Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) is a writing professor, a longtime contributor to the New York Times Magazine, and author of many best-selling books — his latest is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
What We Discuss with Michael Pollan:
- How psychedelics have been used throughout human history across almost every culture in the world.
- What psychedelic compounds have in common and how they interact with the human brain on a molecular level.
- How psychedelics are being used in modern medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments including PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, OCD, anxiety, and dependence on alcohol and nicotine.
- What it means to expand your subconscious and change your conscious states of mind.
- Why psychedelic insights are so powerful and perspective-changing long after their physical effects have faded.
- And much more…
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After decades of being forbidden by law for recreation or research, psychedelics are legally enjoying a renaissance in the scientific community as a potential way of treating a wide variety of ailments including PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, OCD, anxiety, and dependence on alcohol and nicotine.
Joining us for episode 81 to talk about these breakthroughs along with his own psychedelic experiences is Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
Disclaimer: with few exceptions, the possession and recreational use of psychedelic drugs is probably illegal wherever you’re listening to this podcast. This episode does not constitute an endorsement of casual lawbreaking; we trust our listeners to hear this with an open mind, but above all to use common sense with any information received from this program.
What are psychedelics, exactly? Michael Pollan, the best-selling author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, is the right person to ask.
“There’s some debate over how broadly to define psychedelics,” says Michael. “I run into people who define them as psychoactive plants and drugs in general, but the definition that I liked and relied on in the book is a class of so-called classic psychedelics that all operate on the same receptor sites in the brain…and they include basically, for my purposes, LSD, psilocybin, DMT…and a handful of more obscure ones. I would not include, for example, MDMA or ecstasy — although some people do — or cannabis, that some people consider a mild psychedelic.
“The reason I limit it to that class is they have a similar neuroscience story and they have a similar social history. I’m very much tied to this period in the ’50s and ’60s of active research followed by a crushing suppression.”
The crushing suppression Michael’s talking about here is what happened when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which instantly put an end to psychedelics research that had been going on for decades. It was an overreaction to their popular use within hippie counterculture, seen by the administration as a subversive threat to its agendas.
Only recently have laws been relaxed enough to allow researchers to explore the possible mental health benefits of psychedelics once again, which gives hope to people suffering from ailments including PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, OCD, anxiety, and dependence on alcohol and nicotine. It’s even been known to help the terminally ill face death with calm and dignity.
“You would assume your thoughts would go to the darkest possible place, and they do, actually,” says Michael. “But people have found it enormously helpful. I must have talked to a dozen patients in this situation and they had journeys that in many cases reset their thinking about their death and made it much less frightening.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the role of psychedelics in human history, how the term “psychedelics” came about (and what it replaced), how psychedelics have psychological effects that last long beyond their physiological influence, why guided trips are more productive than recreational trips, why psychedelic insights are so powerful and perspective-changing, the risks of psychedelics, how psychedelics affect our default mode network, and much more.
THANKS, MICHAEL POLLAN!
If you enjoyed this session with Michael Pollan, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Michael Pollan at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
- Michael Pollan’s Website
- Michael Pollan at Facebook
- Michael Pollan at Twitter
- A Conversation with Albert Hofmann, MAPS
- The Trip Treatment: Research into Psychedelics, Shut down for Decades, Is Now Yielding Exciting Results by Michael Pollan, The New Yorker
- The Psychedelic Cult That Thrived For Nearly 2,000 Years by Keith Veronese, io9
- The Mescaline Experiment: Humphry Osmond and Christopher Mayhew
- Aldous Huxley, Dying of Cancer, Left This World Tripping on LSD (1963), Open Culture
- The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
- Vanishing of the Bees
- The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
- Born in
- The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by James Fadiman
- TJHS 27: David Eagleman | How Your Brain Makes Sense of the World
- Hollow Face Mask Effect Explained by Weipeng Liu
- Holotropic Breathwork
- The Mushroom Cure by Adam Strauss
- A Microguide to Microdosing Psychedelic Drugs by Blanca Myers, Wired
- Long-Term Follow-Up of Psilocybin-Facilitated Smoking Cessation by Matthew W. Johnson et al., The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
- LSD Could Help Alcoholics Stop Drinking, AA Founder Believed by Amelia Hill, The Guardian
- Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity by Calcin Ly et al., Cell Reports
- The Birth of LSD with Dr. Stanislav Grof, Father of Transpersonal Psychology, Bulletproof Radio
- TJHS 55: Mary Lou Jepsen & Rob Reid | The Future of Telepathy and Affordable Healthcare
- Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
Transcript for Michael Pollan | A Renaissance in the Forbidden Science of Psychedelics (Episode 81)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. Today, we're talking with Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Heavy duty title here.
[00:00:17] Today, we'll discuss psychedelics and how they're changing lives and indeed the entire practice of medicine. Now, before you get your sensibilities offended, you'll want to listen to this. Michael Pollan is a very in depth researcher, and he didn't take this stuff lightly. His findings will absolutely surprise and hopefully enlighten you. See what I did there, Jason? We’ll also discover what it actually means to expand your subconscious and change your conscious states of mind. It's not just for tie dye wearing hippies anymore, and we'll learn who can potentially benefit from the use of psychedelics from quitting smoking to lowering anxiety and terminal disease and coping with end of life. There's a lot of amazing discoveries in this one, and today's discussion is really something outside the norm, and I know you'll enjoy it. Of course, we also have worksheets for today's episode, so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of all these key takeaways here from Michael Pollan. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[00:01:11] Now, here's Michael Pollan. Let's talk about psychedelics. What do you think?
Michael Pollan: [00:01:15] Yeah, sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:16] Let's define psychedelics first of all, because I don't even know if a lot of people listening really know what that is. They go, “Oh yeah, I've heard of magic mushrooms, I've heard of LSD, that may be the limit of some people's experience when it comes to this stuff.
Michael Pollan: [00:01:28] Sure. Well, there's some debate over how broadly to define psychedelics, and I run into people who kind of define them as psychoactive plants and drugs in general. But the definition that I liked and relied on in the book is a class of so-called classic psychedelics, that all operate on the same receptor sites in the brain -- serotonin 2A receptors, their tryptamines, most of them, not all of them. That's a certain class of molecule. And they include basically for my purposes, LSD, psilocybin, DMT, which is in ayahuasca, and then some handful of kind of more obscure ones. So I would not include, for example, MDMA or ecstasy, although some people do, or cannabis that some people consider a mild psychedelic. And the reason I limit it to that class is they have a similar neuroscience story and they have a similar social history, very much tied to this period in the ‘50s and ‘60s of active research followed by a crushing suppression. The one I would add to it, that's not a tryptamine, it's a phenethylamine, if I'm pronouncing that correctly as mescalin, and that's been around for longer actually than the others.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:48] Really?
Michael Pollan: [00:02:49] Yeah. It's in peyote, and it was isolated around 1900 and there was some interesting research done in Germany on mescalin, but it's not a substance I have much experience with it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:00] Yeah. Well, we'll talk about our experiences in a little bit. I've also not tried most of these, I shouldn't say most. I have a good portion of them I have not tried, and my experiences have been kind of strange on top of that. I always do wonder though, how did people find out about these things? You know, mushrooms, okay, you're hungry, you ate it. Whoa, that was not the same mushroom on my head yesterday. I get that. LSD quote unquote accidentally ingested, I don’t know 160 times or however many times he had accidentally ingested it.
Michael Pollan: [00:03:29] Albert Hoffman?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:30] Ah yeah. Didn’t he?
Michael Pollan: [00:03:31] Oh no, just once.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:31] Just once.
Michael Pollan: [00:03:32] He accidentally ingested at once, realized, “Hey, there's something going on here, this is a powerful substance.” Because he had had so little and it got in through his skin I think, that he then decided I got to take this deliberately.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:45] Deliberately, okay.
Michael Pollan: [00:03:46] And to see what was going on, and then he has the first acid trip.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:49] Gotcha.
Michael Pollan: [00:03:50] But yeah, mushrooms were discovered because everybody was trying everything. It was, you know, you were hungry and they were in very common use in Mexico, Central America for could be thousands of years. But we know at least 500 years, because the Spanish conquest when they came over to Mexico, people had mushroom cults and they were using them in their religions and tripping.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:15] To documented evidence of people.
