Review of How to Change Your Mind

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Michael Pollan reports that during the 1950s and early ’60s, the psychiatric establishment regarded psychedelics as promising treatments for various disorders, including alcoholism and depression. Researchers blame Timothy Leary’s counterculture promotion of LSD for driving a backlash that led the United States to outlaw LSD and other psychedelics in 1970, thus ending sanctioned research. Pollan explores the potential of psychedelics and the nature of perception and consciousness.

About the Author

Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley Michael Pollan teaches writing at Harvard and wrote the bestsellers Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire.


From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, scientists undertook a wide range of studies of psychedelic compounds.

Michael Pollan explains that the first two decades of the 21st century have brought a burst of renewed scientific interest in psychedelic drugs. Institutions such as Johns Hopkins, New York University and London’s Imperial College are exploring using LSD and psilocybin in the treatment of mental illnesses. Some researchers evaluate the drugs’ potential role in helping terminally ill patients cope with anxiety and fear.

Pollan counters today’s common assumptions by showing that this is not the first sustained scientific research into psychedelics. He understands that most people first think of Timothy Leary’s self-publicized LSD and psilocybin experiments at Harvard in the early 1960s. But, he explains, substantial research started well before Leary launched himself onto the public stage. Officially sanctioned research took place around the world for much of the 1950s. Many psychiatrists of the period considered psychedelics to be miracle drugs. By 1960, LSD-assisted psychotherapy had become, Pollan reports, a well-established practice that attracted an elite clientele. “What doomed the first wave of psychedelic research,” the author writes, “was an irrational exuberance about its potential that was nourished by the drugs themselves.”

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