How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
BY MICHAEL POLLAN
Penguin Press, 2018
480 pp., $28.00
I tried pot late at age twenty-five. Though I'd been an English major who hung out with wannabe Beats and around plenty of pot and acid, I was terrified to inhale or drop a tab. I was part of the Just-Say-No generation, convinced by Nancy Reagan, teachers, and parents that illicit drugs of any sort would screw my life up and fry my brain like an egg.
My parents had caught the fever of moral panic surrounding drugs in the psychedelic 1960s, a panic in part sensationalized by the media. TV personality Art Linkletter, for instance, blamed LSD for his daughters leap from her apartment to her death, while other reports said the drug scrambled your chromosomes and led to the Manson Family murders, as Michael Pollan explains in his new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Pollan himself was susceptible to this fever. "By the early 1970s, when I went to college, everything you heard about LSD seemed calculated to terrify," he writes. "It worked on me: I'm less a child of the psychedelic 1960s than of the moral panic that psychedelics provoked."
It took more than forty years for Pollan to change his mind about psychedelics, and How to Change Your Mind is, in part, about how he went about changing it. But the book is more than a memoir of drug trips. It employs "several different narrative modes: social and scientific history; natural history; memoir; science journalism; and case studies of volunteers and patients" to recount what has led to a new wave of interest in the benefits of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and other psychedelics.
A book about psychedelics might seem a leap for Pollan, who's known for his food writing in The Omnivores Dilemma, Cooked, and In Defense of Food. But much of that food writing is about our relationship with plants, how those plants affect us, and how we, in turn, affect them. In many ways, How to Change Your Mind is about how plants--mostly fungi, usually mushrooms--or certain plant-derived molecules change our brains and perceptions, and how those molecules have been used for thousands of years "as a matter of healing, habit, or spiritual practice." Moreover, the book explains how the discovery of those molecules--or...