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Mushroom Medicine, The Healing Power of Psilocybin & Sacred Entheogen History Kindle Edition
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The author is obviously sincere. Combined with his pleasant writing style, that makes this an easy book to read. Another plus is some attractive and well-chosen illustrations. I have only one minor gripe, the book frequently confuses words or phrases that sound alike.
The author is not an expert in any of the three topics. He appears to have had only mild recreational experiences plus one very large dose of one type of mushroom that grows in his backyard; he has not traveled to sample the variety of psychoactive experiences, nor interviewed people who have. He is not a scientist nor an anthropologist.
While that obviously makes the book more superficial than authoritative accounts, it has the advantage of making it more straightforward. Most of the experts in any of the three fields seem to have extremely strong opinions and it can be hard to disentangle the authentic experiences/science/anthropology from ideology. While the author of Mushroom Medicine is strongly convinced of the value of psychoactive mushrooms and the evil of laws against using them, and also subscribes to a personal mystic religion, he explains exactly how he comes by all of these beliefs. He does not insert them as unquestioned assumptions nor beat the reader over the head with them. Moreover his summaries in all three topics are integrated in a manner that makes them less fanatical than if any one were pursued narrowly.
The weakness of this book is the author's naivety. He opens his personal journey with:
"The only think I've ever wanted in life was to be part of something that would help save humanity from the wrongs of the world. Whether that was ending wars, poverty, hate, depression, misery, injustice. . ."
It's hard to think of a sentence that includes "only" with "save humanity" that doesn't sound naive. Even Miss America contestants know to limit their aspirations to one of those things, "world peace" or "end poverty," not a perfect world. And a few moments reflection will reveal that making progress in any of those things requires tough choices and hard work and courage, not dreamy desires, and that most of the people who claim to be working for these things in fact are more cause than solution (most wars are fought to get peace, for example, and most hate is justified by claims of injustice) and that making these your only life goals risks spending all your time worrying about things you can't do much about while missing out on the love, pleasure and opportunities for small local good that are all around you.
Then later, when he is feeling bad, the author cheers himself up by reflecting on how much worse life is for most other people, due to the same wars etc. that he started off wanting to end. Almost everyone feels both of these things, a desire to help the less fortunate along with pleasure that others are worse off. Maturity means integrating these feelings, along with many other conflicting ideas, into workable life philosophies that get you through the days, and the nights, and the happy times, and the tragedies.
The author appears to have not yet begun the integration process. He had an unhappy period of his life when he let himself get overwhelmed with negative feelings, which prevented him from doing the things that could create positive feelings. Most of us have gone through times like these, although the author's version seems to have lasted longer than most healthy people experience, especially without much objectively bad stuff happening. On the other hand, self reports of psychological state are always unreliable, and the author's complaints seem stronger than the facts justify. Sure it's annoying when 30 people say they'll come to your Super Bowl party and only two show up, but giving parties and having 30 acceptances puts you well ahead of most lonely and depressed people. Yes if you look back on the past few months and realize that you've been only going to work, riding your bike and brooding, that indicates something's likely wrong; but if you can make it to a job and have the energy to exercise and have invitations from friends to duck; you haven't exactly hit bottom.
The naivety extends to his four hour conversion from "the world's biggest atheist" to certainty in a personal religion that sounds a lot like "May the Force Be With You" from Star Wars. Actually, the Star Wars theology has a lot to recommend it, but good or bad it's still the opposite of sophisticated. If someone made a serious study of philosophy and religion, and lived through personal tragedy, war, poverty, chronic pain or other challenges; and told me at the end that he felt a deeper meaning in the universe, a good loving force that transcended the miseries and apparently senselessness of life; I would give that thought some respect. But if a kid in Florida with limited life experience tells me he suddenly became certain of that while in a drug-induced trance, that doesn't carry a lot of weight.
The summaries of scientific and anthropological work are similarly unskeptical and naive. They're well written and as thorough as possible in a short popular account, but the author mixes serious investigations with partisan anecdotes, replicated work with stuff that has been debunked and demonstrable fact with unsupported speculation. It's pretty much what you'd get if you spent the same amount of time surfing the Internet on the subject.
Overall I found the book pleasant to read, and a good but uncritical introduction to an important topic.
This is a fairly short book (113 pages in epub format and the word count is 32500 'as stated by the author in the initial email') It took me 3-4 hours to completely read it. I normally get distracted a lot if I don't find the subject interesting, yet this was a really interesting book and I really enjoyed the time I spent reading it. The writer is a good story teller and especially the first half of the book where he totally focuses on his memories and the mushroom experience, it feels like the guy is talking to you directly. It is very well written with a simple English and uncomplicated sentences. You really get into the atmosphere he describes.
