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How to Change Your Mind

What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

By Michael Pollan
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How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
Synopsis

How to Change Your Mind (2018) is a fascinating account of one man’s exploration of the psychedelic drug world. Author Michael Pollan takes readers along for the ride as he learns first-hand about the positive aspects of psychedelic drugs, including the healing and restorative effects they can have on people suffering from depression and addiction. Readers will also hear from neuroscientists to learn exactly what is happening in the brain during a psychedelic trip.

Key idea 1 of 9

Our perception of psychedelic drugs has changed as people understand that not all drugs are dangerous.

In 2006, the US Supreme Court made an important decision when it ruled in favor of a small religious sect known as UDV, short for União do Vegetal. The ruling allowed the group to import ayahuasca, a special tea-like brew that comes from South America and contains strong hallucinogenic properties. While some of the individual substances in ayahuasca are federally banned, the sect was given the legal right to import and use the brew as part of its sacred and traditional rituals.

We can now see this decision as part of a larger cultural shift in the United States’ attitude toward drugs.

The scientific perception of psychedelic drugs has also changed significantly, thanks in part to the neuroscientist Roland Griffiths, who is based out of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In the summer of 2006, Griffiths published an eye-opening article that said psychedelic drugs could provide meaningful, mystical experiences that contribute to both spiritual and personal development.

Griffiths’ study was the first scientifically rigorous and placebo-controlled experiment to be conducted in the field since the 1960s. Griffiths focused primarily on psilocybin, the substance found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, and its beneficial effects on the human psyche.

Remarkably, the study received a warm reception by the press and was even endorsed by researchers like Herbert D. Kleber, who’d helped form the anti-drug policies of the first Bush administration. Kleber praised the study as promising and admired how thorough it had been.

This marked quite a dramatic shift in popular opinion. After all, psychedelic drugs had been considered dangerous and illegal since the late 1960s – even though this attitude was largely due to a relatively small amount of bad experiences people had after taking the drugs in uncontrolled environments.

But thanks in part to Griffiths’ published study, the public was starting to understand that there may be some drugs that aren’t necessarily dangerous or toxic.

Griffiths helped make a distinction between two types of drugs: the more widespread, hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, which are highly toxic and addictive; and the traditional psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. If taken correctly, these drugs are not only safe, but they can also be psychologically and spiritually beneficial.

In the blinks ahead, we’ll take a closer look at these psychedelics and how the author suggests they should be handled.

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