How to Change Your Mind

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

A trip well worth taking, eye-opening and even mind-blowing. —Kirkus Reviews

Dear Friends and Readers,

I am thrilled to tell you about my new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

The book grew out of the reporting I did for a 2015 article about psychedelic psychotherapy in the New Yorker, called “The Trip Treatment.” I interviewed a number of cancer patients who, in the course of a single guided session on psilocybin, had such a powerful mystical experience that their fear of death either faded or vanished altogether.

So began what grew into a two-year journey into the world of psychedelics—LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT. The book explores the renaissance of scientific research into these compounds and their potential to relieve several kinds of mental suffering, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. It also delves into the rich history of psychedelics in America, tracing the promise of the early research in the fifties and how a moral panic about LSD in the mid-sixties led to decades of suppression, just now ending. I spend time with neuroscientists who are using psychedelics in conjunction with modern brain imaging technologies to probe the mysteries of consciousness and the self. Several of the scientists I profile are convinced psychedelics could revolutionize mental healthcare and our understanding of the mind.

But what I didn’t expect when I embarked on this journey was for it to result in what is surely the most personal book I’ve ever written. I like to immerse myself in whatever subject I’m reporting—whether that means buying a steer to understand the meat industry or apprenticing myself to a baker to understand bread. What began as a third-person journalistic inquiry ended up a first-person quest to learn what these medicines had to teach me about not only the mind but also my mind, and specifically about the nature of spiritual experience. This book has taken me places I’ve never been—indeed, places I didn’t know existed.

I do hope you’ll check out How to Change Your Mind and share your thoughts about it—you can find me on Instagram (Michael.Pollan), Twitter (@MichaelPollan) and Facebook, as well as through @penguinpress.

Thanks,

Michael

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“I’ve never regretted my adolescent use of LSD, but reading this fascinating, lucid, wise and hopeful book did make me wonder if those drug experiences weren’t another example of youth wasted on the young. Michael Pollan, who waited until he was a grownup to experiment, is the perfect guide to today’s dawning psychedelic renaissance.”
-Kurt Andersen, author of Fantasyland

“Michael Pollan masterfully guides us through the highs, lows, and highs again of psychedelic drugs. How to Change Your mind chronicles how it’s been a longer and stranger trip than most any of us knew.”
-Daniel Goleman, co-author Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body

“Very few writers, if any, have the gravitas and journalistic cred to tackle this explosive subject-from both the outside and the inside-extract it from its nationally traumatic and irrationally over reactive past, and bring both reason and revelatory insight to it. Michael Pollan has done just that. This is investigative journalism at its rigorous and compelling best- and radically mind opening in so many ways just to read it.”
-Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, and author of Full Catastrophe Living and Coming to Our Senses

“Michael Pollan assembles a great deal of information here on the history, science, and effects of psychedelics. I found his frank recounting of his recent experiences with LSD, psilocybin, and toad venom most revealing. They appear to have softened his materialistic views and opened him to the possibilities of higher consciousness. He did, indeed, change his mind.”
-Andrew Weil, author of The Natural Mind and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health

“Do psychedelics open a door to a different reality, or is it just the same-old, same-old reality seen through a different set of lenses? I quickly became engrossed in Pollan’s narrative– the intersection of science, consciousness-enhancing, and government prohibition. But at the center of Pollan’s story is the greatest conundrum of all– why should substances that have been so beneficial to so many people, be the focus of crazy criminal penalties? Why, indeed.”
-Errol Morris

“Michael Pollan has applied his brilliant mind and fastidious prose to the Mind itself, specifically the modes by which psychedelic substances temporarily obliterate the ego and engender deep spiritual connectedness to the universe. Michael walks the tight-rope between an objective ‘reporter’ and a spiritual pilgrim seeking insight and sustenance from psychedelics, and his innocence and integrity serve as a balance bar between cynicism and partisan affirmation. His success here places these drugs and what they do at the center of a potential revolution in medicine. It’s an extraordinary achievement, and no matter what you may think you know about psychedelics, if you even know the word, you should read this book.”
-Peter Coyote, author and Zen Buddhist Priest

