Mind-altering drugs: The magical history of LSD and mushrooms | Michael Pollan

Mind-altering drugs: The magical history of LSD and mushrooms | Michael Pollan

I think like most people, I thought before
I started this project that psychedelics were a product of the ’60s. And the word psychedelic is such a ’60s word. And it comes into our awareness with Timothy
Leary and all of the counterculture interest in psychedelics. But in fact, there’s a much older history. I mean, there’s an ancient history. Psychedelics have been used in societies in
Central America, and South America, and the Old World as well, for thousands of years. As a sacrament in religions, for divination
and purposes like that. So there’s an ancient history of psychedelics. It goes way back. And then there is the kind of mid-century,
20th century history, which begins with Albert Hofmann, who is a brilliant chemist with the
Sandoz Company in Switzerland. And he in effect invents LSD– first in 1938,
but he doesn’t know what he has yet. He’s looking for a drug to help women in childbirth. And he’s working with something called the
ergot fungus, which is a fungus that infects grain and, in fact, was responsible for various
episodes of public madness throughout European history. It may have been involved in the Salem witch
trials, too. People who eat this infected grain would have
hallucinations and go kind of crazy. They’d also get gangrene. It was a pretty nasty fungus. Ergotamine molecule and making all these derivatives
from it. And the 25th– LSD 25– he tried on animals. It didn’t seem to do anything– put it on
the shelf. But then in 1943, in the Middle of World War
II, he got this premonition that this was a particularly interesting and beautiful And
he should take a second look at it. And he resynthesized it and accidentally ingested
some of it, perhaps through his skin or by touching to his eye, and realized that this
was a powerful psychoactive molecule. He then decided to properly dose himself to
see what was going on. And that was very common at the time, that
people would dose themselves before they give it to anybody else. And he took 250 micrograms, which he thought
was a very small dose, and for any other drug, it would be a very small dose, but LSD was
immensely powerful. And he has the first acid trip in history. And it’s not a pleasant experience. He feels like he’s going mad. The furniture is coming to life. He leaves his body and sees himself from the
ceiling. And he tells his research assistant, this
young woman, that he’s got to get home because he was in the lab. And it’s the war time. There’s no gasoline, so they take a bicycle. And there’s a famous bike ride, which is still
commemorated here, 421 I think, The bike with his lab assistant. And he gets there, and he summons the doctor. And the doctor takes a look at him and says
you’re fine. Your pupils are dilated, but all your vitals
are normal. And as the experience wears off, he starts
feeling really good, and he gets this powerful sense of well-being. And he goes out in the garden, and he describes
the garden jeweled with dew and how it looked. He felt like Adam on the first day of creation,
and that was the kind of ecstatic piece of the experience. So there you have it, the first acid trip. But he didn’t know– and Sandoz, the company
he worked for, really didn’t know what was it good for. How could you use this drug? How could you monetize it, as we would say? So Sandoz does something very interesting. They organize basically a crowd searched research
project, where they offer LSD to any researcher, therapist, who wants it, for free. And really, all you needed was some good letterhead,
and you could get a ton of Sandoz LSD for a period that And this led to this very fertile
period of research in the ’50s. And again, most people now don’t realize how
much LSD research was going on. And so people used it in a variety of ways,
and there was this effort to figure out Originally, it was called the psychotomimetic. That means a drug that mimics the effects
of psychosis. And that’s certainly what it looked like to
a psychiatrist. I mean, the people on it were hearing voices,
seeing things that weren’t there, and feeling their personalities fall apart. And so it looked like a psychotic reaction. And that’s what they thought it was. And the thinking was that maybe since a chemical
could induce this experience, perhaps it’s a chemical interpretation of schizophrenia. And perhaps we could use this drug to understand
the mind of the madman. That the therapist could really put him or
herself in the shoes of someone With schizophrenia. So that was the original idea, but then some
of those therapists started using the drug themselves– again, normal at the time. And they were like, this isn’t psychosis. This feels much better than psychosis. And this is something else. And so they tried to come up with A new paradigm
of understanding. They threw out the word psychotomimetic. And they then moved to two ideas. One was pyscholytic, a mind loosening drug,
and that at moderate doses– 50, 75 micrograms of LSD– someone could sit in a chair in their
psychoanalytic session with a psychiatrist, and they would have unusually free access
to their unconscious. That they would feel less defended, more open. And indeed, this worked quite well. There was a real period in the 50s of pyscholytic
psychotherapy going on, especially in LA. And a great many celebrities, people like
