Pubdate: Fri, 14 Jun 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Nellie Bowles


It can seem as though everyone in Silicon Valley is either heading to
or coming back from a psychedelic trip, and it is probably Michael
Pollan's fault.

He did after all write a best seller, "How to Change Your Mind," about
how healthful psychedelics can be. His neighbor Ayelet Waldman, whose
memoir "A Really Good Day" recounts how taking acid helped her mood
and marriage, has something to do with it, too. And now, inspired by
Pollan, the writer T.C. Boyle has a new novel, "Outside Looking In,"
about Timothy Leary, the charismatic Harvard professor turned
psychedelics pied piper of the 1960s.

In the past year, psychedelics have entered the mainstream conversation 
in a way not seen since then. But now LSD and magic mushrooms aren't for 
fun or adventure, but for wellness, life-hacking, therapy and self-care. 
The Milken Conference, a business event featuring the leaders of major 
banks, had a panel called "Psychedelics: Mind-Enhancing Methods to 
Well-Being." There is a seemingly endless array of psychedelic health 
events. And no group has embraced psychedelics like Silicon Valley 

On a recent afternoon, Waldman, who like Pollan lives in Berkeley,
came to his house for lunch. The two had gotten into psychedelics only
in their 50s, and their interest was a mix of academic, spiritual and
therapeutic. Boyle, in town for his book tour, joined. Unlike the
other two, Boyle had used drugs liberally in his youth and entirely
for fun. (Boyle is recently retired from teaching writing at U.S.C.,
though he prefers the term "pre-dead.") Over lunch, the three talked
about the flood of freshly minted shamans, Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness
brand Goop and whether hallucinogens belong at company gatherings.

'These people became shamans, like, last week'

Hallucinogens can be a particularly jarring, grueling high, and Pollan
and Waldman both took the drugs with shaman guides in undisclosed
locations. (The drugs are still illegal, after all.) Both found the
experience to be life changing, giving them new insights into
themselves and their lives. Now they worry about how many people are
following their lead. A booming - and unregulated - shaman market has

"Now when you leave the airport in Quito, there are people with signs
for 'ayahuasca ceremony' instead of 'taxi,'" Pollan said. "These
people became shamans, like, last week. People are getting hurt." It's
not as if there's a licensing board.

All the guys Pollan knew before are booked months out. Suddenly a lot
more people are calling themselves experts.

Plus, there is the tricky issue of American wellness seekers taking
over South American spiritual ceremonies.

"There's just something that makes me uncomfortable about a bunch of
white people overrunning all these shaman experiences," Waldman said.

Pollan agreed.

It's a complicated concern for two people who have just published
books about the benefits of psychedelics. They worry about the
ayahuasca retreat gentrification even as they usher more people in the

Boyle, who wears a goatee and shaggy hair, does not worry as much
about this as his Berkeley friends do. Nor does he share the same
shamanic spiritual experiences or drug-related wellness goals. "Me, I
was just a druggie - I wasn't looking for enlightenment," Boyle said.
"The LSD we took, the mescaline and so on, it's just bought from some
guy on the street corner, we didn't know what it was."

The 'Goop-ification'

The new psychedelic movement - in which microdosing is for
productivity - would not approve.

And the booming wellness industry is ready with promises of what
psychedelics can do for you (spoiler alert: almost everything). Goop,
Gwyneth Paltrow's health and beauty brand, now regularly features
pieces with voices touting the health benefits of the drugs, claiming
MDMA makes talk therapy more effective or ayahuasca increases a
person's appreciation of nature.

"The Goop-ification is happening," Waldman said. She seems

Waldman took on the soft but authoritative voice of a yoga instructor
as she jokingly described how psychedelics might be rebranded.

"You know you take your jade egg, roll it in a little acid, and you
shove it up your -," Waldman said, making a swift upward motion with
her hand as everyone around the table laughed. "Absorb it through your
mucous membranes and it gives you a kind of extraordinary

The Trump effect

"Do you guys think Trump has something to do with it?" Pollan called
from the kitchen where he was heating up pizza from the The Cheese
Board Collective in Berkeley.

"I couldn't get through Trump without something," Waldman

Pollan argues that the new interest in psychedelics comes from the
growing anxiety in American society today - and not just from the
erratic president.

"I think people want these kind of more intense experiences than
they're getting being online," Pollan said.

The very people who funded the screens are now backing the things to
cure people from their effects.

Venture capitalists are getting involved as a new gold rush stirs.
Unusual new financiers are finding common cause with would-be hippies.
The conservative investor Peter Thiel is backing a
psychedelics-for-wellness start-up.

Pollan is now spending at least some of his time trying to stop people
from using psychedelics at corporate off-sites. At a recent
psychedelic conference at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, he met a
20-something entrepreneur whose start-up had closed a large round of
funding and was now hiring.

"He'd come to the conference because he thought he could use
psychedelics in his management training," Pollan said. "And I tried to
give him some cautionary notes. Like, 'You know, you may want to go
public one day.'"

Waldman argued that it could be a good idea to incorporate
psychedelics into a company off-site, "as long as it's not

The legalization question

But no one at the table that day in Berkeley was arguing for full

Pollan, who wrote extensively and positively about his time using
psilocybin, wrote an op-ed in May warning against legalization after
Colorado effectively decriminalized it.

"Psilocybin has a lot of potential as medicine, but we don't know
enough about it yet to legalize it," Pollan wrote.

"The lesson from ancient cultures that use psychedelics in their
healing or their religion is that they always have a kind of container
and an elder involved," Pollan said. "You did them on certain
occasions, and you did it with the clear intent."

Waldman's book focused on her experience microdosing, which in her
case meant taking small amounts of LSD while continuing her daily
life. She said microdosing should probably have different rules. But
then again, someone could just take a bunch of microdoses and get high.

New drug trials are underway to study how psychedelics might treat
depression, and Pollan sees potential dangers.

"Someone is probably going to commit suicide because they're getting
off of SSRIs," Pollan said. "I do think we could have another backlash."

"There will be a terrible backlash if these are suddenly released to
the public," Waldman said.

They talk about bad trips they have been on, even ones that were
carefully curated with the best shamans and the finest drugs. (Waldman
recently believed she was vomiting rats.)

"Tom, did you ever have a bad experience?" Pollan asked.

Boyle laughed to himself a little.

"I never had a good experience," Boyle said.

Boyle added that there is another category everyone is forgetting: the
people who just want to get high. "We're old people."
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MAP posted-by: Matt