I've had an interest in psychedelics before reading this book, so I came in already open-minded. This book gave me a different perspective on the medical application of psychedelics. It also directed me to some new concepts like holotropic breathing and a fairly extensive history or psychedelics in American culture. Fascinating read! Michael Pollen is an exceptional journalist and storyteller.
written from the vantage point of a outsider (until he wrote this book), this book gives a unique perspective into the world of Psychedelics and their huge potential. his humility and healthy skepticism as a journalist make a great combo to give a thorough critique of these powerful molecules.
It's concise, scientific and fair. If you're on the fence or find the language of the "spiritual" or "counter-culture" to be a turn off to exploring this realm, this is the book for you. The author, by all rights, is an explorer not because of this topic but because topic requires exploration. It's clear the agenda is of scientific discovery and a reawakening of the practical and spiritual purposes of these molecules.
the best sane approach to a subject that has too often been all too wrapped up in non scientific language and thinking, all too ready to accept the most illogical and emotional thoughts and rationale. This book in contrast breaks through the genre with a down to earth approach and yet ready to accept the vision and experience that psychedelic therapy has to offer.
So often books and videos about psychedelics are taken from a post use hippie new age perspective so it was really refreshing and more interesting to hear this man's journey from newbie to trying the major 4 psychoactive drugs available today. And especially given that he wasn't too quick to conclude or associate his experience with the supernatural or God but rather decided to look into what science says is going on related to the physicality, the default network, the Ego etc.
"To fall in hell or soar Angelic
You'll need a pinch of psychedelic"
- Humphry Osmond
"There is so much authority that comes out of the primary mystical experience that it can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures."
- Roland Griffiths, quoted in Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind
I have family that struggle with addiction, depression, PTSD, and anxiety. The idead that one type of compound (psychedelics) could transform how we view and treat these various challenges to the human condition is VERY excititng. Pollan's book does a great job of juggling the memoirist experience with psychedelics (think of this partially as a 21st century version of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater) with a narrative nonfiction exploration of the history and current science surrounding primarily LSD, Psilocybin, and 5-MeO-DMT (the Toad). Michael Pollan write well (he's not quite, for me, upto the level of John McPhee -- but he's close. He both annoys and seduces at the same time. He reminds me of a well-produced TED Talk. He is both interesting and compelling, but also a bit like a worn and comfortable shoe (say a Birkenstock) that represents a group I already feel comfortable both simultaneously walking with and yes kicking.
Most of Pollan's book focuses on LSD and Psilocybin (which makes sense because that is where most of the history and science are). I was familiar with Leary, Ginsburg, Huxley, and even James' takes on mind-altering drugs and states, but it was nice to see it framed by Pollan. I was also thrilled to be introduced to a bunch of characters I had never heard before. I feel a movie could/should be made about JUST Al Hubbard.
There is a huge part of me that finds the idea of psychedelic experience very compelling (I've got friends who are well-respected doctors, writers, and attorneys who feel the same way). However, my issue with most drugs (especially pot), is most people take them to GET close to where I feel I am already. I have a lot of awe, wonder, don’t get depressed, feel no guilt, exist with very low anxiety, etc (although I’m absolute sh!t at meditation). I think I do a pretty good job of hanging in the present (while being able to look both forward and back when needed). So, I'm not sure I would be seeking LSD or Psilocybin (or smoking the Toad) for any reason except curiosity and [gasp] recreation. That's the draw. The reason I am skeptical still, is I'm not sure I trust most of the product (clarification, after reading this I trust the product more than say the manufacturer, deliverer, source). I'm a bit suspect of taking candy OR street tacos from complete strangers, so smoking a Toad that I didn't catch and milk myself doesn't exactly seem like something I'm going to run off and do anytime soon. But, if the practice comes above ground, standardizes, or I'm dying -- all bets are off. Bring me the TOAD.