Cary Grant, and Jack Nicholson, and André Previn, and a whole list of Of therapy. And they found it immensely useful. Cary Grant gave a famous interview about how
it changed his life. It had helped him transcend his ego, and made
him irresistible to women, And made him a much better actor. It doesn’t sound like he totally transcended
his ego. So that was one path. And then the other path came to be known as
psychedelic therapy. This word is coined in 1957, I believe, by
an English psychiatrist working in Saskatchewan named Humphry Osmond. And it means simply mind manifesting, the
idea being that these drugs would amplify mental processes, give you access to the unconscious,
and could be useful in a therapeutic way. And they began treating alcoholics with it,
and that was quite successful — people with depression, cancer patients struggling with
anxiety and their fear of death. And actually, in the 1950s, LSD becomes — it’s
considered by many a psychiatric wonder drug that is getting better results than anything
else out there. And just to give you an idea how widespread
this was, there were 1,000 papers published on psychedelics, LSD, and psilocybin. A little later in the decade. There were 40,000 research subjects– people
who’d been dosed with it. And there were six international conferences
on LSD. So here you have this very exciting, promising
period of research that’s going on without any government interference, without a lot
of controversy. But in the ’60s, everything goes haywire. And what happens in the ’60s is that basically
the drugs escape the lab and become a very important ingredient In the creation of the
counterculture. Timothy Leary has something to do with this. He is a psychologist who ends up at Harvard
in 1960. But the summer before he gets there, he is
introduced to psilocybin while in Mexico and has a profound experience. He was by the pool in Cuernavaca, and he said
he learned more in those four hours on psilocybin than he learned in 15 years as a therapist,
as a psychologist. And decides when he gets to Harvard, he’s
going to start something called the Harvard Psilocybin Project to research this promising
drug. Psilocybin had come to the West only a few
years before. In 1955, an amateur mycologist by the name
of R. Gordon Wasson, who happened to be a vice president of Chase Bank in New York,
decided that he had heard rumors that there were mushroom cults using psychedelic mushrooms
in religious observance in Central America. So he makes a dozen trips to Mexico looking
for evidence of this, and discovers that it is indeed true, and finds a [SPANISH],, or
a healer, in southern Mexico near Oaxaca willing to give him a psychedelic trip, a psilocybin
trip. And he writes about this in the pages of Life
Magazine– big article with a very splashy headline on the cover, The Strange Growths
that Give Men Visions. And it’s like 17 pages in the magazine, and
this really introduced most Americans to the idea of psychedelics The psychedelic mushrooms. So those are the mushrooms that Timothy Leary
is exposed to. He gets to Harvard. He starts doing research, loosely defined,
into psilocybin, and then LSD when he gets access to that. This is going along fine, but like several
people who studied psychedelics, Leary gets intoxicated by them, By the promise not just
to heal, but to change society. And this is a very dangerous thought. And he basically comes to the conclusion that
everybody should be on these drugs, that it really has enormous social benefit. So he starts giving them to poets, and writers,
and musicians. And the pretense of research gradually fades. Eventually, some students are given the drugs,
not by Leary, but by Richard Alpert, his collaborator who becomes Ram Dass later. Scandal erupts, and they’re both tossed out
of Harvard. And Leary then becomes a psychedelic evangelist. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Everybody should use acid. We can blow the mind of America. And it becomes very threatening to the powers
that be. Richard Nixon called Leary the most dangerous
man in America. He felt that LSD and other drugs were sapping
the will of American boys To fight in Vietnam. And he may well have been right. LSD encourages people to think for themselves,
to not accept the frames of social values, the games that we play socially. And in important ways, LSD did fuel the counterculture
and was very threatening to adult society and to the powers that be. So there is a backlash. And beginning around in the late ’60s, you
have the media, which had been very pro-psychedelic and amazingly positive press for psychedelics
as a miracle cure, as something just really interesting, suddenly turns on it. And you start reading scare stories about
people thinking they can fly and jumping off buildings and kids staring at the sun until
they go blind. LSD can scramble your chromosomes, was a big
headline at the time. Most of this is all disinformation, scare
stories, but it had a big effect. And this moral panic took hold against psychedelics. By the end of the decade, they’re made illegal–
schedule one drug beginning in 1970. The research gradually atrophies and dies
by the mid ’70s, early ’70s, which is unprecedented in science, that you would have this incredibly
promising avenue of scientific inquiry that’s stopped for reasons that have nothing to do
with the science. But the funding dries up. People are embarrassed to study it. There’s just such a stigma attached to psychedelics
that we go through this All through this period, there is a handful Researchers, people who
