Michael Pollan — Exploring The New Science of Psychedelics (#313)

63 Comments

“Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.” – Stanislav Grof

This might be the most important podcast episode I’ve put out in the last two years. Please trust me and give it a full listen. It will surprise you, perhaps shock you, and definitely make you think differently.

Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) is the author of seven previous books, including CookedFood RulesIn Defense of FoodThe Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. A longtime contributor to the New York Times Magazine, he also teaches writing at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley where he is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Science Journalism. In 2010, TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

His most recent book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, might be my favorite yet. This is the first podcast interview Michael has done about the book, the science and applications of psychedelics, his exploration, and his own experiences. It is a wild ride.

In fact, partially due to this book, I am committing a million dollars over the next few years to support the scientific study of psychedelic compounds. This is by far the largest commitment to research and nonprofits I’ve ever made, and if you’d like to join me in supporting this research, please check out tim.blog/science.

In our wide-ranging conversation, we cover many things, including:

  • The fundamentals of “psychedelics,” what the term means, and what compounds like psilocybin, mescaline, and others have in common.
  • New insights related to treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, alcohol/nicotine dependence, OCD, PTSD, and more.
  • Recent scientific and clinical discussions of a “grand unified theory of mental illness.”
  • Potential applications and risks of psychedelics.
  • Michael’s own experiences — which he did not initially intend on having — and what he’s learned from them.
  • The “entropic brain,” and why there might be a therapeutic sweet spot between mental order and chaos.
  • Why researchers at Johns Hopkins, NYU, Yale, and elsewhere are dedicating resources to understanding these compounds.
  • And much, much more…

The molecules discussed in this episode — and some incredible clinical results from well-designed studies — have absolutely captured my attention over the last two years. After wading in and supporting smaller studies, I’ve decided to go all-in on scientists exploring this area. It seems to be an Archimedes lever for potentially solving a wide range of root-cause problems, instead of playing whack-a-mole with symptoms one by one.

This episode will explain why I’m so excited.

Now, all of my preamble out of the way, grab a cup of coffee and settle in!

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.


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Michael Pollan — Exploring The New Science of Psychedelics
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Want to hear another podcast discussing psychedelics? — Listen to my conversation with James Fadiman, who has been called “America’s wisest and most respected authority on psychedelics and their use.” Stream below or right-click here to download.

The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – Risks, Micro-Dosing, Ibogaine, and More
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Michael Pollan:

Website | Twitter | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

  • Dispelling the misconception of Michael Pollan as a “food” writer and understanding how the new book fits into the larger narrative of his work. [08:33]
  • There’s not a culture on earth that doesn’t use some plant or fungi to change consciousness — with one noticeable exception. [11:14]
  • What prompted Michael’s first foray into understanding psychedelics? [12:28]
  • What are psychedelics, and how do they differ from psychotomimetics and psycholytics? [17:12]
  • Why did Michael dedicate his latest book to his father? [20:47]
  • How Michael’s own psychedelic experiences helped him care for his terminally ill father and prepare for his eventual death. [22:40]
  • As a journalist, what was Michael most skeptical of when he first started researching psychedelics? [25:12]
  • What we currently know (or suspect) about the neuroscience behind the effects of psychedelic compounds. [30:57]
  • Examining the Default Mode Network. [35:06]
  • Meditation, psychedelics, and fasting as alternate modalities for shutting off or quieting the Default Mode Network. [40:01]
  • Mapping connectomes and the unexpected detours the brain creates in the absence of the Default Mode Network’s control. [40:55]
  • Mystical experiences, changing personalities, and smoking cessation: what psychedelics studies have been most memorable or surprising for Michael? [43:33]
  • Cementing profound convictions from otherwise obvious banalities (aka “duh” moments). [50:10]
  • Psychedelic applications Michael finds most promising. [52:25]
  • Is treating addiction with psychedelics just trading out one fixation for another? [57:21]
  • Why have psychedelic compounds been unavailable for medical trials for so long? [1:00:51]
  • Is it too simple to blame Timothy Leary? The psychedelic researcher’s occupational hazard of irrational exuberance. [1:01:25]
  • A searing rite of passage: the unique generation gap created by LSD in the ’60s. [1:03:36]
  • Could we see a cultural backlash remove psychedelics from academics once again? [1:08:36]
  • Does Michael think certain politicians trying to ban psychedelic research — especially when it helps veterans with PTSD — would suffer political repurcussions in the current climate? [1:10:59]
  • What are the risks of these psychedelic compounds? [1:13:58]
  • How Dr. Andrew Weil successfully rescued patients from their bad acid trips at the Haight-Ashbury free clinic in 1968. [1:16:40]
  • An appeal to lawmakers to consider the benefits of psychedelics that outweigh the risks — especially when compared to many of the dangerous drugs that are FDA approved. [1:18:48]
  • Are we close to a grand unified theory of mental illness? [1:24:00]
  • The entropic brain. [1:27:09]
  • Why do some of these compounds seem to have a long-term effect that far exceeds its presence in the body? [1:30:22]
  • How guidance can help someone make better sense of their experience — and reinforce progress that might be made. [1:33:44]
  • Themes, images, and insights: Michael’s most meaningful experience. [1:35:03]
  • Having a bad time? Remember your flight instructions. [1:40:06]
  • A cameo appearance by Maria Sabina. [1:41:49]
  • Losing sense of self (ego dissolution). [1:42:57]
  • Music you like makes the world better no matter what reality you’re experiencing. [1:45:11]
  • A powerful lesson in the role of ego. [1:46:24]
  • How does Michael think psychedelics might help us solve what he believes to be society’s biggest problems? [1:51:41]
  • How might we gently caution overenthusiastic psychedelic proponents away from messing things up for the rest of us (again)? [1:54:31]
  • The betterment of well people. [1:59:14]
  • The cultural container for psychedelics that worked for the ancient Greeks. [1:59:50]
  • Remaining cautiously optimistic. [2:02:12]
  • Just one example of criminalization impeding valid therapy. [2:02:34]
  • Michael’s book covers a critical subject at a critical time — do yourself a favor and read it even if you have zero interest in consuming psychedelics yourself. [2:03:54]
  • Michael’s parting thoughts. [2:05:39]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: May 6, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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63 comments on “Michael Pollan — Exploring The New Science of Psychedelics (#313)

  1. I admire the willingness to experiment on himself as one of the key factors in generating ideas about how to use psychedelics. But many of us did that throughout the 60’s and our experiences and wisdom gained were more typically dismissed and in many cases prosecuted and jailed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry for the dismissal @SpiritMentor. I’m curious, does the fact that society “judged” your experiences make the “wisdom gained” any less significant?

      Liked by 1 person

      • While it might have delayed serious and long-term scientific research on psychedelics, the prevailing judgments of society only served to strengthen the wisdom I gained.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The timing of this podcast is quite apropos. There is a great article in the Sat, May 5 edition of the WSJ about this very subject. There are studies being conducted at Johns Hopkins using psilocybin to help people stop smoking, with depression or anxiety. But it further looks at how it can help with mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been reading the WSJ for about 35 years, and consider it the best rag out there. I enjoyed the article enough to write a letter to the editor, which they published May 12. My point: They should do a study on those among us that did LSD in the late 60s and early 70s, and that taking LSD when well can mitigate, if not eliminate, the development of mental disorders during one’s life.

        Like

  3. I loved the whole interview,posted it on fb. The only thing is: there are not enough guides with real qualifications around.there isa tsunami of eager experimenters,where will they turn? But I think it will all turn out ok thank you so much for this .

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is 2018 and part of the trend. Some might have poor guides or worse experiences, but it’s the nature of a growing “idea”. In 2028, the medicine will be more generally accepted, much safer, and help a lot of people who currently aren’t being helped.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Enlightening to hear that so many mental illnesses could be helped, or even healed, with this research. I’m sure that each of us knows at least one person, if not a dozen, who would benefit from this process. I am very curious to watch as this process unfolds. Can’t wait to get Michael’s new book. Thank you both so very much, Tim and Michael, for the work you do, and for sharing it with the rest of us! Oh, and I fell off of a horse once, so I’m inclined to believe that this process can be even safer than riding a horse. As I was listening to this on my walk today, and laughing at the horse comment, I was really wanting to share this podcast with the passerby’s who saw me smiling as we crossed paths.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The future of psychedelics in a therapeutic setting will be one of the topics at the 2018 Psychedelic Psychedelic Forum in Victoria BC, Oct 11-14. Robin Carhart-Harris will deliver the keynote talk.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am so interested in this topic! I’m about to pause a current TF podcast and listen to this one first (maybe). With family member who have different mental health diagnoses and working with a community that does as well through social work, I’m hooked. One family member has tried marijuana and has found a few strands to be helpful with different things and it can be good long term but the testing was rocky, the psychedelic reaction from it scared them away for awhile at first until she did more research. With this, I’ve heard a lot of great things by people who have family who’ve tried it for numerous things via microdosing and I feel it could help my family member more regularly/long term as well with their diagnoses. I am concerned about the psychedelic part though (which is why I’m so excited to listen to this podcast, more info!), a lot of what one seeing and hearing is there might be people who are more affected by the paychodelic reaction from substances more than others and she seems to definitely fall into that category. I’ll comment again once I listen, thanks for all you do Tim! (And guests!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fantastic conversation Tim. Michael is just such a great person and we’re all lucky to have him to learn from. Interestingly this song has been haunting me this week and to be honest i didn’t know the lyrics well but when i looked them up I thought it fitting to put them here in reference to this episode because it cues to Michael’s description of letting go of ego and becoming free to get an objective perspective of ourself image. Hopefully this is okay to post and thanks to Billy on this one for sure…