“After 50 years underground, psychedelics are back. We are incredibly fortunate to have Michael Pollan be our travel guide for their renaissance. With humility, humor, and deep humanity, he takes us through the history, the characters, and the science of these “mind manifesting” compounds. Along the way, he navigates the mysteries of consciousness, spirituality, and the mind. What he has done previously for gardeners and omnivores, Pollan does brilliantly here for all of us who wonder what it means to be fully human, or even what it means to be.”
-Thomas R. Insel, MD, former director of National Institute of Mental Health and co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health

“A rare and utterly engrossing exposition that will most certainly delineate a fundamental change in the understanding of the human mind and the mystery of consciousness. Pollan previously reshaped our knowledge of earthly landscapes in his writings. With this book, he transforms our understanding of the innerscape, the unbounded world we occupy every conscious second of our life experienced by thoughts, suffering, awareness, joy, and reasoning. This is more than a book-it is a treasure.”
-Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest

Press

Reviews

’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

In 1938 Albert Hofmann, a chemist at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, created a series of new compounds from lysergic acid. One of them, later marketed as Hydergine, showed great potential for the treatment of cerebral arteriosclerosis. Another salt, the diethylamide (LSD), he put to one side, but he had “a peculiar presentiment,” as he put it in his memoir LSD: My Problem Child (1980), “that this substance could possess properties other than those established in the first investigations.”

 

Michael Pollan Drops Acid — and Comes Back From His Trip Convinced

With “How to Change Your Mind,” Pollan remains concerned with what we put into our bodies, but we’re not talking about arugula. At various points, our author ingests LSD, psilocybin and the crystallized venom of a Sonoran Desert toad. He writes, often remarkably, about what he experienced under the influence of these drugs. (The book comes fronted with a publisher’s disclaimer that nothing contained within is “intended to encourage you to break the law.” Whatever, Dad.) Before starting the book, Pollan, now in his early 60s, had never tried psychedelics, referring to himself as “less a child of the psychedelic 1960s than of the moral panic that psychedelics provoked.” But when he discovered that clinical interest had been revived in what some boosters are now calling entheogens (from the Greek for “the divine within”), he had to know: How did this happen, and what do these remarkable substances actually do to us?

 

The Trip of a Lifetime: Michael Pollan explores what LSD and other psychedelics can do for the no longer young.

If How to Change Your Mind furthers the popular acceptance of psychedelics as much as I suspect it will, it will be by capsizing the long association, dating from Leary’s time, between the drugs and young people. Pollan observes that the young have had less time to establish the cognitive patterns that psychedelics temporarily overturn. But “by middle age,” he writes, “the sway of habitual thinking over the operations of the mind is nearly absolute.” What he sought in his own trips was not communion with a higher consciousness so much as the opportunity to “renovate my everyday mental life.”

 

Brimming with X

In his new book How To Change Your Mind: The new science of psychedelics, Michael Pollan sets out the twentieth-century history of the use of “psychedelic” substances with clarity, insight and humour. He does his fieldwork – with appropriate trepidation. He goes mushroom hunting. He consumes four different psychedelic tryptamines under suitably controlled conditions – LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca (active ingredient N, N-dimethyltryptamine, sc DMT), and, with shattering results, 5-MeO-DMT, the smoked venom of the Sonoran Desert toad Incilius alvarius – and tells us, as well as he can, what happens. He ends with two chapters laying out the latest neuro­scientific speculations and describing the extraordinarily fruitful renaissance of the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy in the 1990s.

 

A Strait-Laced Writer Explores Psychedelics, and Leaves the Door of Perception Ajar

“How to Change Your Mind” is a calm survey of the past, present and future. A book about a blurry subject, it is cleareyed and assured. Pollan is not the most obvious guide for such a journey. He is, to judge from his self-reporting, a giant square. In the prologue, he describes himself as someone “not at all sure he has ever had a single ‘spiritually significant’ experience,” a pretty straitened admission even for an avowed atheist. “I have never been one for deep or sustained introspection,” he writes later. You often find yourself thinking: This guy could really use a trip.

