The Spirit Molecules
May 30, 2018 4:05 AM   Subscribe

Michael Pollan has written a remarkable history of psychedelics and a compelling portrait of the new generation of scientists fascinatedby the implications of these drugs. He previously wrote about this in The New Yorker. But the book also describes his late-in-life introduction to 4 psychedelic substances. This is one of 3 new books on the topic. One of Pollan's best conversations about this is with well-known psychedelic appreciator Sam Harris.
posted by spaceburglar (31 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
From eat plants to eat shrooms, eh?
posted by ejoey at 4:29 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


IIRC his first big article was about the legality of growing poppies. At that time the DEA was going to absurd lengths to intimidate gardeners, because technically opium can be harvested from even many of the decorative varieties. They even tore up the poppy garden at Monticello and threatened the curators with jail time.

That article wouldn't have been out of place on erowid.org, so this may be a return to form.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:42 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed this conversation between Michael Pollan and Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National's Late Night Live.
posted by flabdablet at 5:10 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


The botany of desire has a whole section on marijuana.
posted by nikaspark at 5:35 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


The Fresh Air interview was also good.
posted by salvia at 6:11 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


It's about time. Psychedelics likely have enormous therapeutic potential, and Pollan is explaining much of this as lucidly as I've read. Putting his new book on my summer reading list.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:13 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


> From eat plants to eat shrooms, eh?

"Take drugs, not too much, mostly shrooms."
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:17 AM on May 30 [59 favorites]


from the Fresh Air interview transcript:
GROSS: So that's become pretty famous. Is it still as meaningful to you and what's it been like for you to see that phrase have a life?

POLLAN: You know, it is still meaningful. There's nothing I would change. I think it still is a good guidance for eating. It's interesting to see it enter the culture. I mean, you know, I've seen online people saying, you know, his new slogan should be do drugs, mostly psychedelic, not too much.

GROSS: (Laughter).

POLLAN: And I don't want to be associated with that line. But it's remarkable when you create a meme that enters the culture that way. You know, I hope I can come up with something just as good because I'm not sure I want that on my gravestone.
posted by XMLicious at 6:25 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


Charlotte Shane's appraisal of Pollan's book in the current issue of Bookforum—registration or subscription required—is less enthusiastic. She, frankly, regards Pollan's longing for, and skepticism of, the spiritual experiences psychedelics have promised as a bit square, but her fundamental criticism is that
" ... How to Change Your Mind is steeped in the belief that drugs might be OK in institutionally circumscribed contexts, when overseen and administered by professionals, but that they should not be left in the hands of the pleasure-seeking masses. (“[Do] I think these drugs should simply be legalized? Not exactly,” Pollan writes in his conclusion.) Take a moment to picture the populations best positioned to benefit from an arrangement like that, and imagine how much opportunity for mismanagement, price gouging, and general abuse it might allow."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:29 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]


" ... How to Change Your Mind is steeped in the belief that drugs might be OK in institutionally circumscribed contexts, when overseen and administered by professionals

Pollan's article in last week's NYT magazine, an extended excerpt from How to Change Your Mind, does a good job of laying out the relationship and tensions between above/underground research and advocacy, and the strengths and liabilities of each.

I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but my impression is that Pollan - like the first generation of clinical psychedelic researchers, and like many serious underground guides since - is stressing the importance of set/setting, and of tripping with people (not necessarily formal clinicians) who have some understanding of the drugs, of how to maximize the beneficial aspects of the experience, and of how to minimize bad reactions. Shane's reading strikes me as wrong-headed.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:51 AM on May 30 [10 favorites]


I feel like Shane's take is rather uncharitable and perhaps misses some of Pollan's points.

Pollan is a big believer in respecting just how powerful these drugs are. He's an advocate of using a guide and not just treating psychedelics as an easy high. We've lost a lot of the cultural wisdom on how to treat these substances and I think far too many young kids end up tripping before they really understand the implications of hallucinogens. Creating a more open and honest environment for using psychedelics would only be a good thing.

These drugs shouldn’t be legal in the way that produce or potato chips are legal. They should be available in a way that helps to control the quality, potency and provenance of them.

Yes, I know that marijuana legalization hasn't rolled out in an equitable fashion, but it has created a safer, better environment. The market ensures that the prices are fair most people I know would rather go through a legal source, but it’s not as though the black/gray market has dried up.

To me it sounds more like “my favorite band was cool before other people started liking them” sort of whining. This trend will be a net good and I think the book has been praised precisely because Pollan handled the matter with nuance and respect.

Making fun of him for being ‘square’ in his drug use seems elitist for me. These treatments are helping people about to die from terminal cancer or those who suffer from severe depression, but it’s bad because clinicians are doing randomized controlled trials on the best way to administer them?

I suspect that there will be future discussion on the implications of appropriating shamanic cultures in the future, I’d have a similar response. This is helping people, sorry if it doesn’t conform to one’s opinions on how drugs should be imbibed.
posted by Telf at 6:53 AM on May 30 [15 favorites]


not just treating psychedelics as an easy high
My pet turtle would love to know more about these "easy high" psychedelics you speak of. His experience with mushrooms contradicts the idea that there is anything "easy" or "fun" about them. Interesting and intense, definitely. But if you want an easy, fun time he recommends a Nintendo Switch.

