Top Quotes: “This Is Your Mind on Plants” — Michael Pollan

“In the 2020 election, Oregonians voted to decriminalize the possession of all drugs and specifically to legalize therapy using psilocybin.”

Most of the molecules that plants produce that change animal minds start out as tools for defense: alkaloids like morphine, caffeine, and mescaline are bitter-tasting toxins meant to discourage animals from eating the plants that make them and, should the animals persist, to poison them. But plants are clever, and over the course of evolution they’ve learned that simply killing a pest outright is not necessarily the smartest strategy. Since a lethal pesticide would quickly select for resistant members of the pest population, rendering it ineffective, plants have evolved subtler and more devious strategies: chemicals that instead mess with the minds of animals, confusing or disorienting them or ruining their appetite — something that caffeine, mescaline, and morphine all reliably do.

But while most of the psychoactive molecules plants have developed started out as poisons, they sometimes evolved into the opposite: attractants. Scientists recently discovered a handful of species that produce caffeine in their nectar, which is the last place you would expect a plant to serve up a poisonous beverage. These plants have discovered that they can attract pollinators by offering them a small shot of caffeine; even better, that caffeine has been shown to sharpen the memories of bees, making them more faithful, efficient, and hardworking pollinators. Pretty much what caffeine does for us.”

“Drugs that enhance sociability not only gratify us but presumably result in more offspring. Stimulants like caffeine improve concentration, making us better able to learn and work, and to think in rational, linear ways. Human consciousness is always at risk of getting stuck, sending the mind around and around in loops of rumination; mushroom chemicals like psilocybin can nudge us out of those grooves, loosening stuck brains and making possible fresh patterns of thought.

Psychedelic drugs can also benefit us — and occasionally our culture — by stimulating the imagination and nourishing creativity in the individuals who take them. This is not to suggest that all the ideas that occur to the altered mind are any good; most of them aren’t. But every now and then a tripping brain will hit upon a novel idea, a solution to a problem, or a new way of looking at things that will benefit the group and, possibly change the course of history. The case can be made that the introduction of caffeine to Europe in the seventeenth century fostered a new, more rational (and sober) way of thinking that helped give rise to the age of reason and the Enlightenment.”

“It Is said that members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union would relax at the end of a day spent crusading against alcohol with their cherished “women’s tonics,” preparations whose active ingredient was laudanum: opium.

“Within ten minutes or so, I began to feel . . . different. Not dramatically different, not “high,” but not exactly the same self I was ten minutes before, either. Remembering what Jim Hogshire had told me about the tea’s analgesic properties, I conducted an inventory of my everyday aches and pains and physical annoyances- a stiffness in the neck I’d woken with, the nasal and throat irritations of a particularly bad hay fever season, the usual dull pain in my knuckles after too many hours at the computer keyboard-and found that all these symptoms had, if not quite disappeared, then dropped beneath the threshold of my attention. They simply didn’t matter. Then I decided it would be a good idea to inventory my mood, and concluded that it was very good indeed. Nothing I would describe as euphoric, but I was suffused body and mind with a distinct feeling of well-being — the words “warm” and “aqueous” appear in my notes. I’m not sure whether it was the mode of self-study I had logged onto, but the mental stance of standing just slightly apart from my self, coolly appraising my sensations and moods, suddenly seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I felt as though I was almost, but not quite, having an experience in the third person.

Hogshire had said that the tea “can make sadness go away,” and now I understood why he had employed that particular phrasing. For the poppy tea didn’t seem to add anything new to consciousness, in the way that smoking marijuana can produce novel and unexpected sensations and emotions; by comparison, the tea seemed to subtract things: anxiety, melancholy, worry, grief. Like the opiate it is, or consists of, poppy tea is a pain killer in every sense. In my notes I wrote “definitely lightens the existential load.

Fully expecting to be rendered useless by the tea- I have always been highly susceptible to drugs, and opiates are commonly thought to be soporific-I had chosen an afternoon for my experiment on which there was little I needed to get done. And for the first hour, as I sat there at my desk assessing its effects, I did feel a powerful urge to close my eyes- not from any drowsiness, but from a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.

I just didn’t need to have all that visual information, thank you very much. My senses were functioning normally, yet I didn’t particularly feel like acting on their data. At one point I remember feeling chilled, but couldn’t be bothered to close a window or put on a sweater. I’ll just sit here awhile longer if that’s okay. “Like sitting out on the front porch of one’s consciousness, watching the world go by,” I wrote, somewhat cryptically.”

