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This is Your Mind on Plants

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In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs--opium, caffeine, and mescaline--and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs--opium, caffeine, and mescaline--and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?


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In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs--opium, caffeine, and mescaline--and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs--opium, caffeine, and mescaline--and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?

30 review for This is Your Mind on Plants

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I love memoirs (except when I hate them) and I love science books. However, I do not love memoirs disguised as science. This seems to be a thing lately, with books like Underland: A Deep Time Journey and The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. This Is Your Mind on Plants is too. Some people love this type of book. Me? I'm left feeling disappointed when I'm expecting a book full of cool facts and end up reading about someone's life. If I I love memoirs (except when I hate them) and I love science books. However, I do not love memoirs disguised as science. This seems to be a thing lately, with books like Underland: A Deep Time Journey and The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. This Is Your Mind on Plants is too. Some people love this type of book. Me? I'm left feeling disappointed when I'm expecting a book full of cool facts and end up reading about someone's life. If I feel like a memoir, I'll read a memoir. (I will make an exception for The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred which was absolutely brilliant.) Thanks for letting me get that out. I'll stop bitching now. In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan discusses three mind-altering chemicals derived from plants: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Only one of these do I consume - coffee - and it's the only one I want. And do I ever want it! The idea of waking up in the morning and not brewing my favourite beverage is horrifying. I had hoped to learn more about opiates and mescaline (a psychedelic) and I did learn some. I appreciate the things I learned about them and about coffee and tea... but there weren't enough facts to make this a truly enjoyable read. The book is separated into three sections, one for each of the plants. The section on opiates has a little bit of history and a little bit of science, and a whole lot about the author's experiments with growing poppies. He talked about it and then included material he wrote about it back in the '90s. I didn't need to read all that once, let alone twice. The section on coffee was the most interesting, but again, the author included too much of his own "stuff". He gave up caffeine for three months while writing this book and so we get to read all about it. The last section on mescaline talks a lot (too much) about the history of its use among Native Americans. And again, we get to hear about the author's personal experiences with it. It's not a bad book I guess, but it's not one I enjoyed very much. Even writing about it I'm bored..... time to go make another cup of coffee.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    As a devout Michael Pollan fan, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. It was spectacular and thought provoking in every way I hoped. It was also very timely, Pollan writes about the COVID-19 pandemic and how plants can help escape feeling trapped in our stay-at-home lives. I’m not sure how interesting that part will remain after some time has passed but maybe I’m just too close to it right now to tell (the pandemic currently rages on). For those who have already listened to Michael Pollan As a devout Michael Pollan fan, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. It was spectacular and thought provoking in every way I hoped. It was also very timely, Pollan writes about the COVID-19 pandemic and how plants can help escape feeling trapped in our stay-at-home lives. I’m not sure how interesting that part will remain after some time has passed but maybe I’m just too close to it right now to tell (the pandemic currently rages on). For those who have already listened to Michael Pollan’s audiobook “Caffeine” on Audible, there is a lot of overlap in that section of this book. I found myself thinking “haven’t I read this before?” several times. Apparently the audiobook was an earlier and shorter version. I felt a little disappointed to learn that one-third of the book felt like recycled content but the other two-thirds TOTALLY made up for it with eye-opening history, interesting experiences, and (my favorite) connections to gardening. My only critique is that the three sections seemed a little disjointed. Caffeine seemed to be written for a different purpose than the other two sections and I wish the connection between the three was clearer/stronger. Even so, I still loved this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣

    Fancy meeting cacti, growing poppies (or drinking a horrible, 'oddly saisfying' tea of them), learning about 'opium, made easy', pondering the doors in the wall to the great beyond (enabled with some nifty-grifty shrooms)? Can't do w/o caffeinating yourself during that long overdue coffee break? Then this could be a fun read. #Lookinggreat Fancy meeting cacti, growing poppies (or drinking a horrible, 'oddly saisfying' tea of them), learning about 'opium, made easy', pondering the doors in the wall to the great beyond (enabled with some nifty-grifty shrooms)? Can't do w/o caffeinating yourself during that long overdue coffee break? Then this could be a fun read. #Lookinggreat

