9 questions for culinary author Michael Pollan

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5. Q: Lately you have been focusing on consciousness changing drugs. How did it start?

A: Around 2013, I started reading all of these experiences using psilocybin, among other things, to treat cancer patients. If I was faced with a terminal diagnosis, I couldn’t imagine rolling the dice for a psychedelic trip. But these people had a huge advantage. About two-thirds of them said they had had a powerful mystical experience and lost their fear of death. And for many, it has also helped reduce depression, anxiety, and what doctors call existential distress.

6. Q: Why do you think psychedelic drugs are so important for people over 50?

A: I believe psychedelics are wasted on young people. Their real value comes when you are older. First, because many people as you get older become interested in spiritual matters, and psychedelics are a way to explore the spiritual side of yourself. And secondly, older people tend to get stuck in sometimes quite destructive behaviors. Research suggests that one of the things psychedelics are good for is breaking old habits and forming new ones – “rocking the snow globe,” as one researcher told me.

7. Q: Is science accepting these drugs better?

A: Psychedelics are legitimized as a subject of study and as a therapeutic modality. [In late May] Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, has made a positive statement about psychedelics. So it is not such a marginal field of science and medicine as when I published my first book on the subject. The atmosphere has changed dramatically, and it’s very exciting.

8. Q: Does it surprise you that there is a boom in psychedelic therapy?

A: It surprises me that there has been very little hindsight on the part of the mental institution. The reason is that they are keenly aware of a mental health crisis in this country and the tools at their disposal to deal with it are inadequate.

9. Q: How has your experience with psychedelics changed you personally?

A: You should ask my wife, who is more expert on me than I am. She was worried, at first, that I would change one way or another. In the end, she’ll tell you that I’ve changed for the better. The experience made me more open and able to talk about emotions without getting defensive. Between the practice of meditation, which helps me maintain what I learned from taking psychedelics, and the occasional new experience, I can keep the flame alive.

Michael Pollan’s latest book, Here is your opinion on plants, was released on July 6.


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