Michael Pollan: [00:04:17] Oh yeah, they're in those accounts. People describe, I quote them in the book, “People having visions and comparing notes on their visions and visiting the dead and everything.” But LSD was more, it was an accident, but pretty quickly seized done as something that, I mean a lot of chemistry discoveries are accidents. Mescalin has been in use in traditional -- in the form of peyote, which is the natural form. It's the flower on a cactus, and there's another cactus called San Pedro that also makes it, and those have been used for a long time by Native American groups. We don't know exactly how long. So there's a lot of history behind psychedelics. I mean the Greeks had a psychedelic, it appears, Siberians use them in their sermonic practices, Amazon Indians used ayahuasca and other things they used psychoactive snuffs that had DMT in them, or something called 5-MeO-DMT another kind of DMT.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:17] That's one where I'm like, “How did you find this?” What is it--
Michael Pollan: [00:05:19] Well, I think that's a great question. I mean there is one psychedelic that I experimented with pretty obscure one is this 5-MeO-DMT. It's the smoked venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad. Now you might be tasting everything, but would you be smoking everything?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:36] Yeah, like were they just like, you know, I would eat this but I want to roast it first. I want to make sure I inhale all of the vapor.
Michael Pollan: [00:05:42] But if you eat it, it's toxic. So I mean, the reason you're burning it is to burn off the toxins. So we don't know exactly how that was discovered. It's not that ancient, that one. But the first scientific articles are written by Andrew Weil actually, and Wade Davis in the ‘70s, and it may be that they were the first to figure it out. The same chemical does show up in plants and is turned into a snuff, that's supposedly very powerful too. So it's another story of the ingenuity of our species that we've figured out, all the crazy things nature has to offer us through trial and error by and large.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:20] It makes you think about literature, things like books I read in high school, where somebody goes and travels into Haiti's and you're like, “Well, are you just tripping? What was this really?”
Michael Pollan: [00:06:29] Well, they may have been tripping. We shouldn't discard that possibility is very hard to prove, but--
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:35] Go ask Homer.
Michael Pollan: [00:06:36] But yeah, but the Greeks had this annual right called the Eleusinian Mysteries where everybody was in honor of Demeter and the harvest and everybody involved, and it was thousands of people every year went to this one temple and they had all these rites and rituals and they all took this substance. We don't know what it was, they called it the kykeon, K-Y-K-E-O-N, and you were supposed to keep it secret what happened. So there's not a lot written about it, but there's a few accounts and that this substance was very powerful and you would have visions and you would visit the dead. You would go to Hades, and psychedelics, there's a strong power of suggestions, so if you're telling 5,000 people, we're now going to visit our ancestors, a great many of those people will have that experience, it's that suggestible.
[00:07:30] For all we know, the whole religious impulse may have been nurtured by these substances or some substances like them. I mean, where else do you get an idea that there's a beyond, that there's another world that's not presented to our senses, but it's just as real and you might get to it after you die or through other means then through a psychedelic. I have very open mind that psychedelics have played a very important role in cultural history and planted ideas. Platonism and this idea that there's an ideal form of all the stuff around us. There's an ideal bottle of water next to this bottle of water somewhere. That's a pretty trippy idea too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:13] Yeah, I think a lot of it -- when you look at literature or theoretical stuff through the lens of was that person on some sort of a hallucinogenic or psychedelic?
Michael Pollan: [00:08:23] You should always be asking that question.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:24] You really end up with a lot more like, “Oh, I can see how they came up with that.” Right?
Michael Pollan: [00:08:27]Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:28] Do we know what the word actually means?
Michael Pollan: [00:08:30] It was invented or coined by Humphry Osmond, who was a English psychiatrist working in Saskatchewan and he was one of the pioneering psychedelic researchers. In 1957, he is having an exchange of letters with Aldous Huxley, the writer who he kind of got involved with because he was hoping someone would write a good account of what the experience was like. And he had actually given Huxley mescalin and the trip that became -- the wonderful book, The Doors of Perception was administered by Humphry Osmond. The drugs at that time were called psychotomimetics, that was kind of the first name, which meant mimicking psychosis.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:10] Yeah, that's more scary and less approachable.
Michael Pollan: [00:09:12] Yes. And that's what they thought they were at first. And certainly the symptoms closely resemble psychosis. If I describe my experience to a psychiatrist, he would say psychotic episode, and in fact, some psychiatrists have. But they realized at a certain point that these drugs didn't make you crazy, in fact in some cases they made you sane. So they needed a new name and they went back and forth, and actually it was Osmond who came up with the winning idea and it was psychedelic. And it's two words, it means mind, psyche and delic manifesting, so it's mind manifesting. And the idea is that these are amplifiers, a mental processes, and they bring to the surface things that are going on in your mind, and it kind of stuck. We think of it as a ‘60s word.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:53] [indiscernible] [00:09:53]
Michael Pollan: [00:09:52] The Psychedelic Sixties. Yeah, exactly. But in fact, it's a ‘50s word, and it has a lot of baggage. But when I was deciding what word to use in the book, you know, I looked at some others, some people are trying to call them entheogens, entheogens which means the divine within. But that's a very specific.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:10] It’s a little woo.
Michael Pollan: [00:10:11] It's woo. But it also is saying this is about spirit, this is about religion. It's about a lot of things, and that's just one. So I think psychedelic mind manifesting is general enough and a good word and people know -- you know pretty much know what it means.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:22] Now my wife saw you in the Vanishing of the Bees, she's a beekeeper. So that was a big sort of moment. And some of your books, most of your books are about like agricultural, botany, food, things like that. Why this sort of hard right turn or at least the appearance of a hard right turn into psychedelics?
Michael Pollan: [00:10:38] Yeah, I mean this book is a departure for me in some ways, but it's continuous in other ways. I've always been interested in our engagement with the natural world and other species and how we use them and how they use us. And in fact, I'd written about this abiding and universal desire of humans to change their consciousness for a long time. I wrote about in Botany of Desire, long chapter on cannabis. And I've always been curious about that desire because it doesn't seem on its face to be so helpful or adaptive. I mean yes to relieve pain or boredom of course, but we engage in much more radical forms of consciousness change, and I've always wanted to know what is it good for. And so that's been in the back of my mind is a topic. And then I started learning about this new research, the fact that they were giving -- I remember reading this paper or they were giving psilocybin to cancer patients and that seemed like to help them deal with their existential distress that they approach of death, and that was such a mind blowing idea. I thought, well I guess it's time to take a look at these, this class of drugs, because I had very little experience of it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:43] I don't know if I'd want it -- if I'm facing death, do I want to take something that's going to make me trip though?
Michael Pollan: [00:11:49] That's my reaction too. I would not -- you don't want to be so out of control. You would assume your thoughts would go to the darkest possible place, and they do actually. But people have found it enormously helpful. I talked to -- I must have talked to a dozen patients in this situation, and that they had journeys that really in many cases reset their thinking about their death and made it much less frightening. And we know now that these studies are complete, about 80 people I think have been through this, that in a high percentage of cases, most cases, people register's statistically significant decreases in their depression and anxiety. It's really remarkable because you know, antidepressants don't help people in that situation very well and we don't have very much to offer them. So what happened? I got very curious, why? Why should a single drug experience have such a profound effect on someone's outlook about something as big as death?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:51] And after it wears off too. It's not like they keep enduring.”
Michael Pollan: [00:12:53] Oh yeah, no it endures. It's not a pharmacological effect. It's an experiential or psychological effect. They're having an experience that you could think of it as, you could have a trauma and that resets your mind for possibly the rest of your life a very long time. The way it gets stored in memory and the emotional charge attached to it makes it radioactive. This is kind of the positive flip side of that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:20] Yeah, if you don't have a challenging trip.
Michael Pollan: [00:13:22] Yeah. And people do have challenging trips, but actually if you're having a guided trip, and it's really important to distinguish the ways in which psychedelics are used because there's a recreational way to use them. And I use that word advisedly because it's a little unfair, and then there's a kind of regulated therapeutic way to use them and they're very different experiences so that if you're having a bad experience on a guided trip, the guide can use it to help you explore difficult material, and in fact, they don't even use the word bad trip, they talk about a challenging trip. So it just means rich materials coming up and they know how to help you deal with your fear and the scariness of it, in ways that make it more productive than traumatic.
[00:14:08] So anyway, people would have an experience where they would see themselves in their life and their death from a new perspective. And what's interesting is the perspectives that people acquire on psychedelics, the insights you have, have an incredible authority. They're like revealed truth. They're not just an idea, like we have insights all the time and then they pass and we think, “Oh, that wasn't such a good idea.” Something about the way their consolidated in your memory, their objectively true, And this is true for the addicts as well as the people who are dying, that they come up -- they have an insight into their addiction. And it may be very banal, it could be as silly as well smoking really stupid thing to do. But suddenly it has, it's like the tablets have come down from the mountain. It's like, “Yes, smoking stupid thing to do. I'm never going to do it again,” and they never do it again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:01] Because internalize it instead of just going, “Yeah, yeah, I know that that's true.”