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    I've enjoyed Michael Pollan's work in the past and this one sounded intriguing, inspiring me to add it to this year's reading list. It seemed to be a good follow-up to reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception earlier this summer (and Pollan does talk about Huxley in the final section of the book). Unfortunately, I found the first third of the book, on opium, to be tough sledding. It is the oldest piece of the book and ends up being far more about the author's worries about potential law en I've enjoyed Michael Pollan's work in the past and this one sounded intriguing, inspiring me to add it to this year's reading list. It seemed to be a good follow-up to reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception earlier this summer (and Pollan does talk about Huxley in the final section of the book). Unfortunately, I found the first third of the book, on opium, to be tough sledding. It is the oldest piece of the book and ends up being far more about the author's worries about potential law enforcement actions than about opium. He does restore the section of his manuscript that dealt with the preparation and experience of making an opium tea. I'm afraid that my minimal experience with archives focused me on the storage method used for that information: he had to find someone who maintains antique technology and then utilize special software, summoning these pages from the past like a sorcerer summoning a being from an alternate dimension! As Pollan concludes, for preservation paper works best. I had much more interest in the caffeine section, as I am one of the many people devoted to this substance. The links between caffeine consumption and the development of our current worldview were fascinating. In conjunction with the progress of agriculture in Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal, these books give a very different way to interpret our history and an elucidating outlook. The mescaline portion finished up the book. I had no idea that the peyote cactus was gravely endangered! And I have to agree with the indigenous people that Pollan interviewed—as much Caucasian people want to participate in this experience, it is only fitting that they butt out and leave the sacred plant to those who know how to use it and frankly have much greater need of it. There are other plants and substances for use by the non-indigenous folk. So, not quite as interesting to me as I hoped, but certainly not a waste of time. Next year I hope to have time to peruse his How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, a book of a similar vein concerning psychedelics.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    This is Your Mind on Plants is a fascinating, open-minded and thought-provoking exploration of three different psychoactive drugs: opium, caffeine and mescaline. What's is interesting about these three drugs being discussed is that Pollan has chosen one substance that is illegal (without prescription), one substance that is socially accepted, even normalised for everyday use and perfectly legal and one that is interestingly a mix of the two; Pollan explains how mescaline is legal for use in Nati This is Your Mind on Plants is a fascinating, open-minded and thought-provoking exploration of three different psychoactive drugs: opium, caffeine and mescaline. What's is interesting about these three drugs being discussed is that Pollan has chosen one substance that is illegal (without prescription), one substance that is socially accepted, even normalised for everyday use and perfectly legal and one that is interestingly a mix of the two; Pollan explains how mescaline is legal for use in Native American tribes but only as part of their long-held customs and traditions. Interestingly, as he points out, it is the individuals who are ingesting it that alters whether mescaline is licit or illicit rather than the drug itself. He begins by exploring opium, its history and both the taboos and praise it has garnered. The narrative is a mix of science, reportage and personal anecdotes, and although I wasn't entirely sure about this concoction initially, it worked exceptionally well to illustrate his points. In terms of opium, he starts at the logical place—the hugely overblown and politically-motivated War on Drugs and intermingling experiences he himself has had over the years including with something as simple as wanting to cultivate poppies. He addresses the social, political, cultural and economic-based circumstances that surround these substances as well as their history and the perceived benefits and drawbacks of their usage but also examines how they often have an impact both on an individual and societal level. Pollan has penned another interesting, informative and fearlessly honest book and an accessible and absorbing set of three case studies for three very different drugs. It's always a pleasure to see an expert who is wise to society’s demonisation of certain substances and the moral panic politicians can often stir up around them for their own ends. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kate Henderson

