STARRED REVIEW
May 2018

The science of psychedelic drugs

By Michael Pollan

Psychedelic drugs often conjure images of the colorful, mind-bending world of 1960s counterculture. But therapists and scientists at the time also used these drugs to treat and research issues such as depression, alcoholism and anxiety. However, when publicity began to take a negative turn, focusing on bad trips, psychotic breaks, flashbacks and suicides, the drugs became illegal and largely unattainable—until now.

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Psychedelic drugs often conjure images of the colorful, mind-bending world of 1960s counterculture. But therapists and scientists at the time also used these drugs to treat and research issues such as depression, alcoholism and anxiety. However, when publicity began to take a negative turn, focusing on bad trips, psychotic breaks, flashbacks and suicides, the drugs became illegal and largely unattainable—until now.

In his fascinating book How to Change Your Mind, bestselling author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked) discusses the recent psychedelic drug resurgence. Starting in the 1990s, a new generation of scientists began to quietly reinvestigate the potential of these drugs, not only to treat mental illnesses and addiction but also to help cancer patients cope with the prospect of dying and “explore the links between the brain and mind, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of consciousness.”

Pollan discusses the different types of psychedelic drugs and their history in detail, from plant-based forms such as psilocybin (mushrooms) and mescaline (cacti) to LSD (synthetically produced). The current psychedelic renaissance piqued his interest and prompted him to do his own exploration. He devotes a whole chapter, appropriately named “Travelogue,” to these encounters. He writes, “Psychedelic experiences are notoriously hard to render in words,” but he does his best, thoughtfully deeming a “trip” as the relinquishment of the ego power struggle most of us go through every day.

As Pollan describes, this altered state of consciousness can be spiritually enlightening, mind-opening and life-changing. It can also be terror-provoking. How to Change Your Mind chronicles the unusual power of these substances, instilling a better understanding of their capabilities in helping to discover, heal and change our minds. It’s a trip worth taking.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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How to Change Your Mind

How to Change Your Mind

By Michael Pollan
Penguin Press
ISBN 9781594204227

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