Michael Pollan: [00:15:04] There's no distinction between subjective and objective. I think that this is probably the key, this is my own speculation, but we live in a world where there's a mix of there, there are things that we understand to be objectively true, at least there used to be. And then there are things that are subjectively true and we have our subjectivity in the world is a world of objects. But on psychedelics as your ego dissolves to a considerable extent or completely.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:32] There'd be nothing left in me.
Michael Pollan: [00:15:33] Yeah. And so things are all objective, because that distinction is gone. So it's not just your idea, it's the idea.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:44] The idea, yeah.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:47] You're listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Michael Pollan. We'll get right back to the show after this brief word from our sponsors.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:53] This episode is sponsored in part by The Great Courses Plus. Look, you're listening to this podcast because you're bright, you're curious, you're eager to know more. So sign up for The Great Courses Plus and learn about anything that interests you with a -- it's a fantastic streaming service, really. It's got unlimited access to thousands of lectures in virtually any category from some of the world's best professors and experts from history, business, science, the arts. You can learn how to cook, speak a new language, you can watch them on your TV, laptop, smart phone, tablet, whatever. Or what I do as you listen along through The Great Courses Plus app, you switched from audio to video whenever you want, which is for me never, because you know what? I'm an auditory learner. I don't know if everyone is like that, but I don't need to watch somebody talk. I like to be outside in the sun when I learn about things I can change my life, and one that I recommend checking out, it’s called Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond. It's got a lot of great tips for applying the tools players use on the field to help make better decisions at work, at home or anywhere for that matter. And this is the perfect course to get started with The Great Courses Plus, or you can check out any of their lectures with this special offer, namely a free trial with unlimited access to watch and listen to their entire library, so sign up for your free trial. Thegreatgcoursesgplus.com/jordan. That's thegreatcourses plus.com/jordan.
[00:17:15] This episode is sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Oh my God! We have been using this forever. Jason, you've been using this for a while too, right?
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:21] Since the beginning, man! I loves me some Blue Apron.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:11] No, I didn't get that one unfortunately, but I love the show. They also do have Master Chef, which I did get, and I do love because I love that show too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:19] I haven't tried that yet, actually. Still in the fridge. So check out this week's menu and get your first three meals free at blueapron.com/jordan. That's blueapron.com/jordan for three meals free. You can't really beat that.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:34] Remember, Blue Apron, a better way to cook.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:36] Oh, I'll remember.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:38] Thanks for listening and supporting the show to learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/advertisers. We also have an Alexa Skill so you can get inspirational and educational clips from the show and your daily briefing. Go to jordanharbinger.com/alexa, or a search for Jordan Harbinger in the Alexa App. Now let's get trippy with it, with Michael Pollan and Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:01] You tried this at age 53 and I applaud you for diving into the subject matter of your books, but I'm 38, right? So I'm getting more and more risk averse, things I would have done eight years ago. I'm like, “Hell no, I'm not doing that.” And people go, “Oh, you went to North Korea four times. Did you ever go back?” And I'm thinking, “No.” And they go, “Why, because it's more dangerous now?” And I'm like, “No, I just don't -- it doesn't feel exciting. It feels dangerous.” And so I assume that was the case for you in your 50s doing this. I don't really think doing LSD is on the same plane is going, “All right, I'm going to eat organic tomatoes because I'm writing a book about gardening.”
Michael Pollan: [00:19:36] No! It didn't feel that way. It felt a lot scarier. I was nervous about it. One of the reasons I stayed away from psychedelics in my youth was I was afraid of them. I didn't know if I was stable enough to endure this assault. And I had heard all the horror stories in the ‘60s of people jumping out of windows and ending up in psych wards and I took a lot of that to heart. It turns out a lot of it was bullshit, but some of it wasn't, and so it's funny that I would become less risk averse as it went on. But I also felt like I had talked to these people that had these amazing experiences and I was kind of jealous of them. They were like, they had had these spiritual insights and I don't think I'd ever had a spiritual insight, and they had had a transformative experience. And there's an extent to which as you get older, you feel a little bit stuck and that you're -- you have grooves of mental habit that are just so well worn and they get the job done, they certainly make you very productive and functional, but you're a little tired of them. And I think the idea of -- I remember reading this phrase, one of the researchers I interviewed talked about the experiences akin to shaking the snow globe of your mind. I was like, “Hm.” It's a very gentle image, of course. I mean, you could argue it's a giant storm and everything gets tossed up, but it's settled so nicely, and so that became more and more compelling. And as the older you get, you do think about spiritual questions and you think about death.
[00:21:15] And so I think it had to do with where I was in my life. And in your 30s, 40s, they're often kids around. You're not going to -- you're not thinking about psychedelics, it's the last thing you're thinking about and you're at a different point in your career. And so it's funny, I've been at the time was right for me and there do seem to be these two windows for a lot of people. They really get into psychedelics in their 20s or teens, and then they drop it for a period of time because it also -- you're busy. It takes a whole day, and there's often some preparation and then there's the integration session after and you need some leisure time to do this. But I noticed a lot of people my age and older, I'm getting much more interested in it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:02] Do you have kids?
Michael Pollan: [00:22:02] I do. I have a son.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:04] Would you want him to do psychedelics?
Michael Pollan: [00:22:06] Well, he has.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:09] Fine, but did you encourage that or no?
Michael Pollan: [00:22:12] No. No. When he -- I would have been very concerned I think, when he was in high school, but he did experiment not extensively. And he told me about a couple of his experiences and he was on a Frisbee team. So, you get the picture.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:27] You play ultimate friends, all bets are off.
Michael Pollan: [00:22:31] And he had one bad experience with a friend, who has psilocybin experience. He told me about right after, and this was in college, early college where his friend decided they were hiking somewhere and his friend decided his arm was falling off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:47] Oh, that's in the middle of the woods?
Michael Pollan: [00:22:48] Yes. My son tried to convince his friend, your arm is fine. It's well attached, not to worry, but he couldn't, and this kid was just really freaking out. They finally ended up in a parking lot at this trail head and they have to persuade this woman, Isaac -- my son has to persuade this woman could she drive them to his friend's pediatrician's office?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:10] What?
Michael Pollan: [00:23:11] They’re like 22.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:12] Yeah, this lady must've been like, “So let me get this straight, you guys ate a bunch of mushrooms. Your friend thinks his arms falling off, and now you want to get in the car with me?”
Michael Pollan: [00:23:19] Yeah, and they did. And she drove them there, and the pediatrician size things up pretty quickly and said, “Just sit in the waiting room, you'd be fine.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:26] Here's my prescription is you’re really high. You need to read some highlights for children in my wing.
Michael Pollan: [00:23:32] But in fact, when a doctor tells you you're fine, it changes everything, and he was fine. There's a story I'd tell him the book about -- there was this belief that people were having these psychotic breaks on when they would freak out on LSD. And Andrew Weil the doctor goes to -- has just graduated from medical school at Harvard, and he goes out to volunteer at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic 1968, lots of people having bad trips, ending up at this clinic, and he's had a lot of experience of psychedelics in college and after. And he kind of recognizes what's going on, so he would get one of these kids who thought they were actually going crazy or we're going to die into the little cubicle. And he had on his lab coat and his stethoscope around his neck and his clip boarding, asked him a few questions and then he would say, “Will you excuse me? There's someone in real trouble in the next room.” And as soon as they heard that someone was more fucked up than they were, their panic attack subsided because he realized this is just a panic attack. Panic attacks can be truly scary, but that's all they are. And if a doctor, someone without authority tells you you're actually not that sick, it will often subside. So he found the cure for at least some kinds of bad traits.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:51] He’s got Sudoku on the clipboard, the stethoscope hasn't worked in years.
Michael Pollan: [00:24:55] That's right. It's all a costume.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:57] Yeah, that's -- that is interesting. I like the suggestibility angle. I actually, as a former attorney, well currently a lawyer, but as a former practicing attorney, I want to add -- I don't want to look like we're advocating people do this stuff, especially without proper legal.
Michael Pollan: [00:25:12] It’s illegal. Did we mention that it is illegal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:13] Yeah, it is illegal. Maybe it's not the best of reasons, but it also can be dangerous. I'd love to start with the risks because I think a lot of people go, “Well, look, psychedelics are non-addictive and so it's all good man.
