This Is Your Mind on Plants - book cover
Addiction & Recovery
  • Publisher : Penguin Press; First Edition
  • Published : 06 Jul 2021
  • Pages : 288
  • ISBN-10 : 0593296907
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593296905
  • Language : English

This Is Your Mind on Plants

The instant New York Times bestseller | A Washington Post Notable Book | One of NPR's Best Books of the Year

"Expert storytelling . . . [Pollan] masterfully elevates a series of big questions about drugs, plants and humans that are likely to leave readers thinking in new ways."-New York Times Book Review

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan, a radical challenge to how we think about drugs, and an exploration into the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants-and the equally powerful taboos.

Of all the things humans rely on plants for-sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber-surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Take coffee and tea: People around the world rely on caffeine to sharpen their minds. But we do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use as an addiction, because it is legal and socially acceptable. So, then, what is a "drug"? And why, for example, is making tea from the leaves of a tea plant acceptable, but making tea from a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime?

In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs-opium, caffeine, and mescaline-and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?

In this unique blend of history, science, and memoir, as well as participatory journalism, Pollan examines and experiences these plants from several very different angles and contexts, and shines a fresh light on a subject that is all too often treated reductively-as a drug, whether licit or illicit. But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can. Based in part on an essay published almost twenty-five years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.

Editorial Reviews

"Delightful . . . [This Is Your Mind On Plants] aims to collapse the distinctions between legal and illegal, medical and recreational, exotic and everyday, by appealing to the principle that unites the three: the affinities between plant biochemistry and the human mind." -New York Review of Books

"[A] thoughtful study . . . As the U.S.'s drug policies become less punitive, [Pollan] argues, we should think more clearly about substances we've come to depend on." -The New Yorker

"[A] wonderful and compelling read that will leave you thinking long after you set it down . . . Pollan is an astonishingly good writer, at times intimate and vulnerable, at times curious and expository, always compelling and credible. Reading his writing can be kind of like taking a psychedelic-a literary onomatopoeia." -Washington Post

"Pollan is a mindful and enthusiastic psychonaut. He is also a gifted writer, who synthesizes unruly social histories and wreathes them around his own drug-taking experiences. And he articulates these experiences with great insight and eloquence." -The New Republic

"Expert storytelling . . . [Pollan] masterfully elevates a series of big questions about drugs, plants and humans that are likely to leave readers thinking in new ways." -New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating . . . This Is Your Mind On Plants has much to offer its readers, whether they are curious about the plant-based adventures of others or the science of substances at work in their own minds. With historical depth, political punch, and narrative exuberance, Pollan's book sounds a call to reimagine society's relationship with psychoactive plants." -Boston Globe

"The author of How to Change Your Mind turns his attention to three consciousness-altering drugs-opium, mescaline and caffeine (yes, it's a drug)-in this eye-opening exploration." -People

"[H]ighly engaging reading . . . Pollan's writing always has a personal aspect to it, but in his latest work he takes an even more central role in the narrative, and his book is the better for it." -The Daily Beast

"Pollan weaves together three separately engaging stories in a pleasantly meandering style, deftly using his personal experiences with each compound as a jumping-off point for small forays into anthropology, history, politics, psychology, molecular biology, and neuroscience. Even the most distracted reader will come away with an understanding of the physical effects of the spotlighted substances as well as their cultural significance." -Science

"The omnivorously curious Pollan pivots off his provocative How to Change Your Mind with a...

