A Guide for Psychedelic Virgins and Skeptics?

FOR SOME SKEPTICAL READERS, books about psychedelics can be placed in three mental categories: “psychedelic boosterism,” “mystical hyperbole,” and “New Age rubbish.” The labels reflect the assumption that the psychedelic convert is bound to be too “exuberant” or “enthusiastic” in describing his or her drug experiences. When Michael Pollan began doing research for How to Change Your Mind, he was well aware of the perils of the genre. A noted culinary critic and author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he attempts in this book to approach the subject with caution and circumspection — he tries, in other words, to avoid being labeled a “psychedelic evangelist” or a “New Age kook.” Whether he achieves his aim is open to debate. His ambivalent tone can also be viewed as a rhetorical tactic designed to persuade the reader that he is a credible and “reliable narrator.” Certainly much of his credibility stems from his reputation as a respected journalist, but also from his outsider status. When Pollan agrees to take psychedelic drugs, he presents himself as a stand-in for the skeptical reader; he is an LSD-virgin turned “psychonaut” for the purposes of journalistic and scientific inquiry. Read the whole review here.