Michael Pollan Demonstrates Humanity’s Love for Psychoactive Plants

April 30, 2022

“This is Your Mind on Plants,” is journalist and author Michael Pollan’s second consecutive book to cover the topic of drugs, in this case two illicit substances and one licit and commonly used drug. 


His last book, “How to Change Your Mind,” focused entirely on psychedelics and reviewed lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The book was a wonderful three-part read whereby Pollan covered the history of psychedelic research and its banishment, the global resurgence and renaissance of this psychedelic research and essays of his own personal experience taking each of the three above chemicals. 


In “This is Your Mind on Plants,” Pollan again uses a three-part style in his writing, except in this case each part covers not only a different drug but a different class of drug: a sedative, stimulant and a psychedelic.


The first section consists almost entirely of an essay Pollan wrote in the mid-90’s detailing his experiences growing poppy flowers, making and ingesting poppy tea out of these plants and navigating the cloudy rules and regulations surrounding the manufacture, as the federal government calls it, of opium poppies.


The second section is entirely about caffeine, with which the author experiments not by taking it—as he has been a regular user for decades—but rather by abstaining from caffeine for a month. Pollan dives deep into the nature of caffeine, how many people use it, what its withdrawals are like and how his productivity and motivation was affected by its absence.


The third covers mescaline, which is found in the peyote and San Pedro cacti. The former is actively used in the Native American Church as part of its religious practice and is therefore, constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.


Of these three drugs, mescaline is the closest to the category of drugs Pollan covered in “How to Change Your Mind” and is that which Aldous Huxley—author of “Brave New World”—wrote about taking in his 1950’s essay, “The Doors of Perception.” 


Pollan’s writing is filled with honesty, a thorough exploration of the information—and disinformation—surrounding these compounds and the not-so-infrequent witty quip at the expense of federal and state governments and the regulations regarding drugs and their medical and recreational use. 


At just over 200 pages, compared to the—fun to read—tome that is “How to Change Your Mind,” “This is Your Mind on Plants” is a breezy but informative read for those who find themselves flustered by the continuing war on drugs, the emergence of the “opioid epidemic” and the complicated relationship we individually and culturally have towards psychoactive substances.

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