Psychedelics have come full circle, far from the days dropping acid at Woodstock. There’s been a historical renaissance, if you will, with in-depth research into the exact science of how psilocybin can help people heal.
To say there’s no author who’s more equipped to talk about that renaissance than Michael Pollan is an understatement. Best known for his take on food and how it affects both societies and our bodies, Pollan ventures into uncharted territory with How to Change Your Mind.
After years of thinking psychedelics were only a taboo recreational drug, researchers, many inspired by their own use of psilocybin, are now pushing the boundaries with the medical world in an attempt to treat mental illness with the compound.
Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind tells the story of this psychedelic rebirth. Even though it wasn’t intended to be that way, it became a personal experience for Pollan.
But this isn’t Pollan’s first time at the rodeo. He’s been a long-term advocate for humanity, trying to find real answers to the often ignored problems of living. His first book, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, explored the depths of life and feelings of alienation through a collection of gardening essays.
In How to Change Your Mind, Pollan focuses on what we’re putting in our bodies, and we’re not talking about your diet. Throughout the book, he delves into mushrooms, taking LSD, microdoses of psilocybin, and even toad venom.
Pollan explores, in perhaps unexpected clarity, what he experienced while under the influence.
Note that his book actually has a disclaimer from the writer himself stating nothing contained within is encouraging readers to break the law.
Pollan, now in his 60s, goes on to say that he never tried psychedelics before. He colorfully coined himself as “less of a child of the 1960s than the moral panic using psychedelics provoked.” However, once he saw the interest in what some considered entheogens, he needed to find out for himself: What can magic mushrooms really do, how are they different from other drugs and why do people take them?
The Reason People Try Shrooms
The answer is pretty straightforward: People use drugs because they make them feel good… until they don’t. But mushrooms and other psychedelics are different. Unlike marijuana, which creates a foggy haze or cocaine’s rev-you-up-and-go effect, psychedelics open your mind.
When it comes to mushrooms, Pollan pointed out that our fear is often misplaced. He argues that LSD is probably less harmful to your body than a super-sized fries and Coke from McDonalds.
Drugs or Therapy?
Nowhere in the book does Pollan advocate for recreational drug use. On the flip side, he does stand behind guided psychedelic therapy, which is conducted by trained medical professionals. Pollan refers to this as “White-Coat Shamanism,” which in his opinion can actually be highly transformative, helping people overcome everything from drug and alcohol addiction to easing the fear of dying in the terminally ill.
In the Western world, Pollan’s opinion seemed shocking, but it actually echoes beliefs held for centuries in other cultures.
Before jumping back into how microdosing has become mainstream, and how Michael Pollan has opened the door to this psychedelic renaissance, let’s take a quick “trip” back in time.
In 1938, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical used a grain fungus to synthesize LSD, unbeknownst to him. It wasn’t until years later when he accidentally dosed himself and enjoyed one of the most entertaining, not to mention enlightening afternoons of his life.
It was then that Sandoz realized they had something in their grasp that had never been seen before — something that expanded the mind in ways never imagined. It wasn’t until the 1950s that researchers, who had been studying LSD, discovered the influence it had on neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin.
LSD held so much promise that Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, even considered using mushrooms as part of his treatment plan.
Magic mushrooms, and the mind-altering effects of psilocybin, piqued interest again after Life magazine published an article boosting the therapeutic benefits of shrooms. Unfortunately, the notion that psychedelics could possibly be good for you was stopped in its tracks thanks to the self-appointed acid prophets.
Widespread use led to abuse, and the peace & love generation wound up going overboard with Mother Nature. Many experienced negative side-effects, which we now know can stem from the fact hallucinogens may trigger the onset of psychosis and schizophrenia in some users.
By 1970, LSD had been banned and definitely deemed a Schedule 1 substance. However, counterculture renegades didn’t stop taking magic mushrooms, and “taking a bad trip” officially became part of the urban dictionary.
LSD, psilocybin and other types of psychedelics, weren’t conducive to any positive outcome. As a result, research into how mushrooms could be beneficial was abandoned.
