This book is phenomenal.
Pollan makes historical figures, places and experiences come alive with evocative descriptions. He looks at the natural history of mind-altering substances in nature, a human history of their uses, chemical discoveries, research, and the shift in political and cultural perceptions that made the movement go underground. He bravely shares firsthand accounts of his own trips on mushrooms, LSD and DMT. He closes with an overview of the research on psychedelics in psychotherapy and their impact on everything from addiction, depression and even people dealing with a terminal illness or end of life anxiety and our perception of death.
Did you know that govt-funded studies were done on LSD all the way from its discovery in 1943 till 1966? The Swiss company, Sandoz, supplied it free to researchers for decades. Before the ‘60s, it was common practice for clinicians to take the drugs themselves. It was deemed irresponsible not to, because how can you use someone else as guinea pig for this out-of-world experience.
LSD was originally called psychotomimetics. The term “psychedelic” has prosaic origins. It merges two Greek worlds to literally mean “mind-manifesting.” The word was chosen precisely for its neutral meaning before culture gave it its colourful connotations.
Psychedelics are still considered counterculture drugs but are having a renaissance in research. To oversimplify one view – the brain has evolved to filter out information rather than expand on it – to suppress uncertainty, entropy and to build a coherent sense of self. Research shows that, rather than increasing brain activity, psychedelics slow the default mode network, allowing connections to form across parts of the brain that would not usually happen. The ego dissolution that is often described allows the mind to become more integrated as new connections are formed that would otherwise be restricted by our order-inducing brains.
Everything about this book is enjoyable. It’s authentic, amusing and accessible to anyone curious about psychedelics and will certainly add to your knowledge even if you consider yourself a pro.