- In 1997, Michael Pollan wrote an essay, a section of which was originally "about making opium tea from his home-grown poppies and drinking the tea". He had some "fear that the Drug Enforcement Administration would raid his house and seize his property" if this were published, as he thought it could be viewed as “taunting the government.”
- The published version (available at https://www.wesjones.com/pollan1.htm as pointed out by https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27804124), under the title "Opium, Made Easy" in Harper’s Magazine, left out that section.
- Pollan's new (2021) book "This is Your Mind on Plants" restores that material. (Which, incidentally, involved finding a zip drive, and using LibreOffice to read the old Word document.)
- Recently, in a Tim Ferris podcast, Pollan's version of the events of 1997 (see https://tim.blog/2021/06/30/michael-pollan-this-is-your-mind... starting with the phrase "in the ’90s at the height of the drug war") kind of suggests that the section was left out because of the advice he got from the lawyers of Harper’s Magazine.
- (Though he does mention their lawyer saying "you must publish this article for the good of the Republic", and a contract the publisher made saying “If you get arrested, we will not only defend you, we will pay your wife a salary for the whole amount of time it takes for you to defend yourself and if necessary, serve your sentence. And if they take your house, we’ll buy you a comparable new one.”)
- In the posted submission here, John R. "Rick" MacArthur, the president and publisher of Harper's Magazine, points out they did their very best to get him to publish it, and it was Michael Pollan who "insisted on withdrawing the passages about making and drinking the tea".
- It concludes with "Pollan took the easy way out. I don’t blame him for having been afraid. He just now shouldn’t try to lay responsibility for his decision on anyone but himself."
That's the summary, but after having read both the posted article and the transcript of the podcast (Edit: and most of the 1997 article, which is a fine picture of paranoia), it's not clear to me what disagreement there is, if any. Both versions seem to agree almost entirely: both versions point out that the publisher heavily pushed Pollan to publish the article in its entirety, even offering him that amazing contract, and it was Pollan who chickened out.
The main disagreement seems to be about Pollan's speculation in the podcast:
> I mean, he’s a crusading publisher, like a crusading journalist. And I shouldn’t speak for him, but my guess is he was hoping something would happen. He was hoping I would get arrested. This would put Harper’s on the map. This would be a giant case. He would take it to the Supreme Court, and he would. He has bottomless pockets. I mean, and publishing for him is kind of an avocation. And he was always looking for the big story that Harper’s would get involved with. I mean, we saw that just last year with the Harper’s letter around free speech versus the efforts to curb free speech in the name of various woke values. He’s not afraid of controversy.
Here the publisher himself mentions "It was a bitter blow to me, because I have always put the freedom to publish in the forefront of my work, and I lost some respect for Pollan after that", so the entire thing seems a non-issue to me. All we've left of the disagreement is
• the (rich, fearless) publisher encouraging an author in every way possible to publish something controversial,
• the (not-so-rich, not-so-fearless) author thinking/speculating something along the lines of "it's easy for you, but I'm not so bold as to court controversy; it's [not] my cup of tea".
But yeah, after typing the comment (mostly for my own understanding) and realising how short the posted article was, I did consider whether to post the comment or not, but having accidentally ended with that perfect pun, it was hard to abandon it. :-)
I also don't see what's uncharitable about my reading. I see a rich man looking down on somebody for not being willing to take a risk he won't take himself. What do you claim I'm missing here?
It’s strange that Pollan would turn around and try to shift blame rather than simply staying quiet. What does he think he stands to gain by throwing his former publisher, who went to great lengths to support him, under the bus? Why not simply let it stay in the past? Or admit the truth and give credit where credit is due?
I have to say, the more of Pollan’s work I read the less I enjoy his writings. He seems intent on riding the current waves of pro-drug and anti-enforcement sentiment to propel his own notoriety as an author. This also manifests as very one-sided portrayals of drug use that glorify and exaggerate the benefits while downplaying the negatives. In his book “How to Change Your Mind” I felt that every pro-psychedelic argument was presented with little questioning, while he only offered easy strawman counter arguments as skepticism, easily dismissed by the reader after reading a few more chapters of his pro-psychedelic writings.