    **Listened to the audio book** What the hell was this book? This book really wasn't what I was expecting. I expected this book to be filled with more facts and science, but it felt almost like a memoir at times. It felt very self indulgent on the author Michael Pollan's life. I didn't really read the book to hear his life story. I wanted to know more about the psychedelic properties and science of some of these plants - there wasn't enough of that. As a reader/listener in the UK I did feel that a **Listened to the audio book** What the hell was this book? This book really wasn't what I was expecting. I expected this book to be filled with more facts and science, but it felt almost like a memoir at times. It felt very self indulgent on the author Michael Pollan's life. I didn't really read the book to hear his life story. I wanted to know more about the psychedelic properties and science of some of these plants - there wasn't enough of that. As a reader/listener in the UK I did feel that a lot of the book was very USA specific and not always totally relevant to me in the UK. I didn't enjoy this read, and it certainly wasn't the book I was expecting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    There is a powerfully American cultural flavour to this book that even comes through in the title. I'll be honest, that title baffled me initially. The first thing it made me think of was the TV show 'This is Your Life', then I wondered if it was about having ideas while lying on a straw mattress. In reality it's a complete misnomer - it's entirely about Michael Pollan's life on plants (and the psychoactive chemicals derived from them) - it's a very me-oriented book. I was sold this as a science There is a powerfully American cultural flavour to this book that even comes through in the title. I'll be honest, that title baffled me initially. The first thing it made me think of was the TV show 'This is Your Life', then I wondered if it was about having ideas while lying on a straw mattress. In reality it's a complete misnomer - it's entirely about Michael Pollan's life on plants (and the psychoactive chemicals derived from them) - it's a very me-oriented book. I was sold this as a science book, but it really isn't. Pollan describes his interactions with three plant-derived chemical substances: opium, caffeine and mescaline - but there's hardly anything about the science of what's involved, just a brief, dictionary-like reference to how these chemicals act. It's all about Pollan, what he experiences, how he feels. That Americanness also comes across in his casual acceptance that someone he deals with keeps an assault rifle by his desk, and in his put-downs of the English, repeating the dubious analysis that tea drinking was a mechanism for evil English mill owners to get more work out of the masses. The three chemicals are dealt with in independent sections. The first, on morphine, is an extended version of an old magazine article. It's quite effective in describing the byzantine contortions the US legal system got into over drugs, where it was effectively legal to grow opium poppies in your garden as long as you didn't know they were opium poppies, and the poppy seeds were legal to sell (after all they're used in catering) but not to be used to 'manufacture' poppies. (I wasn't clear from the book how and if things have changed now.) However, I found Pollan's attitude to drugs here worrying. Again with this self-oriented view, it was very much a case of 'what's wrong with me taking opium if I want to - why should doctors be allowed to prescribe morphine but I can't use it?' This is particularly ironic as later on he berates the English for selling opium to China in the nineteenth century. Don't get me wrong, the Opium War was a bad thing, but it feels like Pollan's attitude is 'it's okay for me but not for those foreigners.' The centre section, by far the best, is a rehash of an earlier ebook on caffeine. Apart from anything, it's most interesting because it's closest to normal people's experience. He takes us through the history of coffee and tea well (despite the strange social control allegations), then tries life for a few months without caffeine and tries to work out whether the pros of consuming caffeine are worth the cons. Genuinely interesting. The final section is the most detached from everyday experience (we might not make our own opium tea like Pollan, but many of us will have grown poppies or have been prescribed morphine or codeine as a painkiller). Mescaline, derived from a couple of types of American cactus is a psychedelic chemical that is probably only familiar to most people from dramas or documentaries where someone experiences a religious ceremony involving it. Here another aspect of American culture comes out - the self-flagellation over past wrongs as Pollan worries about cultural appropriation or referring to something as a chemical, which it without doubt what it is, because it might offend someone who considers it spiritual - it's wokeness with a dollop of hippy leftovers thrown in. Just one more example of that US viewpoint. Pollan describes visiting a Columbian coffee farm. He mentions seeing the volcano Cerro Tusa and tells us 'You've seen it a thousand times on packages of beans and in all those commercials for Columbian coffee - the classic ones featuring Juan Valdez.' He then goes on to tells us how this fictional character was devised by an advertising agency in 1958. But guess what. If you aren't American, 'you' haven't seen all this - it means nothing to you. It's the same kind of viewpoint than leads the US to call a sports competition for a game essentially only played in America a 'World Series'. There is no doubt that Pollan can write (even though he becomes distinctly repetitive in the first section - perhaps a side-effect of the opium consumption), and when describing his fears of being raided for growing poppies or his relationship with caffeine he is genuinely engaging. But this is a book that irritates more than it inspires.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    3.75 stars This book covers three mind-altering substances and the plants they come from: opium from poppies, caffeine from coffee and tea, and mescaline from peyote and San Pedro cacti. It includes a lot of interesting historical, botanical, and cultural information, as well as the author's experiences using the substances. He also tried to grow some of the plants, sometimes illegally, with mixed results. My favorite section was the one on caffeine, probably because it's the only one of the three 3.75 stars This book covers three mind-altering substances and the plants they come from: opium from poppies, caffeine from coffee and tea, and mescaline from peyote and San Pedro cacti. It includes a lot of interesting historical, botanical, and cultural information, as well as the author's experiences using the substances. He also tried to grow some of the plants, sometimes illegally, with mixed results. My favorite section was the one on caffeine, probably because it's the only one of the three substances I have experience with and enjoy regularly. I have zero desire to ever use opium or mescaline. I especially enjoyed the scientific and historical information about caffeine. Did you know that insects, especially bees, are fond of caffeine, just like humans? "Scientists recently discovered a handful of [plant] species that produce caffeine in their nectar...These plants have discovered that they can attract pollinators by offering them a small shot of caffeine; even better, that caffeine has been shown to sharpen the memories of bees, making them more faithful, efficient, and hardworking pollinators. Pretty much what caffeine does for us." He cites another study showing that caffeine discombobulates insect brains, (kind of like what happens to us if we overdo it.) "Researchers fed a variety of psychoactive substances to spiders to see how they would affect their web-making skills. The caffeinated spider spun a strangely cubist and utterly ineffective web, with oblique angles, openings big enough to let small birds through, and completely lacking in symmetry or a center. (The web was far more fanciful than the ones spun by spiders given cannabis or LSD.)" I was also fascinated by the history of coffeehouses, especially in London, where there were thousands. At one time there was one coffeehouse for every two hundred Londoners. But only men were allowed to enjoy them. They were very civilized places, where if you started an argument you were expected to buy a round for everyone. A round of coffee, that is. Men were spending so much time in coffeehouses that women started complaining, saying coffee made their husbands impotent! There were some other things I wanted to include here for future reference, but my library loan for the ebook expired before I could get it all copied. So I'll do that when I get my hands on a physical copy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    Not at all what I was expecting, this book consists of essays on each of three plants: a sedative (opium), a stimulant (caffeine), and a hallucinogen (mescaline). For each, the author becomes the subject of his own experiments with these psychoactive plants. His memoir is supplemented by politics, history, and a small amount of science. The first essay is about the author’s experience growing opium poppies (papaver somniferum). He is a gardener who is interested in the impact of plants on the mi Not at all what I was expecting, this book consists of essays on each of three plants: a sedative (opium), a stimulant (caffeine), and a hallucinogen (mescaline). For each, the author becomes the subject of his own experiments with these psychoactive plants. His memoir is supplemented by politics, history, and a small amount of science. The first essay is about the author’s experience growing opium poppies (papaver somniferum). He is a gardener who is interested in the impact of plants on the mind. He imbibes opium tea and advises the reader of the onset, peak, and dissipation of effects. There is a lot of political and legal discussion revolving around freedom of speech and America’s “war on drugs.” The section on caffeine focuses on the history of coffee and tea consumption worldwide. The author goes “cold turkey” to get off all caffeine products and records how he feels. He observes that caffeine is a socially accepted addiction. He restates a number of stereotypes regarding coffee and tea drinkers, which seem out of place in a purportedly science-based book. The last essay entails an account of the author’s participation in a ceremony, derived from Indian rituals, involving mescaline. This portion takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is mildly interesting, but the author does not put himself “out there” – he mostly focuses on his wife’s experience. This section also does not quite work in conveying the Native American perspective. Based on the title I had assumed I would find a book about plants that help increase mental acuity. That’s what I get for picking out a book solely on the title. I almost turned it back into the library but decided it was interesting enough to finish. I am still unsure of the purpose of this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Ray

