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How to Change Your Mind
Unlike “The Trip Treatment”, which Pollan wrote from an outsider’s perspective, How to Change Your Mind emerged from exhaustive research and direct, personal experience. Over two years, Pollan investigated the therapeutic use of LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and 5-MeO-DMT. To better understand their effects, Pollan found experienced psychedelic “guides” to immerse him in their teachings.
To guide his LSD experience, Pollan chose a well-studied man named “Fritz” from the American West. In Fritz’s octagon-shaped yurt, Pollan took a psycholytic dose of LSD, allowing him to explore the psyche while remaining coherent enough to talk about it. Throughout the journey, Pollan never completely severed ties with his ego but experienced greater empathy towards his father and a muffling of that “controlling voice” inside his head. In fact, his wife, Judith Belzer, noted he was unusually chatty, available, and present for several days afterward.
Pollan’s psilocybin mushroom journey took place in a suburb on the East Coast guided by a woman named “Mary”. Before the experience, Pollan worried he might lose his mind to the hallucinations. Fortunately, Pollan said, “the serpent of madness that I worried might be waiting had not surfaced.” Instead, Pollan experienced ego dissolution and an awareness that there may be a “less neurotic and more generous [way] to perceive reality”. Having a taste of that vantage point, Pollan realized for the first time that he could be less inextricably tied to defensive, trigger-happy tendencies.
To smoke “one of the most potent and fast-acting psychotropic drugs there is,” Pollan enlisted a 35-year-old Mexican therapist he calls “Rocío”. Rocío, who had previous experience administering 5-MeO-DMT as a drug addiction treatment, guided Pollan on what he described as a terrifying experience. “I was no longer there,” and yet “expanding to become all that there was.” Pollan wondered if that was what death might feel like, but fortunately, he didn’t stay nothing for long. When he returned to time and space, Pollan described experiencing his birth and the birth of his son, followed by overwhelming gratitude for existence and his family.
Pollan wasn’t dying, and he didn’t have a mental illness, but he certainly struggled with self-described rigidity. He walked away from the experiences knowing his mind was more malleable than he once thought. He was capable of greater balance, presence, and ease.