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Michael Pollan

Changing Your Mind: Michael Pollan Talks to Joe Rogan About the New Science of Psychedelics

If you’re a long-time reader of the Daily Grail, you’ll know that we’ve been covering psychedelics and their effect on consciousness for a long time now (e.g. we interviewed Dr Rick Strassman about his DMT research almost 15 years ago). And during that time, we were typically the type of website that you’d have to visit to learn more about the topic, as mainstream media outlets largely ignored – and even sometimes continued demonizing – these fascinating chemicals that work on our brain in weird and wonderful ways.

Certainly, over the years we’ve slowly seen a softening in mainstream opinion on ayahuasca, psilocybin and other psychedelics. But this year has been a watershed, with the release of Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Pollan, a widely respected writer with a large following of dedicated readers jumped headlong into this controversial topic in 2014, in the wake of writing an article for The New Yorker on research into the use of psilocybin to help the terminally ill come to terms with their impending death (“The Trip Treatment“).

As Pollan puts it, “There are two kinds of articles you write as a journalist. One is you’re sick of the topic by the time you finish, and the other is ‘god I’ve just scratched the surface’, and this was one of those”. And so he went beyond just writing an article, and wrote an entire book on the topic.

Pollan’s high profile has led to numerous appearances on network TV shows and in major publications (we posted video of his appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month), and his book has become an instant best-seller (as of this writing, it’s #10 on Amazon’s charts).

But just as Pollan’s article didn’t go deep enough for him, so those network TV interviews also just scratch the surface of the topic. Thankfully, Pollan also took time out of his busy schedule to stop and chat to Joe Rogan for the better part of an hour and a half, and it’s definitely recommended as not only is the subject covered in more detail, but he is being interviewed by a guy that has experience with psychedelics and – like the Daily Grail – has been discussing the topic openly for many years now.

As with my recent posting about Robert Schoch’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, I’ve embedded the video, and provided annotations and pull-quotes below it for those without the time or bandwidth to watch the entire interview right now. Enjoy!

0:00 – Rogan: “I think it’s an amazing subject, and I’m glad someone who’s respected, like yourself, is getting into it…I think you caught the perfect wave…I think your book is coming out right when John Hopkins Research Centre is starting to put out these studies on it, people are starting to recognize that MDMA has amazing results for PTSD in veterans; marijuana is becoming legal in more and more states.”

1:30 Pollan: Started the research in 2014…”I wrote a piece for The New Yorker called “The Trip Treatment” (on using psilocybin with terminal patients)

There are two kinds of articles you write as a journalist. One is you’re sick of the topic by the time you finish, and the other is ‘god I’ve just scratched the surface’, and this was one of those.

4:30 – Rogan and Pollan agree that people should not take the impact of psychedelic experiences lightly. Pollan: “I think it’s really important that people understand: it’s a profound, powerful, destabilizing experience, and depending on your mindset, and the situation in which you take it – set and setting – it can be ecstatic or horrific.”

5:00 – Rogan on how it’s a shame that society has made psychedelics more dangerous than they need to be – harsh laws mean people buy off shady characters, and take in a state of paranoia of being caught, etc. Also, the danger of getting carried away with what Pollan calls “irrational exuberance”, preaching to people about the positives without noting the negatives…Pollan notes the example of Timothy Leary.

7:00 – Pollan says, all the same, it’s worth noting that “these are not drugs of abuse. They are non-addictive. They are anti-addictive. The first thought after having a big psychedelic trip is not ‘when can I do this again’. ”

7:30 – Pollan: “We need trained guides. The experience is completely different when it’s guided, because you have a sense of safety. There’s someone looking out for your body while your mind is traveling.”

11:00 – On animals being given psychedelics. “Animals don’t like psychedelics that much”.

12:30 – On taking his own trips because he got ‘jealous’ of the experiences the people he was interviewing were having. “They were having these big spiritual experiences, and I’ve never had a spiritual experience…so I realized at a certain point I had to see the experience from the inside to describe it in a book.”

13:30 – On mushroom hunting with Paul Stamets (who has also been on the Joe Rogan podcast): “I would not recommend doing it yourself with psilocybin…there are mushrooms that look exactly like psilocybin that can give you an agonizing death.”