More seriously, just legalize psychedelics. There is a reason they aren't easy to get: they aren't commercially viable. Most people don't enjoy them, and don't want them.
I suspect that there will be future discussion on the implications of appropriating shamanic cultures in the future, I’d have a similar response.
There are discussions right now - appropriating shamanic culture is definitely problematic and offensive to traditional practitioners. If you want to see modern shamans in action, go spend a Sunday at your local evangelical megachurch. Psychedelics aren't going to make this any better.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:32 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Go spend a Sunday at your local evangelical megachurch. Psychedelics aren't going to make this any better.

Pentecostal churches have a tradition of altered states of consciousnes (speaking in tongues). It's interesting to speculate how psychadelics might interact with that.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:56 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


We've lost a lot of the cultural wisdom on how to treat these substances

Fortunately, The Joyous Cosmology is back in print.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:01 AM on May 30


I've listened to a couple of interviews with Pollan, and while if his approach to psychedelics were legal, the world would probably be a better place, I miss the sense of exploration-- he seems to be talking about setting things up so that there will be no real surprises.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:03 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


Going after Pollan because he supports some regulation rather than outright legalization, as opposed to the current flat prohibition and criminalization, definitely seems deep in perfect-as-enemy-of-good territory.

Also I had no idea that Pollan had written a book about this (I've been sort of living under a rock the last few months) but it does explain why a bunch of people who I really didn't think would be that interested in psychedelics suddenly seemed to know a whole lot about 'shrooms. I thought maybe Erowid had gotten a big bump in its Google Pagerank or something.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:46 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


My pet turtle would love to know more about these "easy high" psychedelics you speak of. His experience with mushrooms contradicts the idea that there is anything "easy" or "fun" about them.

Definitely fun. Not always easy (but you don't have to take 4+ grams of mushrooms in a dark room, either).
posted by atoxyl at 11:00 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I have his book on my reading list, added after I read the NYer article. I took shrooms a few times in my 20s and i think it rescued my mental state. IT felt like a "reset" button that completely dissolved all the background static anxiety that was constantly building in me at the time. Like how some people go on anti depressants and say one day they woke up and felt unburdened. I would trip once every 6months - one year and the burden would be gone and it lasted a long time, at least 6 months.

Unfortunately i am no longer in my 20s and thus no longer connected to any college or "cool" scenes and lost access to this miracle. I would offer a finders fee for a referral to an underground guide (underground because I don't have an official PTSD dx or any dx considered severe enough for any of the MAPS and other approved studies).
posted by WeekendJen at 11:24 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I would offer a finders fee for a referral to an underground guide (underground because I don't have an official PTSD dx or any dx considered severe enough for any of the MAPS and other approved studies).

This strikes me as a service MeFi could and should offer, in some capacity.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:35 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]


This strikes me as a service MeFi could and should offer, in some capacity.

howdoyoudofellowkids.metafilter.com
posted by thelonius at 12:43 PM on May 30 [21 favorites]


Seriously. At least a dedicated meetup to swap some contacts and suggestions.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:30 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


My pet turtle would love to know more about these "easy high" psychedelics you speak of. His experience with mushrooms contradicts the idea that there is anything "easy" or "fun" about them. Interesting and intense, definitely. But if you want an easy, fun time he recommends a Nintendo Switch.

My pet hawk says, go low doses (say half a gram of mushrooms, half the "normal" dose). Getting macho over how much you can do is stupid and dangerous. Also you won't need to worry about arranging your scenario quite so carefully.
posted by msalt at 2:24 PM on May 30


Worth also noting, that weirdly, while some mushrooms are illegal, any kind of mushroom spore is completely legal to purchase and possess in most states.
posted by rlio at 3:25 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]




I'm reading the book and really enjoying it. Highly recommended. I really liked the marijuana section in Botany of Desire and felt a little bummed he seemed to go all in on food writing in the last few years, so this is a welcome new direction as far as I'm concerned.
posted by potrzebie at 6:15 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


The turtle worked his way up to “heroic” doses over more than a decade. Definitely not the sort of thing to rush. So perfect for turtles.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:24 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]


I listened to the Sam Harris podcast today. It was really good. At the very end Harris asks Pollan how he would ideally like to see psychedelics used in the future. Pollan says he doesn't know, but that in the past these drugs were used on special occasions, under supervision or in a ritual setting, and that should inform the debate.
posted by xammerboy at 7:02 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


I listened to the audiobook and I came away with the feeling that the "under supervision" take is a bit of a hedge. In the book he notes that the medical establishment was making interesting progress and when Timothy Leary came along, all hell broke loose.

Pollan really wants to see them legalized and he doesn't want to see a repeat of the 60s. He makes several statements in support of what could be called "recreational" use, but he'd rather see a controlled market than another complete shutdown.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:30 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Hallucinogens on the brain are like back-flushing your pool filter.
I heard Pollan interviewed by Ferris. The delved considerably into the trip-guide and how-they-do-it part of his own experiences. Might very well have opened a new avenue of revisitation for myself. La plus Ca Change...
posted by Fupped Duck at 1:30 AM on May 31






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