“It is now widely recognized that the drug war has been a failure, to judge by the number of arrests for violations of the drug laws, it might as well be 1997: 1,247,713 arrests then; 1,239,909 in 2019. If the drug war is over, the police and the DEA apparently haven’t gotten the memo yet.”


“The interesting question is why so many of the defense chemicals produced by plants are psychoactive in animals at less-than-lethal doses. One theory holds that the plant doesn’t necessarily want to kill its predator, only disarm it. As the long history of the plant defense chemical versus insect arms race demonstrates, killing your predator outright isn’t necessarily the best move, since the toxin selects for resistance, rendering it harmless. Whereas if you succeed in merely discombobulating your enemy – distracting him from his dinner, say, or ruining his appetite, as many psychoactive compounds will do- you might be better off, since you will save yourself while preserving the power of your defense toxin.

Caffeine does, in fact, shrink the appetite and discombobulate insect brains. In a famous experiment conducted by NASA in the 1990s, researchers fed a variety of psychoactive substances to spiders to see how they would affect their web-making skills. The caffeinated spider spun a strangely cubist and utterly ineffective web, with oblique angles, openings big enough to let small birds through, and completely lacking in symmetry or a center. (The web was far more fanciful than the ones spun by spiders given cannabis or LSD.) Intoxicated insects are also, like intoxicated humans, more likely to do reckless things, thereby attracting the attention of birds and other predators that will happily do the plant’s bidding by snatching and destroying the helplessly dancing or stumbling bug.”

“She discovered that her bees were more likely to remember the odor associated with the caffeinated nectar over the odor associated with sucrose only. (Her results appeared in an article published in Science in 2013 called “Caffeine in Floral Nectar Enhances a Pollinator’s Memory of Reward.”) Even at concentrations too small for the bees to taste, the presence of caffeine helped them to quickly learn and recall a particular scent and to favor it.

You can see why this would be valuable to a flower: it would cause the pollinator to remember that flower and return to it more avidly. Or, as the entomologist put it in the paper, caffeinated nectar increases “pollinator fidelity,” otherwise known as floral constancy. Drug your pollinator with a low dose of caffeine and she will remember you and come back for more, choosing you over other plants that don’t offer the same buzz.

Actually, we don’t know whether the bees feel anything when they ingest caffeine, only that the chemical helps them to remember – which, as we will see, caffeine appears to do for us, too. Subsequent experiments with bigger budgets and more elaborate setups, involving fake flowers in more naturalistic settings, have replicated Wright’s discovery: bees will remember and return more reliably to flowers that offer them caffeinated nectar. What’s more, the power of this effect is so great that bees will continue to return to those flowers even when there is no nectar left.”

“As hard it is to imagine, Western civilization was innocent of coffee or tea until the 1600s; as it happens, coffee, tea, and chocolate (which also contains caffeine) arrived in England during the same decade – the 1650s – so we can gain some idea of the world before caffeine and after. Coffee was known in East Africa for a few centuries before that-it’s believed to have been discovered in Ethiopia around AD 850 – but it does not have the antiquity of other psychoactive substances, such as alcohol or cannabis or even some of the psychedelics like psilocybin or ayahuasca or peyote, which have played a role in human culture for millennia. Tea is also older than coffee having been discovered in China, and used as a medicine, since at least 1000 BC, though tea wasn’t popularized as a recreational beverage until the Tang dynasty, between AD 618 and 907.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the arrival of caffeine in Europe changed…everything.”

“Like the caffeine molecule itself, which rapidly reaches virtually every cell of the body that ingests it, the changes wrought by coffee and tea occurred at a more fundamental level – at the level of the human mind. Coffee and tea ushered in a shift in the mental weather, sharpening minds that had been fogged by alcohol, freeing people from the natural rhythms of the body and the sun, thus making possible whole new kinds of work and, arguably, new kinds of thought, too. Having brought what amounted to a new form of consciousness to Europe, caffeine went on to influence everything from global trade to imperialism, the slave trade, the workplace, the sciences, politics, social relations, arguably even the rhythms of English prose.”

“Initially the new drink was regarded as an aid to concentration and used by Sufis in Yemen to keep them from dozing off during their religious observances. (Tea, too, started out as a kind of spiritual NoDoz for Buddhist monks striving to stay awake through long stretches of meditation.)”