15:30 – Pollan on his first trip – he “had a very powerful experience”…relating to plant consciousness.

17:30 – Pollan talks about how he went in search of a guide to help him with his experiences.

20:00 – Joe returns the topic to plant consciousness. Pollan riffs on how other living things “have different senses, and so live in a different world” (a topic we cover often here on the Grail). “So this idea, that there’s something relative about our everyday normal consciousness, that there are other ways of experiencing the world, is something that psychedelics put you in touch with.”

25:00 – On scientists getting a new perspective, and fresh ideas, from changing their consciousness with psychedelics.

26:30 – On ancient religions possibly being inspired by psychedelics. Lengthy discussion of Eleusinian Mysteries and the use of ‘kykeon’.

32:30 – On endogenous DMT, and the ‘Third Eye’.

33:30 – On how these experiences break down a materialist view, and how many people hide their own profound experiences because of the stigma attached to it.

37:00 – The neurobiology of how psychedelics work, by taking the ‘Default Mode Network’ offline, dissolving the ego and therefore allowing more information to be perceived. Pollan:

This is a metaphor that Aldous Huxley used, in the Doors of Perception: that consciousness is eliminating more than its creating. Consciousness is reducing our experience to that thin trickle of information we need to survive…and that you ‘open the doors of perception’ on these drugs, by turning off this network, and a lot more information comes in – which can be overwhelming, but also extraordinary.

39:30 – Rogan asks Pollan, when writing, how does he get these ideas across “without looking like a guy that’s losing his f**king mind, or going super-woo woo Deepak Chopra on people. How do you do this and maintain your position as a serious journalist?”

Pollan: “I came to think this was something really important…I had found something too interesting to pass up… I didn’t think I’d be talking to Stephen Colbert about ego dissolution, and here we are.”

46:00 – The need for new psychiatric tools. 300 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with depression, and current approaches are not working – and psychedelics may be helpful.

48:30 – Return to discussion of the possible dangers/negatives with psychedelics, e.g. dangerous for people with schizophrenia in their family

53:00 – Rogan notes the stupidity of making psychedelics a ‘Schedule 1’ drug.

Pollan: “The fact is that Schedule 1 means these drugs have a high potential for abuse – which isn’t really true with psychedelics, because they’re non-addictive – and that they have no accepted medical use – which is now no longer true either, because these studies have shown that they do have a medical use.”

54:30 – Pollan notes that, despite the reputation of Jeff Sessions against marijuana, many people on the right of politics support psychedelic research and MAPS (Rebekah Mercer, Peter Thiel, Steve Bannon).

56:00 – Quick discussion of some celebrities who used psychedelics – Larry Hagman, Cary Grant.

58:00 – On use of ketamine, ibogaine, and psilocybin for treatment of various problems, from overcoming opiate abuse to quitting smoking.

1:04:30 – Pollan discusses his “tough” trip on 5-MEO-DMT (by smoking the venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad). Joe then chimes in with his own DMT experiences.

1:12:30 – Pollan recounts his own profound moment during his ‘trip’ research:

I had this cascading flood of love, I was thinking about my family…and it sounds so banal. But one of the things that happens, is that these platitudes – that ‘love is the most important thing there is’…that could be on a Hallmark card – but suddenly its infused with ‘yes, that is so profound’.

And you know what, it is profound. But we have these defences against seeing it that way, because we’ve heard it so many times. A sense of banality is just from repetition – but you’re put back in touch with it. A platitude is a truth that’s been drained of all emotion. And the emotion comes back, and it becomes really powerful.

And I actually think that the experience is more truthful than the ironic, cynical perspective that we bring to it in our everyday lives, which is a defence against powerful emotion, and being overwhelmed every day. So you end up re-evaluating those things, and that was a really important takeaway for me.

1:14:00 – Pollan goes on to note that he thinks the most important function of psychedelics in therapy is the ego dissolution facet, and the way that it changes how we think – breaking us out of routines and ‘ruts of thinking’.

1:17:00 – Finishes up with discussion of Terence McKenna’s speculation on the functions of psychedelics, beginning with the ‘Stoned Ape Theory’. Pollan: “I looked at it, but I didn’t find it persuasive.”

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