“How to Change Your Mind” was very popular several years ago and continues to circulate in certain circles. I’ve read many anecdotes of people who sought psychedelics after reading his book with the expectation of life-changing experiences or psychedelic treatments for their conditions, only to be disappointed when they didn’t experience the miraculous experiences and transformations he describes.
I wish we had a more engaging alternative writer to reference about the realities of psychedelics and other drugs. Someone who was more interested in delivering realistic, albeit necessarily less boring, descriptions of the realities of this space. Some of the depictions of psychedelics as miracle cure-all medicines have gotten out of control and have become completely detached from the actual research, which puts a heavy emphasis on many (10-20 or more) therapy sessions surrounding the guided and monitored psychedelic administration. These books tend to downplay the realities and instead glorify the romantic notion of mushrooms as a forbidden, mystical cure for all ailments. The realities are much less clear-cut and definitely not always as positive as they sound in these modern psychedelic mysticism books.
Was pollen really all that disingenuous in the reality of psych use/effectiveness at treating medical conditions?
Seems his claims were pretty in-line with the research overall. If anyone has a quote of pollen overstating benefits, feel free to post the quote as I, for one, would like to see it.
Now this sounds at least as interesting as anything Pollan himself writes about.
I'd be interested in hearing the details of what they tried and how (ie. their set and setting).
Why these substances work for some people and not others (even when administered in the exact same therapeutic settings and using the same protocols) is one of the biggest open questions in psychedelic research.
> I started to walk into the bar, and I suddenly thought to myself, "Wait a minute! It's the middle of the afternoon. There's nobody here. There's no social reason to drink. Why do you have such a terribly strong feeling that you have to have a drink?" and I got scared.
> I never drank ever again, since then. I suppose I really wasn't in any danger, because I found it very easy to stop. But that strong feeling that I didn't understand frightened me. You see, I get such fun out of thinking that I don't want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick. It's the same reason that, later on, I was reluctant to try experiments with LSD in spite of my curiosity about hallucinations.
Also, according to this passage, Feynman's experiments with LSD/hallucinations came after (and despite) this decision, and they are described extensively in the book. I don't remember a mention of Timothy Leary in the book (it mentions John Lilly; maybe you've mixed up the two), and I also don't remember the part about him giving a talk about a problem he thought he had solved.
But Feynman, like many other intelligent, famous people, had a bad habit of opining on and dismissing out of hand subjects he knew little about. He did this with philosophy and with psychedelics.
At least he tried LSD, but he was clearly not an authority on LSD, and his experience with it was minimal. Not to mention that back in the 60's little was known about how best to use it (there was some research in to this, but most people were not aware of the most effective methods.. and even now, while we know better we might not have the optimal method figured out).
While Feynman might not have solved his scientific problem on that particular session that doesn't mean that it's useless in helping problem solving. In fact, there has been research that indicated that it helped with both creativity and problem solving:  and there's still ongoing research in to this subject.
As we all know today, the benefits of psychedelics can extend far beyond helping with creativity and problem solving, however.. they can help with various personal and mental issues, for example, increase empathy and openness, help with end-of-life anxiety, help with relationships, etc... apparently Feynman was either completely ignorant of this potential or chose to ignore it while focusing only on the narrow subject of scientific problem solving and his fear.. which is understandable, but not really a fair assessment of the potential of psychedelics.
Which isn't to say that Feynman should have taken more LSD (that's a personal choice for everyone, and I respect his decision).. but just because Feynman didn't doesn't mean no one should.
 - https://www.amazon.com/LSD-Spirituality-Creative-Process-Gro...
 - https://maps.org/news/media/4814-jim-fadiman-on-psychedelics...
 - https://sciencetrends.com/does-microdosing-lsd-stimulate-cre...
 - https://maps.org/news/multimedia-library/3171-can-psychedeli...
"Feynman was either completely ignorant of his potential or chose to ignore it". 
IMHO he did rather well i his limited time on the planet.
Not the same.
Having one trip does not make you an expert. It makes you a novice with still a lot to learn. Feynman, as smart as he was, could not become an authority on LSD after a single trip.
