Michael Pollan explores the mind-changing plants in his garden

In considering caffeine, Pollan also introduces the possibility that the effects of medicinal plants are relative. This relativism could be economic. There is a huge difference between cultures and countries regarding the benefits of coffee and tea. But, more interestingly, this relativism can extend to the drug’s effects on the body. Pollan argues that in the wake of the Western Industrial Revolution, caffeine primarily served as a work aid, a way to compensate for the body’s weaknesses, which help us adjust to our industry-induced workdays and sleep patterns. can help. In contrast, caffeine has a very different effect during Japanese tea ceremonies, one of encouraging calm “concentration and attention to the present moment”. A plant and its chemical can be used to very different effects depending on the context.

Pollan returns to the idea of ​​relativism in the last third of the book, “Mescaline”. This is the only volume that has not been published before. It is held around the Odyssey of Polan – once the lotus eater – to sample and understand peyote, one of the two types of cactus in which mescaline is found, during an epidemic.

Peyote has been used for its mind-bending effects, mainly in what is now Mexico for no less than 6,000 years. Initially, it seems that this use is mostly limited to the small geographic area in which the plant grows in the wild (the arid Mexico and Texas border lands). But in the late 1800s, a new and more widespread peyote culture developed with the emergence of the Native American Church, which in itself is a fascinating story that many readers will learn about here for the first time.

Pollan planned to take peyote with “a group of Native Americans of several tribes on their annual pilgrimage to Texas” to collect the plant. That journey was foiled by Kovid. Polan is eventually found by a Japanese American woman (here called Taloma) who was willing to lead him and his wife through a ceremony that did not feature peyote, but instead San Pedro, which was supposed to show the Andean cactus. It was relatively easy to grow and cut, which also contains mescaline. The book ends with the story of that experience.

Invariably, the challenge of personal stories about self-experimentation is that the experiences the author is sharing are not shared by the reader. By the end of the book, Polan convinced me so completely of Mescaline’s relativistic implications that I was wondering what kind of general truth his own story represented. Can we generalize from his own play? Certainly his experience doesn’t tell us much about the use of Native American peyote, a culturally relevant practice that he described by Native American interviewers as “something he used to heal the wounds of genocide, colonialism, and alcoholism.” Even tried to do, did more than that.”

Pollan is betting, and he’s probably right, that readers will relate to his dabbling with medicine plants because one aspect of their use is almost universal. To varying degrees, we are all trying to negotiate the challenging interplay between our brain chemistry and the many convergent factors: the struggle of having consciousness and being part of a culture, anxiety, fear, trauma, and the meaning of life. find out And, as Pollan notes, “there is hardly a culture on Earth that hasn’t discovered at least one plant or fungus in its environment, and in most cases a whole suite of them, that would alter consciousness.” is.” As the worst of the pandemic approaches, it seems that the number of readers interested in reading about him is changing, and his anxiety-ridden, quarantine-addicted and, in many cases, painful mind. The number will be much higher.

Ultimately, Pollan does not answer whether individual readers should participate in the plant medicines he discusses; It is not part of his project. But he skillfully achieves what he set out to do. They have left the reader some “more interesting stories about our ancient relationship with mind-altering plants”, with stories likely to trigger new debates and discussions about, no doubt, illegal gardening. of a reasonable amount.

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