After the success of his previous title,
How to change your mind
, in which he summarized the history and present of psychedelics, Michael Pollan continues in
Your mind under the effects of plants
on the path of substances that alter our consciousness, combining as usual the journalistic chronicle with scientific dissemination, the story with the prospective and the first person with the third.
If Pollan tried LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and 5-MeO-DMT in his monumental X-ray of the psychedelic renaissance, in this new essay he recounts his experiences with opium, caffeine and mescaline.
In order to address the complexity of our relationship with drugs, the central role they occupy in human existence and the complication of prohibiting their access, Pollan takes these three substances that embody the three most commonly used psychoactive categories: tranquilizer, exciting and, in the author's words, expansive.
He dedicates a brief essay to each one, starting from the premise that the links we maintain with drugs of plant origin "reflect our deepest human needs and aspirations, the way our minds operate, and our bond with the natural world."
The book's opening essay is based on an article,
, published incomplete in 1997 in
In this "period piece" the author recounts the adventures of planting some
seeds in his garden, an apparently innocent act that becomes a crime by making a sedative infusion with the poppy pods.
The war on drugs was then at its height and the penalty he risked with the publication of his experiment was up to 20 years in prison and a fine of a million dollars.
Immature fruit of the opium poppy, (Papaver somniferum), seen from above.
Cesca Diebschlag / Alamy
The article was finally published without the prescription and without taking the infusion, to avoid possible incrimination for "manufacturing narcotics" and "promoting drug abuse."
And now, a quarter of a century later, Pollan puts it in context to denounce the injustice and arbitrariness of the prohibition, pointing out as a counterpoint that, a year before his illegal poppy infusion, Pardue Pharma, the family's "criminal company" Sackler, had put on the market, with all of the law and with marketing as aggressive as it was misleading, OxyContin, a painkiller that triggers the opioid crisis that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Unlike other books by the author, such as
The Omnivore's Dilemma
, in which he never leaves a loose end —sometimes committing the sin of being somewhat lengthy—, in this first story he tiptoes through the opioid crisis, subscribing to the simplification in vogue: that they are to blame for everything. the Sacklers for hiding the addictive nature of their flagship drug.
A more forceful Pollan would have gone further, explaining that it is prohibition that has led OxyContin addicts denied prescriptions to hit the streets for heroin and find fentanyl, a cheap synthetic opioid, 50 times more powerful that, by occupying 50 times less space, facilitates its clandestine traffic while multiplying overdose deaths.
The opioid crisis is today the most bloody proof of the useless and criminal prohibition of drugs,
Protest over the opioid crisis at the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, founded by the Sackler family, in Stamford, USA, in 2019. Erik McGregor (LightRocket / Getty Images)
But this oversight is compensated by the brilliance of the second essay, in which we find the best Pollan again telling us the history of coffee and tea, the evolution that we share with these two plants, the pharmacology of caffeine, the changes it produces in society its massive use, giving birth in the West to a new form of consciousness that will change everything: "From world trade to imperialism, the slave trade, the workplace, science, politics, social relations, and even such time English prose”, he writes before launching to demonstrate it.
The common thread here is the obligation that the author imposes on himself to stop his caffeine consumption for three months, because only by interrupting his daily habit can one understand the power of the "most widely used psychoactive drug in the world",
a legal drug consumed regularly by almost 90 percent of people, a use so widespread that the altered state of consciousness it provides goes unnoticed.
As is also the case with the paradox that "most of the caffeine consumed today is used to compensate for the bad sleep it causes."
The essay on mescaline that closes the book is set against the backdrop of the lockdown of the pandemic and the fires that ripped through Northern California shortly after.
Amid general angst, Pollan seeks to test the oldest psychedelic in use (for at least 6,000 years), the one Aldous Huxley took in
The Doors of Perception.
, Alexander Shulgin's favorite substance and the psychotropic molecule in peyote that Native Americans have made the lynchpin of their new religion.
The final search and take of mescaline orders the entire investigation showing the state of the war on drugs and the progress of the movements for decriminalization and regulation, without failing to underline what is most important for humans: the blessing of having a garden full of plants that calm, stimulate or expand our mind.
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