High on Anxiety? Take a Trip with Michael Pollan

By Marilynn Preston

October 30, 2018 6 min read

To prepare myself for the high-stakes, high-stress 2018 election, I recently took myself to the high-impact and highly unconventional annual 3-day Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California.

The Bioneers are a nature-based coalition of "doers, thinkers, dreamers and organizers," explains co-founder Nina Simons. The coalition is celebrating 29 years of moving the world from "breakdown to breakthrough."

Paging through their intense, inspiring 70-page catalogue of events, I could have focused on health and justice, or spiritual ecology and regenerative agriculture, or restoring harmony and balance between the feminine and masculine ... Oh, let that happen! I scribbled in my notebook ... but no.

I came to hear famed journalist, esteemed professor and mild-mannered warrior for well-being Michael Pollan talk about the power of psychedelics.

It made perfect sense at the time. No matter who wins or loses on Nov. 6, we are all headed for a profound reality shift.

And if you're reading this and can't stop thinking about the illegal and taboo status of psychotropic plants and fungi — psilocybin is a mushroom, not a plant — I have two words for you: legal cannabis. Then two more: suspend judgment.

"I was a very reluctant psychonaut," Pollan explained to an auditorium packed with people who appreciate and applaud exploring consciousness. "I was afraid."

Pollan is the author of many New York Times' best-selling, game-changing books, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," books that stimulated a new, national conversation about what to eat, who not to believe and the health stealth bomb that is processed food.

Pollan's latest conversation starter is called "How To Change Your Mind," and the subtitle says it all: "What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence."

I think I was hoping for a moment of pre- and post-election transcendence, by word only — something to lift my spirits and melt my anxiety about what will happen next.

And that's pretty much what Pollan delivered in his calm, engaging and very personal talk about what it means — after age 60 — to become more open, more connected to the changing nature of reality and more in love with love.

He began by admitting he was afraid of what might happen if he did what his style of "immersive journalism" calls for and experiment personally with LSD and psilocybin. He'd grown up with all the scary warnings we know so well. Would a few trips scramble his chromosomes, launch him off tall buildings or destroy his highly educated brain?

None of the above, he discovered. His deep evidence-based dive into the scientific and medical revolution around psychedelic drugs revealed very few reasons to be afraid of hallucinogens. A family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is one of them. So is the fact that they're illegal. (And still, we read that microdosing on LSD is trending up.)

Pollan then described many of the good things that happened to him on psychedelics.

"I never thought of myself as a spiritual person before," he said, but the plants and fungi changed all that. The experiences he describes are classic: moments of remarkable beauty and lucidity; ecstatic listening to Bach cello suites while becoming one with the music; and watching his ego dissolve and transform into a profound understanding of boundless reality, of perfect equanimity.

"Channels open up," he said, "and what rushes in is your sense of connection. You merge with nature, with other people and your sense of love opens up, too."

Let's be clear: Pollan is not saying psychedelics should simply be legalized. He is saying that under the right circumstances, in guided sessions, using controlled doses and with experienced therapists, they have a significant role to play in "the betterment of well people" — a phrase he loves.

Sick people benefit, too. His book names well-respected researchers — psychiatry professor Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins, and Stephen Ross, an addictions specialist and psychiatry professor at NYU, among others — who have shown that psychedelics can help people cope with illness and trauma, reduce anxiety, addiction and depression and help dying patients overcome their fear of death.

When Pollan's research on the book ended, so did his desire to continue with psychedelics. (They're not addictive, another popular misconception.) He was grateful for the insights they brought, and that they led him to another wondrous way to experience that utterly safe place of connection, equanimity and love.

It's called meditation.


"We should look within; the paths of the heart lead to nearby universes full of life and affection for humanity." — Terence McKenna

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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