Michael Pollan: [00:25:27] Yeah. So they are non-addictive, that's important to understand. Your desire after a big psychedelic experience, your first thought is, “Gee, when can I do this again?” It's really, do I ever have to do it again? Because it's so intense.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:41] It’s like going to the gym, you don't really want to go work out right after that. You want to lay on the couch.
Michael Pollan: [00:25:45] Exactly. And then, you know, because I looked at this question, I was very concerned about the health effects. I like talked to my cardiologist about it, before I did anything.
I was really surprised to learn that in terms of your body, physiologically, they're remarkably low toxicity. There are drugs in your medicine cabinet that have a lethal dose over the counter drugs.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:12] There’s booze in my cupboard that hasn't been moved up.
Michael Pollan: [00:26:14] That's right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:14] And it present in the cupboard.
Michael Pollan: [00:26:15] That's right. But the Tylenol does too. And it's not as high as you'd imagine. It's dozen pills, something like that, but there are risks. So the risks are not physical. The risks are, except in so far as you might do something stupid and endanger your body. The risks are psychological. The fact is you are debilitated for a period of time and you don't want to be walking around on city streets and you don't want to put yourself in a car. And so people do stupid things and get hurt or killed on psychedelics. Some people who probably are already at risk for mental illness can be tripped into a psychotic episode.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:59] How do you know if where in that camp?
Michael Pollan: [00:27:01] Well, they, you know, in the above ground trials, they screen people very carefully and they look at the mental health of people in your genetic line. I mean, they go back and ask you, is there any signs of mental illness in your family? Looking for any genetic markers that might signal that you're vulnerable to schizophrenia, because schizophrenia doesn't show up until you're either you're around 20, or around 30, usually. And this experience, any big experience can trip it off. I mean, divorce of parents can do it, graduate school can do it commonly, but psychedelics can do it too. So if there's any risk, if there's any kind of personality disorders that you've been diagnosed with, bipolar usually not recommended, and if you're on a psychoactive drugs like a SSRIs. It's not that it's dangerous, but it won't work very well. And they kind of -- they occupy the same receptor sites.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:00] So that blocked the whole thing.
Michael Pollan: [00:28:01] Right. And there, and people have these dud trips sometimes if they're on SSRI, so you're encouraged to get off of SSRI, but that has its own set of risks, of course, of suicide and things like that. So the risks are psychological, and that you could have a really terrifying experience. And you know I met lots of people who had happy experiences with LSD until they didn't, and then they had a terrifying experience that went on way too long and LSD does last a very long time, and then they just didn't want to go near it again. That it was traumatizing in a way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:34] I think it was Sam Harris who said, “He had all these great benefits and then he had one time where he was like, ‘this outweighs all of the benefits that I've achieved.’ I'm never doing this again.”
Michael Pollan: [00:28:44] Yeah. And that, that's always out there. And because you had good experiences, doesn't mean you always will have good experiences. That said though, doing it in the company of a guide diminishes the odds of having a bad experience, you can't quickly recover from. They're very good about, -- they give you these flight instructions that are actually very helpful and that they tell you, if you see anything scary, don't run away. And it's really fighting what's happening in your mind that leads to the kind of anxiety and paranoia people experience and their main advices go toward whatever it is, even if it's terrifying, open that that doorway, go down that stairs. And if you do that, if you don't resist, it will usually morph into something much more positive and even beautiful, but it is the, the fight or flight instinct that gets people into trouble.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:38] How do we find a guide? Because what's dangerous is since it's illegal, we've got people, and I get an invite like this in my inbox every other week. “Hey, my friend is a shaman.” And I'm like, “Is your friend 20 years old and lives in his parents' basement? Because he's not a shaman?” And just because you met somebody who speaks Spanish, they're not a shaman either. So what's going on?
Michael Pollan: [00:30:01] Yeah, so there are two ways to approach this experience or three ways. One is volunteer from one of the trials going on. There's going to be a lot of research going on in the next year or two. And then you're doing it at you know --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:14] And then you’re a shaman. Congratulations.
Michael Pollan: [00:30:17] But you're doing it in a medical institution with people who have antidotes and access to hospitals and it's incredibly safe. I would have done that in a second. I couldn't, I didn't qualify for whatever they were studying. But there's a big study of alcoholism going on in New York. They're going to be big studies of depression in general, treatment resistant depression. There may be an eating disorder study and then there are still studies with healthy normals trying to calculate what the best dose is. So I have a lot of resources on the website, my website, michaelpollan.com where you can go and see, this is how you can find out if there's a trial in your area that you might be eligible for this.
[00:30:53] There's a trial for religious professionals. If you're a Hindu priest or [emon] [00:30:57] they're looking for you. They want to give you psilocybin, and see what happens. So that's one way. They're having trouble with those two categories. They’ve got plenty of rabbis.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:08] But yeah, rabbis are like, where do we -- yeah, where can we get --
Michael Pollan: [00:31:11] Where do we sign up?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:12] Half of Brooklyn is in the trial.
Michael Pollan: [00:31:14] So it's a very interesting trial, but different religions have different rules about intoxicants in some regard. This is an intoxicant, although I don't know if that's a proper word for it, so that's one. Underground, there are -- I was surprised to learn that there are -- I don't know how many, but probably in the hundreds of very serious professional underground therapists with a lot of experience, even though they're operating illegally, but many of them are trained psychologists, therapists of other kinds, and they really believe in this, and they're willing to take enormous risks to give it to their, their patients or their clients. How do you find those people? Well, you know, as a journalist, I did it by asking around. I asked my friends and friend of a friend of a friend, work with somebody and I got an introduction and went and interviewed them. And then you get into a community and people start referring you, but I can't make any referrals.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:10] Sure, yeah, please don’t.
Michael Pollan: [00:32:11] Yeah. No, it's too dangerous to everybody involved, but yeah, you should be careful because they're going to be a lot of people now with the popularity of this work hanging up shingles and saying their shamans are therapists and they may not be. And so you have to interview people carefully and feel really comfortable with them. My worry is with the underground therapy as it [Bergens] [00:32:33] which I think it is about to do is that, it's one on one. And so if you're with somebody who isn't trustworthy, I mean there's risk of sexual assault, bad things could happen. Above ground, there's always a male and a female guide to prevent that kind of thing happening. But you know, you're not in a position to defend yourself very well, so you're in a very vulnerable position. That's the essence of the experience is putting down your defense is basically to have a good experience. So people should be really careful. They can travel other places where it is legal. It's legal to use psilocybin in Amsterdam. There are truffles there that people use and they’re groups, the Psychedelic Society of United Kingdom organizes group sessions, and so all legal. You can go to Costa Rica. There's a mushroom retreat in Jamaica. There's an -- I don't know the legal status there, but it's safe.
[00:33:34] There are places in Mexico where you can go use ayahuasca, or Peru or you know. So there are options, and then there -- some people get their friends to guide them, if they have a friend who they trust and is psychologically skilled person. They're manuals on how to guide, a very good book called The Psychedelic Explorer's Manual that if you want to figure out how to do this or trade that favor with a friend, you could do that. So I can't recommend any of these things. It's not for everybody, and so I am very reluctant to proselytize in any way. I interviewed a lot of people for whom it was enormously helpful, and I learned a lot myself. I'm so happy I went on this journey. I know things that I didn't know before. I had some of the more profound experiences of my life due to a molecule, how amazing is that?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:31] They experienced though isn't really in the molecule, right? It's already in your brain. So how do these things work, right? That sort of leads to that question. How are they working? Because you're not taking something that's making you feel a certain way. You're shutting some things off -- you're going inside your brain and doing this with all the switches and flipping them up and down kind of.
Michael Pollan: [00:34:48] Or you're removing various inhibiting functions of your brain. There are -- you know, the brain is a really complicated system. You would think it would be an archaic and there's so much going on. There are hundreds of different networks. They're each putting out electrical impulses, chemical, chemical communications. It is probably the most complex thing we know of in the universe, in terms of the sheer amount of activity going on and numbers of neurons and what they're each capable of. So to keep things in order, there are these very regularly, -- they're various regulatory devices, and one of them is something called the default mode network, which I write about at some length. It’s really interesting set of structures that I didn't know about. I'd never heard of the default mode network, and indeed nobody had 20 years ago. It was discovered fairly recently. There's been a revolution in brain science where they went from thinking their regions that are responsible for specific things, and we can find the region for depression or the region for vision. But it turns out it's -- everything's networked. Even a memory involves could involve six or seven different parts of your brain communicating.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:01] That's interesting.