have not lost track– partly because they’re using them themselves– with the promise of
these drugs. And they plot, over a period of many years,
a return to respectable scientific research. With some private funding from some people
in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, Johns Hopkins undertakes to begin studying psychedelics
again– Roland Griffiths is a very prominent drug abuse researcher, somebody who’s looked
at addiction, and does animal models of addiction, and expert on caffeine, in fact. He is introduced to the idea of psilocybin
research. He gets interested because he had had his
own mystical experience as a meditator. He got very interested in new meditation. And something happened during one of his meditations
that caused him to question the material understanding of the mind and made him very curious about
mystical experience. He, at just a very fortuitous moment, is introduced
to a group that wants to start this research. And he decides to do it. And he does a very interesting study that’s
not published in 2006 that says something like psilocybin can occasion mystical type
experiences in healthy volunteers with enduring positive effects. Kind of a mind blowing study — I mean, scientists
studying mystical experience. But they gave it to a bunch of healthy normals. And in about 2/3 of the cases, they had these
powerful mystical experiences that did have these Gave them a sense of ego That they had
this loss of their sense of individuality and this sense of profound and beautiful connection
with something larger than themselves — nature, divinity — however they defined it — the
universe, other people. And they found that they could do this safely,
that the drugs had very little biological risk. And in a controlled environment, which is
to say with guides who are preparing you very carefully, telling you what to expect, sitting
with you during the experience, and then helping you integrate or make sense of it after, that
this could be done safely. And from that study come several others now
looking at practical applications. First of those was a study that was performed
there, and also at UCLA and NYU, to give psilocybin to people with cancer. Not to cure their cancer, but to help them
deal with their anxiety, their depression, what the docs call their existential distress,
and fear of recurrence, too, for people who had been treated. And these people, in a study that was published
in 2016, in about 80% of the cases, which is quite astounding, they found statistically
significant reductions in standard measures of depression and anxiety, a bigger effect
size than we have seen in virtually any other psychiatric intervention. And I think this is a very profound study. We have so little to offer people who are
dying. And morphine might help them deal with pain,
But doesn’t help them deal with the mental suffering. I interviewed many people whose fear of death
had disappeared, who acquired a sense of their self that became kind of broader and softer
so that the loss of their own bodies, the death of themselves, wasn’t as momentous. Because they were part of something larger
and would continue to be. Or people who acquired some sense of transpersonal
consciousness and that perhaps their consciousness would survive their passing, Or people who
really were able to break out of the repetitive And I interviewed one woman who went into
her body during her trip, And she had had ovarian cancer that had been treated successfully,
But she was so terrified of recurrence, she couldn’t function. And she went into her body, as many of the
cancer patients do imaginatively. And she saw this black cloud underneath her
rib cage, which she knew Wasn’t her cancer. It was in the wrong place. But she recognized it immediately, and she
said, that’s my fear. And she screamed at it. She said, get the fuck out of my body. And when she did, it just went up in a puff
of smoke. And from that moment forward, she said she’s
Of her cancer recurring. And she said under psychedelics, she had the
insight, which became quite profound for her, that she couldn’t control her cancer. It was either going to come back or not. But she could control her fear. And that cleaving of those two things gave
her enormous freedom. So profound effects from a single application
of a non-toxic drug is a big deal and I think portends of potential revolution in the way
we practice mental health care. Other indications that the drugs show promise
for– and this is psilocybin mostly. That’s the psychedelic that’s been studied
the most. Depression, anxiety, obsession, addiction–
There have been trials of alcoholics, of cocaine addicts and smokers– All showing great promise. And there are future trials for eating disorders,
And a new trial of obsessive compulsive is being planned. So this is a very exciting time. And again, the drugs still have to go further
to prove themselves In larger groups of people. And we have to figure out exactly the optimal
way to offer it to people. But we’ve got some new tools, and we’ve had
so little innovation In mental health care since the early ’90s, Really since the introduction
of the SSRI antidepressants, whose effectiveness is starting to fade and fail. And I don’t think people fully realize how
lousy the tools we have to treat psychiatric illness are right now and how many side effects
they have. They put on weight. They cost people their libido. They’re hard to get off of. And they only treat symptoms. And here we have something that appears to
treat causes.