The 60s had some quite negative urban legends regarding LSD's effect on the brain:
For Feynman it must have felt like a dangerous experiment since it led him to come up with incorrect conclusions. But I tend to think I learn most from my incorrect thinking (assuming I realize it is incorrect)
I have been involved in publicly funded recreational drug research, it does happen. Trouble is drugs takers don't like the results, which unfortunately are not entirely positive. e.g. huge numbers of people in mental institutions in the
Uk had their episode triggered by recreational drugs, especially weed, which we all consider a soft drug.
Studies happen, the information is there but people don't like it because it does not help their arguments. Despite many studies it still comes down to the question of weather an individual has the right to fuck themselves up or not. There is still no study that shows smoking is good for you.
Dont hold your breath.
> Despite these changes in state policy and the increasing prevalence of cannabis use and its implications for population health, the federal government has not legalized cannabis and continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations on research into the health harms or benefits of cannabis products that are available to consumers in a majority of states. As a result, research on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids has been limited in the United States, leaving patients, health care professionals, and policy makers without the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding the use of cannabis and cannabinoids. This lack of evidence-based information on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids poses a public health risk.
Large numbers make good averages.
Psych health care workers deal with people with drug problems on a daily basis, that's pretty much all they do. Psychs know _which_ drug each patient has issues with. A huge percentage of psychiatric work is related to drugs and alcohol. The percentage that is weed is well known.
If you deny that, no one will ever take anything you say seriously because everyone one else is basing health care policy on these numbers.
Your trouble is probably that you are looking for a study that says that weed is good for mental health,
and there isn't one.
It's fun, you get high, but it does have negative health consequences. That is essentially it, no one has yet found a control group that got better exam results from smoking bifters in the park.
The difference between high thc weed and weed as gaia intended exacerbates the issue, modified indoor weed does most of the damage. Natural weed has anti-psychotics and skunk messed up the balance.
I don’t know what the situation is in the UK. In the US cannabis is considered schedule 1, meaning it’s harmful and has no medical uses. Cocaine is schedule 2 and can be administered to a patient at a hospital if appropriate. I am not saying that cannabis is harmless. I am saying I don’t know and I would like my tax dollars to be spent to find out what it can and cannot do. Currently researchers in the US have a very hard time getting funding for cannabis research (that is research that involves cannabis, not surveys of its users, etc.). Universities won’t touch it, and getting actual cannabis to experiment on is nearly impossible because again the federal government considers it to have no medical uses based on very little prior research that is now widely thought to be outdated.
I don’t really get your point. Is it that cannabis == bad so let’s not study it? Or cannabis has been studied enough so let’s not take it off schedule 1? You also called it a psychedelic which it isn’t, so I am confused by that.
Fastforward to the other articles and books mentioned here, and I'm starting to wonder if this earliest episode led him to try more daring and far riskier exploits. Has writing about drug cultivation and his conflicts with authorities large and small become his shtick?
I'm in this camp (though I've never read Pollan).
Wholeheartedly agree. People looking to cure their depression are going to quite surprised if they actually find themselves in the worst imaginable hell possible.
It's so bewildering how substances like psychadelics and opiods can simultaneous be the thing producing the most heavenly euphoria or the most terrifying hell; by a roll of the dice too in psychadelic's case. The universe is funny.
It was an extremely unsatisfying answer as part of an unsatisfying talk. He struck me as an unserious person.
Pay kids to move to, or simply stay, in Kansas.
After the kids get some relevant degrees, give them zero interest loans, new tractors, whatever. I really don't care what it costs.
Simply redirect all those agricultural subsidies from corporations to families.
Direct incentives like this usually get gamed or don't work. I prefer the Georgist approach, working with, not against market forces. Make all land speculation fully unprofitable by taxation, and make all returns from labor and capital (i.e. wages, interest, and non-rent profit) free from taxation or rent. Use the difference to fund a citizen's dividend.
> Simply redirect all those agricultural subsidies from corporations to families.
Absolutely, all direct subsidies must go, but let's not replace them with other subsidies. A Georgist system would replace all rentier subsidies with a labor and capital friendly free market.
Cities/suburbs come with appealing perks: entertainment, dining, large dating pools, etc.
What percentage of young people could we really convince to give up those things and how much would it cost us?
I don't doubt that some young people badly want a rural/agricultural lifestyle. I'm skeptical that we could convert more of them with just money.
It does require time, however. Time to practice beginner meditation, and time to sit and reflect on everyday objects.
