How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan – review

In 1938, the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, seeking a new drug to stimulate blood circulation, accidentally invented lysergic acid deithylamide, or LSD. Later, after inadvertently absorbing a minuscule quantity through his skin, he was obliged to stagger home and lie down on his sofa, where, “in a dreamlike state, with eyes closed… I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors”. It was more than an impressive display, though: Hoffman felt convinced he’d been inducted into a secret of the universe, “the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality”. Mere days after the birth of LSD, scientists split the first uranium atom. One of these two world-jolting events went on to reshape civilization, but by the mid-1960s, the other had been banished to the shadows. Research funding ceased and LSD was outlawed along with psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, introduced to the west in 1955 by an open-minded Manhattan banker. A trapdoor to another dimension had briefly opened, but now it seemed decisively slammed shut.


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