  1. Good video. His book is a well worth it read as well. The future is exciting as we start to incorporate these substances as medicines into our modern culture.

  2. Some molecules would truly benefit from a better sensibilization and mainstream image, they could really help some people.

    Now… where's the psytrance in here ? 🙂

  3. People, these drugs have had very severe consequences for some people. Like realy realy bad. Dont be fooled by our happy change friends. Do your own research and dont trust these people.

  4. So this is why they waged their war on drugs. A people that achieves high level of consciousness and sees through all the propaganda is the ultimate threat to the power elite.

  5. I have heard people who used LSD can see things in a very very different way
    but unfortunately in stead of focusing on the proper use of LSD, the media is treating LSD as some evil which it is not

  6. 15:00 Ah… So, the idea is to destroy the person's ego, in order to make them an obedient, compliant socialist drone…

  7. Power tripping ding dongs with emend influence don’t want us the people to use Psychedelics, why? It unlocks the clues of the universe and our existence.

  8. Ay Michael Pollan interesting talk 🙂 Personally I always get a chuckle with the thought from Albert's title of his book "My problem child" Yep my problem child with lots and lots of questions and for a few, answers to a few questions that shook the world.

  9. I think the added temporary interneuronal synapse connections thanks to marijuana and especially the psychedelics are literal wiring upgrades to our brains that can be made permanent through normal neuroplasticity learning. These new connections give parts of our brains new access to both our current sensory perceptions, heightening them and making us more appreciative of everything we experience, while also giving parts of our brains new access to memories making even our memories heightened with literally new mental perspectives on them. It’s like a physical empathy, giving our brains the ability to have new and more diverse perspectives on everything, past and present.

    These substances widely have the reputation as creativity-enhancers but I think actually they’re empathy-enhancers creating new perspectives, giving artists greater ability to imagine how a wider audience will perceive their work while it’s in progress, making it more creative as a result.

    Legalize, release, expunge and give industry advantages to the minorities most harmed.

  10. I also have high hopes for psychedelics. My only worry is that it strengthens a position of ignorance and contentment with ignorance. How many psychedelic users swear up and down there is another reality, or that they are god, or that there are higher dimensions in reality that the drug allows them to access. So technically it could be a powerful tool for mental health if it did not also cause some to lose touch with reality. Which is wierd because most people say they become more open minded about things after psychedelic use and completely miss out how close minded they are to accepting it as a hallucination as opposed to it being a meeting with extraterrestrials or them becoming god or being in a different dimension. Not to mention ego death is usually followed by the individual stating they are god, or they are special, or some other nonsense like they are enlightened that’s clearly shows the opposite of what one would normally expect from suppression of ego.

  11. We are in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance people believe this!!!!!!! Each one of us are a catalyst so keep this in mind.

  12. They are amazing tools to use for healing and self-discovery. If you haven't done a psychedelic before it's very difficult to explain to you the way they alter your perception and mind. These drugs are unlike any other, and it's a shame that people think of them with the same lenses that they think about heroin and alcohol.

  13. Yes. It's happening. People are starting to realise not all illegal drugs are bad just because they're called drugs and are illegal.

  14. Intermittent use of lsd/shrooms every other weekend has changed my life over the last 12 weeks. If you can ritualize your use of them and have a goal in mind (to be more intimate with people and strangers, be more in touch with yourself and come to love yourself despite your short comings, take up meditation and learn to calm your mind) you can change your life almost immediately. Treat them as tools and they will work for you, and you’ll have an incredible time too haha

  15. https://www.economist.com/international/2019/06/08/magic-mushrooms-illegal-in-most-places-may-have-therapeutic-uses

    Given its extremely low risk of harm, its matter of months till we start seeing mass legalization for medical uses

  16. Halfway through Michael’s book right now, How To Change Your Mind. It’s really, really fascinating. Loving it so far.

  17. Promoting drug use is a CIA programme of social control. Sad to see they're still trying to push it on vulnerable people. Evil. And young naive people still falling for it. Guess what. The unhappiness in your life was not caused by a lack of a chemical invented and promoted by your oppressors to keep you hypnotized. Which is exactly what LSD does. Almost as bad as TV or YT.

  18. "You see, I think it’s quite possible that the 60's represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished. And that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now, and that from now on there’ll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing." (My Dinner With Andre)

  19. Are these drugs dangerous?
    But wouldnt it be a greater good to find out why they are dangerous and minimize the risk rather than throw it in a closet and forget about it until someone gets hurt or dies?

  20. I took LSD as a teenager in the 90’s, along with many other drugs. I’ve always felt it opened me up at the time which has stayed with me all my life.
    I’ve been diagnosed recently with ADHD, i didn’t suffer as much as a teenager as I have as an adult. I’d be interested to see if there’s a difference between a normal brain and an ADHD brain with what it effects. Have there been any studies?

  21. That’s the thing, I don’t want my mind altered. Why is everyone trying to alter your mind with drugs and alcohol? Hmm

  22. Wow just lit the light bulb while I'm on 2 tabs.
    To rid of the ego is the only way humans can coexist in this planet for millenia not just hundreds of years.

