Last week, Netflix began airing ‘How to Change Your Mind’, the four-episode miniseries about psychedelics based on the book of the same name by Michael Pollan and presented by and starring the writer himself, who over the last five years has become a true champion of the so-called Psychedelic Renaissance.
Pollan was already an acclaimed and best-selling author thanks to his books on food and, more generally, on the relationship between human beings and the plant kingdom. As he recounts in ‘How to change your mind’, Pollan had never tried a psychedelic drug until the age of 60, when he embarked on the research for the book, originally published in 2018. The book, meanwhile, has its genesis in Pollan’s 2015 article ‘The Trip Treatment’ in The New Yorker about cancer patients being treated with psilocybin to overcome anxiety about death.
Being an outsider to the psychedelic movement makes Pollan the ideal spokesperson for the revival of psychedelic medicine after nearly half a century of ostracism. The writer’s personal testimony proves that a healthy, adult, integrated and mature person can walk through the door of consciousness without going mad, jumping out of the window or becoming addicted. All these horror stories were ‘inventions’ of the prohibitionist forces to justify the marginalisation of psychedelics in the 1970s. As one of Nixon’s advisors during the ‘war on drugs’ has acknowledged, the prohibition of LSD was not intended to protect people’s health but to defuse the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War.
Victims and survivors
(Almost) no one is unscathed by the use of psychedelics and the risks are there, as Pollan emphasises in the Netflix series. However, the benefits far outweigh the dangers. The second episode of the series, dedicated to psilocybin, features a man who has spent 30 years of his life suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that made him unable to lead a normal life. The suffering caused by the illness brought him to the point of nearly taking his own life. This person managed to overcome his OCD thanks to a single psilocybin therapy session, during which he recognised and reconciled with the life event that triggered his illness. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in the psilocybe mushroom, which anyone can grow at home for as little as 30 euros – if it were legal.
Like the protagonist of the episode, millions of people around the world suffer from OCD, but also from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions and a long list of mental illnesses that can be cured – or at least mitigated – with the judicious and professional use of psychedelics. These people live with enormous suffering or even go so far as to take their own lives because of an absurd half-century-old ban based on political and moral grounds. In its psychedelic aspect, the ‘war on drugs’ has claimed many more victims than it was intended to save from insanity or addiction (a necessary reminder: psychedelics are not addictive and most are not even toxic).
The book was first published in 2018 by Penguin Press and quickly made The New York Times bestseller list. Its impact in the United States gave wings to the Psychedelic Renaissance, which had already been brewing since the middle of the last decade. Netflix’s miniseries is already the digital platform’s most watched documentary, and promises to bring awareness of psychedelics to a much wider audience, both socially and culturally, as well as geographically, given Netflix’s global reach. The platform has had much to do with the normalisation of psychedelics, with the airing of documentaries such as ‘Have a nice trip’, ‘Fantastic Fungi’ and ‘Un-well’.
The psychedelic renaissance is already a reality in some countries in Europe and America, as well as in certain states and cities in the United States, where the cultivation and use of psychoactive plants is no longer prosecuted. However, the real renaissance will not take place until public health systems incorporate these effective medicines.
–‘Ayahuasca according to Netflix’, Plantaforma for Ayahuasca Advocacy, 24 August 2020.
More about Psychedelic Medicine in Beckley Med.
Think Tank founded in Great Britain in 1998 by Amanda Feilding, a pioneer in psychedelic research in the field of mental health and on Drug Policy reform.
The world’s leading psychedelic research organisation. Rick Doblin’s MAPS is a global leader in training programmes for psychedelic therapists.
The figure of Stan Grof in the history of psychedelics has reached legendary status. His legacy takes the form of a comprehensive psychedelic psychotherapy training programme.