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Harvard Book Store — Talk with Michael Pollan

Pollan on Mind Stimulating Plants

Michael Pollan, July 8th, 2021 “I wanted to look at three plants that produce important psychoactives, an upper, a downer, and an outer, as I call it…”

Fast Facts

The Upper — Caffeine: Every day, about 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine in some form. More than half of the adults in the country consume 300 milligrams a day, making it America’s most popular drug.

Caffeine in general has been very important to capitalism in that it makes us better workers, makes us more efficient. So one of the stories I tell in the chapter on caffeine is just how important caffeine was to the rise of capitalism. It’s important to know just how drunk everybody was before caffeine came to Europe.

We are creatures of caffeine now

The Downer — Poppy seeds (Opium): So it turns out that it’s perfectly legal to grow opium poppies — possess the seeds and grow the poppies — unless you have knowledge that you are growing a scheduled substance.

And in fact, we have evidence that the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and those women who were fighting alcohol were consuming opium because they would use these patent medicines, and cannabis, which was also in patent medicines. So it was a complete reversal of the current situation where alcohol is legal and opium and cannabis were illegal.

Opium has a particular relevance now because of the opiate crisis

The Outer — Peyote (Mescaline): Peyote cactus rituals are highly regulated ritual that is used in what are called, peyote meetings to help people in trouble, especially with alcoholism, which has been a huge problem for Native American cultures since it was introduced.

I mean, there is evidence 6,000 years ago — in Texas, they found evidence of mescaline use in the form of peyote, the peyote cactus. And peyote has been used by natives in both Mexico and the United States for a very long time. And they’ve had great success treating trauma with it, treating alcoholism with it. And so, I think there’s a great deal to learn.

Question arose wether a non-Native person should use peyote, because it’s in very short supply

Themes

Criminalization of Drugs, Ethnobotany, Psychedelics

Michael Pollan, author of eightbooks, including How to Change Your Mind, which has changed many minds, indeed. Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers.

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