Readers Top Reviews

Kindle chris kelly
I just love Michael! After reading How to change your mind i wasnt expecting anything less interesting than this, kind of, sequel Highly addictive to read and amazingly put together!!! Well done Michael, highly recommend to anyone who is into these controversial things, like me!!! Have a fun reading people! :)
I. Krutainis
I found the caffeine part most interesting as it was one I can intimately relate to, while opium and mescaline was also super fascinating.
Matt Evans
The caffeine essay is fascinating, and will make you re-think your relationship with coffee. Mescaline is also great, although it descends a little too much into woo for my tastes towards the end. In contrast the chapter on opium was a frustrating read. Much of the time Pollan spends speculating about the legal status of his plant and I kept screaming “TALK TO A LAWYER!” That way he could ge the answe in 15 minutes instead of months. Except then it would be a short essay. He does eventually talk to a lawyer… although by then you may have given up on the essay. Despite those reservations I had a good time with the book and learned a bunch.
Kort Cooper
Outstanding, my second michael pollen book, the way he writes is utterly spectacular, he could be writing about watching paint dry and I would be engorged! The caffeine and poppy chapters are outstanding, I had NO idea how much these plants impacted our lives Phenomenal book, along with how to change your mind
Evan kCharles Hansen
This book is a rambling narrative about three substances and Pollan’s overly dramatized experiences with them. There’s definitely a couple interesting facts pertaining to the drugs and their subsequent effects, but “This Is Your Mind On Plants” is a wildly deceiving title. Seems that he uses most of his page space to write about court cases and historical data rather than how the substances affect “your mind” from a scientific perspective. I bought this book with pretty high anticipation but should’ve definitely waited a bit longer to see how the public received it. If you’re interested in the book’s description, save your time and money by just listening to his Rogan podcast. Can’t recommend.

Short Excerpt Teaser


Of all the many things humans rely on plants for-sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber-surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, to fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Like most people, I use a couple of plants this way on a daily basis. Every morning without fail I begin my day by preparing a hot-water infusion of one of two plants that I depend on (and dependent I am) to clear the mental fog, sharpen my focus, and prepare myself for the day ahead. We don't usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use of it as an addiction, but that is only because coffee and tea are legal and our dependence on them is socially acceptable. So, then, what exactly is a drug? And why is making tea from the leaves of Camellia sinensis uncontroversial, while doing the same thing with the seed heads of Papaver somniferum is, as I discovered to my peril, a federal crime?

All who try to construct a sturdy definition of drugs eventually run aground. Is chicken soup a drug? What about sugar? Artificial sweeteners? Chamomile tea? How about a placebo? If we define a drug simply as a substance we ingest that changes us in some way, whether in body or in mind (or both), then all those substances surely qualify. But shouldn't we be able to distinguish foods from drugs? Faced with that very dilemma, the Food and Drug Administration punted, offering a circular definition of drugs as "articles other than food" that are recognized in the pharmacopoeia-that is, as drugs by the FDA. Not much help there.

Things become only slightly clearer when the modifier "illicit" is added: an illicit drug is whatever a government decides it is. It can be no accident that these are almost exclusively the ones with the power to change consciousness. Or, perhaps I should say, with the power to change consciousness in ways that run counter to the smooth operations of society and the interests of the powers that be. As an example, coffee and tea, which have amply demonstrated their value to capitalism in many ways, not least by making us more efficient workers, are in no danger of prohibition, while psychedelics-which are no more toxic than caffeine and considerably less addictive-have been regarded, at least in the West since the mid-1960s, as a threat to social norms and institutions.

But even these classifications are not as fixed or as sturdy as you may think. At various times both in the Arab world and in Europe, authorities have outlawed coffee, because they regarded the people who gathered to drink it as politically threatening. As I write, psychedelics seem to be undergoing a change of identity. Since researchers have demonstrated that psilocybin can be useful in treating mental health, some psychedelics will probably soon become FDA-approved medicines: that is, recognized as more helpful than threatening to the functioning of society.

This happens to be precisely how Indigenous peoples have always regarded these substances. In many Indigenous communities, the ceremonial use of peyote, a psychedelic, reinforces social norms by bringing people together to help heal the traumas of colonialism and dispossession. The government recognizes the First Amendment right of Native Americans to ingest peyote as part of the free exercise of their religion, but under no circumstances do the rest of us enjoy that right, even if we use peyote in a similar way. So here is a case where it is the identity of the user rather than the drug that changes its legal status.

Nothing about drugs is straightforward. But it's not quite true that our plant taboos are entirely arbitrary. As these examples suggest, societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society's rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it. That's why in a society's choice of psychoactive substances we can read a great deal about both its fears and its desires.

Ever since I took up gardening as a teenager and attempted to grow cannabis, I have been fascinated by our attraction to these powerful plants as well as by the equally powerful taboos and fraught feelings with which we surround them. I've come to appreciate that when we take these plants into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways possible.

There is scarcely a culture on earth that hasn't discovered in its environment at least one such plant or fungus, and in most cases a whole suite of them, that alters consciousness in one of a variety of ways. Through what was surely a long and perilous trial and error, humans have identified plants that lift the burden of physical pain; re...