  23. I remember tripping on magic mushrooms with a friend, and we where able to shut down anything electrical by touching it.

  24. I’ve had a similar experience to the lady with ovarian cancer, but in a lucid dream, I was brought by a young middle eastern boy to a room in a temple in the desert, and a pitch black phantom was hiding in the room, and I entered the room and went up to it and demanded that it leave, and when it left the room I remember the most horrid feeling I’ve ever felt, I can only describe it as extremely yucky, and when it left the room it caused me to move very slowly like I was paralyzed, then I woke up from the dream and contemplated what I had just experienced.

  25. I used LSD in the 70's and it certainly was life-changing for me. I'd recommend anyone trying it to make themselves comfortable, with all the music and home comforts you might need, and in company you can trust. The fact that this drug is illegal doesn't help one to relax, but as a 'research tool' for psychonauts, it's great fun.

  26. I work with schisophrenic people and some of them got their illness triggered by LSD. Not to say that LSD was the latent cause, but people should be careful when trying drugs.

  27. Everyone should have access to these profound substances. I dream of the day patients can go to clinics to be treated with LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics.

  28. the pharma cartel have their slimy demonic claw on all medication… if it cures or helps – bad for business, patient cured – customer lost… same reason first thing they banned was cannabis when they crawled out of the boiling abyss of hell round 60's…

  29. LSD and other chemicals may have medicinal value (in which case they should be used), but I think it's extremely important to draw the distinction between the science of that and the recreational aspect, which is not at all scientific: the drug or a similar should be prescribed only if it has some functional property that targets specifically a condition, not because 'it feels good, bye-bye depresh'; it's high-time that we scrape all the New Age counterculture crap in society that stigmatized these drugs ITFP and think of them not as exciting grams of soma but rather as dull and boring aspirin tablets

  30. omg Michael Pollan on Big Think. I swear i've been waiting so long for this! So exciting.
    I love how this topic is coming out to a broader public so we can all be aware of the crucial benefits on health for human beings. Let us transcend ourselves and connect to one another

  31. My grandsons buddy was given some mushrooms to try, had never done them, flipped out, jumped off a 2nd story patio and was behaving like a crazy person. Police showed up and as he ran toward them they shot him dead! Tragedy.

  32. I like this guy,He tells it very professionally.
    LSD is not for everybody. In fact, Most of my friends who have taken it in the distant past wouldn't take it now.
    They just don't care to.They don't see the benefit.
    I, On the other hand see it differently.

  33. Everyone wonders what I was doing in the desert for 40 days… whelp, it was really hard to find shrooms out there.

  34. Born too late to explore the Earth
    Born too early to explore the galaxy
    But born just in time to explore the mind

  35. Psychedelic drugs open up the mind to higher states of consciousness. It is like our normal consciousness is the tiny tip of a gigantic iceberg, and psychedelics reveal the whole entire iceberg. It is like having the limits of your consciousness removed, as if the depth/spectrum/intensity of reality has been completely sky-rocketed in every direction. You feel a strong sense of child-like wonder, but like 1000 times as strong. Your thoughts and emotions feel so amazing and powerful compared to your normal ones. Your senses are like 100 times stronger, and they start to blend together with each other, and with your thoughts and emotions. Your sense of self is expanded so much until it dissolves into everything, and you feel so alive and infinite. And everything feels so infinite. And much more vivid/real than in real life.

  36. it's crazy to think that Aldous Huxley was such a visionary. We are living at the same time two of his fictions: Brave New World AND Island.

  37. The LSD phenomenon, on the other hand, is — to me at least — more interesting.

    It is an intentionally achieved schizophrenia, with the expectation of a spontaneous remission — which, however, does not always follow.

    Yoga, too, is intentional schizophrenia: one breaks away from the world, plunging inward, and the ranges of vision experienced are in fact the same as those of a psychosis.

    But what, then, is the difference?

    What is the difference between a psychotic or LSD experience and a yogic, or a mystical?

    The plunges are all into the same deep inward sea; of that there can be no doubt.

    The symbolic figures encountered are in many instances identical (and I shall have something more to say about those in a moment).

    But there is an important difference.

    The difference — to put it sharply — is equivalent simply to that between a diver who can swim and one who cannot.

    The mystic, endowed with native talents for this sort of thing and following, stage by stage, the instruction of a master, enters the waters and finds he can swim; whereas the schizophrenic, unprepared, unguided, and ungifted, has fallen or has intentionally plunged, and is drowning.

    ― Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

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