    This was more of a memoir of Michael Pollen than a scientific treatise on 3 plants as opposed to a wide variety or of plants in general. This is what I get for not paying more attention to the flyleaf. However, it was fascinating and did provide a lot of interesting and factual material on the following 3 plants and their "drug" related uses: poppies for opium, coffee and tea beans for caffeine, and peyote cacti for hallucinatory experiences. With the exception of caffeine, I have never delved in This was more of a memoir of Michael Pollen than a scientific treatise on 3 plants as opposed to a wide variety or of plants in general. This is what I get for not paying more attention to the flyleaf. However, it was fascinating and did provide a lot of interesting and factual material on the following 3 plants and their "drug" related uses: poppies for opium, coffee and tea beans for caffeine, and peyote cacti for hallucinatory experiences. With the exception of caffeine, I have never delved into the other areas and while fascinating, I don't plan on trying to grow these items myself. However, if you do want to, the author has provided the dos, don'ts, and legal ramifications of doing so. I would have liked to see more plants and the effects on your well-being, etc., while growing, gardening, nurturing and just enjoying plants themselves. I love being around plants and always feel calmer when I am surrounded by greenery.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Akbar

    At first glance this seems like a strange hodgepodge of information compared to his last books. The book is separated into three parts. The first, which was originally published as an article in the '90s, is about opium during the height of the drug war. The second part, which was written a few years ago, is on caffeine and the interesting relationship we have between it and modern living. And then finally, the last section is on mescaline, which was written during the pandemic. Obviously all th At first glance this seems like a strange hodgepodge of information compared to his last books. The book is separated into three parts. The first, which was originally published as an article in the '90s, is about opium during the height of the drug war. The second part, which was written a few years ago, is on caffeine and the interesting relationship we have between it and modern living. And then finally, the last section is on mescaline, which was written during the pandemic. Obviously all this is about drugs. but just in hearing that, it seems hard to find what the through line would be. In actuality the book is much more about the strangeness that occurs when you try to draw a hard lines of what's okay and what's not okay. You have one drug that is totally outlawed, one that is never outlawed, and one that is only legal in religious settings. At first it seems like these things would be really connected, but each drug has its own setting and character, and that comes through in the writing. This is less a single book than it is a compilation smaller books around a common theme. And it works really well! Overall you get a good sense of the strange way we treat drugs in the modern age, as well as possible ways forward that both remove the stigma and allow for healthier use that both honors the individual and honors the cultures from which the drugs come from. This is very fascinating read that would be fun to read alongside How to Change Your Mind.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Candie

    I didn't find this book very interesting. I kind of went into it blind and to be honest, based on the title I thought it was a book based on eating a plant based diet. It is not. After reading the Intro I realized it is a book that looks into psychoactive plants; opium (a downer) coffee (an upper) and mescaline (a hallucinogenic). I thought it would still be interesting so I continued on. I really did not learn too much about these drugs. It didn't provide too much information or scientific fact I didn't find this book very interesting. I kind of went into it blind and to be honest, based on the title I thought it was a book based on eating a plant based diet. It is not. After reading the Intro I realized it is a book that looks into psychoactive plants; opium (a downer) coffee (an upper) and mescaline (a hallucinogenic). I thought it would still be interesting so I continued on. I really did not learn too much about these drugs. It didn't provide too much information or scientific facts or anything, it mostly just focused on his experience using the three, how he obtained them, what the setting was etc. Truthfully, I kind of found it a bit boring. I don't personally recommend it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    ° THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS by Michael Pollan, 2021. #ScienceSeptember //🪴 botany, psychedelics Poppies, coffee/tea, peyote :: from these plants come some of the most potent, powerful, and possibly addictive substances - opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Michael Pollan, who took the psychonaut turn in his last (and better) 2018 book, HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND, returns to the subject of mind-altering substances in this new work. In many ways, this book is a supplement to that book. However, I found t ° THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS by Michael Pollan, 2021. #ScienceSeptember //🪴 botany, psychedelics Poppies, coffee/tea, peyote :: from these plants come some of the most potent, powerful, and possibly addictive substances - opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Michael Pollan, who took the psychonaut turn in his last (and better) 2018 book, HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND, returns to the subject of mind-altering substances in this new work. In many ways, this book is a supplement to that book. However, I found the title misleading and had to recalculate my expectations early on. I *was* expecting a pop science-y book on neuroscience and chemistry and how the mind can be altered with plants, similar to HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND with a dash of Pollan's 2001 book BOTANY OF DESIRE... What Pollan wrote was more a running diary of his own experimentations growing, tripping on, abstaining from, and procuring all 3 substances. Blend in some some wikipedia-like histories of these plants and interviews, and this one is interesting yes, but not quite as advertised. I can read about plants *ALL the live long day*, so I did enjoy, but you may need to adjust your expectations. It's much more memoir and personal experience than science journalism. There's a lot about the "culture" of the plants and how that was formed through history and around the world. The opium chapter relied heavily on previously unpublished materials from Pollan's own experimentations growing poppies in his garden and drinking tea from the pods in the 1990s. ☕ The caffeine chapter was a stark and rude reminder that caffeine is the MOST ubiquitous of mind-altering substances, and one that so many of us (me!) rely on to even function on a daily basis. The mescaline chapter was probably the most enlightening in terms of learning things I didn't previously know. However, there was a discomfort in the approach that Pollan took in his research of the Native American Church that uses peyote medicine in ceremony. Something just never quite sat right, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what. ✍️Recommended if you're into such things, but I'm certain there are better books out there on the subject.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    thanks to the publishers and netgalley for a free copy in return for an open and honest review. This book was more like a memoir of the author experiences with the 3 types of drug listed ( opium/poppies, caffeine and Mescaline) rather than any scientific background. found the book very interesting though.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shelley Gibbs

