While writing and researching his two most recent books, How to Change Your Mind and This Is Your Mind on Plants, the author Michael Pollan dosed himself with all manner of psychoactive substances, ranging from LSD and mescaline to the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad. The morning we speak he’s at it again. When I ask over a video call to his window-lined home office in Berkeley, California whether he’s yet had his daily fix, he raises a cardboard coffee cup to his screen in salute before taking a long pull. “I’m in the middle of it!” he says with a nod.
The 66-year-old American quit caffeine for three months as an experiment while working on This Is Your Mind on Plants, but says he’s now happily returned to his old habit. The fact that caffeine, the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, is rarely grouped with the various illegal substances he writes about is, he argues, part of the problem. As a society we have elevated certain drugs to the status of cornerstones of our civilisation while irrationally outlawing a whole swathe of potentially beneficial chemicals.
Pollan argues the challenge facing us is how to reintegrate these substances into society. “One of the casualties of the drug war is lumping them all together,” he explains. “They’re more different than alike. You’ve got stimulants and depressants and psychedelics and one size isn’t going to fit all when it comes to figuring out how to weave them into our culture.”