Ideas

Shaking the snow globe: Michael Pollan on the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs

When writer Michael Pollan took a psychedelic drug he saw himself burst into a pile of post-it-notes. His ego had dissolved. In his recent book, "How to Change Your Mind", Michael Pollan explores how psychedelic drugs have been used to enhance spiritual experiences and treat many conditions from depression to anxiety.
Michael Pollan explores the spiritual benefits of hallucinogenic drugs in his book "How to Change Your Mind." (Pixabay)
Listen to the full episode53:59

When writer Michael Pollan took a psychedelic drug he saw himself burst into a pile of post-it-notes.  His ego had dissolved. In his recent book, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan explores how psychedelic drugs have been used to enhance spiritual experiences and treat many conditions from depression to anxiety.

**This episode originally aired September 25, 2018.

When I took magic mushrooms, at some point, I suddenly became a flurry of post-it notes. My ego had dissolved. - Micheal Pollan

Michael Pollan had always been afraid of psychedelic drugs. He was a child of the moral panic that swept through America in the late 1960's. He heard media stories about college students who took LSD, then went blind after staring at the sun. Or kids who went on a trip and "never came down". Or the widely reported story of Art Linkletter's daughter who jumped off a balcony after taking LSD. This moral panic, he says, eventually shut down both recreational use and the medical exploration of psychedelic drugs.  

So when media stories started circulating over a decade ago that some of the world's most prestigious medical institutions were studying the benefits of psychedelic drugs, Michael Pollan thought, "That's weird.  Why would New York University's medical centre set up clinical trials and give psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to cancer patients to relieve their anxiety about dying? Why would any patient, in the middle of a mental and spiritual crisis.. hand over their mind to this kind of drug?"

Michael Pollan's book exploring the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs is called "How to Change Your Mind." 1:38

Today, institutions like the University of British Columbia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Imperial College in London, UCLA, and many others are involved in trials using LSD, magic mushrooms, and MDMA (ecstasy) to treat conditions like anxiety, autism, PTSD, eating disorders and addiction.  Positive early results mean some clinical trials are now in Stage 3 — the phase before some form of potential legalization.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire grew fascinated with the social history of psychedelic drugs and their recent rebirth.  As a devout secularist he was intrigued by clinical trials investigating the spiritual benefits of various hallucinogens. In the process, he also decided to take several "trips" himself. His new book is called, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence.


How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan is published by Penguin Random House, 2018. (Penguin Books/Fran Collin)


Further Reading


**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.

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