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RACHEL'S RUMINATIONS: Psychedelics: A novel therapy for mental illness and addiction

A book, recently adapted as a Netflix docu-series, explores the Renaissance in clinical uses of mind-altering drugs.

Penguin, 2018
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Penguin, 2018

You may be familiar with Micheal Pollen’s work. His most famous book is probably “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (2006).

A few weeks ago, I saw that his latest book, “This is Your Mind on Plants” (2021), had just been released in paperback, so I mentioned the idea to my daughter, Cascade. She mentioned another Pollan book, “How to Change Your Mind” (2018), on which Netflix just released a docu-series.

The book’s prologue eloquently sets the stage for the six chapters that follow. I had forgotten Pollan’s mastery of the English language and the breadth of his vocabulary. I find his non-fiction style a pleasure to read.

Chapter 1, “A Renaissance,” reveals that psychedelics have come full circle. From about 1950 to 1966, psychedelics were largely studied and utilized by the U.S. government and medical community to treat mental illness and addiction. In the mid-to-late 60s, they became part of the hippie counterculture movement, and were banned by the American government.


I absolutely loved chapter 2, “Bemushroomed.” It was essentially a biography about Paul Stamets, a modern American mycologist, world-renowned for both research and manufacture on all things mushroom-related.

I found this chapter particularly interesting because I have heard Stamets speak at a medical conference. Also, I periodically recommend medicinal mushrooms (not psychedelics) to my patients for various health conditions.

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Although I found chapter 3, “History,” a bit tedious, Pollan did mention Andrew Weil’s role with psychedelics at Harvard, along with the evolution of Ram Dass from Harvard researcher to spiritual teacher – trivia about well-known figures that really caught my attention.

Chapter 4, “Travelogue,” was one of my favorites. It’s about Pollan’s personal experiences with the three psychedelics featured in the book—LSD, psilocybin, and 5-MeO-DMT (“The Toad,” or smoked venom of the Sonoran Desert/Colorado River toad).

First, he and his wife tried psilocybin obtained from his visit with Stamets. His other experiments were taken under medical supervision, the fifth with ayahuasca, a tea brewed from two Amazonian plants that he shares in the epilogue.

In Chapter 5, Pollan explores the neuroscience of psychedelics, which I found somewhat boring. The last chapter, “The Trip Treatment,” focuses on the primary clinical usages for psychedelics – easing the mental-emotional component of dying for patients with terminal diseases, and treating addiction and depression.

While reading the book, I reached out to several Minnesota colleagues to find out the status of psychedelic treatment options for people in our state. I learned that a few facilities currently utilize ketamine, which Pollan did not address in this book.

Rachel Oppitz lives in Park Rapids with her husband, Chris, and dog Pax. She is a naturopathic doctor and owns Itasca Naturopathic Clinic. In her spare time, she loves yoga, hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, traveling, meditating and trying new recipes.

Rachel Oppitz is a naturopathic doctor and owns Itasca Naturopathic Clinic in Park Rapids and Bemidji.
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