Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Toronto: Random House. p. 113-179
“There is it, right in the middle of the word intoxication, hidden in plain sight: toxic“(p.114).
Well, Michael Pollan, you did it again. Another fantastic read! After a few years of skimming through scientific papers and textbooks, I find myself truly enjoying reading again (not that I don’t enjoy reading scientific papers or anything..). And that is a feat in itself!
Intoxication is an experience that all animals on earth seem to have inclination towards. Michael Pollan begins this chapter by describing his “cranky old tomcat“(p.117), Frank, who Pollan believes used the catnip growing in his garden to hallucinate. (How can you not be drawn in by that? My inner cat person is showing..) He then builds up to taking about humans in particular and their relationship with using intoxicating plants, such as marijuana. Much like his other work, Pollan has a way of incorporating personal experiences that the reader can relate to, which makes pages appear to flip by in a breeze. One example of this is Pollan’s story about nearly getting busted when growing his personal marijuana plants. He had me at the edge of my seat, although at the same time picturing him chopping down the plants with an axe then stuffing them in plastic bags was (and still is) hilarious (p.125)! Also, it was really interesting to hear about Pollan’s experience of touring the cannabis greenhouse. He describes it as a “jungle of dark, serrated leaves oscillating gently in an artificial breeze,“(p.137) and having a “stink so powerful it felt like a punch,”(p.136). That. That’s the reason why I love Michael Pollan’s writing so much! He does an incredible job at setting the scene, as he teleports you to where he is, as he is experiencing it. Now that’s a powerful tool to have. I feel like if I ever had the inclination to ever visit a marijuana nursery, I would just need to read this chapter to have that fulfilment.
I have to admit – I’m pretty clueless when it comes to drugs. Because of this, I found this chapter extremely interesting. First of all, the entire process of developing and cultivating the different varieties is so fascinating. I found it funny how Pollan realizes that “this is what the best gardeners of my generation had been doing all these years: they had been underground, perfecting cannabis,“(p.129). As I read further, I began to realize the repulsive reputation that revolves (oh my goodness alliteration) around not only growing, but smoking or consuming marijuana. I personally don’t see the problem with using marijuana in particular, as long as it’s done safely. Whatever floats their boat, right? I couldn’t agree more with Pollan when he states that “the demonizing of a plant that less than twenty years ago was on the cusp of general acceptance will surely puzzle historians of the future,“(p.126). This reminded me of how people today find it difficult to believe that alcohol was once prohibited, as it is now so commonly consumed and is a part of our culture. This sparked my curiosity in how the whole legalization of marijuana, which may soon be applicable to BC, will turn out and how the opinions on consuming intoxicants may change either for the better or worse. I guess time will only tell.
One other aspect of this chapter that I thought was interesting is how a majority of what we currently know about biochemistry and developing medicines came from investigating plants. I truly believe that intoxicants derived from plants have the ability to treat some ailments; smoking medicinal marijuana appears to really help those with medical problems and helps relieves unnecessary stress. Pollan states that “people who know how to use [intoxicating plants] properly may be able to cope with everyday life better than those who don’t,”(p.142), which I found to be very powerful. It is definitely possible to abuse intoxicating substances, leading to dangerous and even deadly consequences. Although, if used safely and responsibly, then who knows how the world would be different? Could these ‘toxic’ substances be our saviour?