This is Your Mind on Plants: Opium – Caffeine – Mescaline by Michael Pollan - review by A J Lees

A J Lees

Never Mind the Neurobollocks

This is Your Mind on Plants: Opium – Caffeine – Mescaline


Allen Lane 288pp £20

Despite its unappealing, formulaic title (the even more hackneyed Your Brain on Plants had already been taken), Michael Pollan’s intertwining of reportage, citizen science and historical scholarship is a delightful and informative read. A censored version of the first section of the book, devoted to opium, appeared in Harper’s Magazine in April 1997, at the height of the US government’s ‘war on drugs’. Back then, Pollan was forced to cut out certain parts of his article, including a description of his own consumption of opium tea prepared from seed heads harvested from his garden, on legal advice. After locating the floppy disk on which he had saved the full text and obtaining skilled assistance to open it, he was able to access the unexpurgated version, which is published here for the first time.

Pollan describes, in what now seems an almost risible series of actions (details of which also had to be removed from the original article), the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s attempts in the 1990s to enforce a law that allows the prosecution of anyone knowingly growing opium poppies in their garden and their threats to prosecute the owners of garden centres for selling exotic poppy seeds of the sort found on pretzels. During the course of his research, he meets up with Jim Hogshire, author of a book entitled Opium for the Masses, who was charged with possessing a bunch of poppy seed heads that he claimed to have obtained from a florist. With the knowledge that all this happened at exactly the time when Purdue

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