Pollan, M. 1997. The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World. Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
This portion of The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan discusses humans history with mind altering plants. Plant have many functions some of which include healing, arousal, pain relieve and changing consciousness. Pollan also discusses how there is a much clearer line between food and poison than there is between poison and desire. These desirable plants have allowed shamans to perform rituals, undergo spiritual journeys and treat illness. Although the desirable properties of plants have proved useful to humans this was not their original purpose. Their original purpose was to confuse and disorient animals as a form of defense. Animals through trial and error have figured out which are good to eat and which aren't, and some have formed bodily defenses to such secondary metabolites. For example some animals have digestive systems that can detoxify the substance before it takes its hold on the individual. Pollan then goes into explaining the history of marijuanna and introduces this a plant with his own brief growing history. Marijuanna cultivation started in Afganistan with the Sativa variety, which was a smooth high, but sativa is only able to grow in warmer climates. Indica varieties were next to emerge, they were shorter, able to grow as far north as Alaska and more potent, but had a harsher smoke. The solution was to make hybrids of Indica and Sativa. This combined the best characteristics of each plant, while masking their weaknesses. Finally, with the demonization of marijuanna that started about 20 years ago growers were pushed inside, which allowed them to increase the yield of their plants by tightly controlling the CO2, water, light and temperature to induce more buds in a shorter amount of time. Furthermore, males were of no use to growers because they didn't produce buds and even a few pollen grains from a male would stunt the growth of a female, so they started cloning females to rid of the male variety entirely. All these changes in the cultivation in marijuanna has increased the amount of THC from 2 percent in the first varieties to 20 percent or more in modern day varieties. From here he explains the cultural views of mind altering plants, where theres temptation taboo isn't far behind. Moreover, cultures are typically more acceptant of the drugs that don't reduce your ability to get the days work done as oppose to drugs that alter your consciousness. For example, coffee is more acceptable than LSD. Pollan dives into the medicinal uses of marijuanna and researches what its original purposes or benefits might have been. He found that their are cannabinoid receptors in the uterus, so it might have once been used to dull the pain and memory of childbirth. Furthermore, the drug may work by subtracting the filters that are associated with consciousness, so in essence not altering consciousness, but editing it. Finally, THC production in the plant is thought to have possibly protected the plant from ultraviolet radiation, had antibiotic properties or served as a defense again predators. Pollan ends this section of writing questioning how would our world be different if mind altering drugs weren't as taboo in society. There was many aspects of Pollan's writing that I liked some of which included how he explained the different directionality of defense mechanisms in plants and animals, how different drugs affected different animals and the desire for psychedelics across cultures.
Pollan explains that while animals were developing ways to avoid predators through locomotion plants were doing so by staying in place. Animals developed things like muscle, bone, and fight or flight hormones, while plants developed complex biochemistry that allowed them to defended themselves while not moving or being affected by the substances they made. Furthermore, some of these plant substances specifically act on animals brains to attract, repel or deter them. In some cases plants have dulled the line between poison and desire because the substances they secrete have mind or body altering properties that an animal might find desirable even if it has adverse affects to their health. Pollan described the different defense techniques in plants and animals, but I also liked how he explained the effects of certain drugs on certain species.
Not all drugs have the same effect on all species. For example, nicotine has a calming effect on humans, where as in insects causes paralysis and convulsions. Similarily, caffeine acts as a stimulant on humans, where as in insects it scrambles their nervous system making them unable to eat essentially staving them to death. Datura is a hallucingen excreted by plants that causes the predator who eats it to go mad. Flavenoids have the ability to change the flavour of a plant from sour to sweet or sweet to sour. Certain trees produce molecules in their sap than stop caterpillars from turning into butterflies. Finally, photosensatizers in wild parsnips can cause the animal who ingests it to burn easily in the sun and have spontaneous DNA mutations when exposed to UV radiation. Pollan does a great job at explaining the different effects of chemicals across species, but I also liked how he explained the desire of mind or body altering drugs across cultures and age groups.
When looking across cultures and age groups Pollan found that every culture except for the Eskimo's had historical use of some sort of mind altering drug. Furthermore, it was thought that the reason Eskimo's didn't use any drugs was because they couldn't grow any in their climate. When looking across age groups Pollan found similar results. Even children look to alter their consciousness. This is seen by some of the games they play involving spinning until they feel to dizzy to stand, hyperventilating and seeking sugar rushes.
This portion of The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan discusses the uses and history of mind altering substances. I liked this piece of writing because he explained the evolutionary differences in defense mechanisms in plants and animals, the effects of certain drugs on certain species and the desire for psychedelics across cultures and age groups.