Michael Pollan is an acclaimed author and a professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He also holds the title of Lewis K. Chan Arts Lecturer and Professor of Practice of Non-Fiction at Harvard University.
Pollan was born on Long Island, New York on February 6, 1955. He earned a BA in English from Bennington College and an MA in English from Columbia University.
Awards and Influence
Throughout his career, Pollan’s writing has centered on agriculture, food, and health. He is the author of best-selling books and insightful articles. He has won many awards for his writing. They include Book of the Year from the American Booksellers Association and Amazon, the James Beard Award, the John Burroughs prize, and the Humane Society of the United States Genesis Award. Also, Time Magazine chose Pollan as one of 2010s most influential people in the world. Six of his eight books have been on the New York Times bestsellers list. This includes his first, Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001) for which he also gave a TED Talk. His latest work, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018) debuted at #1 on the bestsellers list.
The Birth of How to Change Your Mind
How to Change Your Mind is Pollan’s dive into the world of psychedelics as the “Reluctant Psychonaut.” The idea for the book came about after a 2015 article he wrote for the New Yorker called “The Trip Treatment.” In the article, he writes about cancer patients in a study who were given a single dose of psilocybin. Researchers wanted to understand if and how it affected their fear of death. All the study participants had powerful mystical experiences on the drug. Surprising researchers, their fear of death was reduced or disappeared completely.
Pollen has always had an interest in psychoactive plants. It’s part of the learning and writing he’s done all his life. He’s known for getting involved in whatever he’s writing about. He feels this is the best way to get first-hand knowledge of a subject (he once bought a steer to understand how the meat industry works). After witnessing what happened with the cancer patients in the study, Pollan decided to try psilocybin for himself. He took his ‘trip’ using the highly structured and controlled environment of microdosing.
“I felt as though I were communicating directly with a plant for the first time.”
The psilocybin experience left him profoundly changed. Pollan says he felt compelled to write How to Change Your Mind to benefit others and further the cause of research on psychedelics. He told The Atlantic it is the most personal book he’s ever written. Besides detailing his own transformational experience on psilocybin, Pollan goes through the world history of the psychedelics. He also covers their modern-day rise and fall, the current rebirth of interest in them, and speculates on their future.
It’s Time to Stop Fearing the Psychedelics
According to Pollan, the mental health care and treatment system in the United States is broken. He says prescription drugs are perpetuating the problem. Pollan notes that antidepressants only work a little better than placebo in clinical trials. This leaves the door wide open for examining other options. Pollan feels the time has come to stop fearing psychedelics. The frightening consequences of their uncontrolled use in the past were part of the journey. It’s time to use science to study them again with a fresh set of eyes and open minds.
More information about Michael Pollan and his work is found on his UC Berkeley webpage, his personal website, and his Twitter feed.