    [Moderator: lyrics to The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rocket” by Billy Corgan removed.]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The amount of gratitude I have for people like Tim Ferriss, Michael Pollan, Aubrey Marcus, Joe Rogan, James Fadiman, etc., bringing these plant medicines and the conscious-exploding opportunity to the forefront of society’s comfort zones has no words. My life has been saved by these medicines. I cannot wait to see what our world looks like when the people who desperately need these substances get them and can then, after realizing how whole they really are, go out and love the rest of the bitter bastards. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  9. very well done, informative and enjoyable, especially for people unfamiliar with this subject; and for old dudes (like me/us) yes, the current psychedelic renaissance is actually re-igniting and giving justice to experiences and wisdom gained at that time; Tim: very useful your long list of links, people, notes for in-depth diving (as Michael suggested several times in the podcast); my favorite insight: all this scientific & cultural revival (which is ongoing around the world, something that should have been underlined in the discussion) is fostering a a much-needed, completely new, wholesome approach to mental health & issue….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. From entropy to rigidity, and point in the middle.

    Thanks Tim, this episode is one of the best, if it was not the best.
    1- i’ve worked with fMRI so really appreciate that input, to a certain extent, technical issues makes conclusions extremely difficult, was it 3T or 1.5T magnets? What is the voxel size? etc..

    2-It is fascinating that more information almost always enforces previous orientations, given how much we don’t know.
    Race to switch off DMN isn’t without consequences. Switching yourself to passenger seat, to just exist, to observe, to dissolve, are more negative measurements, for a positive challenge.

    Are you saying that taking a mushroom is a solution for sedentary lifestyle?
    Or you are saying to ease untreatable pain or terminal cases?

    It depends how life is treating you, how happenings manifests to your consciousness, are they like bouts, interrupted, or continuous slow aching pressure?

    3-Water: this was fast skipped. How much we are usually bathing with different chemicals, fluoride in toothpaste and water,
    mercury in vaccinations, hormonal contaminations such as Vitamin D in daily diary and cheese.
    More people are switching to vegetarians, which may work for personal level, but as a whole, energy deficiency is the new norm.

    4-Genetic profiling, is way more complicated issue, and guest has no answer for that question.

    Like

  11. It’s also great for talking to trees. But on a serious note, if people in power ate mushrooms the Environment would be taken more seriously.

    Like

  12. Hi Tim. This is totally unrelated, but here it goes. I was reading and thinking about your remarks on stoicism. I think you should read (if you have not) the book on Seneca written by Paul Veyne. It´s supremely good. And by the way, if you could ever interview Paul Veyne I am sure you would be asking yourself why you didn´t know about him earlier. He is a french scholar, an old man, the best living prose I ever met and well, what can I say, I am not able to inteview him, yet I know you would appreciate such a refined mind and an specialist in roman history and Seneca. Best regards. Florencia from Argentina, the land of Malbec.

    Like

  13. Hi Tim!  I loved this episode!  Have you ever heard of Dr. Robert Melillo and the Brain Balance centers?  The part of the podcast where Michael is talking about mental health issues all being related and on a sliding scale of entropy vs order made me think of how Dr. Melillo talks about disorders like autism, asperbergers, and other spectrum disorders being related and on a sliding scale of imbalances between hemispheres of the brain.
    Do you know if psychedelics have tested on any spectrum disorder patients?

