Psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs are enjoying a revival—as agents of personal pleasure, mind expansion, and conventional medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently designated psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as a "breakthrough therapy" for treatment of depression. MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, has been similarly designated as a breakthrough therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Earlier this year, two major books about psychedelics came out. Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence is a relatively conventional history and memoir that drew praise from Reason's Jacob Sullum for recovering the history of "psychedelics' potential for facilitating psychotherapy, promoting the rehabilitation of addicts, and relieving end-of-life anxiety" before Timothy Leary and others promoted such drugs as the stuff of total political and cultural revolution. "Psychedelics have been politicized, medicalized, and spiritualized," asks Sullum in his review. "Will they ever be personalized?"
Which brings me to that second book, Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, written by acclaimed novelist Tao Lin. Born in 1983 to immigrants from Taiwan and raised in Florida, Lin is a critical darling of the contemporary literary scene (Bret Easton Ellis has declared him to be "the most interesting prose stylist of his generation"). His books Taipei, Richard Yates, Shoplifting from American Apparel, and others are populated by disaffected young people who take copious amounts of drugs, especially downers such as Xanax and prescription opioids. Trip is an excruciatingly personal non-fiction account of the author's use of psychedelics as part of a "sustained, conscious effort…to not drift toward meaninglessness, depression, disempowering forms of resignation, and bleak ideologies like existentialism." "Weird is the compass setting," writes Lin at one point, quoting Terence McKenna (1946-2000), who helped popularize magic mushrooms and inspire rave culture. Trip is certainly weird, but like the most-potent drugs, also wonderful.
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