It starts with a guy that grew up in rural Florida in the heart of nature. That is the time he first encountered the mushroom through a friend and used it for a while for recreational purposes. In this chapter, I find the psycho-somatic effects of his first experience very detailed and for a person like me whose only recreational experience is a beer once in a few weeks, it was such an interesting part to read. Then it jumps to a time period in which the author has turned into a young adult, away from the childhood surrounding, in a rather monotonous office job. That part of his life was not very rewarding, full of failures in job and personal relationships and with all signs of a major depressive episodes blunting him for most part. Your life goes downward and yet you can not do anything to get it go up again... That section is also written in an informal monologue format but in a grasping way that I felt so much sympathy for him and really wished him to get out of that paralyzing misery (especially the failed birthday celebration was touchy).
Then comes the section that he describes the high dose mushroom experience and again it was as detailed as the first encounter that he mentioned in his teenage years. He describes this experience as a single cure of treatment that created a turning point in his life and erased all the negativity and let him move forward. Then he becomes more scientific and gives results of the 'limited' research on psilocybins and how mushroom treatment help some psychiatric patients improve. But I have to say that that part is written in a rather subjective fashion focusing only the positive effects that were observed through some limited scope studies within the last 50 years or so.
That is one of the main criticisms I can make towards the writer. I wished he would at least mention about the problems about using magic mushrooms which you can learn easily at least by doing a small google search. There has been many reports focusing on teenagers hunting out for magic mushrooms to get high for free but end up eating poisonous 'look a like' ones and become severely sick if not dead. Another point of criticism is that he is advocating mushroom use based on his personal experience of it being a magical cure for his depression but there is a possibility that that might be the magical trigger for him to get into depression to begin with. We don't know the mysteries of human brain yet. Something that can tear you out of reality and distort all your perception must be changing the dynamics in your head really significantly . There are many neurotransmitters that need to be in a certain balance for proper mood functioning and altering them through recreational drugs or even with prescribed ones can cause long term effects. For example it was recently proved that increased hallucinogenic substance use among teenagers lead to increased incidence of schizophrenia in the years to follow. You can also find examples of hallucinogen induced mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders in many references. However, all these parts are overlooked through out the book and that I find critically misleading for many people out there who suffer from similar diseases and wish to cure themselves as the author did. I am not saying that these mushrooms can not be used to help with people like the author who suffer from depression and I am sure they really helped him to get out of that problematic part of his life. But it is equally likely that the author, after reading a lot from Terence McKenna (he refers to him a lot through out the book) really used mushroom as a tool for his self imposed psychotherapy and conditioned himself that he will get out of these problems by this magical cure once and for all...
Next chapter is about authors ideas about how his 'out of body' and depersonalization experiences could have been used by early people to establish foundations of modern religions. That set of well advocated thoughts are really inspiring and show that the writer is a curious thinker with creative ideas rather than a sheep like many others. I find that chapter really interesting and a fun read. Yet again the next chapter he goes a step ahead and tries to link the whole history of mankind to use or ban of mushrooms which I found rather loosely attached and not well supported set of ideas. I might have missed out some parts but he somehow thinks that the abandonment of ancient Greek customs including full of mushroom use as one of the factors for the lack of creativity and continuous violence during the middle ages and yet re-introduction of Greek ways (also he implies mushrooms) by renaissaince as the cause of creativity turning back to earth again. This is a rather too simple explanation for explaining a too complex part of the human history.
Later in the book he gives more examples of the medicinal use of various other hallucinogens through out the history and that is also a well researched chapter with lots of information for those who are interested. He finally puts a recap of his ideas and why he advocates the legalization of magic mushroom.
Whether it should be legalized or not is a debate that is beyond the scope of this review however, at the end of this book I felt that I learnt something and moreover that book put me think and search in a field that I was not personally interested to start with. My only worry is that if one million people read this book and go out to the wild to try it for themselves to solve their problems, a significant number of them may really benefit but another significant number would end up suffering from poisoning, acute effects of losing self control including harming themselves or the surrounding, or may be the long term consequences like residual depression or similar problems. I wished the author should have pointed out these possible harms as well as the possible benefits.
Despite the fact that it could have been written better by putting opposite opinions about the mushroom use rather than focusing only the positive effects, I really found this book a good read to get an idea about one person's individual experiences by mushroom use and how he thinks it changed his life.