Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma) takes us on a journey to discover the surprisingly long history of psychedelic use around the world — blending anecdotes about his own mind-altering experiments (toad-licking), science from the leading institutions (John’s Hopkins), and counter-culture shenanigans (Timothy Leary and the bunch).
The wave of psychedelics research that began in the 1940’s came to a halt in the 70’s and 80’s, but has since made a powerful renaissance. We now know that psychedelics are an effective way to quit smoking, reduce anxiety, and perhaps most interestingly show promise to treat depression. All of this and more is undergoing rigorous research (some if it even in Phase 3 trials, thanks to organizations like MAPS) in both the US and Europe. Not to mention, marijuana legalization has already paved a promising path.
This is a great book for anyone interested and excited in psychedelics and the current state of research. But if you’re concerned/appalled/confused by the idea — well, then you should definitely read this.
Some notable quotes:
-In 1971, Richard Nixon declared Timothy Leary, a washed-up psychology professor, “the most dangerous man in America.” Psychedelics were nourishing the counterculture, and the counterculture was sapping the willingness of America’s young to fight. The Nixon administration sought to blunt the counterculture by attacking its neurochemical infrastructure.
-Another trippy thought experiment is to try to imagine the world as it appears to a creature with an entirely different sensory apparatus and way of life. You quickly realize there is no single reality out there waiting to be faithfully and comprehensively transcribed. Our senses have evolved for a much narrower purpose and take in only what serves our needs as animals of a particular kind. The bee perceives a substantially different spectrum of light than we do; to look at the world through its eyes is to perceive ultraviolet markings on the petals of flowers (evolved to guide their landings like runway lights) that don’t exist for us. That example is at least a kind of seeing—a sense we happen to share with bees. But how do we even begin to conceive of the sense that allows bees to register (through the hairs on their legs) the electromagnetic fields that plants produce? (A weak charge indicates another bee has recently visited the flower; depleted of nectar, it’s probably not worth a stop.) Then there is the world according to an octopus!
-The grip of an overbearing ego can enforce a rigidity in our thinking that is psychologically destructive. It may be socially and politically destructive too, in that it closes the mind to information and alternative points of view.
-The biggest organism on earth is not a whale or a tree but a mushroom—a honey fungus in Oregon that is 2.4 miles wide.
A quote from the book:
“Eaten in small doses, psychedelic mushrooms might well increase fitness in animals, by increasing sensory acuity and possibly focus as well. A 2015 review article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that several tribes around the world feed psychoactive plants to their dogs in order to improve their hunting ability.”