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

Whether it be coffee, cannabis, listening to music, dancing, etc.. Everyday people are taking a substance or doing something to alter their state. 

Psychedelics seem to be a class of mind altering substances that open the mind to a greater awareness.

Although there are a variety, the main psychedelics mentioned in the book include: Psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), & 5-MeO-DMT

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan is a reintroduction of public conversation on the use and potential of psychedelics.

The book is broken into parts: cultural and natural history, authors personal experiences with the substances, The use of psychedelics as medicine.

Starting with the cultural and natural history of psychedelics. Pollan goes into detail about what went on in the 1950s-60s and the key people. From the first american experience of a psilocybin trip in Mexico. To Albert Hoffman creating the synthetic version known as LSD by accident. Also, the research and trials being done, but ultimately being shut down during the counterculture movement.

One of the names mentioned in the book is Paul Stamets. Stamets is a well known figure in the field of mycology — the study of fungi. He believes that fungi have the potential to save the planet. I would recommend watching the Tedx Talk he gave which you can view below.

Michael Pollan thought it would be no good for a journalist to write a book about psychedelics without any personal experience. At the age of 60, During the course of writing the book he seeks out safe places to journey starting with psilocybin, LSD, and last 5-MeO-DMT. Describing his journeys as best as possible and somewhat poetic Pollan mentions that the words do not do any justice to a person who has not had a psychedelic experience. I will not try to summarize his words of the experiences. The experiences are too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words, ineffable.

The last part of How to Change Your Mind goes into the clinical trials on psychedelic use as a treatment for the dying, addiction, and depression.

What is it about death that we fear? Pollan writes “Our fear of death is a function of our egos, which burden us with a sense of separateness that can become unbearable as we approach death.” (page 338)

Our ego give us the sense of self and when we die we lose this sense of self. Psychedelics helps people realize that the ego creates boundaries and during a mystical experience a person breaks through all boundaries which can seem like a physical death.

Patrick, the cancer patient in the trial, stated on page 343, “‘I was being told (without words) not to worry about the cancer…it’s minor in the scheme of things…simply an imperfection of your humanity and that the more important matter…the real work to be done is before you. Again, love.'”

Cancer patients seem to confront their cancer or fear of it while on a psychedelic trip. Also, having experiences of giving birth or being reborn.

Michael Pollan conversed with people who were given psychedelics to treat their addiction to smoking and one of the patients stated, “‘Why quit smoking? Because I found it irrelevant. Because other things had become so much more important.'” (page 363)

Others had visuals of themselves looking like ugly creatures if they were to continue smoking. Or having a realization of the fragility of breath. Without breath there is no life. Most of the smoking participants came back from the experience with very simple “duh moments” such as: eat right, exercise, stretch.

Lastly, the treatment of psilocybin and people with depression.

“‘Depression is a response to past loss, and anxiety is a response to future loss.'” (page 383)

Psychedelics could be seen as a reboot for people with depression, temporarily lifting the veil from their eyes, and experiencing a oneness in the present moment with everything. After a couple months, most of the people going back to old patterns, but with a new experience that doesn’t leave and becomes more like an idea. More than one trial seems necessary to break such rooted habits.

As children we have not created the boundaries that adults have. Children can make a castle out of mud and create a whole world, a whole story. As we age we create boundaries, closing off our creativity and complying with the world. Psychedelics seem to reboot our minds back to how we were as children and give a person a chance to start new.


To read, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, follow the link.

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