But the payoff is simply INCREDIBLE. That feeling of "time is going by faster and faster" is replaced with almost the opposite, of remembering an event and being surprised how recent it was compared to how distant it feels.
But I've been pretty bad about the practice lately and need to commit more. It has helped me a lot, but there are a lot of benefits/mind states I haven't even scratched the surface of
First, I learned how to do breath-attention meditation, where I put my attention on my breathing.
Then, I committed to doing this meditation immediately upon being annoyed by something or waiting for something.
It's all internal, meaning I don't sit down in Lotus or close my eyes or change anything about my outward appearance.
At the time, I would have semi-pointless meetings at work, which I didn't have to do much participating in, so I would do it then.
Even for 5-10 seconds or 30 seconds, it has a huge payoff, because it taught me the habit and process of entering a meditative state.
I've since had this idea reinforced by a teacher, who said that in the beginning you should practice entering meditation more than staying in meditation or exiting meditation, because you cannot do one without the other.
You've clearly made up your mind that psychadelics are not for you, and that's totally fine! But this notion of being condescending towards something you've clearly never experienced (and I assume know very little about) just makes you come across as myopic - not the other way around.
FWIW I've never tried psychadelics so I'm not particularly defensive here. Just pointing out the hypocrisy (or at least that's how I interpreted it) of your position.
For drugs like weed or alcohol (alcohol being the more dangerous of the two, so you have to be careful), the benefits are much like any medical prescription and vary for each person. I use it for sleep and to focus because it turns off the random stray thoughts when I need that and I'm ADHD and autistic, so it also keeps me off disability and harsh ADHD drugs.
I understand your pov very well because at one point in my life I thought much as you, so don't take insult, I'm just trying to tell you another pov. I'm not saying drugs are great for everyone, or everyone is mature enough to handle them, etc., but for those like me who treat them like tools or a medication that deserves respect and careful consideration, they're invaluable. If they weren't illegal and sketchy to source, it would be easier to teach others, who are going to do it anyways, the safe methods and doses for different drugs.
Anyways, nothing you probably haven't heard, so I won't bore you anymore!
* I mean, two people on HN called him shallow. Must be true, right?
He went off on the harms of GMO and the wonders of whole foods. He used a lot of flowery language which ultimately was him saying "See, science is garbage, buy my new age theory of life!".
It seems like this podcast comment might have sufficiently motivated the editor (McArthur) to write this article. Not that this is a bad thing. We all have a sense what it's like to want to restore truth to an unjust public comment.
Aside: We'll never quite know pollen's motive for censorshing his book's personal psychedelic use content.. could be as simple as arguably unfounded paranoia.
Very interesting, thanks!
Regardless, this seems to potentially fall into the category of misremembering or simply having a different frame of reference at the time. Diverging points of view are common enough, especially within this time frame.
I definitely came away from the podcast with no bad feelings about anyone. While it would have been nice if Pollan didn’t incite this kind of response through his recollection, it seems harmless enough.
It is important though to be as objective as possible with things like this since no one could possibly fact check it.
But he does talk to a lot of smart people, and there’s often much interesting to learn about, so I put up with their egos and extract the information by listening.
Also is it possible to walk away from a podcast offended at all? The explosion of this medium and the way everyone seems to consume it suggests you can’t afford to emotionally involve with what you’re listening to anymore.
The only disagreement is over Pollan's speculation in this podcast about why the publisher supported him to such an extraordinary extent, and although MacArthur felt those words to be "nasty jibes" (understandable, if one focuses on the "He was hoping I would get arrested" part rather than the "He’s not afraid of controversy" part), such clearly-marked speculation ("And I shouldn’t speak for him, but my guess is…") seems not quite a case of the truth being twisted.
You’re probably right though; if what Pollan said elicited a response, he probably shouldn’t have said it. I’m wondering why he did, now. It wasn’t a very entertaining account by any means.
For what it's worth, I came away with a completely positive view of Harper's, though maybe I didn't pick up on every word of it.
Poppies seem to grow really easily in a lot of places. You don't have to be a fancy chemist to just smoke or shoot the gunk.
Here's a typical Vice story on this, big headline, fairly unsatisfying reality lol.
Opium for the Masses: Harvesting... https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004URM3DG?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_shar...