Home Others Book Review: 'How To Change Your Mind'

Book Review: 'How To Change Your Mind'


By Michael Pollan ’81GSAS (Penguin Press)

By Mark Rozzo |Fall 2018

In general, you remember your first time. I remember mine I had just turned seventeen and got something from a well-meaning friend. We both spent the afternoon fooling around in a recording studio and I thought the stuff would wear off after a few hours. It didn't. That moderate dose of blotting-paper LSD continued through the end of the session, during the drive home (hallucinating a Golden Retriever sitting next to me in the back seat) and through a National Honor Society banquet at which my parents and I sat at a large round table in the high school gym, listening to a local television weatherman talk about excellence. This was 1983, not 1967. The very long tail of the 1960s counterculture was still winding its way through the partying Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Reagan and Yuppies Decade, and the whole experience gave the notion of excellence. It was free of any inconvenience: no freaking out, no disappointment, no goblins dancing on the chicken à la King. In the spirit of the eighties, my first trip was more fun than life-changing, more experience than a search for a vision. I tried a few more times (like almost everyone I knew) and that was it. I was born to be mild I think.

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read So change your mind , an utterly intricate exploration of the long, weird history - and apparent renaissance - of Michael Pollan's' 81GSAS psychedelics, I can now see that LSD (along with the extended family of mind altering substances, including psilocybin and mescaline) is wasted on the young and the unsuspecting. This sociable, enlightening guide to the unexpectedly vast terrain of psychedelics, found by Pollan traveling between distant laboratories and therapy rooms - where the dying were provided with wondrous, mood-enhancing effects - and into the most remote areas of the human brain, including his own, is directed directly to people like m - the many of us who have written off psychedelics. It offers a compelling adult case for the potential of drugs that, after surviving decades of defamation, are now about to revolutionize several areas, from mental health to neuroscience.

Pollan, who is sixty-three years old, never touched a desk pad or a magic mushroom cap until he researched and reported on this book. He describes this as a violation of generational obligations. Somehow he managed to escape the baby boomer fascination with psychedelics fueled by the Beatles, Aldous Huxley (who was injected with LSD on his deathbed), and most importantly, Timothy Leary.

Leary founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1960, and Richard Nixon later believed him to be America's most dangerous man. For Pollan - and for the book's admonishing chorus of researchers, psychiatrists, technicians, and therapists - Leary, who pushed acid out of the lab onto the street, lives up to that description, at least when it comes to the lab's cause. centered research. The power of the Leary narrative changed the common history of psychedelics, writes Pollan. Once the mark of the counterculture was laid it was impossible to get out and the field became a scientific embarrassment. LSD became illegal in 1966, and most psychedelic research programs were closed shortly afterwards.

Michael Pollan (Fran Collin)

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So change your mind is on a mission to defuse the psychedelic narrative, away from patchouli, batik, the endless repetition of White Rabbit, and towards its use as a respectable form of therapy. Pollan reminds us that Cary Grant claimed that LSD made him a happy man. Steve Jobs counted it as one of his crucial life experiences. (Pollan makes a strong case for the fundamental influence of LSD on Silicon Valley.) Robert Kennedy called it very helpful to our society when used correctly. (He probably never used it, but his wife supposedly did.) Along the way, there is a correspondingly dizzying parade of trippy facts: that dogs, cows, and horses love to chew magic mushrooms, that the psychedelic experiences of early humans may have been discussed and higher awareness (the stoned monkey theory) that LSD experiments of the 1950s advanced the field of neurochemistry, leading to Prozac, Zoloft, and the others.

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There are lots of colorful characters in So change your mind also: scientific visionaries, lab-treated psychonauts, mushroom hunters, microdose enthusiasts, and the occasional New Age flake. But perhaps the greatest character is Pollan himself, who, after consulting his cardiologist, undertakes a series of consecutive trips, which he depicts with good-natured distance, humor and even beauty. Pollan talks about odysseys about LSD, psilocybin and, most clearly, about the crystallized poison of the Sonoran desert toad, smoked like crack: like one of those flimsy wooden houses that were built on Bikini Atoll to be blown up during the nuclear tests, 'I' was no longer, blown up into a cloud of confetti by an explosive force that I could no longer locate in my head, because that too had exploded. Some toad.

Henry James allegedly wrote: Tell a dream, lose a reader. But those waking dreams of a middle-aged straggler - who convincingly describes peeing in a mushroom toilet as the most beautiful thing I've ever seen - keep a reader in their full, hypnotized attention. I'm not sure if I'm ready to try again - or smoke a toad - and luckily Pollan, always suspicious of Leary's spirit, is not proselytizing. But he argues convincingly that psychedelics must be taken seriously, especially as a means of treating severe mental illness, depression, and anxiety. The author's previous bestsellers The omnivore dilemma and In defense of food the conversation about how we eat recalibrated. So change your mind will surely recalibrate the conversation about feeding our minds - and possibly our souls -

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