    3.5* 4 stars for Pollan's usual affable & curious storytelling. 3 stars for this being a cobbled together book with 2/3 recycled material. To me, the most interesting parts of this book are the discussions with indigenous people about mescaline, particularly the parts shared cautiously & skeptically with Pollan. Which leads me (white lady) to do better and to seek out more information from non-white-dude sources. And while he skims the surface of pointing out the absolute racist and classist absur 3.5* 4 stars for Pollan's usual affable & curious storytelling. 3 stars for this being a cobbled together book with 2/3 recycled material. To me, the most interesting parts of this book are the discussions with indigenous people about mescaline, particularly the parts shared cautiously & skeptically with Pollan. Which leads me (white lady) to do better and to seek out more information from non-white-dude sources. And while he skims the surface of pointing out the absolute racist and classist absurdities of America's 'war on drugs', he does so in such a brief manner, eventually bringing it back around to himself and his fear that he would be in legal trouble for growing poppies in his garden (you & I both know that the likelihood of that happening were slim to none). It feels like he missed a real opportunity (given his clout and reach) to change minds regarding drug policy in America.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    4.5 Pollan's exploration of drugs in his last two books has been such a fascinating journey. Worth a read. 4.5 Pollan's exploration of drugs in his last two books has been such a fascinating journey. Worth a read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Donovan

    This is the 3rd Pollan book I've read, after How to change your mind and A place of my own. This current work is as good as the others. The perfect blend of scientific insight, historical and cultural discussion and honest memoir, this book discusses the psychoactive compounds opium, caffeine and mescaline. While I thought the mescaline section would interest me most, it was actually the opium part. Discussing the fateful war on drugs occurring as Oxycontin ruined the lives of millions of Americ This is the 3rd Pollan book I've read, after How to change your mind and A place of my own. This current work is as good as the others. The perfect blend of scientific insight, historical and cultural discussion and honest memoir, this book discusses the psychoactive compounds opium, caffeine and mescaline. While I thought the mescaline section would interest me most, it was actually the opium part. Discussing the fateful war on drugs occurring as Oxycontin ruined the lives of millions of Americans, it drove to the heart of the issue and questioned who should have the power to control what we put into our bodies.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    I found this a truly fascinating read, wonderfully compelling, an exploration of plant-based psychedelics, America’s war on drugs and the country’s drug laws. The book is divided into three sections, the first about opium, a sedative, the second is about caffeine, a stimulant, and the third focusses on mescaline/peyote, a hallucinogen. Each section combines a scientific and historical examination with the author’s own personal experience with the drugs. Caffeine, he reminds us, is the most popul I found this a truly fascinating read, wonderfully compelling, an exploration of plant-based psychedelics, America’s war on drugs and the country’s drug laws. The book is divided into three sections, the first about opium, a sedative, the second is about caffeine, a stimulant, and the third focusses on mescaline/peyote, a hallucinogen. Each section combines a scientific and historical examination with the author’s own personal experience with the drugs. Caffeine, he reminds us, is the most popular psychoactive drug on the planet – and I must admit I’d never thought of the numerous cups of tea I drink every day in quite in those terms. He also suggests that it was the move from alcohol to coffee that led to Europe’s’ cultural revolutions and the Enlightenment in the 17th century, “sparked by a switch form drunken to caffeinated brains.” I was interested to learn that for the Native American Church, peyote is sacred (and legal) and they do not consider it a drug. I did get a little bored when the author described his own experience on it – I don’t think we needed such a long section – but really that’s the only quibble I have. As for opium, buying poppy seeds is apparently perfectly legal and they are available from seed catalogues, but growing them in your garden is risky as the plants are illegal, and making opium tea not a good idea. The book is wide-ranging and full of interesting snippets like that, and I learnt a lot. A great read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anne Earney

