NOTE: I'm successfully resisting the temptation to read others' reviews before posting this one, although I did see that a Goodreads & Facebook friend also gave this book a full five. Primarily, I wanted to see whether any readers found any problems with Pollan's forays into describing the research protocols or the neuroscience.
FULL DISCLOSURE: To my knowledge, I have never taken any psychedelic substances, but I am currently taking Wellbutrin (bupropion) daily for moderate depression.
So...there's mountains of scientific evidence that tryptamines like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT (found in ayahuasca tea and in your own brain) can be used to help conquer addictions, various mental disorders, and fear of death. Further, these chemicals have shown greater effectiveness than commonly prescribed medications like my current pharmaceutical friend Wellbutrin—and you need only take them occasionally, not every day.
But you don't just eat magic mushrooms at a party and magically quit smoking the next morning: It has to occur in the correct setting, with the correct mindset, and with a trained guide. Despite their well documented efficacy, the US government has made unauthorized possession of these substances a federal crime, and has put the research on hold for most of the last half-century. So science has had to unearth or reinvent parts of the wheel it had in production back in the 1960s.
Whether he knew it or not at the beginning, Prof. Michael Pollan undertook a most ambitious odyssey in producing How to Change Your Mind. His account of that odyssey combines:
- a thorough (and often amusing) survey of 70 years of research into psychedelic compounds and their effects in the US, Latin America, and Europe, with
- his own and others' experiences ingesting those compounds.