Michael Pollan: [00:36:02] It's not all localized. So the default mode network is a regulatory set of structures that's in the midline. It connects this -- the prefrontal cortex, which is the executive function where you make decisions to older, deeper structures involved in memory and emotion. It appears to be involved in functions related to the sense of self, a self-reflection, self-criticism, time travel, the ability to think about your future or your past, which is very important in having a sense of self. Without time you don't have sense of self.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:37] Seems very human somehow.
Michael Pollan: [00:36:38] Very human. And most of the -- the default mode network may be unique to humans or us in higher primates. Even kids don't have a well-developed one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:49] Really?
Michael Pollan: [00:36:49] until really late in childhood. And it's involved in a what's called theory of mind, which is the ability to attribute a mental state to another person, which is very important to moral reasoning, empathy, compassion, things like that. And something called the narrative or autobiographical self. The place where we generate stories about who we are, where we take information from the world and tie it into whatever we know about ourselves to make a coherent story. Because that's what a self is, it's a coherent story over time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:21] Right, there it is.
Michael Pollan: [00:37:22] Yeah, you're a character, you're a character in the story. So what psychedelics appear to do is diminish activity in this network and take it offline temporarily, which is quite surprising. It's not what they expected to find that when they started -- and we know this from brain imaging, FMRI imaging of people on psychedelics, which is not a perfect technology, but the best we have in humans to study what's going on in the brain. And there are a couple of other imaging technologies that I've also been used to confirm these findings. But this network seems to go quiet, and when it does, basically as one researcher put it, the rest of the brain is led off the leash. And so parts of the brain that don't ordinarily talk to one another strike up conversations without going through this central regulating hub. And so you get say your sense of sound communicating with your visual cortex. So maybe you can see sounds.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:19] You get some synesthesia going on.
Michael Pollan: [00:38:21] Synesthesia, yeah. And that's a very powerful effect of it. And memories bubble up, repression is gone. So what's going on in your brain is stuffing your brain. It's not stuff in that molecule as you said, but it's taking brakes off and lots of material comes up, and material comes in because a big part of perception is editing the flood of data from the world. And we probably block out as much as we let in, and because it would be overwhelming the flood of information in any given moment the things that are going on that you have to block out to function.
[00:38:58] So you're letting in more information, it's coming up from above and it's very chaotic and confusing. And the brain is interesting that it is -- it's always trying to impose order on disorder. And so one of the things it does is create narratives for what's happening. So you see faces in the clouds, you know, they're not there, but your brain is trying to make sense of this field, and that may contribute to hallucination. And so there's this wonderful push pole because the brain is always imposing models on reality, and reality is always imposing stuff on brains and that handshake breaks down. And so basically you're introducing a high level of disorder into this ordered system.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:45] That can be a lot.
Michael Pollan: [00:39:45] And that can be, you know, that can be terrifying, but it can also be incredibly productive.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:39:50] We'll be right back with more from Michael Pollan after this microdose of messages from our sponsors.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:44] I was talking with Dr. David Eagleman, are you familiar with him at all?
Michael Pollan: [00:42:42] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:42] So he's a neuroscientist out of out of Stanford, and he taught us how sensors work and essentially and I'm going to just put this all into one sentence. But basically your brain is interpreting everything around you, right? Your eyes are this sort of physical gear, but your eyes don't say, “All right, I'm looking at this and this is a camera and dah, dah, dah.” They're just saying, “Here's a bunch of electrical impulses,” and then your brain says, “I'm going to ignore all of that because I know the floor's there.”
Michael Pollan: [00:43:09] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:10] My feet feel it. We're good. I'm not going to bother looking at it. Which is why when we leave this room, if I didn't tell you to look at the carpet, you wouldn't even notice that it was gray--
Michael Pollan: [00:43:18] Of the color.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:18] Because it's completely irrelevant to our current mode of what we're doing. And so when we take things like psychedelics, our brain might try to impose a model on that, but it also might not know what to ignore. And it might also say if you're -- if you've got the wall down, the curtain between sound and taste down, you think, “Wow! That that loud sound really does taste so strongly of something that I can't describe and that you've never tasted before,” so it seems novel. In your brain does this all the time, and in fact, in people who don't take psychedelics, also there's elements of synesthesia in certain people. They go to the doctor and they say things that are pink make me feel sick. And it's like, “What are you talking about?” They sound crazy. But your brain just -- there's a hole in the wall, between sound and touch or taste.
Michael Pollan: [00:44:06] Exactly right. And what you're describing are whats’ called priors. I mean that we have these -- we take in the minimal amount of information we need to say, “Oh, face got these two little black spots and this and this and that.” And so it's very efficient, so you're not, you know, you don't have to like start scratch and build up a picture every time you see something because you've seen most things before or version of it. And then there's this error correction feature of, “Oh, that kind of face,” male face, not female face, whatever, and that process breaks down. And it's amazing to what extent our everyday normal perceptions are a hallucination, a controlled hallucination corrected by reality, but it's an illusion spun in our minds. And there's an experiment I did in the book, I tried to do under the influence of psilocybin, didn't work out too well. But if you go online and look for the rotating mask experiment, it's really interesting. So it's an image of that hollowed out mask that's used in the drama, you know, symbol of that happy and sad. But it's one of those masks and it's on a turn table and so it begins a convex and it starts turning until you see the back of it and it's concave, but it doesn't get more than, I don't know 20 percent of the way around that it pops out and it becomes convex again. Because your brain insists on seeing all faces as convex. It's never seen a concave face. And since you were a little baby in your mother's lap, and faces do certain things and the brain will lie to you about what it's seeing to make it conform to its model.
[00:45:47] Well, the theory is it didn't work for me, but other researchers say that, in fact that pop out effect doesn't happen on psychedelics, that you've disabled the models and you're actually seeing in some cases more accurately. One of the things people talk about is how your visual field changes and you see traces when you turn your head say on psychedelics, and somebody was explaining to me that a visual image is, has so much processing involved. I mean is what you were saying earlier, that you're taking in these electrical and light impulses, and it's a chaotic field and you're imposing and you're organizing and we have all this error correction for movement, especially otherwise you couldn't move, you'd be car sick all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:33] Sure, sure.
Michael Pollan: [00:46:33] And that breaks down, and so what looks like distorted visual field may be accurate.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:40] Right. I'm just going to say maybe the rest of the time we're hallucinating because--
Michael Pollan: [00:46:43] That's it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:44] You know, the streets aren't doing anything.
Michael Pollan: [00:46:46] Let me clean this up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:47] Let me clean those up.
Michael Pollan: [00:46:47] Let me Photoshop this whole scene, and that's always happening. And so that's -- one of the things that's so interesting about psychedelics is it teaches us these kinds of things about the brain by disturbing the normal operations. And one way to understand a complex system is disturb it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:05] That sort of explains why when often when people are on any drug, psychedelic or otherwise, but especially in psychedelics, they can stare at things -- I think it was also Sam Harris who was like looking at a TV guide or something and going, “Wow! This is incredible.” It was like Dick Van Dyke or something, right? And you know, you'll see something and even the stereotype of this stoner or the tripping hippy is they're looking at something like a rock and they're like, “Oh, it's so amazing. Look at that!”
Michael Pollan: [00:47:33] This is the best rock ever!
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:34] This is the best rock I've ever seen! Yeah.
Michael Pollan: [00:47:35] Well, you know, our brains normally are attuned for novelty, right? I mean, that's the adaptive thing to see threats, see changes in your environment and they're tuned to discount the familiar. And one of the things that happens, and this is true on marijuana too, but certainly on psychedelics, -- is the familiar becomes fascinating and that tuning changes, and actually in marijuana, they've done this research and found that the novelty centers go down and the whatever centers deal with the potential networks that deal with familiar stuff in your environment go way up. And that's -- you know, yes, there's a Cheech and Chong kind of side to that, definitely.
[00:48:13] But on the other hand, the familiar is really important. We take so much for granted. And one of the things I was so struck by is these incredibly banal feelings I had. I described them as like stuff on a hallmark card. I mean, these feelings of love for people in my life and it's always there, but I don't think about it because it's familiar and so to revalue novelty and familiarity in that way is very interesting psychological experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:46] Are there non-pharmacological ways to kind of expand our consciousness in this way.
