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This Is Your Mind On Plants

by Michael Pollan

Library Journal In How to Change Your Mind, Pollan examined the history of hallucinogenic drugs and their social status. His newest extends his examination to three non-hallucinogenic, yet consciousness-altering naturally occurring plant derivatives: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. The section on opium consists primarily of an essay he wrote in 1996, when growing certain poppies in one's garden could result in being arrested by the DEA. The war on drugs was being vigorously prosecuted, and poppy enthusiasts were low-hanging fruit; ironically, Purdue Pharma began marketing OxyContin the same year. While we might not think of caffeine as a mind-altering drug, Pollan points out that many of us have come to see the sensations induced by caffeine as a normal state of being. He narrates his own attempts to quit caffeine, as well as the economic exploitation of coffee and tea growers. His section on mescaline discusses the significance of its source (the peyote cactus) for Indigenous cultures in southern Texas and northern Mexico; the dwindling ranks of peyote cacti in the wild; and the tension between drug decriminalization and peyote's cultural appropriation. VERDICT A wide-ranging investigation that will interest anyone curious about consciousness-altering substances and their varying legality.—Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce. The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially. A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list In How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan conducts an extensive inquiry into psychedelics. In this briskly enlightening if intermittently cursory account, he considers the symbiotic relationships between humans and three psychoactive plant substances, opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Each has been a boon and a bane, depending on how carefully or recklessly they’ve been ingested and on their legal status. Pollan’s study of opium begins with his risky poppy cultivation during the horrifically destructive war on drugs, leading to his redacting sections of a 1997 Harper’s essay, finally published fully here, in fear of prosecution. Pollan quit coffee cold turkey to precisely assess our legal, corporately stoked caffeine addiction, a revealing experience backed by a thought-provoking look at the tyranny intrinsic to historic coffee and tea cultivation and musings on why caffeine and capitalism work so well together. In covering mescaline, he focuses on the sacred connection between Native Americans and now-endangered peyote and describes the ceremonial use of Wachuma cactus. Our mind on Pollan revels in his exceptional narrative lucidity and command of complex and intriguing facts and concepts.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Book list In How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan conducts an extensive inquiry into psychedelics. In this briskly enlightening if intermittently cursory account, he considers the symbiotic relationships between humans and three psychoactive plant substances, opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Each has been a boon and a bane, depending on how carefully or recklessly they’ve been ingested and on their legal status. Pollan’s study of opium begins with his risky poppy cultivation during the horrifically destructive war on drugs, leading to his redacting sections of a 1997 Harper’s essay, finally published fully here, in fear of prosecution. Pollan quit coffee cold turkey to precisely assess our legal, corporately stoked caffeine addiction, a revealing experience backed by a thought-provoking look at the tyranny intrinsic to historic coffee and tea cultivation and musings on why caffeine and capitalism work so well together. In covering mescaline, he focuses on the sacred connection between Native Americans and now-endangered peyote and describes the ceremonial use of Wachuma cactus. Our mind on Pollan revels in his exceptional narrative lucidity and command of complex and intriguing facts and concepts.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Pollan (How to Change Your Mind) centers this lucid exploration of the psycho-social impact of mind-altering plants on his personal experiences with opium, mescaline, and, most intensely, caffeine. He starts with an extended version of his 1997 Harper’s piece about brewing opium tea from poppies, which produced mild euphoria—“the tea seemed to subtract things: anxiety, melancholy, worry, grief”—apart from his apprehension over the DEA’s crackdown on poppy horticulture. The second chapter, an expanded version of a piece first published as an Audibles Original, describes a monthslong abstention from caffeine, which precipitated persistent feelings of mental dullness, and his triumphal return to coffee drinking (“Whatever I focused on, I focused on zealously and single-mindedly”). Pollan connects these experiences to the importance of ubiquitous caffeine consumption during the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism. Less successful is Pollan’s final chapter, in which he imbibes mescaline during a Native American peyote ceremony, with the predictable outcome of maudlin, psychedelic emoting (“What follows forgiveness is gratitude, which I now felt break over me in a warm wave of tears”). Blending artful exposition of the evolution and neurochemistry of botanical drugs, erudite history, and (usually) precise and evocative prose, this is an insightful take on plants’ beguiling sway over the human psyche. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (July)

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