Micro dosing has been popular in the press lately. High-achieving Silicon Valley employees have been noted to take a subperceptual dose (a minute amount, one-tenth of the dose, of LSD) to enhance performance and amplify focus at work. Indeed Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of MAPS Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, says a micro dose is enough, “to feel a little bit of energy lift, a little bit of insight, but not so much that your tripping.”
However, Michael Pollan’s newest bestseller “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” covers the effects of taking a macro dose, the full enchilada–enough to touch feelings and taste colors and certainly not safe for work.
Pollen, a famous Investigative journalist, Harvard Professor and celebrated author of six, best-selling books, including “Food Rules”, “The Botany of Desire” and “The Omnivores Dilemma”, describes the culmination of the four years researching to compile and publish “How To Change Your Mind” as a highly personal, as well as public, history of psychedelics.
In “How To Change Your Mind” Pollan unfolds a thorough history of psychedelics including: Psilocybin, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT (toad venom). This history begins with Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD in 1938 and embarked on what Pollan calls, “the only LSD trip ever taken that was entirely innocent of expectation.”
Pollan profiles past and current-day evangelists, scientific pioneers, mushroom hunters and spiritual seekers. Pollan discusses the drug’s effect on the brains so called “default mode network,” the part of the brain that is self-referential.
“The neuroscience was the most exciting part of the book,” Pollan says.
He discusses a societal need for new answers to mental health, saying, “So many are people suffering in this country and so few tools to help them. Only about half of the people with serious mental illness receive attention from the system.”
Pollan adds, “Addiction rates are rising, suicide rates are rising, depression rates are rising and the tools… there’s been no innovations since the early 90’s. We have SSRIs and some very toxic psychiatric drugs.”
After several years of research into histories, studying peer reviewed studies and reviewing the testimonies of terminal cancer patients before and after they undergo a therapeutic psychedelic experiment, Pollan consulted his own doctors and told them of his intention to take his own LSD trip. He then interviewed several psychedelic guides, laid out guidelines and intentions and, with much deliberation, he took an internal journey through his own mind. He took several, each with a different classical psychedelic, and reported his personal findings.
Pollan, ever the good journalist, posits that non-pharmacological altered states of consciousness have also been achieved by, “meditation, breathing exercises, sensory deprivation, fasting, prayer, extreme sports, overwhelming experiences of awe, near death experiences and so on”, later saying “… psychedelics, you could argue, are the entry drugs for meditation.”
In a discussion with Michael Mergolis at UCSF Mission Bay, Pollan warned that, “People need to be careful, be very careful. There is a lot to lose, and some people on psychedelics can be highly suggestible”
“How To Change Your Mind” reads as well-balanced and offers a clear-headed skeptics perspective, through the past, present and future of psychedelics.
Pollan says of himself, “I have never been one for deep or sustained introspection,” and the material is all the better coming from of an investigative journalist, rather than an overzealous seeker chasing a dizzying high.
As for his intention in tackling such a controversial subject?
“When you say something is ineffable,” Pollan says, “that’s when I want to “eff” it.”
How To Change you Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
By Michael Pollan
465 pages. Penguin Press. $28.