I always enjoy Michael Pollan’s writing. He has a way of engaging the reader, mesmerizing us with his interesting botanical facts and personal stories we can relate too. He makes me feel connected to his topics and relate to his personal experiences. I really enjoy his stories, it is as if you can feel the emotions he’s experiencing as he tells it. This week, I had the pleasure of reading Chapter 3 of Michael Pollan’s book, “Botany of Desire.” The theme of this chapter is “Desire: Intoxication, Plant: Marijuana.”
We have all experienced desire for an escape, an altered experience of the world, an altered state of consciousness. Even young children can hold this desire. Do you ever remember spinning violently in circles when you were young? Maybe you were seeking sugar on a daily basis? These are prime examples of how humans begin to desire an altered state of consciousness at an early age. Is this normal? I think so.
But think about it.
How often do you see adults spinning violently in circles?
How do they fulfil their desire for intoxication?
Pollan shares some facts and personal stories, about the ways humans fulfil their intoxication desires with psychoactive plants, both today, and throughout history.
My favorite story Pollan told was the Peruvian Legend about the Tukano Indians discovering “Jaguar Eyes.” The Tukano Indians lived in the Amazon Jungle amongst the wild animals and plants. The Indians noticed the jaguars would act very strange, as if they were hallucinating, when they consumed the bark from the yaje vine. The Indians found this especially odd as jaguars aren’t usually herbivores. Those that followed the jaguar’s lead, also experienced an altered state of consciousness, hallucinating, seeing the world through what they called, “Jaguar’s eyes.”
If you can imagine what “Jaguar Eyes” must be like, you can probably imagine that not everyone desires that experience. Today, a popular plant to cause a more mild experience of altered consciousness is marijuana. Before the 1930’s, marijuana was often used medicinally to treat pain, convulsions, nausea, glaucoma, neuralgia, asthma, cramps, migraines, insomnia, and depression. Nowadays, humans commonly use marijuana recreationally. The potency has dramatically increased in the past century, most likely due to the popularity of recreational use; from 3-5%, now it’s not unusual to see over 20% potency. The effects of marijuana can vary from person to person, but generally, it will mildly impair movement, memory and emotions, making users happy, relaxed, and have a stimulated appetite. Even though growing or using this plant is illegal in a lot of places, the desire for marijuana intoxication proves powerful enough that humans still participate, disregarding the harsh legal consequences.
Pollan really made me realize how strong our desires for intoxication truly are. I never truly thought about how I personally started this desire very young. For me, it began with a love for ice-cream. That sugary taste (derived from plants), had me hooked the second it touched my tongue. This desire continued to evolve as I was growing up. Many day to day activities gave me an experience of altered consciousness such as meditation, exercise, horror movies, music, spicy foods, and the occasional risk, like a scary ride at the amusement park . But is this enough? Or were plants meant to fulfil the human desire for intoxication?
Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001. Print. Pages 113-179