    An interesting look at three drugs that come from plants- opium poppies, caffeine, and mescaline - and how they're grown, how they're extracted, and how we use them. I found the essay Pollan wrote about opium poppies twenty years ago and decided not to publish because of the drug crime climate at that time especially interesting, as well as his comparison of mescaline to other psychedelics. His attempt to get off caffeine was also entertaining, and I'm sure I would not do much better (here I sit An interesting look at three drugs that come from plants- opium poppies, caffeine, and mescaline - and how they're grown, how they're extracted, and how we use them. I found the essay Pollan wrote about opium poppies twenty years ago and decided not to publish because of the drug crime climate at that time especially interesting, as well as his comparison of mescaline to other psychedelics. His attempt to get off caffeine was also entertaining, and I'm sure I would not do much better (here I sit with my third cup of coffee, having cut back to two just a few weeks ago).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I enjoyed reading Pollan's description of what he experienced upon drinking his first cup of coffee after a few months abstaining - it reminded me of the mental and physical euphoria I felt drinking my first coffee after accidentally drinking decaf for a week. The heavens opened. I enjoyed reading Pollan's description of what he experienced upon drinking his first cup of coffee after a few months abstaining - it reminded me of the mental and physical euphoria I felt drinking my first coffee after accidentally drinking decaf for a week. The heavens opened.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    In his latest book on the plant-people relationship, author, journalist and avid amateur gardener Michael Pollan turns his eye to the opium poppy, caffeine (derived from Coffea arabica) and mescaline (from the peyote cactus). As Pollan puts it, each of these drugs are either an upper, downer or 'outer'. His exploration takes in their political and socio-cultural history, highlighting the arbitrary nature of their public reputation. As ever, Pollan can't resist getting up close and personal with t In his latest book on the plant-people relationship, author, journalist and avid amateur gardener Michael Pollan turns his eye to the opium poppy, caffeine (derived from Coffea arabica) and mescaline (from the peyote cactus). As Pollan puts it, each of these drugs are either an upper, downer or 'outer'. His exploration takes in their political and socio-cultural history, highlighting the arbitrary nature of their public reputation. As ever, Pollan can't resist getting up close and personal with the plants. The author has an engagingly anecdotal writing style. The audiobook, narrated by Pollan, made me feel I was sharing a coffee with the author. Well produced and highly entertaining. My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK Audio for the ARC.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    One of the things I love and appreciate about Pollan, is his ability to write a non-fiction book on a difficult and misunderstood topic while keeping it readable, interesting and educational. Pollan has two books that deal with mind-altering drugs, his How to Change Your Mind was in my opinion, the better of the two. I also read Johann Hari’s book: Chasing the Scream. Between these three books I see things in a different light regarding the enforcement of drugs laws. Drugs are a touchy subject. One of the things I love and appreciate about Pollan, is his ability to write a non-fiction book on a difficult and misunderstood topic while keeping it readable, interesting and educational. Pollan has two books that deal with mind-altering drugs, his How to Change Your Mind was in my opinion, the better of the two. I also read Johann Hari’s book: Chasing the Scream. Between these three books I see things in a different light regarding the enforcement of drugs laws. Drugs are a touchy subject. But like so many things in life they exist as both positive and negative. A drug can heal or harm and that’s true whether obtained legally or illegally. Whether a legal drug or an “illicit” drug, the power to alter your life exists in balance. Our attitudes are in desperate need of reorganization around this War On Drugs. There are better ways to deal with substances than the hodgepodge hypocrisy we live with here in the states. In this book Pollan examines opium, the ubiquitous drug of caffeine, and then mescaline. I must say the chapters on caffeine were my favorite. With the other drugs we see how calling them “controlled substances” carries with it a double-meaning and double standards. The last third of the book on mescaline (peyote, Wachuma cactus) was perhaps more sobering and touches on the pain of what white Europeans and their descendants did to the Native American populations in The Americas. Some of this history is being revealed again both in Canada and the USA. For which if interested I highly recommend reading Killers of the Flower Moon to understand the control the US government had over Native Americans. Thank you Michael Pollan for shifting perspectives in a society that is in desperate need of enlightenment. From the book: I use the word “blessed” in full awareness of the human tragedies that can accompany the use of drugs. Much better than we do, the Greeks understood the two-faced nature of drugs, an understanding reflected in the ambiguity of their term for them: pharmakon. A pharmakon can be either a medicine or a poison; it all depends—on use, dose, intention, and set and setting.* (The word has a third meaning as well, one often relied on during the drug war: a pharmakon is also a scapegoat, something for a group to blame its problems on.) And this: “You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman began, startling the journalist with both his candor and his cynicism. Ehrlichman explained that the Nixon White House “had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. . . . We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”* (less)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    I have enjoyed Michael Pollan's books, especially How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. This is Your Mind on Plants is his latest book. It consists of three parts, each part discussing one of the following three plants: opium poppy, coffee, and mescaline producing cacti. In other words, one sedative, one simulant and one psychedelic. The part about opium poppy is an extended version of the aut I have enjoyed Michael Pollan's books, especially How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. This is Your Mind on Plants is his latest book. It consists of three parts, each part discussing one of the following three plants: opium poppy, coffee, and mescaline producing cacti. In other words, one sedative, one simulant and one psychedelic. The part about opium poppy is an extended version of the author's 1990s article published in Harper's Magazine. Michael Pollan cultivated opium poppies in his own garden and agonized over the legality of his action. From the story of Jim Hogshire and Bob Black, Hogshire's houseguest from hell, you get a picture of America's War on Drugs. The coffee part is not very interesting. The last part was written during the Covid-19 pandemic. The history of Native American Church and Peyotism stands out. Perhaps I am cynical-I am getting tired of the author's tripping experiences if it is out of the context of scientific research.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aimee LaGrandeur

    I picked up “This is Your Mind on Plants” after hearing glowing reviews of Michael Pollan and I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, but I’m not quite as impressed as I anticipated. Some diehard Pollan fans complained that this book recycles material, the Opium section is a Harper article he wrote in the 90s and the Caffeine section is a textual reproduction of a podcast he did; however, this was my first work by Pollan, so this wasn’t an issue for me. To the contrary, I liked the “recycled” component I picked up “This is Your Mind on Plants” after hearing glowing reviews of Michael Pollan and I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, but I’m not quite as impressed as I anticipated. Some diehard Pollan fans complained that this book recycles material, the Opium section is a Harper article he wrote in the 90s and the Caffeine section is a textual reproduction of a podcast he did; however, this was my first work by Pollan, so this wasn’t an issue for me. To the contrary, I liked the “recycled” components of this book more than the final original Mescaline section. The intro and first two sections were so well balanced between his experiences, socio-political context, and historical background. I was engrossed and flew threw the first two-thirds of the book. But then I hit a WALL at the mescaline section, which feels cobbled together to round out the book. The final section lacks the cohesion of the book. Mescaline’s most well know iteration is peyote, a sacred medicine to Native Americans, which creates a tricky line of cultural appropriation that Pollan poorly navigates. He first presents only interviews and historical context of white people’s accounts of Native American peyote ceremonies. I was confused why he would begin the chapter with an appropriated experience (though he does generally acknowledge appropriation) until we got to the interviews with actual Native people, who all refuse to disclose what happens in the peyote ceremonies and are generally disgruntled by white peoples interest in what they consider to be a divine medicine. It isn’t until halfway in the essay that Pollan acknowledges that legalizing peyote usage for non-natives isn’t just cultural appropriation, it’s a non-metaphorical continuation of taking from Native Americans, since peyote is increasingly threatened as a plant. After being told by his most open Native American interviewee “sometimes the best way to show your respect for something is to just leave it alone,” Pollan decides the way to salvage the chapter while being denied the opportunity to partake in a peyote ceremony is to try synthetic mescaline and then to do San Pedro/Wachuma ceremony (a different lightly less sacred mescaline containing cactus) lead by a medicine carrier who is sort of Native American adjacent having worked with two elders. Then after this hectic final essay, we get no closing to balance out the intro, so the end feels very abrupt. All in all, I would give the fist essays 5 stars, final essay 2 stars, and I will probably still give “How to Change Your Mind” a chance.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Briana Melero

