Accessible and compelling, How to Change Your Mind is an informative introduction to the world of psychotherapeutics. While the scope and depth are necessarily more restricted than the eponymous 2018 book, this mini docuseries, nevertheless, manages to hit the highlights.
Each of the four episodes treats a different psychotherapeutic drug: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline. The author-turned-host, Michael Pollan, leads viewers through the history and science relating to each substance with an effective mixture of subject-matter authority and genuine curiosity. But where he, and the series, really shine are the vignettes of people, Pollan included, who have tried psychotherapeutics. Far from being the vegan hippies or youthful partiers one might expect to be using illicit substances, the series highlights the experiences of those seeking relief from mental and physical illness or using psychotherapeutics in religious contexts.
One highlighted individual is Kathleen Kral, a seventy-eight-year-old Catholic woman who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The diagnosis, unsurprisingly, left her very depressed. As part of a clinical study to test the efficacy of psilocybin in addressing depression in cancer patients, Kral ingested a hallucination-inducing dose of psilocybin under medical supervision. She describes what she sees and experiences, including making peace with the miscarriage of a child over forty years ago. Her experience with psilocybin left her feeling deeply interconnected and helped her find serenity regarding her impending death.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the series is how many people are willing to openly discuss their use of Schedule I substances, currently illegal under federal law and the laws of forty-nine states. With almost evangelical zeal, they share how their encounters with psychotherapeutic substances have improved their mental health and opened their minds to previously inaccessible spirituality. Far from being outliers, these users are in good company—over seven million Americans reported using hallucinogens in 2020 alone.
In Pollan’s words, a psychedelic renaissance is occurring. For those who would like to be conversant in that renaissance, How to Change Your Mind is a great place to start.