Michael Pollan — This Is Your Mind on Plants (#520)

Artist's rendering of Michael Pollan.Artist's rendering of Michael Pollan.
Illustration via 99designs

“How incredible is it that plants have evolved the precise molecular key to unlock your consciousness?”

— Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) is the author of eight books, including How to Change Your Mind, Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. A longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan teaches writing at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010, Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world. His newest book is This Is Your Mind on Plants

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Want to hear what Michael and I discussed the last time he visited? Listen in on our conversation in which we discussed the psychological risks of psychedelics, brushes with ego death, why we shouldn’t consider psychedelics to be a panacea for all ailments, where someone might best allocate investment dollars in the woefully underfunded field of psychedelic research, and much more.


  • Connect with Michael Pollan:

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  • Michael’s love for gardening and where his engagement with nature began: an origin story. [05:52]
  • Why was now the right time for Michael to write This Is Your Mind On Plants, and what are the three plants on which it focuses? [12:31]
  • What plants or molecules did Michael consider as candidates that didn’t make the cut, and why? [17:06]
  • What we know about the criminalization of certain drugs during the Nixon administration, and how it was a purely political move rather than addressing any concerns over public health. [19:38]
  • Who is Jim Hogshire, how did he wind up on Michael’s radar, and how did Michael then wind up on the radar of law enforcement? [24:56]
  • To what extent does Harper’s Magazine owner Rick MacArthur use his vast fortune to defend First Amendment rights, and does his generosity generally extend to the welfare of the magazine’s staff? [38:59]
  • The irrationality and hypocrisy of the war on drugs and why prohibition is a losing strategy for ensuring public health and safety. [42:44]
  • How the conversation around psychedelics as therapy has been embraced by the mainstream at such a rapid pace since Michael researched and wrote his last book, How to Change Your Mind. [48:38]
  • How is mescaline unique from other psychedelics such as psilocybin or LSD, and what makes it challenging for the purposes of research and therapy? [58:39]
  • Another mescaline challenge: a dwindling supply of slow-growing peyote and conflict between Native Americans who consider it a sacrament and people who think all psychoactive plants should be decriminalized and available to all. (The good news: there are alternative, more abundant sources of mescaline, such as the San Pedro cactus.) [1:02:52]
  • Obstacles Michael had to hurdle over the course of writing This Is Your Mind On Plants, and how he experienced mescaline when the pandemic prevented him from taking part in a peyote ceremony with the Native American Church. [1:09:10]
  • A long-pending reckoning society’s about to face: after the drug war, what does the drug peace look like? [1:12:37]
  • For what practical applications does Michael imagine decriminalized mescaline might be ideal? [1:17:08]
  • In 50 years, when psychedelic therapy is accepted and commonplace, what effects will new and modified molecules be created to prompt? Will it be possible to elicit the neurological benefits of psychedelics without forcing us to consciously endure the accompanying experience? Will we still have a use for unmodified psychedelics in their original forms? How will the market dictate psychedelic applications, and what can we do to safeguard against capital-driven abuses of these compounds? [1:19:42]
  • Michael talks about his involvement with the UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP), its priorities, and the steps being taken to ensure its unique contributions will benefit the entire field of psychedelic research. [1:26:53]
  • What the Ferriss UC Berkeley Journalism Fellowship has been set up to provide for young and aspiring journalists seeking to inform a curious public about psychedelics, and how said journalists might apply when it launches in the fall. [1:28:43]
  • How a similar fellowship Michael started helped launch the career of a young journalist who’s now a New Yorker staff writer, podcaster, and upcoming author. [1:32:40]
  • Why supporting quality journalism in the psychedelic space right now is so important. [1:35:30]
  • Why do people in the UK prefer tea, whereas people in the US tend more toward coffee for their source of caffeine? [1:36:32]
  • How important caffeine was to the rise of capitalism. [1:39:20]
  • What going off caffeine for a few months did for Michael, and why sleep researchers often abstain from it in spite of its numerous benefits. [1:41:30]
  • What do words like “sobriety” and “consciousness” really mean when 90 percent of the population, worldwide, is under the constant influence of caffeine? While beneficial to the advancement of our civilization, is caffeine a boon or bane to our species? [1:43:57]
  • My experience with coffee culture in Japan. [1:45:50]
  • What we can expect from the upcoming Netflix documentary series based on How to Change Your Mind. [1:47:33]
  • Michael’s tips and recommended resources for the novice gardener. [1:49:23]
  • One important correction on the John Jeavons book Michael referenced: it’s actually titled How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land with Less Water Than You Can Imagine [1:54:33]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:55:02]


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