A vat of coffee was put on trial in Mecca in 1511 for its dangerously intoxicating effects; however, conviction, and subsequnt banishment, was quickly overturned by the sultan of Cairo.) As coffee’s defenders rightly pointed out, the beverage is nowhere mentioned in the Koran. Coffee thus offered the Islamic world a suitable alternative to alcohol, which is specifically proscribed in the Koran, and it came to be known as kahve, which, loosely translated, means “wine of Araby.” This notion that coffee somehow exists in opposition to alcohol would persist in both the East and the West, and comes down to us today in the common, but erroneous, belief that black coffee is an antidote for drunkenness.

The Islamic world at this time was in many respects more advanced than Europe, in science and technology, and in learning. Whether this mental flourishing had anything to do with the prevalence of coffee (and prohibition of alcohol) is difficult to prove, but as the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has argued, the beverage “seemed to be tailor-made for a culture that forbade alcohol consumption and gave birth to modern mathematics.” In China the popularity of tea during the Tang dynasty also coincided with a golden age. And the far-reaching impact of caffeine’s arrival in Europe gives the idea of a causal link some plausibility.”

“Coffeehouses became uniquely democratic public spaces; in England they were the only such spaces where men of different classes could mix. Anyone could sit anywhere. But only men, at least in England, a fact that led one wag to warn that the popularity of coffee “put the whole race in danger of extinction.” (Women were welcome in French coffeehouses.) Compared to taverns, coffeehouses were also notably civil places where, if you started an argument, you were expected to buy a round for everyone.

To call the English coffeehouse a new kina of public space doesn’t quite do it justice; it represented a new kind of communications medium, one that just happened to be made of brick and mortar rather than electricity and wires. You paid a penny for the coffee, but the information – in the form of newspapers, books, magazines, and conversation – was free. (Coffeehouses were often referred to as “penny universities.”) After visiting London coffeehouses, a French writer named Maximilien Misson wrote, “You have all Manner of News there; You have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please: You have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more.”

London’s coffeehouses were distinguished one from another by the professional or intellectual interests of their patrons, which eventually gave them specific institutional identities.”

“Men were spending so much time in coffeehouses, and drinking so much coffee, that they arrived home with “nothing stiffe but their joints.” The men replied with their own pamphlet, claiming that the “Harmless and healing liquor … makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, [and adds a spiritualescen to the Sperme.”

Any problem in this department the pamphleteers wrote off to the “Husband’s natural infirmity” or possibly “your own perpetual Pumping him, not drinking coffee.”

The seventeenth-century war of the sexes over coffee led to the association of tea with femininity and domesticity that endures to this day in the West. A Londoner could get a cup of tea in the coffeehouse, but tea didn’t have its own dedicated public venue until 1717, when Thomas Twining opened a tea house next door to Tom’s, his coffeehouse in the Strand. Here women were welcome to sample the various offerings and buy tea leaves to brew at home. Thanks in part to Twining’s innovation, what was soon to become the more popular caffeinated beverage in Great Britain came under the control of upper- and middle-class women, who proceeded to develop a rich culture of tea parties, high teas and low, and a whole regime of tea accessories, including china and porcelain, the teaspoon and the tea cozy, and finger foods expressly designed to accompany tea. (The temperance movement, led by women and promoting tea as an alternative to gin, would later solidify tea’s feminine image in the West.)”

“Paris coffeehouses were rife with intrigue. The mob that ultimately stormed the Bastille assembled in the Café de Foy, roused to action by the eloquence of political journalist Camille Desmoulins and intoxicated not by alcohol but by caffeine.”

“Caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness – the focused, linear, abstract, and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than with play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment but for the rise of capitalism, too.”

Before the arrival of coffee and tea, alcohol was being consumed in Europe morning, noon, and night; not only in taverns after dark but for breakfast at home and even in the workplace, where it was routinely given to laborers on their breaks. The English mind in particular was befogged most of the day by more or less constant infusions of alcohol. Campaigns for temperance sprang up from time to time, but without a substitute beverage they failed to gain traction.

Enter coffee.”

“To laborers doing physical work outdoors; mental clarity was not a priority, nor was attention to clock time. For laborers working with machines, however, a mind dulled by alcohol was a hazard to both safety and productivity. And for clerks and others who worked with numbers, the alertness, focus, and all-around mental clarity coffee afforded made it the ideal drug “the beverage of the modern bourgeois age,” in the words of Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Coffee showed up in Europe at exactly the right moment: “It spread through the body and achieved chemically and pharmacologically what rationalism and the Protestant ethic sought to fulfill spiritually and ideologically.”

