How to Change Your Mind - Prologue and Chapter 1 Summary

The prologue of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan serves to provide the reader with important context for both the content of the book as well as the more personal nature of the book for Pollan. The concept for the book came from research Pollan did while writing a New Yorker article about the use of psychedelics as medical treatment, specifically the use of a guided psilocybin session to help reduce anxiety around death for cancer patients. Many personal anecdotes note the spiritual experiences brought about by taking psychedelics which caused Pollan to reflect on the potential to expand his own perceptions and led to his personal experiences with psychedelics being an integral part of the book. 

The first chapter of How to Change Your Mind covers the history of the psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin, Ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT, focused on in the book. Although all the listed substances are classified as psychedelics, each has a unique history shaping how the drug is perceived by the public, politicians and scientists. Early research on psychedelics in the 1950s demonstrated the potential for psychedelics to be used as treatments for a range of conditions. However, in the 1960s psychedelics, and specifically LSD, became associated with a perceived decline in the morality of society. This perceived decline led Richard Nixon to declare a war on drugs and sign the Controlled Substances Act, which classified all psychedelics as schedule one drugs. The Controlled Substances Act essentially halted psychedelics research until 2006, when activists and scientists worked together to get the first psychedelics trial of the 21st century off the ground at John Hopkins. The study focused on the spiritual nature of guided psilocybin trips and, although the study design likely biased participants, many participants found the experience to be both spiritual and life changing.

Andi DeRogatis is a graduate student at UC Davis in the animal biology graduate group. She is currently studying how the avian immune system is influenced by the process of molt. She loves all things birds and is passionate about getting others excited about birds as well! You can follow her on Twitter @AndiDerogatis.

Lindsey Mooney is a graduate student in the UC Davis Psychology Department. You can follow her on Twitter @Linz_Mooney.

For more content from the UC Davis science communication group "Science Says", follow us on Twitter @SciSays.

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