Michael Pollan is Back with Mind-Bending Thoughts on Drugs, Ego Death, and the Healing Power of Plants

GQ spoke with the author about his new book, This is Your Mind on Plants, and the rapidly evolving cultural status of mind-altering substances.

On the first page of his new bookThis is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan poses a seemingly simple question: what exactly is a drug?

“All who try to construct a sturdy definition of drugs eventually run aground,” he continues, a few sentences later. “Is chicken soup a drug? What about sugar? Artificial sweeteners? Chamomile tea? How about a placebo? If we define a drug simply as a substance we ingest that changes us in some way, whether in body or in mind (or both), then all those substances surely qualify.”

Maybe this sounds like arguing semantics. But consider just how much our cultural understanding of drugs has shifted in the last several years, especially with regards to psychedelics. Studies of substances like MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin (mushrooms), long vilified and criminalized, are showing to have tremendous therapeutic benefits for the treatment of mental illnesses like PTSD and depression. (In May, The New York Times reported that MDMA is suspected to be granted FDA approval for therapeutic use by 2023, “followed by psilocybin a year or two later.”)

Of course, social norms and public acceptance often lag far behind scientific breakthroughs. That hallucinogens have also been culturally destigmatized is due, in gigantic part, to Pollan.

Read the whole interview here.