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How to Change Your Mind
Cover of How to Change Your Mind
How to Change Your Mind
What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
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“Pollan keeps you turning the pages . . . cleareyed and assured.” —New York TimesA #1 New York Times Bestseller, New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018,...
“Pollan keeps you turning the pages . . . cleareyed and assured.” —New York TimesA #1 New York Times Bestseller, New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018,...
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  • “Pollan keeps you turning the pages . . . cleareyed and assured.” —New York Times
    A #1 New York Times Bestseller, New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018, and
     New York Times Notable Book 
    A brilliant and brave investigation into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs—and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences

    When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third. Thus began a singular adventure into various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists inadvertently catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research.
    A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan's "mental travelogue" is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both suffering and joy, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.
 

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    Prologue

    Midway through the twentieth century, two unusual new molecules, organic compounds with a striking family resemblance, exploded upon the West. In time, they would change the course of social, political, and cultural history, as well as the personal histories of the millions of people who would eventually introduce them to their brains. As it happened, the arrival of these disruptive chemistries coincided with another world historical explosion—that of the atomic bomb. There were people who compared the two events and made much of the cosmic synchronicity. Extraordinary new energies had been loosed upon the world; things would never be quite the same.

    The first of these molecules was an accidental invention of science. Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, shortly before physi- cists split an atom of uranium for the first time. Hofmann, who worked for the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz, had been looking for a drug to stimulate circulation, not a psychoactive compound. It wasn't until five years later when he accidentally ingested a minus- cule quantity of the new chemical that he realized he had created something powerful, at once terrifying and wondrous.


    The second molecule had been around for thousands of years, though no one in the developed world was aware of it. Produced not by a chemist but by an inconspicuous little brown mushroom, this molecule, which would come to be known as psilocybin, had been used by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America for hundreds of years as a sacrament. Called teonanácatl by the Aztecs, or "flesh of the gods," the mushroom was brutally suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church after the Spanish conquest and driven un- derground. In 1955, twelve years after Albert Hofmann's discovery of LSD, a Manhattan banker and amateur mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson sampled the magic mushroom in the town of Huautla de Jiménez in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Two years later, he published a fifteen-page account of the "mushrooms that cause strange visions" in Life magazine, marking the moment when news of a new form of consciousness first reached the general public. (In 1957, knowledge of LSD was mostly confined to the com- munity of researchers and mental health professionals.) People would not realize the magnitude of what had happened for several more years, but history in the West had shifted.

    The impact of these two molecules is hard to overestimate. The advent of LSD can be linked to the revolution in brain science that begins in the 1950s, when scientists discovered the role of neu- rotransmitters in the brain. That quantities of LSD measured in mi- crograms could produce symptoms resembling psychosis inspired brain scientists to search for the neurochemical basis of mental dis- orders previously believed to be psychological in origin. At the same time, psychedelics found their way into psychotherapy, where they were used to treat a variety of disorders, including alcoholism, anxi- ety, and depression. For most of the 1950s and early 1960s, many in the psychiatric establishment regarded LSD and psilocybin as miracle drugs.


    The arrival of these two compounds is also linked to the rise of the counterculture during the 1960s and, perhaps especially, to its particular tone and style. For the first time in history, the young had a rite of passage all their own: the "acid trip." Instead of folding the young into the adult world, as rites of passage have always done, this one landed them in a country of the mind few adults had any idea even existed. The effect on society was, to...

Reviews-

  • AudioFile Magazine With an intriguing blend of investigative research and personal exploration, Michael Pollan takes a deep dive into the science of psychedelics in an effort to examine their potential to enhance our inner lives and offer relief from emotional or physical disturbances. Pollan's narration matches his journalistic approach: He's calm and measured, though not immune to the delight of discovery and the peculiarity of his interview subjects. Listeners will find themselves charmed by Pollan's innate curiosity and "post-trip" reflections. Listeners skeptical of Pollan's argument from the outset-- that psychedelics be studied as a resource to explore the boundaries of consciousness for reasons both scientific and spiritual--may want to relent. Pollan's earnest approach invites an open mind and serious consideration. A.S. � AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine

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