Michael Pollan — Exploring the Frontiers of Psychedelics (#365)

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“An overactive ego is a tyrant.” – Michael Pollan

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 newest book is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, which will be available as a paperback in May.

And if you haven’t yet, check out “Trip of Compassion”, which is the most compelling movie I’ve seen in the last year. It documents one unusual approach to healing trauma that might astonish you, an innovative treatment involving the psychoactive drug MDMA (commonly known as “ecstasy”). As you will see firsthand, if the therapy is well designed, true rebirth and transformation can happen in a matter of weeks and not years. Find out more by clicking here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.  You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#365: Michael Pollan — Exploring the Frontiers of Psychedelics

Want to hear another episode that explores science and psychedelics? — Listen to my conversation with Paul Stamets, an intellectual and industry leader in the habitat, medicinal use, and production of fungi. Stream below or right-click here to download.

#340: Paul Stamets — How Mushrooms Can Save You and (Perhaps) the World

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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…


  • Connect with Michael Pollan:

Website | Twitter | Facebook


  • What are psychedelics? [08:05]
  • Why are so many declaring a renaissance in the field of psychedelic research, and what caused the dark age preceding it? [10:46]
  • Psychedelic applications Michael finds most promising. [16:30]
  • How do the effects of these substances linger long after their physical presence in the body? [22:33]
  • What compounds have most captured Michael’s curiosity, and why? [28:41]
  • Have any of Michael’s psychedelic excursions had a lasting effect? [33:37]
  • Michael describes his guided high-dose psilocybin experience and brush with ego death. [36:00]
  • What is the opposite of spiritual? [46:25]
  • What kind of pushback — and support — has Michael received since How to Change Your Mind was published? [47:34]
  • While some medical professionals decry psychedelic therapies as unquantifiable by science, Michael points out a lot of currently accepted treatments are equally mysterious. [52:25]
  • What is the default mode network (DMN), and what are the pros and cons of having an ego? [55:45]
  • A look at the path forward for therapeutic access to psychedelics: from federal approval to financing. [59:50]
  • While current press seems positive about the merits of psychedelic therapies, what can we do to avoid a ’60s-style public backlash and subsequent dark age? [1:05:28]
  • Are psychedelics physiologically safer than Tylenol? What are the psychological risks? [1:07:49]
  • What progress has been made in the acceptance of psychedelics as a topic of mainstream discussion since How to Change Your Mind was published? [1:11:32]
  • Psychedelics are not a panacea: a look at what they’re good — and probably not so good — at treating. [1:14:12]
  • In this field of study that’s so woefully underfunded, where might a potential investor best allocate their funds? [1:18:11]
  • Two recent documentaries anyone interested in this field should see. [1:25:27]
  • Worthwhile resources Michael recommends. [1:27:03]
  • How to find a guide for whatever journeys you may decide to take. [1:29:24]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:34:06]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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27 Replies to “Michael Pollan — Exploring the Frontiers of Psychedelics (#365)”

  1. Looking forward to listening to Michael Pollan’s interview!

    I’d like to suggest that you add a trigger warning to all of your recommendations of “Trip of Compassion”. Lots of deeply activating material.

    Thanks for your good work.

  2. This quote stood out: “The mind has certain moments where right-angle turns happen.” Mirrors my experience with LSD. Should print a t-shirt I suppose.

  3. I have a great next host for you Tim, she had lyme disease and she fought it for 8 years using all kind of therapy, and the only thing that helped her was a Native American Traditional Ceremony, this spiritual ceremony is now helping her followers on IG. [Moderator: IG handle removed.]

  4. Hello Tim,

    Long time fan going through a hard time.

    I remember in one of your podcasts you mentioned a book that really helped you deal with the death of a loved one, but I’ve been so far unsuccessful in tracking that particular episode down.

    Hoping you can guide me to that book or other useful information.

    I have a brother who’s had a long battle with cancer, and it looks like he’s nearing the end of his fight. If possible I’d like some preparation on how to deal with it and also help his family through the process.

    I’ve also reached out on other outlets, and I want to apologize, notnsure this is the best place to reach you or not, just somewhat grasping to try and get a foothold before things get worse.

    1. Hey Tim,

      Still looking for that book, Brother passed over the weekend.

      Dealing with it as best as possible, trying to figure out all the technical business that comes with it as well.

      If you or any of your followers have any recommendations I’d appreciate it.

