Tag: Michael Pollan

Review – How To Change Your Mind

Posted October 31, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How to Change Your Mind by Michael PollanHow to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, Michael Pollan

If you’re interested in the recent findings that psychedelic drugs (like LSD and magic mushrooms) could help treat forms of depression that have proven themselves resistant to the usual standard of care, this is pretty helpful in many ways as a survey of how LSD et al were originally perceived, how and why things changed, how a psychedelic experience feels, and where things are right now with research (roughly, given that anything based on research can be refined or retracted by the time the book’s printed).

It is also, however, very much about the author: his experiences with various different psychedelic substances take up a whole chapter, and another chapter is given over to the hunting of mushrooms (and the descriptions of a psychedelic trip based on those, too). It’s a very personal history, though I feel that Pollan does make his biases and prejudices — and how they changed with the research — pretty clear, so the unwary reader is still aware that some of this is coloured by opinion.

It sounds like psychedelics are a pretty promising avenue not just for treatment-resistant depression, but for quite a few other mental health issues too. I don’t think that I’m ever likely to see out psychedelics recreationally: the described dissolution of the ego and changed perceptions don’t really appeal to me, and I’d rather find my oneness with the universe through meditation and just trying to be a good person. The one way in which it appeals to me is the finding that it often changes people’s relationship to death (having been used with great success as part of palliative care). As someone with 10-15 years of constant anxiety about my health and anxious predictions of my imminent death under my belt, the idea of feeling able to let that go to some extent sounds very appealing… if only there were an exact science to having the kind of trip that leads to that outcome.

There are a few things that bother me about the current perception that psychedelics could be a panacea for almost all mental health problems, and to his credit, Pollan does discuss them despite his enthusiasm. One is the near-impossibility of randomised controlled studies; another is the impossibility of tightly controlling all the variables when psychedelic drugs are used, because people’s experiences depend highly on their setting and their mental state beforehand, and crucially, what they expect to happen. As soon as you’ve got someone’s informed consent for a psychedelic to be administered, you’ve changed the outcome of their trip.

Finally, we’ve had seemingly amazing breakthroughs in mental health treatments before, but over time they have lost their efficacy — repeat studies on antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) now find far smaller effects, even when everything is carefully controlled. It’s not entirely clear why that is, so it is also unclear whether that will apply to psychedelics as well, and to what extent.

In any case, Pollan’s book is an interesting survey of the history and the state of the field now, and well worth it if you’re interested in the topic.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted October 7, 2020 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of How to Change Your Mind by Michael PollanWhat are you currently reading?

Oh, far too much at once! Non-fiction: still working on Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics. Mostly the point so far is that the science isn’t so very new at all; psychedelic drugs were originally expected to be useful in treating mental health disorders, and go figure, now we’re figuring out that that was probably true.

Fiction: I’m rereading Mira Grant’s Deadline, in the firm hope that one day I’ll actually get onto Blackout and finish the whole book. It’s not that I don’t like the trilogy — I’ve read the first book several times! It just hits hard, and especially so at the moment, given the themes the zombie pandemic raises in the book…

I’m also reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and I kinda hate it. I can’t get into the narration, and it’s hard to find a story past the narration. I know, I know, I hear everyone on Twitter shouting at me that I’m just asking for all books to be typical European narratives, and that probably has a part to play. But… I don’t know, I’m not a fan of any of it so far; what I do understand is that there’s a lot of violence, including sexual violence. Just not the sort of thing I enjoy, without other high points.

That’s not all I’m reading, but that’s enough to be getting on with!

Cover of Entangled Life by Merlin SheldrakeWhat have you recently finished reading?

Non-fiction: Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake. I had been really looking forward to this, and it is really fun. I enjoyed all the facts about fungi! I think Sheldrake loves his subject a lot, and that always helps. Need to ponder my review a bit more, though. Obviously this had some odd parallels with How to Change Your Mind, since Sheldrake also mentioned psilocybin mushrooms!

Fiction: I finished my reread of Feed, basically all in one go now I’m not so dang anxious!

Cover of The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonWhat will you be reading next?

Not sure, but I ordered Stuck: How Vaccine Rumours Start and Why They Don’t Go Away by Heidi J. Larson, and that just arrived today, so maybe I’ll get stuck into that before I shelve it and it goes out of sight, out of mind! Larson’s a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where I now study, so it especially caught my eye — and public health initiatives like encouraging vaccine uptake are something I’d be interested in getting involved with myself.

Other than that, rereading The Goblin Emperor for a book club reminds me I really need to get round to reading The Angel of the Crows.

What are you folks reading?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted September 23, 2020 by Nicky in General / 10 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyWhat are you currently reading?

Fiction: I’ve gone back to Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird after a long time away. It’s not capturing me (or in this case recapturing me) as her other books usually do. I’d hoped it was just my mood, and coming back to it now would let me slip back into it… but apparently not. It might still be my mood, but it’s a bit disappointing.

Non-fiction: I’m back to The Story of Wales, by Jon Gower. I think that was a mood problem, because I’m digging into it more now… and getting angry about the historical treatment of the Welsh, of course. People forget, or never knew, that before English rule suppressed native languages on other contents, they started in Wales.

I’m also a good chunk of the way into How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics. So far it’s talked a lot about the promise of psychedelics for treating depression, anxiety, stress in people with terminal illnesses, etc… but it hasn’t gone into the science much. It’s been more of a history, so far, along with an exploration of the user’s personal feelings and experience,

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersWhat have you recently finished reading?

I finally finished my reread of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. It’s not one of my favourite Wimsey novels, though there are definitely fun bits, so I bogged down in it a while ago. Which means Strong Poison is next! Yay!

Cover of X+Y by Eugenia ChengWhat will you be reading next?

I’m slowly working through my “shelf of abandoned books”, so the next up on that shelf look to Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind, by Colin Renfrew, Feed by Mira Grant, and The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman. I’ll probably read a new-to-me book in tandem with trying to finish those; maybe Eugenia Cheng’s X+Y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender.

What are you reading? What’s got you enthusiastic at the moment? Let me know!

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