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Michael Pollan has had several bestselling books including In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire. His seven books have been quite influential in the ways we view food from global and personal perspectives.

On his podcast, Tim Ferris talked with Pollan about his new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. From the title alone, it would seem to be a departure from his other work.

I am just getting started with the book. The general topic is one I have read about in the past, but my firsthand knowledge is very limited.

“Psychedelics” is a term that still has 1960s baggage attached to it, though their use goes back centuries. Psilocybin, mescaline, and others have been in and out of the news. They have been legal and used for medical purposes, and also illegal, controlled and banned depending on the time period.

Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. But apparently the book got more personal than he expected.

He decided to explore himself altered states of consciousness as he was researching the brain science and psychedelic therapies being used today for depression, anxiety, alcohol/nicotine dependence, OCD, PTSD, and others.

From what I have heard and read about the book, he does address the risks of psychedelics too.

Studies into the “entropic brain” are getting serious attention in universities again, though on a limited basis.

Tim Ferris is very much aligned with Pollan’s newest project and is putting a million dollars into the scientific study of psychedelic compounds. This is by far the largest commitment to research and nonprofits I’ve ever made, and if you’d like to join me in supporting this research, please check out.

Pollan’s book has been described as a blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, medicine and participatory journalism. Though the book is certainly a deep dive into psychedelic drugs, he also explores human consciousness and how we might use the drugs “to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.”

I’m reading that taking “microdoses” of psychedelics, primarily LSD, is now growing in popularity and it isn’t something occurring at those recent semi-Grateful Dead concerts. This is professionals who then head out to the office.

A microdose is about a tenth of the normal dose. For LSD, that is 10 micrograms, or 0.2-0.5 grams of mushrooms. That kind of dosage is considered “subperceptual.” meaning an  energy lift, maybe some insight, but not tripping – and continuing on with normal daily activities.

In the 1960s, there were plenty of experiments to study the creativity enhancing effects of psychedelics, and lots of celebrity “endorsements.”

Having been through those 1960s days, it seems like a long, strange trip to today and reading about psychedelics being used “to improve cognitive functioning, body awareness and spiritual evolution.”

The five categories for enhancement are generally listed as: physical, emotional, perceptual, creative and spiritual.

The benefits include more overall energy, resonance and openness, improved mood and patience, enhanced senses, improved comprehension and increased awareness of universal connectedness, in an enlightening and almost divine way.

Though it’s not all love and flowers. Some microtrippers also report that personal issues can be more disturbing and that day of energy can end with a heaviness requiring more sleep, and a warped perception of time.

Reading posts on Reddit is hardly scientific research, but many microdosers are active there and sharing the good and bad experiences – bursts of creativity and cluster headaches. And there are still the associations with music and counterculture that will create threads about it on phish.net. But you can also find the straight-ahead Forbes.com carrying articles headlined “LSD Microdosing: The New Job Enhancer In Silicon Valley And Beyond?”  Strange trip indeed.

 

I have a friend whose cousin is dying of untreatable cancer. At this point, he would consider any treatments and one thing he is exploring is psychedelic healing. I know that sounds like 1960s hippie quackery, but I found out that there is quite a bit of scientific research into it now.

New Jersey was the 14th state to approve medical marijuana which is a much milder drug that has faced the same prejudices. One of the articles I found is  from Scientific American. It is a  primer on much of the research into the use of psychedelics for medical purposes. The drugs that put the “psychedelic” into the sixties are now the subject of renewed research interest because of their therapeutic potential and are in clinical trials.

Psychedelics such as LSD and the compound in magic mushrooms might ease a variety of difficult-to-treat mental illnesses, such as chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency. (Scientific American Mind – December 2007)

MAPS is funding clinical trials of MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) as a therapeutic tool to assist psychotherapy for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other illnesses.

Their preliminary studies have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD. You might know MDMA as the popular drug Ecstasy (although “Ecstasy” does not always contain pure MDMA). In laboratory studies, MDMA has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses.

Some of these substances, like ayahuasca, have been used in trials in Peru to actually treat substance abuse.

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