The instant New York Times bestseller | A Washington Post Notable Book | One of NPR's Best Books of the Year
“Expert storytelling . . . [Pollan] masterfully elevates a series of big questions about drugs, plants and humans that are likely to leave readers thinking in new ways.”—New York Times Book Review
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan, a radical challenge to how we think about drugs, and an exploration into the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants—and the equally powerful taboos.
Of all the things humans rely on plants for—sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber—surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Take coffee and tea: People around the world rely on caffeine to sharpen their minds. But we do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use as an addiction, because it is legal and socially acceptable. So, then, what is a “drug”? And why, for example, is making tea from the leaves of a tea plant acceptable, but making tea from a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime?
In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?
In this unique blend of history, science, and memoir, as well as participatory journalism, Pollan examines and experiences these plants from several very different angles and contexts, and shines a fresh light on a subject that is all too often treated reductively—as a drug, whether licit or illicit. But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can. Based in part on an essay published almost twenty-five years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
When Michael Pollan talks about a “natural high,” he isn’t being abstract. After exploring psychedelic drugs in his bestseller How to Change Your Mind, the author turns to the plant world, digging deeper into how organic chemicals found in nature can shape our consciousness. Pollan offers up surprising case studies on three substances that have radically different reputations: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. As usual, Pollan takes his research personally, growing poppies, abstaining from coffee, and taking part in a Native American peyote ceremony. He mixes science and history to examine—and often explode—popular perceptions about each plant. Throughout, Pollan’s unguarded responses to everything he encounters makes his mind-altering journey very engaging. It’s a long, strange trip that will give you a newfound respect for Mother Nature.
Pollan (How to Change Your Mind) centers this lucid exploration of the psycho-social impact of mind-altering plants on his personal experiences with opium, mescaline, and, most intensely, caffeine. He starts with an extended version of his 1997 Harper's piece about brewing opium tea from poppies, which produced mild euphoria "the tea seemed to subtract things: anxiety, melancholy, worry, grief" apart from his apprehension over the DEA's crackdown on poppy horticulture. The second chapter, an expanded version of a piece first published as an Audibles Original, describes a monthslong abstention from caffeine, which precipitated persistent feelings of mental dullness, and his triumphal return to coffee drinking ("Whatever I focused on, I focused on zealously and single-mindedly"). Pollan connects these experiences to the importance of ubiquitous caffeine consumption during the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism. Less successful is Pollan's final chapter, in which he imbibes mescaline during a Native American peyote ceremony, with the predictable outcome of maudlin, psychedelic emoting ("What follows forgiveness is gratitude, which I now felt break over me in a warm wave of tears"). Blending artful exposition of the evolution and neurochemistry of botanical drugs, erudite history, and (usually) precise and evocative prose, this is an insightful take on plants' beguiling sway over the human psyche.
What an excellent book
I loved how he framed the discussion round the three different plant based substances. It gave three distinct stories that had me engaged the whole time.
Fragmented. The different plants stories don’t intertwine, make for a sense of disconnection in the book. I think I would have enjoyed it
more if it was just about plant psychedelics or plant stimulants.