The rationalist drug par excellence, coffee helped disperse Europe’s alcoholic fog, fostering a heightened alertness and atten- tion to detail, and, as employers soon discovered, dramatically improved productivity.

“The most important contribution that caffeine made to modern work – and, in turn, to the rise of capitalism – was to liberate us from the fixed rhythms of the sun, an astronomical timepiece that also sets the clocks of our bodies. Before caffeine, the whole idea of a late shift, let alone a night shift, was inconceivable – the human body simply would not permit it. But the power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.”

“Tea was used as a mouthwash in the East long before science discovered it contains fluoride (the English would negate this advantage by adding copious amounts of sugar to their tea); tea also contains a great many vitamins and minerals- one of the highest concentrations in any plant – and prodigious quantities of polyphenols, compounds rich in antioxidants. (Tea contains more polyphenols than red wine.)

“One of the first American “employers” to seize on the practical value of caffeine was the Union Army during the Civil War. The army issued each soldier thirty-six pounds of coffee a year at the same time the economic blockade of the South deprived the Confederacy of coffee. According to historian Jon Grinspan, the loss of coffee took a toll on the morale-and perhaps also the performance – of Confederate soldiers, while its easy availability to Union soldiers gave them an edge. One Union general went so far as to weaponize caffeine, ordering his soldiers to fill their canteens with coffee before battle and planning his attacks for the times when his troops were maximally caffeinated. But the amped troops symbolized a larger truth: that the Civil War represented the victory of the caffeinated North, with its sped-up industrialized economy, over the slower, uncaffeinated economy of the Confederacy.

Ever since, the American military has made caffeine in all its forms – including tablets and a specially formulated chewing gum-readily available to its soldiers.)”

“Caffeine is a tiny molecule that happens to fit snugly into an important receptor in the central nervous system, allowing it to occupy it and therefore block the neuromodulator that would normally bind to that receptor and activate it. That neuromodulator is called adenosine; caffeine, its antagonist, keeps adenosine from doing its job by getting in its way.

Adenosine is a psychoactive compound that has a depressive and hypnotic (that is, sleep-inducing) effect on the brain when it binds to its receptor. It diminishes the rate at which our neurons fire. Over the course of the day, adenosine levels gradually rise in the bloodstream, and as long as no other molecule is blocking its action, it begins to slow mental operations in preparation for sleep. As adenosine builds up in your brain, you begin to feel less alert and a mounting desire to go to bed – what scientists call sleep pressure.

But when caffeine beats adenosine to those receptor sites, the brain no longer receives the signal to begin turning out the mental lights. Even so, the adenosine is still circulating in your brain – in fact, its levels continue to rise – but because the receptors have been hijacked, you don’t feel its effects. Instead, you feel wide-awake and alert. Are you really? Yes and no. How you feel is how you feel, it’s true, but as Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist and sleep researcher, explains, since adenosine continues to build up, you’ve just been tricked by caffeine, which is hiding its existence from you, and only temporarily.”

“One of the principal uses of sugar in Britain was as a sweetener of tea, and the custom drove a substantial increase in sugar consumption – which in turn drove an expansion of slavery to run the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. (An estimated 70% of the slave trade supported sugar production.) Coffee was even more directly implicated in the institution of slavery, especially in Brazil, where coffee growers imported large numbers of slaves from Africa to work on their plantations. How many tea and coffee drinkers in Europe had any idea that their sober and civilized habit rested on the back of such brutality?

The British East India Company’s tea trade with China bore a moral stain of another kind. since the company had to pay for tea in sterling, and China had little interest in English goods, England began running a ruinous trade deficit with China. The East India Company came up with two clever strategies to improve its balance-of-payments position: It turned to India, a country it controlled that had no history of large-scale tea production, and transformed it into a leading producer of tea-and opium. The tea was exported to England and the opium, over the strenuous objections of the Chinese government, was smuggled into China, in what would quickly become a ruinous and unconscionable flood.

