From the popular author of a variety of food/plant based books like The Botany of Desire, The Ominivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and more, comes a new book whose subtitle says it all: "What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence."
Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin are being used in psychotherapy to treat different problems, such as depression, addiction, and anxiety. His early findings showed that these substances provided improvement for both mentally ill and healthy people when administered under carefully controlled conditions. As a result he chose to explore the topic in the first person as well as the third.
This book, part science reporting and part personal memoir, describes his experiences from his discovery of how a promising field of research became the target of a powerful backlash when a handful of psychedelic evangelists -- notably Timothy Leary, a flamboyant psychology professor -called too loudly to American youth to "turn on, turn in, and drop out." By 1970, all hallucinogens were banned for consumption or research.
It was only in 2005 that a team of researchers published a series of scientifically rigorous studies showing long-lasting benefits to volunteers of an experience with the psychedelic psilocybin (the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms"). More research followed showing how therapeutically-guided psychedlic experiences could be valuable for a range of disorders.
Pollan starts out green and walks us through the research literature on the subject. He tells his story well. Perhaps the most absorbing part are the many interviews that form the basis of his exploration -- researchers, patients, advocates. Further, he documents his own experiments with the same rigor and story-telling ability.
His title reflects the double meaning of his book -- from the reorganizing effects on the brain of these drugs and also to the deeply held cultural stigma against psychedelics. A fun book and worthy of discussion.