comparisons between psychedelic effects and those of mental illnesses like schizophrenia (the psychomimetic model). Further examination indicated that the psychedelic experience only superficially resembled mental illness. The model was replaced by interest in psychedelics applied to expediting conventional psychoanalysis (the psycholytic path). This research, however, was overshadowed by a single figure, Timothy Leary. Commenting on a December 1960 get-together between Allen Ginsburg and Leary, Pollan observes: “...Leary gave psilocybin to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, a man who needed no chemical inducement to play the role of visionary prophet....'We're going to teach people to stop hating,' Ginsberg said, 'start a peace and love movement.' You can almost hear in his [Ginsburg's] words the 1960's being born, the still-damp, Day-glo chick crackling out of its shell.” (p.193) After Leary, there was a decades long hiatus. The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. Funds dried up. Sandoz had already curtailed its distribution of LSD. And researchers came to be viewed either dismissively or with fear by the general public. Pollan is therefore surprised and encouraged by a renaissance in psychedelic research. Having read two of Pollan's previous books, I was disappointed by HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND. The names of dozens of researchers appear in the chapters on history. The most interesting section was Chapter 2: “Natural History; Bemushroomed.” Here, Pollan returns to his passion — botany. He meets Paul Stamets, an eccentric but dedicated mycologist who guides him on a field trip to collect psychedelic mushrooms. Stamets lives a comfortable life off the income of several patents, including a hybridized Cordyceps species of mushroom with the lurid property of causing fire ants to ingest them and explode their heads. The psychedelic compound of interest to Pollan is psilocybes. However, Pollan wonders why the substance is concentrated in the fruit and not the underground connective network known as mycelium, which would be the logical focus if the substance evolved to protect the organism. He hypothesizes that perhaps the substance encouraged the fungi's dissemination by appealing to a variety of animals, including humans. Referencing Terence McKenna's rather wacky “Stoned Ape” theory, he speculates: “...what might have started as a biochemical accident has turned into an ingenious strategy for enlarging the species' range and number...it is the mushroom itself that helped form precisely the kind of mind — endowed with the tools of language and fired by imagination — that could best advance its interests. No wonder Paul Stamets is convinced of their intelligence.” (p.117) Pollan's chapter on neuroscience focuses on the concept of the “Default Mode Network” developed by Marcus Raichle. In brief, the theory supposes that the drugs erase familiar neural pathways forcing the creation of novel paths, provoking the synesthesia evidenced by many subjects' experiences. The basis for this thinking is studies of neuro-imaging patterns. By generalizing this broadly, Pollan is able to transition easily into his account of clinical applications in the areas of depression and addiction. Still, after 400+ pages of often prosaic writing, I was hoping for something more. Pollan concludes that his research has led him to an epiphany about his own life. I wish I could say the same about mine after spending the week on this book. NOTES: Interview where Kubrick denies ever having taken LSD. https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2016/10...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I confess I'm a bit of a fan of Michael Pollan. I've read much of his writing on food, and I generally find his journalistic style approachable and informative without being overly dry. I was a bit surprised to learn that he had stepped outside his usual beat to write about psychedelics. And yet, now that I've read the book, the two topics -- food and psychedelics -- seem like two peas in a pod (no pun intended). Pollan draws on much of his knowledge and experience with plants to illustrate how I confess I'm a bit of a fan of Michael Pollan. I've read much of his writing on food, and I generally find his journalistic style approachable and informative without being overly dry. I was a bit surprised to learn that he had stepped outside his usual beat to write about psychedelics. And yet, now that I've read the book, the two topics -- food and psychedelics -- seem like two peas in a pod (no pun intended). Pollan draws on much of his knowledge and experience with plants to illustrate how plant-based chemicals act on the mind and have influenced history and culture, not unlike the way food itself influences the functioning of the body and has left a significant impact on society in general. One of the things I like about Pollan's work is that he is able to take a multi-faceted look at a topic, melding history, science, and personal memoir all into one cohesive narrative. I think he mostly succeeds at that with this book, although I felt the first half of the book was a slightly different book than the second half. The first half tells a straightforward story of the origin of renewed interest in psychedelics, followed by a traditional history of the origins of psychedelic drugs themselves, their initial embrace, and subsequent cultural backlash. The second half, however, gives us a glimpse into Pollan's personal experiences with these substances in a memoir format, and then is followed by interviews with researchers who are finding new (or renewed) uses for these drugs as treatments for mental disorders and existential suffering. Although the narrative jumps around in this way, I appreciate Pollan's attempt to tell the story of psychedelics from all these different angles, since it gives the reader a more complete understanding of what is and what has been going on, both above ground and below. I also like that Pollan inserted himself into the story since it gives the reader a chance to experience something that most people tend to describe simply as "inexplicable." As usual, Pollan's voice as a respected journalist lends a deeper credibility to his subject, which is certainly a characteristic