By 1828 the opium trade represented 16 percent of the company’s revenues, and within five years, the East India Company was sending more than five million pounds of Indian opium to China per year. This certainly helped close the trade deficit, but millions of Chinese became addicted, contributing to the decline of what had been a great civilization. After the Chinese emperor ordered the seizure of all stores of opium in 1839, Britain declared war to keep the opium flowing. Owing to the Royal Navy’s vastly superior firepower, the British quickly prevailed, forcing open five “treaty ports” and taking possession of Hong Kong, in a crushing blow to China’s sovereignty and economy.

So here was another moral cost of caffeine: in order for the English mind to be sharpened with tea, the Chinese mind had to be clouded with opium.”

“In recent years, the global price for coffee beans has moved in giant, destructive swings, as the market does what markets do: scours the world for the lowest-price producer at any given moment.

In the 1960s, the world’s coffee-growing nations banded together to limit those swings by managing supply cooperatively.

The International Coffee Agreement set export quotas for each coffee-producing nation, as a way to keep prices stable within a certain range. This worked for many years. But in 1989, after the rise of neoliberal economics and the consolidation of buying power in the hands of a small number of multinational corporations, the coffee agreement fell apart. Prices now are set by futures markets in London and New York, and move up and down dramatically and unpredictably. In many years, farmers are forced to sell their beans for less than it cost to grow them.

“Indeed, what really commends these beverages to us is their association not with wood smoke or stone fruit or biscuits, but with the experience of well-being-of euphoria – they reliably give us.

It is this experience, known to drug researchers as reinforcement, that practically guarantees we will return to tea or coffee or wine. It also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors.

“People are badly deceived when it comes to taste,” Roland Griffiths, the Johns Hopkins drug researcher, explained. “It’s like saying ‘I like the taste of Scotch.’ No! This is an acquired, conditioned taste preference. When you pair a taste with a reinforcer like alcohol or caffeine, you will confer a specific preference for that taste.”

Caffeine is naturally present in coffee and tea, but typically is added to sodas-so why would soda makers do that? Especially in a beverage marketed to children? The industry has claimed (to the FDA and other regulators) that the caffeine is there as a flavoring, and that they add it for the note of bitterness the alkaloid provides. They actually say this with a straight face. In 2000 Griffiths’s lab easily undermined the claim with a double-blind taste test in which cola drinkers were asked to detect differences in colas, some caffeinated and some uncaffeinated.

Most couldn’t taste the difference. And yet the six top-selling soda brands in the U.S. all contain caffeine (typically about as much as in a cup of tea). Griffiths says that if you pair caffeine with any flavor, people will express a preference for that flavor.

“Just like when I say ‘I love the way Scotch tastes.””

“Peet’s is now something of a landmark, the site of a watershed moment in coffee history. It was Alfred Peet, the émigré son of a Dutch coffee roaster, who almost single-handedly introduced America to good coffee. Before Peet opened his shop, Americans mostly drank instant or diner coffee from blue-and-white cardboard cups or percolated coffee made from cans of Folgers or Maxwell House grounds. At the time, most of this coffee was made from inferior Robusta beans, which are high in caffeine but bitter and one-dimensional in taste. But it was cheap and it was all we knew.

Peet, who had tasted better in the Netherlands, insisted on sourcing Arabica beans exclusively, and roasting them slowly, until they were quite dark. His exacting standards and old World aesthetic did much to create the coffee culture in which we now live. A generous man, Peet mentored a whole generation of American coffee importers and roasters, including the founders of Starbucks, who worked for him at the Berkeley shop, learning how to select beans and roast them. Peet also taught Americans to pay a few dollars, rather than a quarter or two, for a cup of coffee, transforming it into a new kind of everyday luxury good.”

“By one estimate, roughly half the world’s coffee-growing acreage – and an even greater proportion in Latin America-will be unable to support the plant by 2050, making coffee one of the crops most immediately endangered by climate change. Capitalism, having benefited enormously from its symbiotic relationship with coffee, now threatens to kill the golden goose.”


“In April I would fly to Laredo and drive out to the Peyote Gardens, the strip of thornscrub running along either side of the Rio Grande, and the only place in the world where the peyote cactus grows wild. A cactusologist (cactologist?-not sure) named Martin Terry had offered to give me a tour, after which we would meet up with a group of Native Americans from several tribes on their annual pilgrimage to gather the inconspicuous little cacti for their ceremonies. In Western culture, peyote is a relatively obscure “psychedelic,” but it’s a precious sacrament in the Native American Church, the pan-tribal religion that sprang up in the 1880s, at the moment when Indian civilization in North America stood on the verge of annihilation.