Michael Pollan: [00:48:51] Absolutely. I mean, I'm very interested in exploring those and I may do something on that next. But the one I -- well two that I explore a little bit in this book is one is there's something called holotropic breathwork, which is a breathing exercise that was invented or, but it's really a composite of lots of traditions, native American drumming and yogic breathing and things like that. That was invented by Stan Grof, Stanislav Grof, who was a very important psychedelic psychiatrist in the ‘60s. And when LSD, which he was using in his practice was made illegal, he was looking for illegal alternative, and he came up with this. And it's the most uncanny thing that you basically learn this breathing pattern, very rapid breathing with a deeper exhalation and inhalation with drumming sounds. And it will put most people into a trance within a few minutes. It's remarkable, that feels a lot like a psychedelic experience, but it has much more physical, your body is moving involuntarily.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:53] That's interesting.
Michael Pollan: [00:49:53] Very spooky. Meditation for some people. I mean, if you really do the work and you meditate and you do like silent retreats for 10 days and really immerse yourself in that, people have psychedelic experiences and they're very similar. And by the way, they're very similar on brain scans. The experienced meditators mind while meditating looks a lot like someone on psilocybe and meditating. The same network I was describing earlier. The default mode network is deactivated in meditation. And that feeling of selflessness or merging with something larger than your ego is common to both experiences, even though they feel very different in other ways. Some people prayer can get into a psychedelic state or an altered state of consciousness. Starvation, I mean people who cut way back or high altitude. I mean I think we'll find that there are various things we do that essentially starve the default mode network of oxygen or blood, and put us--
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:58] Literality. Yeah.
Michael Pollan: [00:50:58] Yeah. And put us into this state. Self-flagellation, all these things that medieval monks did were putting themselves in this state. And so I think we've only begun to understand all the different ways we can alter consciousness and that these other states that seems so exotic and are so strange there, they're really just like, as William James said, “Parted by this little filmy curtain from everyday normal consciousness.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:32] Yeah. I think that it's fascinating and important, especially now that the science is coming out, that we're able to use this at least in the beginning to treat things like PTSD, depression, mental illness. Can we speak to that a little? Because I know that they, even a while ago, I'd been trying LSD for things like alcoholism. You brought up a trial earlier.
Michael Pollan: [00:51:46] In the ‘50s, they did, and now they're doing it again with psilocybin. So to me, that's the most important thing. I mean, what you learned about yourself in the mind is great, really very compelling. But the fact is a lot of people are suffering. A huge number of people are suffering. Rates of depression are up, rates of addiction are up, rates of suicide are up dramatically in this country, and depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide according to the WHO.
[00:52:21] And the mental health tools we have are just not very good. SSRIs help some people for a while, but over time they're not as effective, that's why doctors are always changing SSRIs. They have side effects people really hate, they're very hard to get off. And you know, that's the last big innovation in mental health care, going back to the ‘90s. And mental health is only -- mental health care is only reaching about half of the people who need it. So we need more tools, and these drugs appear so far in, in what are still preliminary studies. Phase one, phase two, they appear to offer a lot to people struggling with anxiety and depression, to people struggling with addiction, to people struggling with obsessions of various kinds that might include OCD or eating disorders. And that there is a class of mental illness characterized by rigidity in thinking, where people are really stuck.
[00:53:29] I was talking earlier about these stories we tell ourselves, people get stuck in a story, like I can't get through the day without a cigarette. I'm unworthy of love. I'm a bad person. My body -- I'm overweight even when you're not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:41] Right. Eating disorders.
Michael Pollan: [0:53:43] Eating disorders, and what psychedelics appear to do is help people break out of those habits of thought, which are reinforced by the ego in the default mode network. Depression may be the result of an overactive default mode network with this self-rumination that's going on that you can't break out of these loops of thinking about yourself and what's wrong with yourself. And that closes off the world in a way. And so to relax that, to lubricate cognition as these drugs seem to do give people a chance to rewrite those stories and realize, get some perspective on them and realize, you know, that story just isn't true, and I don't have to be at slave.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:31] It seems useful, I know you'd said something in the book about OCD, which that was surprising to me because I guess when I think of things like OCD, I'm not really imagining the extreme situations. I'm just thinking about the people I went to law school with, which is where it was like highly functional and we're like, “Oh man, if I only had that much -- if I only had OCD been so much better off, yeah.
Michael Pollan: [00:54:46] That much focus, right? Look, all the mental illness I've been describing are on a spectrum and we're all on that spectrum, right? At one point or another. It just gets out of control for people. It's when it -- it's when that OCD makes it impossible for you to ever leave your house without dry -- you know, going five miles coming back to check the burners, or I mean, all the crazy rituals people get into that, that debilitate them or suck up all their time in life. And there's a wonderful one man show by an actor, comedian named Adam Strauss called the Mushroom Cure, and it's all about his OCD. And it's an incredible advocation of OCD, and how he used mushrooms to get over it or reduce its effects. It's been playing on and off in L.A. and San Francisco, and I think it's in New York now for a while. But if you want a taste of that, he evokes OCD in a profound way.
[00:55:43] So, but you know, OCD like these other things may just be a result of rigidity in our minds, and that the mind is, it can be too chaotic or anarchic, but it also can be too ordered. You can have too much order in your mind and that -- think about creativity, you need a certain looseness in cognition to be really creative, to think outside the box. If you're stuck in these narrow grooves of thought, you're not going to have a new idea. You're going to have the old idea over and over and over again. And so that is very interesting work that remains to be done looking at psychedelics and creativity. There was some work done in the ‘60s on that and they tried to study it. hard to do, because I don't even think we have a good definition of creativity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:25] Probably not, no.
Michael Pollan: [00:56:25] Yeah. And so it's a very elusive concept, and is creativity and engineering the same as creativity in the arts? I don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:33] Yeah, hardly. I'm sure Jeff Sessions is just jonesing, is pitching to get these trials kicked off.
Michael Pollan: [00:56:39] Yeah. So I mean, it's just opened up this very interesting frontier and I hope, I hope it continues. I hope the research is allowed to continue. So far the government hasn't interfered and people are getting funding. It's private. I mean, there's no NIH money in studying psychedelics yet. Although in England, some of the big medical charities have been donating to the work. But here it's been private mostly Silicon Valley money that's supporting it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:07] Yeah. No, no big surprise there.
Michael Pollan: [00:57:08] No, burners. Burners are the big supporters.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:16] And this has been getting, I don't mean this in a pejorative sense, it's really been trending up. I don't want to say being trendy because that sort of cheapens it, but it has been trending up. And I mean even a couple of years ago, I remember microdosing with the thing and I was talking with Vice News because I knew not necessarily I knew some entrepreneurs. It was like every entrepreneur in the tech space and even adjacent to it was, “Hey, I want to microdose, which bottles are you using?” And all this stuff. And I'll admit I tried it and I went, “I don't need this. This is not for me.” All it did was make me feel over caffeinated and--
Michael Pollan: [00:57:43] Oh, jittery, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:44] And I don't need more energy. I need to relax. And microdosing is not the way to know that.
Michael Pollan: [00:57:56] Yeah. You know microdosing, I talk about it a little bit in the book, but in the end I just felt, I really stuck close to the science here in this book, even though there's a personal dimension, historical dimension. So I didn't want to write about things about which we had no good scientific data, and the fact is we don't have any good scientific data on microdosing. We have anecdotal reports and some of them are encouraging, but going back to this point about suggestibility, it could well be a placebo effect. Now that you know, that's fine and maybe the research will ruin the placebo effect if it doesn't turn up anything. But I don't know what to say about it except maybe, you know, let's see.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:28] Yeah, maybe.
Michael Pollan: [00:58:28] Let's do some research and there are some trials getting started. I think there's one getting started in England that they're going to look at microdosing, so we may learn a lot more. You know, to me though, the idea of microdosing seems like you're taking this, it's so of our time because you're taking this transformative, disruptive experience, and you're turning it into a productivity drug.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:55] Yeah, exactly. Like what's the minimal amount I can do to get more work done? So it's like manual.
Michael Pollan: [00:58:55] It's the, you know, it's the ingenuity of capitalism once again to like, let's take this disruptive force and make people work better.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:03] Right. Like you don't need coffee. You get [indiscernible][00:59:04]. You can just microdose twice a week.
Michael Pollan: [00:59:08] It seems like a shame. I mean, it seems like not a great use of this resource.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:11] It’s a waste of LSD, people. Just save it up and use it all on a Saturday.