    First MP I've read - curious to read his other books, but this one made me hesitate. Overall impression is that this was a collection of partially begun essays, dusted off, and published as a bit of a modge-podge. Editor would have done well to insist on an Epilogue to tie the disparate pieces together. While each section was well written and engaging, the central narrative was missing in action. I'm not sure what I just read... Recommended for those who love: Michael Pollan, curiosity fulfillmen First MP I've read - curious to read his other books, but this one made me hesitate. Overall impression is that this was a collection of partially begun essays, dusted off, and published as a bit of a modge-podge. Editor would have done well to insist on an Epilogue to tie the disparate pieces together. While each section was well written and engaging, the central narrative was missing in action. I'm not sure what I just read... Recommended for those who love: Michael Pollan, curiosity fulfillment, narrative nonfiction, nature/botany/biochemistry/gastric-anthropology, essays, armchair science

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.A. Ironside

    Audio arc provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review Michael Pollan narrated his own audio and it worked really well. When author's have decent voices and read well, it can work better than hiring a narrator since the author knows exactly the intonation and delivery they want and exactly how they want to convey the information. Pollan was interesting to listen to and having him narrate his own book added a personal touch. The book itself is fascinating. I have a life long interest in Audio arc provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review Michael Pollan narrated his own audio and it worked really well. When author's have decent voices and read well, it can work better than hiring a narrator since the author knows exactly the intonation and delivery they want and exactly how they want to convey the information. Pollan was interesting to listen to and having him narrate his own book added a personal touch. The book itself is fascinating. I have a life long interest in plants (which resulted in a degree in plant biology and genetics), though only a theoretical knowledge of psychotropic/ psychedelic plant substances! My interest in plants was kindled as a very young child by my father - who clearly thought that if his children were going to roam wild in rural Dorset, they ought to know which plants were poisonous and which were safe if handled respectfully. The idea that a plant could be a thing of beauty, a source of food, a source of medicine and an organism which helped renew the soil and assist the overall ecosystem took root early. I'm not sure how Pollan got into plants but the way he speaks about them echoes my own feelings and thoughts. There is as much poetry in the science when you know it as there is feeling in the poetry surrounding plants. This book focuses on mind altering substances derived from prepared plants. Pollan has not been shy about experimenting either - something which I have never really wanted to do. Specifically, these substances change how you, the ingestor of said plant, perceive reality. Weaving together strands of history, culture, law and religion, Pollan looks at the human fascination with being able to take short trips to Wonderland. He does not obfuscate the perils nor does he downplay the benefits. There's certainly a lot of evidence that psychedelics can assist with a number of mental issues such as PTSD and depression. Finally, he discusses the questionable practice of making some plant substances illegal and calling them 'drugs' when very similar, potentially more harmful substances are manufactured, licensed and sold enriching Big Pharma. The law around these substances is idiosyncratic, capricious and badly enforced. And ultimately futile because it is a war on human desire. While laws such as those that protect Native American rights with regard to Peyote must remain in place, other laws are somewhat asinine. I am curious to find out what the corresponding situation is here in UK (although we don't really have the climate for growing Peyote!) Overall a fascinating book, told in an accessible and engaging manner. Very enjoyable. Highly recommend if you have an interest in this area.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Robison

    Another excellent first-person nonfiction book of investigative journalism by Michael Pollan, this time as he experiments with the effects of poppies (making poppy tea from plants growing in his garden), caffeine (going through withdrawal), and mescaline (taking chemical mescaline and engaging in a peyote ceremony). This sounded boring to me, but I trusted Pollan and was immediately immersed in his stories. This isn't the classic that was Pollan's "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science o Another excellent first-person nonfiction book of investigative journalism by Michael Pollan, this time as he experiments with the effects of poppies (making poppy tea from plants growing in his garden), caffeine (going through withdrawal), and mescaline (taking chemical mescaline and engaging in a peyote ceremony). This sounded boring to me, but I trusted Pollan and was immediately immersed in his stories. This isn't the classic that was Pollan's "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence" but it's an excellent appendix to it. I loved how he laid out the Kafkaesque parts of the drug war, with some drugs illegal depending upon who used them and others illegal based purely upon whether you knew they were illegal. Excerpt: Ehrlichman, you will recall, was President Nixon’s domestic policy adviser; he served time in federal prison for his role in Watergate. Baum came to talk to Ehrlichman about the drug war, of which he was a key architect. “You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman began, startling the journalist with both his candor and his cynicism. Ehrlichman explained that the Nixon White House “had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. . . . We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paperclippe

