To the Editor:
I very much enjoyed Michael Pollan’s recent talk at the Chilmark Community Center on his latest book, “How to Change Your Mind,” and the remarkable success rates being achieved by the new science of psychedelics — especially what is being called “psychedelic-assisted therapy” — to help the dying, lift depression, and break addictions.
The mind helping the mind, as it were. But what about the mind helping the body?
The dramatic effect of folk cures, hypnosis, and placebos to trigger a healing response ridding the body of virus-infected tissue in the form of warts, though well known, is poorly understood — but clearly derives from suggestibility (maybe “openness” is a better word for it), a key characteristic of psychedelics. Tom Sawyer’s wart cure, “spunk-water” (rainwater in a rotten tree stump), works … if you believe in it.
Though sometimes, amazingly enough, even belief is not necessary. Placebos have been shown to work on people who are explicitly told they are receiving one (“open-label placebos”).
There is something profound going on here. Anecdotal reports of remissions and other “miracle” cures abound. What’s the truth of the matter? Could this powerful new tool of psychedelic-assisted therapy be used to induce immune system response and mind/body healing?
Mr. Pollan ended his talk saying he was uncertain about what he would do next, that anything else would be smaller in some way. But maybe only half the story has been told. Another book on the subject, Mr. Pollan?