that opens him up to criticism by those who have tackled the same subject before with less fanfare. But the remarkable evidence in support of expanding the use of these substances for the treatment of mental illness and for improving the lives of many may well justify the need for the straight white male treatment. I'm also keen to read Ayelet Waldman's recent memoir on the same topic and compare. My takeaway from the book is that psychedelics may be our best hope in the treatment of mental illness since the decline in the effectiveness of SSRIs but is certainly not a panacea and probably shouldn't be added to the drinking water supply any time soon. The importance of "set" and "setting" are key to having an experience that is therapeutic rather than just weird or scary, which explains why double-blind trials that seek to isolate the drug as the sole variable show less success than those in which the drug is administered as part of a holistic ritual experience. It's exciting and a bit, dare I say, disruptive, to consider that these substances may force medicine to re-embrace the mystical along with the pharmacological, finally reuniting mind and body. My other big takeaway was the realization of the profound influence psychedelics had on the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Of course the loopy fonts and groovy colors of that era evoked pyschedelics, but more than that these drugs actually influenced the mindset of the young people who took them, which invited the kind of break with authority that actually occurred on a massive scale. The cultural changes cannot be entirely blamed on psychedelics -- Nixon and Vietnam certainly helped matters -- but the ego-dissolving experiences these drugs gave young people certainly helped to open their minds to a whole new world of possibilities in politics, race, gender, and sexual relations, among other things. I really liked one passage where one of the interviewees commented that psychedelics are wasted on the young, because those of us who really need our minds expanded are those of us who have worn deep grooves into our brains following many years of repeat patterns and experiences. Our brains naturally tend to cut cogitative corners by using the same mental processes over and over again rather than seeking more complex and creative solutions. Unlike infants and young children who are basically on naturally-occurring acid trips all the time, the adult brain is very set in its ways, and often in ways that are not very helpful or joyful. Psychedelics can undermine the neuroticism of the experienced mind by smoothing over these groves and helping the mind to make new connections. It was helpful to me personally to view my own neuroticism in these terms, as the mere normal functioning of my brain, but also as a function that is capable of disruption through meditation, and maybe even (eventually, someday, if it becomes legal) through the assistance of a psychedelic.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    63rd book for 2018. Pollan offers a great up-to-date of account of the new psychedelic revolution currently underway, lead in no small part by the gradual loosening of restrictions on research over the last two decades that have been in place since the early 1970s. It's an area I know relatively well, and thought Pollan did a good grounded job of reviewing both the history and current science, though I found his style sometimes a little annoying. (Too positive? Too self-satisfied with life?). To p 63rd book for 2018. Pollan offers a great up-to-date of account of the new psychedelic revolution currently underway, lead in no small part by the gradual loosening of restrictions on research over the last two decades that have been in place since the early 1970s. It's an area I know relatively well, and thought Pollan did a good grounded job of reviewing both the history and current science, though I found his style sometimes a little annoying. (Too positive? Too self-satisfied with life?). To put it another way: While I enjoyed reading the book, and it made me realize it's been way too long since I've taken magic mushrooms, I wouldn't want to do them with Michael Pollan. As harsh as that might sound. 4-stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Josh Firer

    Going into the past, present, and future of the research into the use of psychedelic drugs and their potential to solve many vexing scientific problems, Michael Pollan reframes these issues in a way that is sure to change many readers' minds. What makes the book compelling, is that the author is convinced by his own research to experiment with psychedelics. His experiences are deeply touching and fun to read about it. This book will give you a lot to think about.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    I struggled with whether this was a 4 or a 5 star book, which would typically lead me to give a book 4 stars. But dang, this is such a fascinating book. I was pulled in by the discussions of dissolution of ego, of the nature of consciousness, of entropy, awe, spirituality, by the potential of psychedelics in mental health treatment and the position that they should also be used for the "betterment of the well." The best parts of the books are the sections on Pollan's own experiences with psyched I struggled with whether this was a 4 or a 5 star book, which would typically lead me to give a book 4 stars. But dang, this is such a fascinating book. I was pulled in by the discussions of dissolution of ego, of the nature of consciousness, of entropy, awe, spirituality, by the potential of psychedelics in mental health treatment and the position that they should also be used for the "betterment of the well." The best parts of the books are the sections on Pollan's own experiences with psychedelics and on psychedelics in treatment (though the history of research was also educational for me). Reading Pollan's descriptions of his trips made me realize that in my youth, I barely tasted the positive potential of these drugs. I had some trips in my youth, some that I still remember fondly, but I did not have transcendental experiences, I did not experience the dissolution of ego. The role of the guides in these more significant trips, as well as set and setting, its connection to shamanism, is really interesting. And kind of intriguing to this old broad. I have some quibbles with his writing (his descriptions of people's physical appearances annoys me, among other quibbles) and I think the epilogue drags. But this is good reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    KC

