How to Change Your Mind

How to Change Your Mind

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What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence

Michael Pollan

BISAC: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Science & Technology. | MEDICAL / Mental Health.

Subjects: LCSH: Pollan, Michael, 1955—Mental health. | Hallucinogenic drugs—Therapeutic use. | Psychotherapy patients—Biography.

How to Change Your Mind- What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness
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Book Details
 456 p
 File Size 
 3,540 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 9780525558941 (ebook) 
 2018 by Michael Pollan

About the Author
MICHAEL POLLAN is the author of seven previous books, including
Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and
The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. A
longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine, he also teaches
writing at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, where he is
the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism. In 2010, Time
magazine named him in its list of the one hundred most influential
people in the world.

A New Door
MIDWAY THROUGH the twentieth century, two unusual new molecules,
organic compounds with a striking family resemblance, exploded upon
the West. In time, they would change the course of social, political, and
cultural history, as well as the personal histories of the millions of people
who would eventually introduce them to their brains. As it happened, the
arrival of these disruptive chemistries coincided with another world
historical explosion—that of the atomic bomb. There were people who
compared the two events and made much of the cosmic synchronicity.
Extraordinary new energies had been loosed upon the world; things
would never be quite the same.

The first of these molecules was an accidental invention of science.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, was first
synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, shortly before physicists split an
atom of uranium for the first time. Hofmann, who worked for the Swiss
pharmaceutical firm Sandoz, had been looking for a drug to stimulate
circulation, not a psychoactive compound. It wasn’t until five years later
when he accidentally ingested a minuscule quantity of the new chemical
that he realized he had created something powerful, at once terrifying and wondrous.

The second molecule had been around for thousands of years, though
no one in the developed world was aware of it. Produced not by a chemist
but by an inconspicuous little brown mushroom, this molecule, which
would come to be known as psilocybin, had been used by the indigenous
peoples of Mexico and Central America for hundreds of years as a
sacrament. Called teonanácatl by the Aztecs, or “flesh of the gods,” the
mushroom was brutally suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church after
the Spanish conquest and driven underground. In 1955, twelve years after
Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD, a Manhattan banker and amateur
mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson sampled the magic mushroom in
the town of Huautla de Jiménez in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Two years later, he published a fifteen-page account of the “mushrooms
that cause strange visions” in Life magazine, marking the moment when
news of a new form of consciousness first reached the general public. (In
1957, knowledge of LSD was mostly confined to the community of
researchers and mental health professionals.) People would not realize
the magnitude of what had happened for several more years, but history
in the West had shifted.

The impact of these two molecules is hard to overestimate. The advent
of LSD can be linked to the revolution in brain science that begins in the
1950s, when scientists discovered the role of neurotransmitters in the
brain. That quantities of LSD measured in micrograms could produce
symptoms resembling psychosis inspired brain scientists to search for the
neurochemical basis of mental disorders previously believed to be
psychological in origin. At the same time, psychedelics found their way
into psychotherapy, where they were used to treat a variety of disorders,
including alcoholism, anxiety, and depression. For most of the 1950s and
early 1960s, many in the psychiatric establishment regarded LSD and
psilocybin as miracle drugs.

The arrival of these two compounds is also linked to the rise of the
counterculture during the 1960s and, perhaps especially, to its particular
tone and style. For the first time in history, the young had a rite of
passage all their own: the “acid trip.” Instead of folding the young into the
adult world, as rites of passage have always done, this one landed them in
a country of the mind few adults had any idea even existed. The effect on
society was, to put it mildly, disruptive.

Yet by the end of the 1960s, the social and political shock waves
unleashed by these molecules seemed to dissipate. The dark side of
psychedelics began to receive tremendous amounts of publicity—bad
trips, psychotic breaks, flashbacks, suicides—and beginning in 1965 the
exuberance surrounding these new drugs gave way to moral panic. As
quickly as the culture and the scientific establishment had embraced
psychedelics, they now turned sharply against them. By the end of the
decade, psychedelic drugs—which had been legal in most places—were
outlawed and forced underground. At least one of the twentieth century’s
two bombs appeared to have been defused.
Then something unexpected and telling happened. Beginning in the
1990s, well out of view of most of us, a small group of scientists,
psychotherapists, and so-called psychonauts, believing that something
precious had been lost from both science and culture, resolved to recover it.

Today, after several decades of suppression and neglect, psychedelics
are having a renaissance. A new generation of scientists, many of them
inspired by their own personal experience of the compounds, are testing
their potential to heal mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety,
trauma, and addiction. Other scientists are using psychedelics in
conjunction with new brain-imaging tools to explore the links between
brain and mind, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of consciousness.

One good way to understand a complex system is to disturb it and then
see what happens. By smashing atoms, a particle accelerator forces them
to yield their secrets. By administering psychedelics in carefully
calibrated doses, neuroscientists can profoundly disturb the normal
waking consciousness of volunteers, dissolving the structures of the self
and occasioning what can be described as a mystical experience. While
this is happening, imaging tools can observe the changes in the brain’s
activity and patterns of connection. Already this work is yielding
surprising insights into the “neural correlates” of the sense of self and
spiritual experience. The hoary 1960s platitude that psychedelics offered
a key to understanding—and “expanding”—consciousness no longer looks
quite so preposterous.

How to Change Your Mind is the story of this renaissance. Although it
didn’t start out that way, it is a very personal as well as public history.
Perhaps this was inevitable. Everything I was learning about the thirdperson
history of psychedelic research made me want to explore this
novel landscape of the mind in the first person too—to see how the
changes in consciousness these molecules wrought actually feel and what,
if anything, they had to teach me about my mind and might contribute to my life.

Table of Contents
Also by Michael Pollan
Title Page
Prologue: A New Door
A Renaissance
Natural History: Bemushroomed
History: The First Wave
Part I: The Promise
Part II: The Crack-Up
Travelogue: Journeying Underground
Trip One: LSD
Trip Two: Psilocybin
Trip Three: 5-MeO-DMT (or, The Toad)
The Neuroscience: Your Brain on Psychedelics
The Trip Treatment: Psychedelics in Psychotherapy
One: Dying
Two: Addiction
Three: Depression
Coda: Going to Meet My Default Mode Network
Epilogue: In Praise of Neural Diversity
About the Author

How to Change Your Mind- What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness
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New York, New York 10014

DDC 615.7/883—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018006190