“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 Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The 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.
- Listen to it on Apple Podcasts.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
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.
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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:
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
- The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan, The Wall Street Journal
- Express Your Interest in Supporting Psychedelic Scientific Research and Development
- The Intelligent Plant by Michael Pollan, The New Yorker
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
- Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
- Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan
- The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
- The Trip Treatment by Michael Pollan, The New Yorker
- Do Psychedelics Expand the Mind by Reducing Brain Activity? by Adam Halberstadt and Mark Geyer, Scientific American
- The Life-Changing Magic of Mushrooms by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic
- I Took a Psychedelic Drug for My Cancer Anxiety. It Changed My Life by Dinah Bazer, Time
- Psycholytic and Psychedelic Therapy Research 1931-1995: A Complete International Bibliography compiled by Torsten Passie
- Psychotomimetic Effects of PCP, LSD, and Ecstasy: Pharmacological Models of Schizophrenia? by Vibeke Sorensen Catts and Stanley V. Catts
- Psychedelics: Lifting the Veil by Robin Carhart-Harris, TEDxWarwick
- Marcus Raichle on the Default Mode Network, VPRO Labyrint TV
- fMRI Brain Imaging: Classic Hallucinogens vs. Mindfulness Meditation by Gary Weber, Science and Nonduality Conference 2012
- Connectome-Harmonic Decomposition of Human Brain Activity Reveals Dynamical Repertoire Re-organization under LSD by Selen Atasoy et al., Scientific Reports
- Magic Mushrooms Transform Brain Into New Hyperconnected State by Stephen Morgan, Digital Journal (contains image discussed)
- Human Connectome Project
- Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance by R.R. Griffiths et al., Psychopharmacology
- The Big Five Personality Traits and What They Mean to Psychologists by Robby Berman, Big Think
- Long-Term Follow-Up of Psilocybin-Facilitated Smoking Cessation by Matthew W. Johnson et al., The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), The Mayo Clinic
- Ibogaine Therapy for Drug Addiction, MAPS
- A Double-Blind Trial of Psilocybin-Assisted Treatment of Alcohol Dependence, New York University School of Medicine
- Psilocybin with Psychological Support for Treatment-Resistant Depression: Six-Month Follow-Up by R.L. Carhart-Harris et al., Psychopharmacology
- FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD, MAPS
- LSD and Bill Wilson, the Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
- LSD Could Help Alcoholics Stop Drinking, AA Founder Believed by Amelia Hill, The Guardian
- How Ken Kesey’s LSD-Fuelled Bus Trip Created the Psychedelic ’60s by Edward Helmore, The Guardian
- The Time and Life Acid Trip: How Henry R. Luce and Clare Boothe Luce Helped Turn America On to LSD by Jack Shafer, Slate
- Seeking the Magic Mushroom by R. Gordon Wasson, Life
- Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- Can Psychedelic Trips Cure PTSD and Other Maladies? by Tom Shroder, The Washington Post
- The Entropic Brain: A Theory of Conscious States Informed by Neuroimaging Research with Psychedelic Drugs by Robin L. Carhart-Harris et al., Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
- What Is the Difference between 5-MeO DMT and DMT? Choosing a DMT Therapy by Roger R., Psychedelic Times
- Do Psychedelics Trigger Neurogenesis? Here’s What We Know. by Thomas Varley, Psymposia
- The Cuyahoga River Fire of 1969 by Michael Rotman, Cleveland Historical
- Eleusinian Mysteries, Encyclopaedia Britannica
- 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]
- Stanislav Grof
- Matt Mullenweg
- Tony Conrad
- Henry David Thoreau
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- John Muir
- Aldous Huxley
- Dinah Bazer
- Humphry Osmond
- Stephen M. Pollan
- Robin Carhart-Harris
- Marcus Raichle
- Roland Griffiths
- Walt Whitman
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Matthew W. Johnson
- Bill Wilson
- Timothy Leary
- Richard Nixon
- Ken Kesey
- Haruki Murakami
- Henry Luce
- Clare Boothe Luce
- R. Gordon Wasson
- Rick Doblin
- Paul Summergrad
- Jeffrey Lieberman
- Jeff Sessions
- Rebekah Mercer
- Steve Bannon
- Peter Thiel
- Donald Trump
- Andrew Weil
- David Nutt
- Tom Insel
- Maria Sabina
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Yo-Yo Ma
- Rachel Carson
- Robert Jesse