Mushrooms Bloom Once More
Pollan goes on to describe how in the early 2000s, addiction researchers started to rediscover earlier studies about psychedelics, realizing that their life’s work had another secret history to discover. It wasn’t long before these one-time forbidden compounds began to seem less like a malevolent drug and more like a powerful tool to help people.
Just like the riveting work of award-winning writers, Pollan writes a story that’s hard to put down. He makes the reader want to know more about psychedelic research. He expresses his thoughts with rising crescendos that build excitement about what psychedelics can really accomplish.
He also reminds the reader how the hoopla around any groundbreaking discovery usually dies down as time goes on. For instance, SSRIs were coined to be the long-awaited anecdote to depression. These days, they’re efficacy is only slightly better than a sugar pill for people with mild to moderate depression.
However, we must give credit where credit is due. Pollan’s unedited exploration into the mysticism of psychedelic experiences is where he truly deserves a blue ribbon. Many trips, even the good ones, can make someone feel like they’re dying.
Neurologically, what seems to be happening is that the part of the brain that controls ego (the default mode network), steps aside. In turn, a slightly more primitive part of the user’s brain emerges, similar to a child’s mind. Feelings of individuality are blurred, which makes you feel more connected, amazed and embraced by the world around you.
So, when those hippies talking about their latest trips talk about being “one with the universe,” that’s probably how they truly felt. It’s pure brain science.
Granted, one doesn’t necessarily need psychedelics to venture into this egoless state. Deep meditation and even near-death experiences have been known to invoke the same feeling.
But most of us don’t want to spend years in contemplation or risk dying just to feel alive. Psychedelics help you reach a higher sense of being faster, letting you coalesce with whatever your brain’s DMN puts you in touch with. Some may say it’s like becoming one with the universe while others say it’s a higher power.
You don’t have to believe in God or practice a religion to experience this, either. The connection people encounter is on a higher plane than any human explanation can accurately convey.
What We Learned
One of the most important takeaways from his book is that the therapeutic benefits, especially for the terminally ill, can’t be divided from mystical experiences. Because psychedelics allow terminally ill patients to come to terms with dying, while helping those suffering from clinical depression learn how to feel hopeful again, the benefits of microdosing or psychedelic-assisted therapy is evident.
Even world-renowned hospitals have jumped on the psilocybin bandwagon, including a John Hopkins study, which demonstrated a profound improvement in depressive symptoms in the participants over the course of the trial.
Happiness and acceptance are deeply rooted in our neurochemical makeup. The more connected we feel to things around us, the less fear we have and the happier we’re likely to be.
One of the most poignant parts of Pollan’s book was about Patrick Mettes, a dying cancer patient. In trying to come to terms with his mortality, he sought out psychedelic therapy, which resulted in him being able to accept his fate and even condole his wife on his deathbed. The idea behind therapy is that, albeit real or imaginary, if it brings the patient peace, how they arrive there really doesn’t matter.
While Pollan is an accredited scientific writer, he’s still the first to abandon the idea that something needs to be tangible to be understood. He, himself, shares all of his fears and doubts throughout the book. Pollan is a compassionate and at times, a self-deprecating man who confessed he wasn’t one to really venture outside his comfort zone.
While he partook in the rare mild magic mushroom, and indulged here and there with cannabis, he never took LSD or tripped. His willingness to break his own boundaries and lend his voice to a greater cause is honorable.
The human mind is one of the greatest mysteries known to man. We will never have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find peace through clarity and curiosity.
Psilocybin has become a safer way for people to move closer to their truth.
When you think about it, it probably doesn’t really matter whether the stairway to heaven is paved with tiny fungi. What does matter is how we talk about psychedelics, how we view them as a society, and how we introduce the potential benefits of microdosing to people.
It’s hard to convince others about how powerful psilocybin can be without sounding like an aspiring swami. However, Pollan accomplished something most never will in this thrilling chronicle — he convinced the world that “losing” your mind is one of the most rational things you can do.
If you want to learn more about shrooms and all their magic, we’re here for you. Reach out to us, and we’d be happy to suggest some of our products and a dosing schedule that may benefit you.