 

A revival in the scientific study of psychedelics prompts a journalist to take a trip

Known for his writing on plants and food, Michael Pollan, in his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, brings all the curiosity and skepticism for which he is well known to a decidedly different topic: the psychedelic drugs d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin. In addition to being a balanced piece of journalistic science writing, this work is also part memoir, as Pollan searches for meaning in life as he enters his early 60s.

 

Take a hit of acid and call me in the morning

In “How to Change Your Mind,” Michael Pollan makes it clear that he could not agree more. If “everyday waking consciousness” is “but one of several possible ways to construct a world,” he writes, “then perhaps there is value in cultivating a greater amount of what I’ve come to think of as neural diversity.” By “neural diversity” Pollan seems to mean a broad, embracing experience of the human mind and its links to the universe at large, an experience largely unconstrained by “heuristics,” the cognitive shortcuts that allow us to solve problems and make quick judgments but that also sometimes lead us astray.

 

Andrew Sullivan: Why we should say yes to drugs

Pollan, who writes seamlessly about his own experiments in psychedelics as well as the exciting discoveries in mental health now opening up before us, puts this perfectly: “Love is everything … A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion. To desaturate that dried husk with feeling is to see it again for what it is: the loveliest and most deeply rooted of truths, hidden in plain sight.”

 

Might LSD be good for you?

Many psychedelic drugs are non-addictive, and can be helpful in treating all sorts of psychological conditions, argues Michael Pollan.

 

A Guide for Psychedelic Virgins and Skeptics?

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.

 

This book on psychedelics might convince you to drop acid

In “How to Change Your Mind,” (Penguin Press) food journalist Michael Pollan makes psychedelics his subject du jour by offering up his own mind as a test subject. It may not be the obvious subject for the author of the modern classic “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” but stick with Pollan — this departure makes for great reading.

 

Review: How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan — turn on, tune in and lick a toad

In the past decade, as Pollan shows, there has been a psychedelic renaissance led by scientists. Working in places such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, they have been studying the brains of those given psychedelic drugs in controlled situations, and their hypotheses are fascinating — although they are still hypotheses. Professor David Nutt at Imperial, for example, believes that what the trials are revealing is the existence of an inhibiting, efficient shortcut he calls the “brain’s default network”, or DMN, which, when switched off by psychedelics, allows the mind to wander into extraordinary places.

 

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Food writer Pollan (Cooked) shifts his focus to other uses of plants in this brilliant history of psychedelics across cultures and generations, the neuroscience of its effects, the revival of research on its potential to heal mental illness—and his own mind-changing trips. For an entire generation, psychedelics were synonymous with Harvard professor-turned-hippie Timothy Leary and his siren call to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

 

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

Noted culinary writer Pollan (Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, 2013, etc.) makes the transition from feeding your body to feeding your head.

The lengthy disclaimer on the copyright page speaks volumes. The author, well-known for books on food and life such as The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has been opening some of the doors of perception with the aid of lysergic acid, its molecular cousin psilocybin, ayahuasca, and assorted other chemical tools.

 

A Neuroscientist Reviews Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind

The book shines new light on the revitalized field of psychedelic medicine.

 

More Reviews »

Interviews

‘Reluctant Psychonaut’ Michael Pollan Embraces The ‘New Science’ Of Psychedelics

Author Michael Pollan had always been curious about psychoactive plants, but his interest skyrocketed when he heard about a research study in which people with terminal cancer were given a psychedelic called psilocybin — the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” — to help them deal with their distress.

 

Real Time with Bill Maher—Michael Pollan: Psychedelic Science

Professor and author Michael Pollan joins Bill to discuss his latest book: “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

 

Michael Pollan Tried a Series of Psychedelic Drugs…For Research!

As an immersive author, Michael Pollan experienced the effects of the best-known psychedelic drugs while researching for his book ‘How to Change Your Mind.’

 

This Will Change Your Mind About Psychedelic Drugs

“The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy,” says Michael Pollan, author of the new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. “We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes — but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.”