Michael Pollan: [00:59:16] Yeah. So my book is mostly about macrodose.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:18] Right, macrodosing exactly. The smoking stuff, the quitting smoking stuff is really interesting. I think you had mentioned that it's upwards of 60 percent effective in this sort of limited trials that they've done.
Michael Pollan: [00:59:29] Yeah. So they've done a pilot study that was small as 15, 20 people and it was effective, it's either 60 or 80 percent of people who were absent and 67 percent were abstinent after a year, remarkable.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:44] It’s like three times the best drug they had.
Michael Pollan: [00:59:46] The best drug now is, I don't know what it, but either the patch or Shan text or something like that. It's like 20 percent. it's a really tough addiction to break, and they did well. And I interviewed a lot of these people and they told these amazing stories that don't really explain anything to me. I mean this, I remember interviewing this one woman, she was Irish and she's a book editor. She's in her early ‘60s, and she said, “I sprouted wings and I flew all through European history and I witnessed these amazing scenes of European history. And I died three times and I saw my body rise from a funeral Pyre on the Ganges, and I was there at the dawn of creation. And I realized the world is full of such amazing things to see and do that killing yourself with smoking seem really dumb.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:35] And that's kind of like this really white circle.
Michael Pollan: [01:00:37] Yeah, a long way to go to get that idea, right? But for her it was -- she, you know, it wasn't her, somebody else described, it was like the camera on the scene of my life been pulled back to a further place than it ever had before. And I could see what I was doing in this larger context and it didn't make any sense, and it's helping people quit. And I'm really curious to see what happens with this big alcoholism study at NYU. We have such a problem with alcoholism and if it can help and this was an idea hatched in the ‘50s, actually Bill W., the founder, co-founder of AA had psychedelic therapy in L.A and he really thought it had a role to play. In fact, even brought it to AA and said, “This should be part of the what we do.” And his fellow board members were like, “Are you crazy?”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:34] Yeah, there are pseudo religious, aren't they?
Michael Pollan: [01:01:31] Well, they are pseudo religious, but I don't think that was the problem so much of they're just so hostile to and toxicants. Because it's sort of the point, that using a drug to deal with an addiction seems wrong. Just kind of intuitively, even though it isn't necessarily the case. But so anyway, so they rejected that idea.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:53] It’s a shame.
Michael Pollan: [01:01:54] The spirituality of AA is, it is a very generic spirituality and it's totally consistent with the spirituality of psychedelics. So it's all just about a higher power, it's not about God. And I always thought that AA had a Christian overlay, but in fact it's a psychedelic overlay, because Bill W., he got sober on a psychedelic experience in the 30s. And that idea of giving yourself over to the higher power, the hostility to the ego, the idea that you had to surrender and let go this illusion of control, these are all ideas that come out of psychedelic experience. So it totally changed my understanding of AA.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:37] Well, maybe when the science comes up and you can get LSD from a doctor, then maybe the tune will change a little bit.
Michael Pollan: [01:02:43] It might, it absolutely might. I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, we'll see. We'll see if this trial works. In the ‘50s, they were getting good results in about 50 percent of people treated with LSD for alcoholism.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:54] I mean that's huge.
Michael Pollan: [01:02:55] Yeah, it would be huge. It could be a real game changer on addiction. but as I say, we still need to do more research before we can say this with any kind of certainty.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:03] I've heard the FDA has asked for trials with, which I don't -- does that happen a lot? It doesn't seem like it happens a lot.
Michael Pollan: [01:03:08] Well, you go into the FDA. I mean, what happened was that, people who had done pilot studies and small studies of -- the cancer anxiety study and another depression study, go to the FDA and say, “Now we want to go to phase three on what we were doing, which was treating cancer patients.” And apparently what happened is that the people at the FDA at this -- it's a kind of an advise meeting vise meeting, said, “Yyou're getting a real signal here that this may be helpful in depression and we want you to test it in the general public, not just the dying.” So they were actually asked to expand the scope of their ambition. And I think that's a measure of the fact that the FDA knows there's not lot of work being done to come up with new medicines for depression. Big pharma is not doing this work, they're not -- they're disinvesting in mental health drugs if anything. And so the FDA would love to see some new pharmaceuticals involved. So we'll see, we'll see how it goes. There's reason to believe it would work better in the depression of people dying than in depression in general in that it is an existential or spiritual crisis that's causing the depression, and depression may be have a variety of different costs.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:25] Sure, yeah.
Michael Pollan: [01:04:30] So it may not work equally well on all of them. But we'll see, I mean, there was a small depression study in England of treatment resistant depression that got very good results, but they were short term, they didn't last very long. People after a month or two started to descend again into their depression. But even a drug that helped people for that first month could avert suicides, could be very significant.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:50] Even if it only works for a few weeks or a few, even a couple of days, that's all it takes to get through things.
Michael Pollan: [01:04:57] You get people through a crisis. And frankly, even if you had a treatment that had to be renewed every six months or every year, you know, that doesn't seem unreasonable.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:07] There are worse things than, and worst side effects and worse ways to incur costs than to go to a retreat supervised by a doctor once every three to six months and wolf down some mushrooms or whatever.
Michael Pollan: [01:05:24] Well, they actually use pills in these studies.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:22] Yeah, [indiscernible][01:05:22]
Michael Pollan: [01:05:22] But it's the same chemical. So anyway, I'm excited and to see what happens. I think the next three to five years in this area of research is going to be, tell us a lot. And a lot of the research is I'm talking to who are real sober types, think we are on the verge of a revolution in mental health care, which is would be such a boon to a humanity at this moment because the world's making people crazy and sad and anxious and we need help. Now, we could change the world too, that would help too.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:56] Of course.
Michael Pollan: [01:05:57] In the short term, this -- I think this is important.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:59] Why do the -- we touched on this earlier in the episode, why do the effects last so long after the drugs wear off? What's going on there?
Michael Pollan: [01:06:07] I think it's that your point of view has changed and that you've had -- I mean, we don't know. I mean, the real answer your question is who knows? Everything should go away after the experience. But as I said earlier, like a trauma, when you have a powerful experience, it's really engraved in memory. And one of the reasons you go back for an integration session with your guide is to reinforce certain things that happened and say, “You know that insight, that's something you could really apply to your life.” And the more you exercise that, the more you think about that experience you had, that's learning. That's how learning works in the brain, and you're creating a new circuit, a new memory, and the more times you think back on it, the stronger it becomes. And so it may be something like that. So this insight about the world is too wonderful to waste, you know, waste years of your life because you're a smoker. That idea now as accompanied by all that amazing imagery that she had and all those great experiences she had that it is reinforced and become stronger and stronger and stronger.
[01:07:18] So that's just a theory. It remains to be understood. There are experiments being done now where you image the brains of people before and after the psychedelic experience, to see if there are any changes at the level of cell connections. There was a very interesting study just released in cell magazine. It was done at Davis where they gave -- I think they gave it to insects and rats or mice, psychedelics. And what they saw is that their neurons branched more, more connections were formed.
There was growth in a kind of plasticity that nobody expected to see, and so maybe new connections are forming and that these new connections encode these new insights.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:01] That's incredible. I mean the idea that we could possibly increase neuroplasticity in adults is huge.
Michael Pollan: [01:08:09] Yeah, it is. And it has implications obviously for dementia, failing memories from other causes and that, -- so who knows, I mean you're talking about a single experience how much influence could it have on the branching of neurons. Hard to say, but maybe that would argue for microdosing to get this little vitamin every day that's encouraging your brain cells to branch. But we're speculating at this point.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:45] Right, yeah, we don't necessarily know that that's the case. I think it was Stan Grof who you'd mentioned earlier that said “Psychedelics will be for the study of the mind, what the microscope was for biology or the telescope for astronomy.” That's a bold statement. It's very exciting, but it's a pretty bold statement.
Michael Pollan: [01:09:01] You know, when I first started this research, I read that statement and I thought, “That is so audacious. That's crazy!” I don't think it's so crazy anymore. I think that this is opening a window on consciousness that -- and we have very few windows on consciousness. Consciousness is very hard to study and it's a huge mystery. We do not know how brains produce consciousness, the feeling of being you, where does that come from? And indeed, we do not know for sure that it is brains that produce consciousness. There are many people who believe that consciousness is a property of the universe, that it's in the world and we access it in some sense. So it's more like electromagnetism or gravity or one of those, or light, I don't know that seems implausible to me. I tend to think brains produce consciousness, but that may be just because that's what everybody's told me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:51] That's what your brain is telling you.