    Micheal Pollan discusses the fascinating, intriguing and yet extremely controversial scientific approach to better understanding the world of psychotropics and their role as a form of mental therapy. From the author's own personal controlled "trips" with many of the drugs he explores and with numerous interviews with scientists, clinicians, shamans, therapists, addicts, the terminally ill, vets, and the depressed, this novel gives a "mind blowing" account of the history, importance, and potentia Micheal Pollan discusses the fascinating, intriguing and yet extremely controversial scientific approach to better understanding the world of psychotropics and their role as a form of mental therapy. From the author's own personal controlled "trips" with many of the drugs he explores and with numerous interviews with scientists, clinicians, shamans, therapists, addicts, the terminally ill, vets, and the depressed, this novel gives a "mind blowing" account of the history, importance, and potential necessity psychedelics may have in the world of psychological healing.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    In this book, Michael Pollan covers the history and science of psychedelics. The book is divided into five main sections which cover several aspects of psychedelic drugs: natural history, cultural history, Pollan's personal experiences, neuroscience, and uses in psychotherapy. Pollan meets with all sorts of experts in the field and his writing style and journalistic style is engaging, conversational, and easy to read. I didn't realize that in the 50s and early 60s there were a lot of promising c In this book, Michael Pollan covers the history and science of psychedelics. The book is divided into five main sections which cover several aspects of psychedelic drugs: natural history, cultural history, Pollan's personal experiences, neuroscience, and uses in psychotherapy. Pollan meets with all sorts of experts in the field and his writing style and journalistic style is engaging, conversational, and easy to read. I didn't realize that in the 50s and early 60s there were a lot of promising clinical trials using LSD to treat alcoholism and some mental health issues. When the drug became associated with the youth counterculture, LSD was made illegal and for the most part these studies stopped. Recently, a number of studies using LSD and psilocybin (the active compound in mushrooms) have gained FDA approval. While the studies are still in early phases, many seem to be showing remarkable results in treating things such depression in cancer patients and addiction. So much of this book was fascinating, but I was especially fascinated by the way people (including Pollan himself) described their experiences using psychedelics, and how this translates to what is actually happening neurologically in the brain. Our brains are incredibly complex organisms, trained over years of experience to filter through an overwhelming amount of stimuli to process what is important and create the neural pathways that enable us to function on a day to day basis. The brain favors the familiar and doesn't always allow information in the doesn't conform to what is expected. Psychedelics break down these repetitive neurological patterns and parts of the brain that don't normally communicate with each other begin to do so. This allows people to get outside traditional ingrained thought patterns and see themselves and the world in an entirely different way. My understanding of neuroscience is shaky at best, so I don't fully understand it, but it is fascinating stuff. People who use psychedelics often describe a feeling of oneness with the universe and a certain loss of ego. It all sounds overly spiritual and new agey, so I appreciated the way Pollan himself, as an atheist and skeptic, approached his own trips, sometime almost seeming to roll his eyes at the ideas of ego dissolution, interconnectedness and the banality and triteness of the "all you need is love" cliche. He admits he has trouble finding the words to describe his profound experiences, so all he has are these platitudes. The environment in which psychedelics are administered is especially important. People use the phrase "set and setting" to describe this. The "set" refers to the mindset the person brings to their experience, and "setting" refers to the physical environment in which the experience occurs. Psychedelics used recreationally may not always have profound and lasting affects, but when professionals are trained in psychedelic assisted therapy to create proper set and setting the chances seem to increase remarkably. It is interesting that despite the fact that many psychedelics have no toxicity or addictive properties, they still have no accepted medicinal use. Opiates, on the other hand, with known addictive and toxic properties, retain their status. Some would argue that because psychedelics cause people to challenge the status quo and ideas of materialism and hierarchy, the powers that be have a vested interest in suppressing their use. Also, the patent on LSD has expired and psilocybin is a naturally occurring substance, so there is really nothing in it for big pharma. I think that one of the biggest things I took from this book is that when people are able to get outside of themselves and their own egos and thought patterns and realize there is a world beyond the self, mental health improves. Studies have shown that this can happen through various means including meditation, spending time in nature, and traditional talk therapy. Psychedelics are a pharmacological approach to achieving the same end goal. I got a little bogged down in the section of the book about the history of psychedelics, but other than that I was always excited to pick up the book. If you don't feel like reading this book, I would recommend at least reading or listening to an interview with Pollan about the book. Fascinating stuff. And I've finally learned to spell psychedelic!

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