The Joe Rogan Experience – Exploring Psychedelics with Michael Pollan


Michael’s New Book – How to Change Your Mind

  • Michael started the research in 2014 after writing a piece for the New Yorker called The Trip Treatment
  • Around this time, studies at Johns Hopkins were going on where psilocybin was being given to terminally ill cancer patients to treat end of life anxiety
    • 80% of people who underwent the treatment had statistically significant reductions in standard measures of depression and anxiety
  • Michael had not had much experience with psychedelics prior to writing this book – he never took them in college
    • “It’s a profound, powerful, destabilizing  experience, and depending on your mindset and situation in which you take the psychedelic, the experience can either be ecstatic or horrific”
    • Michael had heard enough stories about “bad trips” to stay away
  • This book is as much about the mind, as it is pyschedelics

What are Psychedelics?

  • To Michael, psychedelics include – Magic Mushrooms/Psilocybin, DMT, LSD, Mescalin, and others that are unified by the fact that they work on similar receptor networks in the brain
    • Michael doesn’t like to think of MDMA as part of this group
  • It’s important to remember psychedelics aren’t for everybody
  • Psychedelics are not addictive and aren’t drugs of abuse – they’re probably even more anti-addictive

Get a Guide

  • “The experience is completely different when it’s guided” – someone is looking out for your body, while your mind is traveling
    • “Most bad trips are the result of someone resisting what is happening” – Their ego is dissolving, and they try to stop it
    • The best thing to do – “Surrender, trust, and let go”
    • The chances of having a bad trip with a guide are substantially less
  • Instead of “bad trip”, we should use the term “challenging trip”
    • Often, very interesting material comes up that you can later analyze

Michael’s Personal Experiences with Psychedelics

  • He had a series of trips while writing the book
  • One of the trips he describes…
    • He was in his garden at his home in New England
      • “I’ve always believed intellectually, that domesticated plants act on us. We change plants, and they change us.”
      • In the same way the flower is manipulating the bee – the same thing is happening to us with plants
      • In this particular trip, he felt the plants were looking back at him with good intentions
      • “There were more subjectivities in my garden than I had thought”
  • “The world as we perceive it is dependent on the particular senses we have”
    • Other creatures have a different set of senses – they live in a different world
    • Ex: Bees can see UV light, and can experience electromagnetic radiation
    • On psychedelics, you tend to get some insight into this – “There are other ways of experiencing the world, and psychedelics open your eyes to that”
    • “The world that presents itself to us, is not the only world” – psychedelics give us a hint that these worlds exist
  • In total, he had 6 or 7 experiences
    • 1 unguided psilocybin trip, 1 guided psilocybin trip, a guided LSD trip, and a couple Ayahuasca circles
    • He also had an experience with 5-MeO-DMT (this was his worst experience)
      • With the DMT experience, there’s really no “warm up”
      • “It was this mental storm without anything to orient myself. It was unendurable.”
      • He only had one hit (the drug is smoked), Joe says he should have taken 3, which perhaps caused his bad experience
        • Joe – “It’s the one drug I’ve taken where you really cease to exist. You’re not there anymore”
      • Joe has taken N,N-DMT a few times – it’s a lot more visually stimulating than the 5-MeO-DMT, which is “just white”
      • Joe on his experiences with N,N-DMT – “It made me realize we are really in a soup of atoms, a universal stew of particles”
        • He saw “complex geometric patterns made out of love and understanding”
    • One profound moment that Michael experienced with one of his trips – “Love is the most important thing there is”
      • It’s one thing to say it, but in the right moment with psychedelics, you will REALLY feel it
    • The other profound moment was his experience of ego dissolution
      • “This is the therapeutic agent in the people who are healed”
      • Our ego keeps us from perceiving certain things, and it enforces really destructive stories we tell ourselves
      • We get trapped in these loops, especially as we get older – this is why Michael thinks psychedelics get more useful, the older you get
      • “Psychedelics soften your habits, and helps you escape your mental grooves”

More on Psychedelics

  • “One of the really striking things is how many people have had really profound psychedelic experiences that they haven’t told anyone about”
    • “To normalize this, people have to come out of the closet”
  • Everything you see in a psychedelic experience is really in your mind – everything you see comes from real psychological facts originating from your unconscious
    • “LSD is an unspecific amplifier of mental activity”
  • When brains of people on psychedelics are imaged, activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) has been shown to be diminished
    • The DMN is a master regulator and it’s very involved in self-reflection, self-criticism, and worry
    • The DMN is involved in the way we take in what’s happening to us and connect it to the story we tell ourselves about who we are
    • “If the ego has an address, it’s in the DMN”
      • The ego is responsible for the repression of subconscious thought or strong emotion – it’s a defense, and psychedelics turn this off
      • When activity in the DMN is depressed, the valve blocking information from the subconscious, is allowed to flow
      • “Consciousness is eliminating more than it’s creating” – it reduces our experience to that thin trickle of information we need to survive
      • “Maybe the ego should be a controlled substance”
  • Only a small amount of people really know what psilocybin is
    • We need to get the word out – it’s very much in the early stages

Mental Health and Pyschedelics

  • “Mental health treatment in this country is just a mess” – we only reach about half the people
    • If you compare it to any other branch of medicine, it’s accomplished very little
  • Depression is the largest cause of disability worldwide 
    • There are 300 million people with major depression
    • Suicide rates are also up
    • Addiction is rampant
  • We NEED new tools for treatment


  • When you think about it, we all have DMT in our bodies
    • “We all have a schedule I substance coursing through our vains
  • Psychedelics are a schedule I drug at the moment
  • We are approaching Phase III trials for using psilocybin to treat anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients
    • Michael thinks that if the results of these are anywhere near as good as the Phase II trials, the FDA will move for approval
    • “We may see this in the next 5 years”

Ketamine and Ibogaine

  • Ketamine
    • There’s work going on using ketamine to treat depression
      • Results don’t seem to be permanent, it seems treatment has to be repeated every 6 months
    • It’s all legal
    • Ketamine is an anesthetic – it’s dissociative, it makes you feel separated from your body and that helps with pain
  • Ibogaine
    • A psychedelic from the root of a tree that grows in Africa
    • It’s been used to treat opiate addiciton
      • There are clinics in Mexico
    • There are dangers to the heart – the experience can last 36 hours

Stoned Ape Theory

  • This is a theory developed by Terrence McKenna
    • The Stoned Ape Theory is a controversial theory from Terence McKenna which states that a lot of our advanced human evolution came as a result of the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms
  • Michael doesn’t really believe this
    • “I see psychedelics as having a profound effect at the level of cultural evolution”
    • There are lots of innovations that came about from people who had thought of them on psychedelics
    • “In the cultural realm, psychedelics are like radiation, they’re mutagens –  they create change and variation, and THAT advances cultural evolution.”
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