michael pollan npr psychedelics

The ‘New Science’ Of Psychedelics – Michael Pollan on NPR’s Fresh Air Podcast

Check out the Fresh Air Episode Page

Key Takeaways

  • Psychedelic drugs are undergoing a surprising renaissance; they’re now being used to treat depression, addiction, and the existential fear of death faced by many people with cancer
  • Mental healthcare in the U.S. is broken – psychedelics may just save the day
  • When someone takes psilocybin, the part of the brain that’s associated with the ego temporarily shuts down
    • This liberates that person from their past, allowing them to explore new perspectives.
  • Many people are afraid of having a “bad trip,” but bad trips can be incredibly productive if faced correctly – think of them more as “challenging trips”
  • Personality seldom changes once you’re over 25-years-old
    • However, the personality trait of “openness” seems to increase after having a psychedelic experience, no matter your age

Intro

The Inspiration Behind How to Change Your Mind

  • Psychedelic drugs are undergoing a surprising renaissance; they’re now being used to treat depression, addiction, and the existential fear of death faced by many people with cancer
  • Michael has always been interested in nature, specifically food and agriculture, and wanted to explore the power and science around magic mushrooms (and other psychedelics) in his book – How to Change Your Mind
    • “I’ve always been curious about psychoactive plants” – Michael Pollan
  • “I didn’t realize, until I started working on this book, how broken mental healthcare and treatment is in this country”Michael Pollan
    • “We really haven’t had a big innovation since the late 80s”
      • Prozac and other drugs aren’t an ideal treatment for people with depression – they’re addictive and not super effective
        • “They only work a little bit better than placebos in trials”

How Psilocybin is Administered in Medical Trials

  • Psilocybin, as opposed to other psychedelics, is used in medical trials for two reasons:
    • The trips are shorter – they only last 5-6 hours
    • It’s a lot less controversial than LSD 
  • The process:
    • When people are administered psilocybin, they have two guides with them, one male and one female. The patient then lies down on a couch while wearing eyeshades and headphones, listening to a very carefully-curated playlist.
      • All of this is done to prepare the patient for an intense inner-journey
  • When someone takes psilocybin, the part of the brain that’s associated with the ego temporarily shuts down. This liberates that person from their past, allowing them to explore new perspectives.
    • “They begin to realize they needn’t be trapped in those stories and that they might actually be able to write some new stories about themselves” – Michael Pollan
  • Many people are afraid of having a “bad trip,” but bad trips can be incredibly productive if faced correctly – think of them more as “challenging trips”
    • For example: If you see a monster, don’t run away! Walk up to it and ask, “What are you doing in my mind/what do you have to teach me?”

Psilocybin Studies

  • New drugs typically pass through 3 phases:
    • Phase 1: A pilot study (to make sure they’re safe)
    • Phase 2: A slightly bigger group study (to see if the drug is effective)
    • Phase 3: A much larger trial (to check if the results from phase 2 are real)
  • Psilocybin studies are currently in phase 2
    • In one study, they found that 80% of patients had a statistically significant reduction in standard measures of depression and anxiety
      • The FDA recently allowed psilocybin studies to move to on to phase 3

Additional Notes

  • The primary use of LSD in the 1950s was to treat alcoholism
  • Michael views psilocybin more as a medicine than a drug
    • It’s non-addictive and can even be considered anti-addictive
    • Psychedelics do, however, carry psychological risks 
      • Taking them definitely isn’t a good idea for people with serious mental health illnesses, such as chizophrenia or psychosis
  • There’s a large underground network of psychedelic guides who risk their professional and personal lives by offering to serve for those wishing to use psychedelics in a safe manner
    • Michael imagines a world in the future containing mental health clubs around the world where people can use psychedelics under the supervision of a professionally trained guide
  • Personality seldom changes once you’re over 25-years-old
    • However, the personality trait of “openness” seems to increase after having a psychedelic experience, no matter your age
Fresh Air from NPR : , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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