Native Americans I had interviewed claimed that their peyote ceremonies had done more to heal the wounds of genocide, colonialism, and alcoholism than anything else they had tried.

I had arranged an opportunity to see for myself: an invitation to observe and, with luck, take part in a peyote meeting, a meticulously choreographed all-night ceremony.”

The cactus itself has been used by the Indigenous peoples of North America for at least six thousand years, making it the oldest-known psychedelic, as well as the first to be studied by Science and ingested by curious Westerners.”

“I was struck by the timing of their embrace of peyote, just when their world was being radically circumscribed – to the tightly bounded dimensions, you might say, of a nutshell. It was in the 1880s, soon after the Plains Indians, kings of infinite space, had lost their freedom to roam the West, and been confined to reservations, that they turned to peyote in order to achieve or recover…what exactly?”

“He describes being able to perceive hundreds of nuances of color that he had never seen before. “More than anything else,” he wrote years later, “the world amazed me, in that I saw it as I had when I was a child.”

A mescaline trip can last fourteen hours. “It’s a commitment,” he said. This probably explains its absence from scientific research-psilocybin, the psychedelic typically used in experiments and drug trials, lasts less than half as long, allowing everyone involved to get home in time for dinner. Another strike against mescaline is that a dose requires up to half a gram of the chemical; compare that to LSD, doses of which are measured in micrograms – millionths of a gram.

In the illicit drug trade, more material means more risk. Which probably explains why LSD, virtually weightless and easy to hide, came to eclipse mescaline, rendering it, by the mid-1960s, an orphan psychedelic.

As for plant sources of mescaline, most of the peyote gathered in Texas ends up in the hands of Native Americans, who have enjoyed the legal right to consume it since President Clinton signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments in 1994. I was told it is virtually impossible to come by peyote today if you are not a tribal member. It is also a federal crime for a non-Native person to possess it, grow it, transport it, buy it, sell it, or ingest it. Which, according to many Native Americans, is exactly as it should be. Given the importance of peyote to Native Americans today, and the shortages of the cactus, surely they have a point.”

“ The Church has grown rapidly in recent years, and although the precise number of members is difficult to pin down, it could be as high as 500,000. The number of peyote ceremonies is also on the rise. Unlike most religions, Native American Church services, called meetings, don’t happen on a fixed schedule, but rather whenever the local “roadman” or leader, determines there is a reason to meet, and those reasons are many: to heal someone who is sick; to treat someone struggling with alcoholism or another addiction; to help a couple whose marriage is on the rocks; to send a soldier off to war; to resolve a dispute in the community; to mark a graduation or some other rite of passage.”

We have in peyote a “drug” that, instead of undermining social norms, actually reinforces them. “The Native American Church arose as a revitalization movement,” he points out, “focused on personal healing, rebuilding community, harmonious family relationships, connection with the Divine, and avoidance of alcohol.” Compared to psychedelics in the West in the 1960s, peyote’s role in the Native American community is notably conservative.”

Westerners also tend to put medicine and religion in separate boxes, but for Native Americans (as for many traditional cultures), religion is foremost about healing. The conflation of the two has been formally recognized by the Indian Health Service, which now covers the cost of peyote meetings (and sweat lodges) for the treatment of certain illnesses. Hard to imagine, but there is a “client service code” for a religious ceremony with a psychedelic sacrament!”

“Psychedelics seem to mess with this system in one of two ways: In some cases, the brain’s predictions about reality go haywire, as when you see faces in the clouds or musical notes leap to life or something happens to convince you you’re being followed. Common on LSD or psilocybin, this kind of magical thinking might occur when top-down predictions generated by the brain are no longer adequately constrained, or corrected, by bottom-up information arriving from the world via the senses.

But if Huxley’s account and my experience are representative, then something very different happens in the brain on mescaline. Here, the bottom-up information of the senses and the emotions inundates our awareness, sweeping away the mind’s predictions, maps, beliefs, and “cozy symbols”-all the tools we have for organizing the inner and outer worlds-in what feels like a tidal wave of awe.”

Grace Lee Boggs

“I was quickly awed by how extraordinarily productive she remained as an intellectual-reading a half-dozen books per week while keeping tabs on a wide range of periodicals. Correspondingly, her weekly newspaper columns, email missives, and frequent lectures bristled with insights that brought historical bearing on contemporary problems.”



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