 

Michael Pollan: ‘I was a very reluctant psychonaut’

Michael Pollan first became interested in new research into psychedelic drugs in 2010, when a front-page story in the New York Times declared, “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning in Again”. The story revealed how in a large-scale trial researchers had been giving terminally ill cancer patients large doses of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – to help them deal with their “existential distress” as they approached death. The initial findings were markedly positive. Pollan, author of award-winning and bestselling books about botany, food politics and the way we eat, was born in 1955, a little too late for the Summer of Love.

 

Michael Pollan on testing psychedelics as a treatment for depression

After decades in the shadows, psychedelic drugs are the focus of new studies testing their efficacy at treating a variety of psychological issues, including depression. Appearing on “CBS This Morning” Monday, Pollan was asked how he started in his research into psychedelics.

 

The Tim Ferriss Show: Exploring the New Science of Psychedelics

Michael talks with Tim Ferriss about his new book, the science and applications of psychedelics, his exploration, and his own experiences.

 

Exploring The World Of Psychedelics With Michael Pollan

Tune in, turn on, and… maybe change your mind. Author Michael Pollan revisits psychedelic drugs, a mainstay of the counterculture in the 60’s, long since fallen out of fashion. Turns out Timothy Leary may have been right about the therapeutic potential of these mind-bending drugs. Could magic mushrooms finally help people quit smoking? Could LSD be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, or addiction?

 

Michael Pollan on psychedelia: ‘Everything I once was had been liquefied’

The writer Michael Pollan is best known for his advice, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His bestselling books (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Cooked) have served up large helpings of food for thought — about the health claims of packaged meals, the iniquities of industrial farming, and the joy a home-cooked family dinner can bring. In his seventh decade, however, Pollan has become fascinated by a new subject — psychedelic drugs.

 

Consciousness, Chemically Altered

In his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan writes of his own consciousness-expanding experiments with psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, and he makes the case for why shaking up the brain’s old habits could be therapeutic for people facing addiction, depression, or death.

In this segment, Ira talks with Pollan and psychedelics researcher Robin Carhart-Harris about the neuroscience of consciousness, and how psychedelic drugs may alter the algorithms and habits our brains use to make sense of the world.

 

The Ezra Klein Show: A mind-expanding conversation with Michael Pollan

This is a discussion about how to expand your mind — how to expand the connections it makes, the experiences it’s open to, the sensory information it absorbs. And, more than that, this is a conversation about recognizing that our minds are narrower than we think, that there is a lot we’re filtering out and pruning away and outright ignoring.

 

The Science of Altering Consciousness

Among scientists, there are tentative signs of a psychedelics renaissance. After decades of stigma, impressive research is showing the power of these substances to help sufferers of depression and addiction, or to comfort patients with a terminal cancer diagnosis, struggling to face their own end. This is the fascinating territory that the journalist Michael Pollan explores with his new book, “How to Change Your Mind.” Pollan dives into brain science, the history of psychedelics (and our tortured attitudes towards them) but his larger subject is the nature of human consciousness.

 

Freedom From the Known

In this episode the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Michael Pollan about his new book How to Change Your Mind. They cover the the resurgence of interest in psychedelics in clinical practice and end-of-life care, the “betterment of well people,” the relationship between thinking and mental suffering, the differences between psychedelics and meditation, the non-duality of consciousness, the brain’s “default mode network,” their experiences with various psychedelics, and other topics.

 

The Joe Rogan Experience — Michael Pollan

Listen to the whole interview with Joe Rogan here.

 

Michael Pollan takes a trip in his latest book, “How to Change Your Mind”

Over the past 30 years, in numerous food- and farm-related articles, and in his five best-selling books, including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Food Rules,” Michael Pollan has always retained a degree of journalistic detachment as he’s teased out the complexities of modern food production and consumption — namely why we eat what we eat, and the environmental and health consequences of our choices.

But when Pollan reported on a subject far more controversial than GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and Big Ag — the current renaissance in psychedelics research — for a 2015 New Yorker article “The Trip Treatment,” he realized he had “just scratched the surface” of a subject that only amped up his fascination the more he learned.

 

More Interviews »

 
Michael Pollan