Michael Pollan is the author of 7 books, consisting of The New York Times bestsellers In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Problem, and The Botany of Desire.
A long-time contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan focuses on the intersection between nature and culture, be it on our plates or in our farms and gardens.
In 2010, Time publication called him among the 100 most prominent individuals worldwide.
Pollan’s latest book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence explores how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are used in treatment for conditions varying from depression to dependency to anxiety.
In an episode of The Tim Ferriss Program that Ferriss said might be the most essential podcast he’s put out in the past couple of years, the two spoke about these applications as well as the reemerging field of psychedelic research. Below is an excerpt of the conversation, modified by Outdoors.
For people who have heard the terms psychedelic or psychedelics, but are uncertain on exactly what they refer to, can you define them? What are psychedelics?
At first, psychedelics were called psychotomimetics in the early fifties, right after LSD was made available to scientists. And psychotomimetic indicated that it was a psychedelic drug that mimicked psychosis.
Other individuals called it a psycholytic, which suggests mind loosening. And they were using them in your common talk-therapy session as a method to loosen individuals’ defenses and permit them to connect with subconscious thoughts and emotions.
Psychedelic, as a term, was created in 1957 by an essential figure called Humphrey Osmond. It implies mind-manifesting– that these are compounds that assist the mind to manifest its deepest qualities. And it caught on.
I tend to not think of MDMA or cannabis as psychedelics, although some individuals do. But the group of chemicals that consists of mescaline, DMT, psilocybin, magic mushrooms, and LSD, that are merged by the fact that they deal with comparable receptor networks in the brain and have similar results– when I talk about psychedelics, that’s what I’ve got in mind.
Brand-New Insights or Theories on Psychedelics
What brand-new insights or theories on psychedelics have captured your attention in the clinical realm?
The neuroscience is absolutely remarkable. But that stated, the brain is still extremely inadequately understood. So it is very important to understand that everything I will tell you is a hypothesis.
We know LSD or psilocybin links to a certain type of brain receptor, the H25AR receptor, which is the same one that SSRIs, a class of antidepressant drugs, engage with. But what occurs downstream of that, we do not have a clue.
Among the most fascinating ideas has actually originated from imaging the brains of people on psychedelics. The greatest takeaway from that work is that the brain was in fact depressed by psychedelics, especially in the default-mode network, called that due to the fact that this is where the brain goes when it’s not busy. It’s where you go to ponder, fret, daydream.
And how intriguing that this specific network, essential as it is, goes off-line or at least is activity diminished by psychedelics.
When it does, other parts of the brain that do not normally talk with each other strike up conversations. And so you have, for example, a movement center talking directly to your visual cortex, which, low and behold, might enable you to see things you’re feeling. It might result in hallucinations.
Likewise, when researchers at Yale started scanning the brains of really experienced meditators, their scans look really comparable to the people on psychedelics.
Meditation is another way to quiet the default-mode network, and my guess is there are numerous others, too, like fasting or when you go into sensory deprivation. My guess is that all of these effective experiences may well involve alternate techniques for shutting down or quieting the default-mode network.
Those brand-new connections might manifest as brand-new viewpoints, originalities, brand-new methods, new metaphors. And that’s what we need to enter right now.
What Happens With Those Brand-New Connections?
Do they endure or not? And are there methods to help them withstand longer?
Which studies of psychedelics have stunned you or amazed you the most?
Well, the first one is a 2006 research study. It was an effort to see if psilocybin could be used to celebrate extensive, magical experiences in individuals.
In such a way, this was the predicate of all of the research to come given that, because, first, they proved that you could securely administer these drugs in this environment.
And second, with an extremely high portion, you could cause an experience that individuals would report as one of the most significant experiences in their lives, equivalent to the birth of a kid or the death of a parent.
The fact that you could cause such an experience in a lab dependably, with a mushroom, that sort of blew my mind.
In a follow-up, they discovered that a statistically considerable portion of people who had had these psilocybin experiences in fact had changes in their character that were withstanding.
Openness, which associates with tolerance for other people’s viewpoints, the capability to take in great deals of unexpected info, and creativity, in fact, were increased. And it’s really unusual that personality changes in adults at all.
Now, this has yet to be reproduced, this specific result. But whether there are lasting modifications in the personality of people who take psychedelics, I think, is a truly rich topic to check out and certainly should have more work.
What Are The Threats of These Substances?
There’s no known lethal dosage of psilocybin or LSD. If it kills you, it’s not going to be since it’s harmful. I believe that the risks are more mental in origin. They are extremely disruptive.
They disarm your normal defenses, and defenses can be really helpful along with hurtful.
Some individuals, without their defenses, enter real difficulty. And after that, there is a little subgroup of people at risk for severe mental illness, things like schizophrenia, for whom psychedelics can be the trigger and press people into that very first psychotic break.
So I believe that there are individuals who ought to not take these drugs, and it’s people at some psychological risk.
That said, you’ve got to compare it with other drugs, and they all have risks. The dangers, in this case, at the biological level, are small compared to drugs we take regularly– even over the counter drugs that are more harmful than psychedelics, as far as we know. So I think that’s certainly worth bearing in mind.