    Like

  14. Hi Tim,

    I love your podcasts. A friend of mine recently passed away suddenly at age 42. I was wondering if you had any books or recommendations on handling grief?

    Like

    • The best ever book, profoundly insightful and beautifully written is “The Gate of Tears” by Jay Michaelson. Can totally recommend on how to deal with grief. Hope it will help!
      All the best!

      Like

  15. I am wondering how often hunter-gatherers hallucinated from extreme hunger or exposure. Maybe the answers to your questions aren’t in the addition of substance, but the removal of inputs to trigger changes in the brain. Tim, you have experienced the impacts of both – which has had a more profound impact if you were to pick favorites?

    Like

  16. Appreciated the balanced approach. The line “I’m not quite a proponent of psychedelics, I’m a proponent of the research of psychedelics” I think speaks volumes to this interview and generally a concept by Marc Andressen – “Strong views, loosely held” – Thanks for continuing to ask questions Tim.

    Like

  17. fascinating conversation! But! living in Europe… I’d love to try psychedelics in a safe environment. How can I do it and where can I even search for a place/people?..

    Like

  18. Now you’ve had enough scientists on about the topic, it’s time to get someone from the religious/spiritual/metaphysical end on. Psychedelics are 50/50 science and metaphysical experience so trying to explain them with only science is impossible. Let’s hear the other side of the story next!

    Like

    • Maybe Alex Grey??? Just not another scientist trying to analyze the unanalyzable please, and thank you for your support 🙂

      Like

  19. Tim, thank you for this episode. So much of what you and Michael talk about -maybe all of it – is exceptionally well understood by Javier Regueiro. Javier’s authored insightful books on Ayahuascha and most recently San Pedro [Moderator: link removed]. Have you read them? Please consider them and interviewing Javier for your podcast. Thank you for all you do. Your work has truly guided my life in transformative ways. Much gratitude. Kit

    Like

  20. Ok, I will bite. I am interested in using psychedelics in a safe environment. How can I do it and where can I even search for a place/people? Thanks Tim for a great episode.

    Like

  21. Hi Tim, you could be part of an amazing movement to help addicts with Naltrexone and telling people about the Sinclair Method. Please read Dr. Roy Eskapa’s book [Moderator: link to “The Cure for Alcoholism” removed.] this method has shown an 80% success rate in clinical trials but the treatment method is a threat to the billion dollar rehab industry. Have you heard of this method and the COMBINE study?

    Like

  22. Tim –

    Are there “patient” opportunities regarding trials and/or research? If yes, can you kindly provide information?

    Thank you,

    Joe

    Like

  23. Tim,
    This was one of the most profound podcasts of yours I have heard to date. I was a participant in the NYU psilocybin research study for cancer-related anxiety and am currently a PhD candidate in clinical psychology. I would be very glad to further discuss psychedelic research with you should you be interested.
    NF

    Like

  24. Hey Tim, this Saturday May 19th we are hosting a event to raise awareness for psychedelic research. I will be running a 100 mile marathon while hosting a live Reddit AMA with a panel of world psychedlic experts to answer questions about the advancements in the research for treating depression, PTSD and other mental trauma.I hope you can check it out heroicheartsproject.org/keys100

    Like

  25. The thing that I questioned is that no one discussed one of the scarier side effects of psychedelics, HPPD ( Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder). While this apparently occurs in a minority or people who take psychedelics the fact that it is chronic merited I think at least some mention when they were going over the risks.

    Like

  26. Michael Pollan, Botany of Desire was the last book, read; written by a Berkeley professor, prior to studying there in 2004. This book – change your mind – is the most exciting, since. (Aside from Dalai Lama, Transcendent Wisdom) – on centric / gross – ultimate reality nondual etc.

    simple suggestion on the importance for humanity and Mother Earth or nature to study participants with history of family mental illness and is nondual cross generational wellbeing.

    Not sure if this is a political move or not. I think it would be cowardly not to focus research here for a better understanding of the nondual aspect.

    A combination of mediation, Dream work, Taoism – iching practice, yoga; sprinkle in pcychadelic and conduct in a safe environment can have profound insight to mental illness and that consciousness never dies. same same. It’s all interrelated. How else can it be an accurate study? Who defines mental illness?

    Some would say, ‘Anyone who starts a war is mentally ill.’ It depends on your perspective and how threatened you feel.

    All else, bravo! Seriously my favorite journalistic writing.

