Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire. Random House. p. 113-179
Pollan provided an interesting and humorous account on the history and evolution of marijuana and how it has been altered by human interaction and desire. The human desire discussed in this chapter is intoxication. Both human and animals use psychoactive plants to achieve this desire, but how? The truth is, these plants are toxic, “[t]here it is, right in the middle of the word intoxication, hidden in plain sight: toxic” (P 114).
So if these plants are toxic to our bodies, how have we learned about their effects in the first place? Furthermore, how have we learned to use and cultivate them over time? Pollan suggests that humans are expert observers, allowing them to learn from the actions and mistakes of other animals (P 116). Humans are not alone in the desire for intoxication and we use this to our advantage. For example, “cattle will develop a taste for locoweed that can prove fatal; big horned sheep will grind their teeth to useless nubs scrapping hallucinogenic lichen off of ledge rock” (P 116). People are also highly influenced by the decisions and actions of other people. Personally, I can’t imagine seeing an animal tripping out after eating a psychoactive plant and thinking, “I want to try that”, but I would more likely try something after someone had suggested it.
I found it very interesting to learn the roles that psychoactive plants have played in human history. Witched used these plants in their spells, potions and for their special broomsticks (P 119). I have gained a whole new perspective on the phrase “I am going to hop on my broomstick and fly”, commonly said in my house. Shamans and other sacred and religious figures also use psychoactive plants in ceremonies, for medicinal purposes, and to connect with the gods or the other realm.
One of the best parts of this chapter is Pollan’s funny story about trying to grow marijuana, his “jolly green giants” (P 122), in his garden in the 80’s. I found his story funny and captivating because Pollan shares his every thought and feeling with us. You cannot help but feel bad for him when he faces the police chief, but also cannot help but laugh at his reactions. Growing marijuana was illegal in the United States in the 80’s and was only legally grown in Mexico. Since that time, Peoples view and use of the plant have changed. Marijuana is grown throughout the United States and the recreational use of marijuana has is legal now in some states (e.g. Washington and Colorado). Recreational use of marijuana may also be decriminalized throughout Canada, depending on the Prime Minister’s final decision. Marijuana is still used for medicinal purposes, but it is now used recreationally throughout the world.
Of course we couldn’t talk about marijuana and not talk about how humans have cultivated and changed it over time. New strains of marijuana are constantly being produced for differing effects. Overall, marijuana has been changed to produce more THC (the active psychoactive ingredient). It can be said that marijuana is vastly more potent in today’s society than when Pollan was growing in his backyard in the 80’s.
This was one of my favorite chapters in Pollan’s book because it was humorous and captivating. The history of marijuana and how its use has changed over time was very interesting. Pollan was able to keep me interested by revealing his personal experiences with the plant, many of which I can relate to.
In conclusion, I want to talk briefly on the topic of intoxication and addiction. The feeling of being intoxicated (whether it be from drugs or alcohol) tricks your brain into feeling good. Once you’ve had a taste of this good feeling, you can become physically and mentally addicted. Addiction is a problem that many people suffer with in the world. Addiction can take over a person’s life, harming that person and everyone else around them. Eventually addiction can take your life. Although I fully understand the desire of intoxication and feeling good, I have observed the effects of addiction first hand in many people in my life. Please be careful about your own personal desires because addiction is not something I would wish on anyone.