"This Is Your Mind on Plants" by Michael Pollan

Review by Borodutch

Michael certainly knows how to write engaging content and fascinating descriptions of his experiences. This time, the author focuses on three specific plants, their legal status and their effects:

  1. Opium poppy
  2. Coffee
  3. Mescaline cactus

Amidst the opium crisis in North America, I read the chapters on poppies exceptionally cautiously. Michael retraces the events leading to him writing his initial story on opium poppy 20-something years before the book came out. See, the author is an avid gardener (and a gardening journalist as well). He collects various plant species and experiments with them. When it turned out that there was a legal way of obtaining all the prerequisites for opium tea, he hesitantly decided to try it out.

The author explores the thin line between when poppies are still legal and when they become federal offences. Also, Michael points out the absurdity and incomprehension of the war on drugs waged in the US: no one truly knows what's legal and what's not. The war seems to go exactly as designed: everyone can be somewhat persecuted, whereas "somewhat" is decided by politics alone.

I couldn't resist my brain blocking off the story of the author's experience with poppy tea. I don't think I'll ever try one (not saying that I ever wanted to, because I haven't), even though the recollection of the events is somewhat optimistic. So the story of the opium poppy here was more of a cautionary tale about the legality of various substances and a record of how it feels under this specific plant's influence.

Then the author transitions to discussing coffee. The critical takeaway is that we seem to have proven that coffee has no drawbacks besides affecting sleep quality due to its long half- and quarter-life. So if we drink up to 4 cups of coffee before noon, we should be mainly in the clear. I am assuming that all of us are healthy individuals.

Michael describes his experience not on coffee (it became the normal state for most of the western population) but off coffee. I did a similar thing a couple of years back. Being off coffee sucks. I almost felt dumber without the morning coffee, unable to put any concentrated effort into a task at hand.

The book's third part is dedicated to a species of cacti with mescaline content. The author goes at length about the history of mescaline being used by Native American tribes as part of rituals and the legal aspect of it. Nowadays, synthetic versions of the mescaline molecule have similar effects and don't hurt the naturally occurring cacti used by tribal rituals.

Mescaline is a specific type of psychedelic, "you're done with it sooner than it is done with you," as Michael states. The sessions are usually around 12 hours and seem to have different effects from other substances. Instead of presenting a journey to you, it seeks the journey out of you.

Overall, I'm glad I've read this book. The way the author describes his steps, experiences and the legal space surrounding it is fascinating. Highly recommend it to all of my fellow journey-takers!