Michael Pollan's landmark book is now a streaming miniseries, but is the Netflix psychedelics documentary worth the watch?
On July 12th, Netflix released their highly anticipated psychedelic docuseries, How to Change Your Mind. Based on Michael Pollan’s book of the same title, this four-part series dives into psychedelics, with each episode examining a different psychedelic compound. Episode 1 investigates LSD.
As we are deep into the psychedelic renaissance and content is bountiful —there are even quality, full-length documentaries free on YouTube— I decided to write a review on How to Change Your Mind, episode 1, to help you decide if watching it is worth your time.
Quick Score: 7/10
Main Takeaway: How to Change Your Mind’s first episode is definitely worth the watch. Though not without its flaws, it is fun and educational, providing a history of LSD peppered with fascinating personal stories.
Episode 1 of Netflix’s How to Change Your Mind is a great introduction to the topic of LSD for those who don’t already know a lot about the subject. Narrated by Michael Pollan, the show takes us on a journey through the history of the powerful compound, from its discovery and its early medical use, to secret CIA mind-control studies, the counterculture and its banning, and finally to our current renaissance.
From amazing clips of LSD’s inventor Albert Hofmann describing his “Problem Child,” to powerful personal testimonies of individuals who have healed their suffering through LSD, episode 1 is a fun and entertaining refresher on the topic of LSD for even experts in the field.
In short, How to Change Your Mind’s first episode is definitely worth the watch.
My favorite segment came when psychedelic researcher James Fadiman was discussing an early LSD study on its effects on creativity, held at Stanford University in 1960. They recruited 48 senior scientists from various fields, all of whom had been working on a scientific problem to no avail for at least three months. In the study, each scientist was dosed with 100 micrograms of LSD, which can be considered a medium-sized dose.
As Fadiman describes it, “out of the people who came, we had 48 problems and 48 satisfactory solutions.” In other words, the LSD study was a stunning success. The fact that all 48 scientists —who had all been working on their problem for at least 3 months!!!— credited their LSD experience with solving their problem is nothing short of a miracle. True, perhaps this study would not meet the rigid rules of today’s clinical trials, but the results speak for themselves. According to Fadiman, “We had patents, we had publications, and because most of these people worked in industry, we also had products. And eventually the computer world emerged here.”
Despite this amazing story —and many more held within the one-hour premiere— the debut episode was not without its faults. Primary among them is its over-reliance on anecdotal stories, weaving a narrative that is not necessarily always backed up by current scientific study. The best example of this comes towards the end of the episode when Michael Pollan turns towards the subject of microdosing LSD.
To highlight the potential of this Silicon Valley trend, he meets his friend Ayelet Walman. Ayelet, who had suffered with a crippling mood disorder her whole life and was actively suicidal, had tried many different medications and solutions, but nothing worked. That is, nothing worked until she tried microdosing LSD. She says this turned her life around and made her a new person.
And while this is amazing —and many people have similar stories— the problem is that when it comes to microdosing psychedelics like LSD, at best the scientific evidence is very mixed. In fact, most controlled studies with blinded placebo controls have struggled to find any positive effects of microdosing whatsoever.
Now, this doesn’t mean that microdosing doesn't necessarily work —after all, the sheer number of similar anecdotal stories are difficult to dismiss— but by not mentioning the fact that current scientific study into microdosing is conflicting at best, How to Change Your Mind does a disservice to its viewers.
Despite this specific flaw, which could have been rectified in one sentence, my review of How to Change Your Mind, episode 1, is still very positive. In fact, I would rate it a 7/10. If you find yourself without something to watch and you want to start learning about psychedelics, I would definitely suggest checking it out. Even if you are already quite knowledgeable on the subject, it is still a fun refresher. And who knows, maybe you will discover new interesting stories, as I did!
Stay tuned for my review on the entire series.
I read Pollan’s book and am watching the series. I’m looking for a psilocybin trial to join since I suffer from periodic depression. I hope to find some relief.