      1. Hi Russ — I am really sorry for your loss. Matt Mullenweg discussed the passing away of his father in the following episode:

        Here are his recommendations: https://tim.blog/2016/12/16/the-random-show-threesome-tim-ferriss-kevin-rose-and-matt-mullenweg/

        “Matt Mullenweg: Yeah, I’d recommend it. It was Elizabeth Kubler Ross and one of her first books was the one that came up with the five stages of grief: anger, depression, denial, all that. Then her last book, which was actually published posthumously, was called On Grief and Grieving. I think one was called On Death and Dying, On Life and Living, and this final book, On Grief and Grieving. It’s really beautiful as well because she wrote it on her deathbed. It helped me understand that grief is something that happens before you have a loss.”

  5. Tim, listening to the new podcast, and wishing there was a way to contribute a modest amount ($20, etc) to psychedelic research. If you established and promoted a gofundme, I would trust it and contribute. I think others would too. Thx!

  6. Hi Tim,

    Always interesting to get history and perspective on this topic.

    One question I’ve always wondered – when legislation shuts down research in the US for political reasons, why does the rest of the world follow suite? If the molecule(s) was promising, wouldn’t you expect other countries to see the value in pursuing development (maybe a question you could pose in a future interview).

    I’m almost at the end of the podcast but didn’t hear mention (or see reference in the show notes) of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon – Oregons move to legalize use for registered therapists. Seems like a promising shortcut to making therapy available and allow professionals to start gaining expertise in the practice. here’s a link if anyone is able/wants to learn more or support the initiative https://psi-2020.org/

  7. My favorite quote that Michael actually said a couple times in the podcast is “you are not identical to your ego”

    Great listen today!

  8. Hi Tim,

    I have a question for you. If you were to suddenly lose the use of your body from the chest down how would that change the experiences you look for in life? How would it change what you are passionate about. Do you think you could get back to being as happy as you are now and if so how?



    Disclaimer: I am paralyzed from the chest down.

  9. Tim,

    I have never heard an interview like this. I think I commented last when whitney cummings was on. The reason was because the interview reminded me when I told someone I didn’t trust( a therapist) that among the drugs I’ve done was mushrooms. It was like the oxygen got sucked out of the room.

    Honestly, I would rather eat horse ears dipped in goat blood than to trip mushrooms in that office with that fat therapist looking at me with those beady eyes.

  10. Hi Team Ferriss,

    Thanks for the great content. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your full gamut of podcasts around psychedelics. At the end of this episode, you mentioned to reach out regarding ways to make financial contributions. I would fall more in the $5k-$50k range, not the $1m range (although hopefully someday). Moreover, is there a top resource you’d recommend for staying on top of news in the space? I’ve subscribed to the MAPS newsletter, so hopefully that’s a start.


    Jeff L.

  11. Last week I attended a brilliant lecture by someone suffering from bipolar currently conducting research / doing a phd on how one can create the safest ayahuasca brew for people with bipolar (who are currently excluded from all research). He was a great storyteller and I think he would be great for your podcast (even though he’s lot as known as Stamets or Pollan). I’m pretty sure you get heaps of tips, but still worth trying to let you know!

  12. Hi Tim! I am finishing your interview with Michael Pollan and can’t stop thinking of my friend, who has been dealing with harsh CPRS type 2 (Complex regional pain syndrome) for about 15 years now after he cut off half of his hand working at the furniture factory being something like 21 years old at the time.

    The guy constantly feels pain that has same level as a woman’s pain during childbirth, so he has been put on Oxycodone. He has been an addict for 15 years now additionally to his severe CPRS type 2. We’ve been pumping up hope in him for many years, but nothing helps…

    I’ve been wondering for a long time if psychedelics can be of any help here doing what they do. Logic tells me they 100% must change something. However, access to information about ground-breaking research is not that easy, so… if you being you… know anything about it, I would be happy to give yet another shot of hope to my friend.

    Thanks for amazing interview and all the work you do!

  13. Hi Tim, I just wanted to say thanks. I mean THANK YOU. While I am interested in many ideas and topics you bring to the surface, you are specifically the reason I found psychedelics. Your experiences and curiosity ultimately led me to learn more. And ultimately realize the healing power of plant medicine. Ayahuasca specifically.

    Now I must apologize for the long comment here. I just want to share something that has been so meaningful and transformative. Also, I will only say here what worked for me, nothing more. I do not promote this lightly to anyone.

    I suffered for a decade or two with chronic migraines, depression, and anxiety. Recently, a breakdown of my 18 year marriage pushed me to the bottom. Long story short, I was called, in a particularly challenging night, to commit to a week long Ayahuasca retreat. I completed that journey a few weeks ago. I can now say it was the hardest week of my life. There is no free ride here. But it has changed my life. It is truly amazing what power that medicine has to change my way. But wow, it is incredibly hard work..