    Like

  27. Hey Tim,

    This letter and the questions it contains is about the relation between mental illness and psychedelics. Please correct me if I’m wrong about anything below.

    I just listened to your talk with Michael Pollan on psychedelics. In the podcasts, he says he doesn’t recommend tripping if you have any mental health issues. He also said that the above ground studies going on have a screening process that weeds out anyone with mental illness or a family history of one.

    I remember in a TED talk that you said you were bipolar, and I was thinking that it is important to talk about using psilocybin (safely and with a guide) if you have major depression, bipolar disorder or any number of mental health issues.

    If they weed out some of the people it could help, how can you use psilocybin safely to help with these illnesses? It seems and feels to me that for some of the people who could really benefit from psilocybin (albeit I believe everyone can) there is a stigma (one of them being that people with mental illness are dangerous or can’t handle the trip) attached to tripping if you have a mental illness or a family history of one, even if it is well managed.

    I would deeply appreciate it if you could address this issue and how you were able to navigate your way through it. Personally, I have experimented in high school and college with mushrooms and LSD with my close friends and I would really like to do a guided trip. The main obstacle I am facing is that I don’t know how to find a safe and experienced guide to get the most benefit from the trip.

    I really appreciate your research into this topic and I think your podcast and the way you approach life is truly admirable.

    Eric

    Like

  28. Thinking ahead, how might those who want to one day be LEGAL guides in a private clinical setting best set themselves up for that kind of career? Will it definitely require an MD (psychiatry) to do this kind of therapeutic work in the next 1-3 decades?

    Like

  29. Hi Tim, long time listener. Currently working under Robin Carhart-Harris studying psychedelics at Imperial. I think he’d be fantastic to feature in your podcast series. He may be interested as he has featured on other podcasts and there’s always a need for more funding in psychedelic research. Do you have a link to him and is he someone you’d be interested in interviewing?

    All the best!

    Like

  30. I admire you greatly Tim but I just can’t get on board with psychedelics or drugs in general, “smart” or not. From personal experiences just with marijuana and the detrimental effects I’ve seen in friends with harder drugs, taking psychedelics for mental health is about as good an idea as… taking psych drugs, which are also so riddled with horrible side effects that we’re back to psychedelics. *face palm* Please educate people on the side effects too when you’re pushing this to be fully transparent because they’re there. [Moderator: additional text and link removed.] For now, I have to stop listening because this is just too much drug propaganda. Taking high doses of niacin can help cure depression studies have show — why can’t we talk about things like that?

    Like

  31. I’m wondering how to find one of these guides mentioned in the episode? How could someone find “proper” supervision to undertake a psychedelic experience without going to Peru or Mexico? Googling hasn’t turned up much.

    If someone could provide some information or point me in the right direction I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

    Like

  32. Such a great interview! I was a patient of Dr. Abram Hoffer who worked with Dr. Humprey Osmond in the 1950s who Michael Pollan mentions – there is much to learn about the mind.

    Like

  33. An image of the brain was mentioned a couple of times in the interview and it was mentioned that it would be posted on this site… Does anyone see it? I would love to have a look!

    Like

  34. FYI Ken Kesey wrote One who flew over the cuckoo’s net. He sends Jack Nicholson to the state mental health treatment facilities from prison. A Must watch for those reading this blog. Cheers!

    Like

  35. Consciousness is so easy to understand through practicing and playing with your own. Addiction and all else is easy to overcome when you understand that you are not the identity which awareness has assumed itself to be. I wish they would hook my brain up to an MRI because after my DAI, and my fully recovery 8 months later, I have such a profound understanding of life. Deconstruct the self through meditation on the question “Who Or What am I?” Through continually asking this question and throwing aside all answers the conditioned mind gives, you find the route of awareness, and life, while reaching a peace that surpasses all understanding.

    Like

    • Meta-cognition. The silent observer or witness which is alive before the formation of the brain itself. The best actors can lose themselves in the parts they play because they concentrate so much on the role they literally become the role. Check out Jim and Andy on Netflix

      Like

      • And sure, one can say genetics forms the brain. But logically, then, genetics would be the cause of consciousness. And I, for example, think vastly different without the aid of psychedelics than those in my gene pool.

        Like

  36. A am a large dude, addicted to sugar. I have tried cutting it out an failed multiple times. Anyone looking at using psychdelics to stop other addictions?

    Like