a18- Book Reviews: How to Change Your Mind

By Michael Pollan (2018), A Perigree Book/Penguin Group

Review by Jesse D. Palmer

This book might convince your mom and dad to take LSD and psilocybin mushrooms (if they aren’t already doing so.) Michael Pollan is a big-name, super earnest, mainstream journalist type who articulately and systematically makes the case that psychedelic substances are revolutionary technology that should be accepted and used. He explores contemporary medical research that is re-discovering how useful these drugs can be treating depression, PTSD, drug addiction, end of life anxiety, and other conditions.

But the book is most interesting in its explorations of psychedelics by healthy people to gain insights into the nature of reality, the centrality of love, and the roots of spirituality. Throughout the book, Pollan reports that people who took high-dose, ego dissolving psychedelics found the trip to be amongst the most meaningful experiences of their lives. Many changed their lives after the drugs wore off.

But the experiences users have while on psychedelics are more instructive about the capabilities present in our brains all the time than they are about the drugs themselves.

Pollan debunks war on drugs myths that have stalled mainstream scientific and philosophical exploration of psychedelics for the last 50 years. Perhaps threatened by these drugs’ unmistakable power, mainstream institutions cracked down in the 1960s and then have dismissed psychedelics as dangerous relics of the counter-culture ever since. Pollan wants mainstream society to take a fresh look, and luckily this seems to be happening.

In October, the FDA gave “breakthrough therapy” designation to a psilocybin-based drug being tested to treat depression. The designation means there will be an accelerated research and approval process for the drug because there was strong evidence showing it would be a substantial improvement over currently available therapies.

I hope Pollan’s book helps revive wide-spread acceptance and use of psychedelics as well as legalization. With the world stuck on so many issues — unable to urgently respond to the climate crisis, unable to address increasing wealth inequality, losing cohesion and tolerance — now is an excellent time for new inspiration and deeply-felt appreciation of the unity we all share as life forms on a fragile world.