    I feel that I can sum up the change this way. It is through that week of suffering and realization that my trajectory in life has been shifted by a couple degrees. Even though a couple of degrees of shift seems slight, I can tell that by working to maintain this new trajectory, over time, I will find I am far far away from where I was heading not too long ago. (By the way, if that is what a couple of degrees feels like, I don’t think I could shift any further in a short amount of time). A whole new path is visible and available to me now. I am still within sight of my old path, being only a couple of degrees shifted, but with time it will become distant. Before my week of medicine, I could not see any other path than the one I was on. I have experienced the power and potential of this medicine for the soul. I am grateful.

    Again, I just wanted to say thank you for exposing the potential of psychedelics for people who are seeking help. It has changed, and will continue to change, life. Keep up the great work and keep spreading the word. For people who are seeking, I will be doing that as well.

  14. This quote stood out: “The mind has certain moments where right-angle turns happen.” Mirrors my experience with LSD. Should print a t-shirt I suppose.

  15. Hi Tim,

    I listened to your Paul Stamets pod and now am halfway through this one (also loved the Neil Gaiman one). One thing I noticed was the rat and cocaine/heroin? study has been referenced a few times. I recently was listening to someone on a Rogan podcast who told Rogan that after that study, there was a study called “Rat Park” where the rats were given this great little environment and friends and all that, and they used the drugs once and then never again. The study showed that the rats were only hitting the drugs because there was nothing else to do and they were depressed. Or something like that. I can’t remember the guys name, but try looking up Rat Park.



  16. I really appreciated the reminder as to how incentive drives medical practise and prescription (of course).

  17. “The ego builds walls, right? It isolates us from other people. It isolates us from nature. It’s defensive by definition. And when you bring down those walls in the psyche, what happens? Well, you merge. You merge with something else. There’s less of a distinction between you and the other, whether that other is other people in your life, or the natural world, or the universe. And so, these lines of — as the doors of perception open, as Huxley said, these lines of connection, there’s this incredible flow. And it sounds banal, but very often what flows through those connections is love. Powerful feelings of love and reconnection.” Michael Pollan

    This is an incredible realization of what keeps us disconnected in our worlds – especially by those who have undergone extreme trauma (as well as many who have undergone the trauma’s of everyday life). Michael mentions that in a way this is like a ‘reverse’ trauma – and this is something we all could use more of in our lives.

    It relates also, very much to the teachings of the Hoffman Process [Moderator: website removed.]. I just recently attended a weekend process where this quote came to mind several times. Reversing trauma in our minds – changing the brain patterns – is monumental for the road to healing.

    Thank you for such a powerful interview.


  18. Hi Tim!

    The next time you interview a researcher or expert on psychedelics, could you discuss the combination of cannabis and psilocybin/LSD as pertaining to the therapeutic and introspective uses of the substances? (I’m a newer podcast listener so it’s possible I’ve missed this discussion in an episode.)

    I’m a college student who has used psychedelics (psilocybin and LSD namely) largely recreationally over the past few years and I’m interested in transitioning my usage to more productive self-explorations (using a guide, set&setting, post integration, etc.).

    The “conventional wisdom” I’m aware of (and have personally experienced) is that cannabis can pleasurably enhance a recreational psilocybin/LSD trip. However I’m curious as to if there’s been any research on how the combination affects the therapeutic/medical/introspective use of psychedelics; does cannabis inhibit it in any way, is there any significant difference?

    I’m a big fan of the podcast and what you’re doing to advance the study and medical usage of psychedelic substances, thank you Tim!

  19. Dear Tim ,

    Please write something on how to deal effectively with difficulty people like mean men and women or extremely political savvy people….

  20. Michael mentions a study where they introduced a gap in the middle of the hippocampus and were able to show the neurons communicating without physical contact, do you have a link for this study?

  21. Tim, I just wanted to thank you for sending a signed copy of How To Change Your Mind. I got it in the mail today. What a treat during week 509 of shelter in place; I will devour it. Thanks so much.

  22. Have you ever heard the term “limerence?” It’s a form of love or infatuation marked by major dopamine hits and highs and lows, truly one of those “stuck” brain conditions Michael refers to that many people, including myself have suffered from. Ego at the wheel for sure.

    I can’t help but imagine psychedelics being of value in undoing this OCD/addiction-type affliction.