    It took me a long time to sit down and write a review of This is Your Mind on Plants, and it's hard exactly to say why. The whole time I was reading it, and after I had finished, I would repeatedly tell people how engaging it was, how captivating, how informative - and yet, I felt like I couldn't really concisely say just why I'd been so absorbed. Maybe it's because I'm an avid (indoor) gardener, and when I go for a hobby, I really go for it. No, I'll never be growing poppies or coffee beans or It took me a long time to sit down and write a review of This is Your Mind on Plants, and it's hard exactly to say why. The whole time I was reading it, and after I had finished, I would repeatedly tell people how engaging it was, how captivating, how informative - and yet, I felt like I couldn't really concisely say just why I'd been so absorbed. Maybe it's because I'm an avid (indoor) gardener, and when I go for a hobby, I really go for it. No, I'll never be growing poppies or coffee beans or peyote in my house and not just because I don't really need Mr. DEA Man to come knocking at my door, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know about all the wonderful and weird ways that plants affect our brains, our personalities, our cultures. Or maybe it's because plants are where I'm at my most libertarian if you will, believing that we should be able to grow what we want, how we want, for our own personal consumption, despite the fact that the only things I currently consume that my mind is on are hearty helpings of tea, coffee, and fermented yeast and hops, and it seems that Mr. Pollan and I are on the same page as far as that's concerned. Or maybe it's just that... plants are fascinating. They literally change us. They, to use the title of another of Pollan's books, change our minds. We live with them and beside them, and we use them and try to regulate them, and all they want to do is go on to live their planty little lives, growing and fruiting and photosynthesizing, seeding and sporing and doing it all over again. We assign labels, values to them like "good" and "bad" and "legal" and "illegal," completely regardless of the fact that they were here first and will be here long after anyone able to label anything is long gone. But until that day, they will continue to shape us and our laws and society, and they will just go on growing and photosynthesizing - and occasionally being written about in both exacting and reverential tones, hopefully by people as thoughtful and capable with words as Michael Pollan.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Michael Pollan’s book brings together the history of the three substances opium, caffeine and mescaline and some of the science behind their influence on the human brain as well as his personal experiences with these substances. The book was well-researched and included many interesting facts. I didn’t know much about mescaline, so that was an interesting section for me. I already had prior knowledge of caffeine’s effect on the brain and body and having read an ARC of ‘Why we sleep’ , the effect Michael Pollan’s book brings together the history of the three substances opium, caffeine and mescaline and some of the science behind their influence on the human brain as well as his personal experiences with these substances. The book was well-researched and included many interesting facts. I didn’t know much about mescaline, so that was an interesting section for me. I already had prior knowledge of caffeine’s effect on the brain and body and having read an ARC of ‘Why we sleep’ , the effect on sleep. Much of the discussion of legality and the evolution of people’s attitudes and the legal standpoint was specific to the United States. The book also contains lengthy sections on Pollan’s own experience with the substances, which could have been summarised more and made the book shorter. For example, a long section focused on how Pollan tried to obtain poppy seeds without attracting the authorities’ attention, how he planted and grew the poppies and then made tea from them. I have always been interested in plants and spent weekends of my childhood in botanical gardens and everyone in my family loves to garden, but the gardening sections in the book could have been kept shorter. I didn’t mind the discussion of changing legality of drugs- which, if you work at a university, is ever-present. I think for me, the bottom line is how an ‘addiction’ to a ‘mind-altering’ substance affects the person physically and mentally long-term, as well as their surroundings. Thanks to NetGalley, Allen Lane (the Penguin Group) and Michael Pollan for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Angst

    So Michael Pollan is definitely caffeinated. He’s also a gardener walking on a tight rope of legalities about opium poppy cultivating. He’s also recently exploring psychedelics during the COVID-19 pandemic because why not. So here are his three stories. These three stories are about three “drugs” (alkaloids) derived from plants - an upper, downer and an outter. What you’re going to learn, is that the extraction of opium from poppies, caffeine from coffea or tea plants, and mescaline from a peyot So Michael Pollan is definitely caffeinated. He’s also a gardener walking on a tight rope of legalities about opium poppy cultivating. He’s also recently exploring psychedelics during the COVID-19 pandemic because why not. So here are his three stories. These three stories are about three “drugs” (alkaloids) derived from plants - an upper, downer and an outter. What you’re going to learn, is that the extraction of opium from poppies, caffeine from coffea or tea plants, and mescaline from a peyote cactus is easy once you’ve gotten your hands on the plant. For opium poppies in the US and Canada that’s simply buying seeds, which is a legal way to grow it. As for other illicit alkaloids like mescaline? Being that there’s a shortage of this plant, mescaline is harder to acquire. Likely because the growth of cacti is painfully slow. Most of the peyote that’s native to Texas ends up in the hands of Native American people who have the legal right to consume it. Although it’s legal to grow peyote in Canada, mescaline is a prohibited substance, an issue that’ll probably only arise if your carrying dried peyote. Lesser known is the San Pedro, which is perfectly legal to grow in the United States, but the concentration of mescaline in these cactus are disappointingly lower. Being that there’s so much grey area around the plant and the chemicals they produce, and although distinguished as separate from one another in most countries and their criminal codes, it seems that the more you know about your plants, the guiltier you are for growing it.

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