Hallucinogens

On this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris talks with Michael Pollan about Pollan’s new book How to Change Your Mind. The book chronicle’s the author’s foray into entheogenic drugs like psilocybin, LSD, peyote, ayahuasca and DMT. This is a groundbreaking, honest discussion of a drug class like no other: these are positively life-changing, ceremonial substances.

I think of my own life and my use of hallucinogens. I took mushrooms and acid regularly for a period of about five years (18-23), and have gradually declined my usage since. It’s no exaggeration to say that my mental process and artistic vision were defined by these activities.

The men address a cultural shift in accepting what is for most people an extremely profound exploration into psyche and universal connectedness. To ‘trip’ is to indeed lose your ego, and get in touch with meaning in a way far grander than daily life can offer. The drug war largely ended research into these substances in the 1960s - that research is resuming, and in all likelihood, these drugs will become effective in addressing clinical pathologies like depression and obsessive thinking. Many are scheduled by the US DEA as dangerous, criminal things, but that should change. Pollan is sure it will.

Michael Pollan’s general career interest is in humanity’s negotiated use of the plant and animal kingdoms. He’s written extensively about food, for instance, and drugs seem a natural continuation of that. He had never taken these drugs before, and it’s amazing that he decided to start now, in his 50s. Sam Harris’s experience with such drugs is similar to my own; he is also an avid practicer/teacher of meditation, which is another path toward this sort of ‘enlightened consciousness’.

I am personally less inclined to ‘go there’ in my 30s because the effects seem riskier somehow, less seminal and more strange. I’ve had some bad trips on mushrooms lately, for instance. But listening to this does make me realize that a check-in with the cosmos inside might soon be due…