Michael Pollan: [01:09:47] Yeah. You always have to be suspicious.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:50] That's right. The brain just takes -- it's happy to take credit for everything.
Michael Pollan: [01:09:53] Everything, right? That damn you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:55] Yep. That's right, yeah. I'm so cautiously optimistic about this, so I don't -- I don't necessarily think everybody should go out and I want to be really clear because this is my show. I don't think people who are like, “Oh, I'm sometimes depressed. I should go do acid.” I'm really not advocating for this stuff, but I'm also not trying to dissuade anyone. I just want to open people's minds to the possibility that there might be something here and to research this further, because if you've been trying to quit smoking for a long time and you gave up because nothing was working, maybe you should look into this. If you've been suffering from depression or if there's some trauma that you are consistently trying to get over and you've got a great therapist, but you're not quite there yet, maybe researched this topic a bit more. And just, I'm very cautiously optimistic with it and I know that, that there's just not that much science behind it, not because we've researched it and haven't found anything, but because the research has been stipe.
Michael Pollan: [01:10:53] It’s for us in 30 years, yeah, and it's just coming back. And so we've learned a lot in the -- really the research begins in late ‘90s, and since then it's only been 20 years and we've learned a lot. So by the way, on trauma, the substance or medicine to explore is MDMA, and that research, which is not a central part of the book, but I talked about it a little bit, is really exciting. And MDMA ecstasy is a drug that works on the brain and very different ways and is involved with other receptor networks. But what it appears to do is disable the kind of fight or flight response, and it allows people to take out very charged memories and examine them without feeling -- without the associated feelings of terror. And so for trauma victims who have -- the re-experiencing of their trauma is just such a painful experience. It allows them to take it out, look at it, analyze it with a therapist, and then put it back and every time, it's put back again, it loses a lot of that charge.
[01:11:58] So that, there has been a phase two trial that was just published last year that found that, in something like 80 percent of the trauma cases, after three or four sessions with MDMA administered by a psychiatrist, that they're markers, there's a scale for PTSD, and they were off the scale. They'd fallen off the scale. They essentially didn't have a PTSD diagnosis anymore. And these are cops and firemen and victims of sexual abuse and mostly vets, and you know, rates of PTSD in the military are very high. We spent a fortune dealing with it and it's just, there's so much misery around it. And that is now the -- the phase three trial of that is getting underway this summer, and we're only a couple years away from approval of that. So that's I think for trauma in particular, that's the medicine that seems to be the most effective.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:06] That's a very sympathetic population too, which will hopefully keep the research going.
Michael Pollan: [01:13:12] Well, yes, I think it breaks down the usual, right, left attitudes on these drugs. And in fact, people like Rebekah Mercer have funded this research and Steve Bannon has spoken approvingly of it. And yeah, I mean, if you can help the vets and the cops, I think you're inoculated from attacks from the right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:33] We hope.
Michael Pollan: [01:13:28] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:29] Yeah, we would hope. Yeah, this is, this is very promising and a really, really interesting, not just because of what we can learn about solving problems, but if this really is the telescope of astronomy for the mind, that combined with things like mobile fMRI, which Mary Lou Jepsen talked about on an episode of the show as well, where we can essentially where these things and see what the brain is doing, but then of course, you're going to get the brain to do stuff. This is kind of the other side of that.
Michael Pollan: [01:14:00] Yeah. Well, I think that there's potential for neurofeedback in this area. I had a really interesting experience where I went to a lab of a man named Judson Brewer, who's a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies meditation. And he's very interested in a part of the default mode network called the posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in -- we were talking earlier about the autobiographical or narrative self. And you wear this a bathing cap that has 128 sensors and they're all aimed at this particular structure. And you can do various exercises to see if you can down-regulate the self-obsession basically. So for example, this structure, if I show you a on a screen, a list of adjectives, and you look at them and there's handsome, young, cheap, courageous, a bunch of adjectives, and you're wearing this thing, that part of your brain will not be firing in any way. But if I then say, think about how these words either apply to you or don't apply to you. In other words, make a little story about each one. This structures lights up. So it's the kind of enough about you section of your brain, you know. It's self -- very self-regarding, and you can do various exercises to tune it down and get yourself out of that self-regard, which can be very destructive. And so I did this experiment with it, so I had this whole morning with this guy and I told him I want to do, I wasn't going to tell him what's he going to do. I was going to do something and I wanted to see what happened. And I essentially reminisced about my psychedelic experience, one particular psychedelic experience and it went way down.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:52]Wow!
Michael Pollan: [01:15:52] I was able to actually just through remembering a psychedelic experience, not having one, tuned down that structure tied to the ego.
Jordan Harbinger: [1:16:02] That’s incredible.
Michael Pollan: [01:16:02] So maybe you were talking about alternatives to the drugs. Well, maybe neural feedback will be one when we get those kinds of sensors in place, that we can teach ourselves to think about something else and get some distance on this self-rumination.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:25] Yeah. It seems like once we have these types of experiences or we can recall that state then it's because right now we can't read the label from inside of the jar, right? So we think this is our mind, this is not moving. This is how it is. And then you have an experience like that and the walls come down and you go, “Oh, maybe I can move the couch and rearrange the furniture a little bit.”
Michael Pollan: [01:16:44] Yeah. No, I think that's a great metaphor because you're getting distance on something, it's very hard to get distance on. And that's why disturbing normal consciousness helps you understand normal consciousness. And that's where Groff might be right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:52] And that's how you change your mind.
Michael Pollan: [01:16:54] And that's how you changed your mind.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:55] Michael, thank you so much for coming on the show, man.
Michael Pollan: [01:16:57] Oh Jordan, my pleasure, it’s great conversation.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:04] This is a lot of fun. The book, How to Change Your Mind. We'll link to it in the show notes as well. A lot of good stuff in here.
Michael Pollan: [01:17:05] Thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:08] Jason, not our usual affair, but super interesting. I mean, this isn't some like, “Hey man, you should all try some acid. It's really rad type of guy.” You know, he's like a botanist or whatever. So he took this really seriously and then of course he dives into the research, like he dives in to all of his research, which is pretty extreme. So it's an interesting, interesting guests that we have here with the idea that -- you know, what surprised me that the idea that this could actually have real medical application that isn't just like, “Oh, some people feel happier in some nebulous way for weeks after taking this stuff.” It's like, “No, you can -- there's potential to cure diseases and afflictions that we have not been able to really make a dent in period, using these substances.”
Jason DeFillippo: [01:17:57] No, it's really cool research. I really haven't dived into the acid scene as it were, the psychedelic scene since a very long time ago when I was a kid, and I used to like to play Donkey Kong Country on my super NES with a little bit of assistance. And you have to say that you stare at the controller for far too long. So it's not really productive, but I'm just wondering when I can start microdosing my dogs to have them come the hell down.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:22] Wow. Q emails from every animal rights organization. It's a joke, people. Jason would never do that.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:23] Never.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:24] Unless it works.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:30] Unless it was approved by the Cesar Millan Foundation as it were.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:35] Right, yeah. I mean, they could also just go crazy and kill you and then eat you, that's possible.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:41] That's true. That’s true. I do have a killer dog, so yeah, I don't want that dog having a bad trip. That would be a bad day indeed.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:47] Yeah. I'm not sure you can talk bam, bam down or “Hey, just relax. Go to sleep.” I'm not sure how well you can reason with your Rottweilers.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:18:57] Yeah. 130 pounds of teeth and bad trip would be a bad day.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:01] Yeah. For you especially. Great big thank you to Michael Pollan. The book title is How to Change Your Mind, and if you enjoyed this one, don't forget to thank Michael on Twitter. Tell me your number one takeaway from Michael Pollan. I'm @jordanharbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, and I'm doing a lot more on Instagram these days. I post little videos of, I guess you would say productivity and life hacks and things that make me better at getting by day to day. How to get more things done, observations. I try to post some funny stuff here and there, so I'm mostly on Instagram. Of course, I do see your tweets as well. And don't forget if you want to learn how to apply everything you learned today from Michael Pollan, make sure you go grab the worksheets also in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[01:19:42] This episode was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty. Had a guest producer in studio today as we were at UC Berkeley's Journalism Studio, so credit [indiscernible] [01:19:52] for his help today. Rohan Seth for volunteering to help prep for Michael Pollan. Thanks for Rohan. Worksheet by Jimmy gabbani. Booking back-office and last miracles by Jen Harbinger, and I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should hopefully be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don't. Lots of more like this in the pipeline. Very excited for what we got coming up. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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