The best books for exploring psychedelics (without actually taking any)

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by strange and “forbidden” states of consciousness. My first taste of psychedelia came in the form of cannabis—more potent and otherworldly than it gets credit for—and quickly graduated to MDMA, which blew me away. I dove head first into this new world, experimenting with psychedelics new and ancient while reading about all things psychedelic: their history, emerging science, and therapeutic and spiritual possibilities. My other great passion is books, so it was only natural that I would try to encapsulate all that I had learned in book form.


I wrote...

Magic Medicine: A Trip Through the Intoxicating History and Modern-Day Use of Psychedelic Plants and Substances

By Cody Johnson,

Book cover of Magic Medicine: A Trip Through the Intoxicating History and Modern-Day Use of Psychedelic Plants and Substances

What is my book about?

Magic Medicine offers a whirlwind tour of the most fascinating psychedelics on the planet. Some you’ll recognize, such as ayahuasca, the jungle potion gaining traction among yuppies and spiritual seekers, and LSD, the Sixties staple that’s making a comeback as a potential treatment for anxiety and depression. Others are more obscure, like DiPT—the “auditory hallucinogen” that lowers all pitches like a helium balloon in reverse—and “mad honey”—a mind-bending honey found only in cliffside beehives in Turkey and Nepal.

Each chapter dives into the rich history of a single substance, and explores its therapeutic and spiritual uses. Finally, each chapter is sprinkled with firsthand quotes that pry open the “doors of perception,” allowing glimmers of psychedelic light to fall upon sober minds.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness

Cody Johnson Why did I love this book?

When I first dipped my toes in the psychedelic pool, I was motivated by curiosity—I just wanted to experience new “flavors” of consciousness. I had no need of healing (or so I thought), and as a science-minded skeptic I certainly was not hunting spiritual experiences.

Two things changed my mind. The first was psychedelics themselves, which upon the first dose proved to be powerful agents of transformation. The second was this insightful gem of a book, which made me realize that “spirituality” need not conflict with science or rationality. Indeed, one of the great values of psychedelics is to provide irrational experiences that transcend our limited notions of what is true, possible, or real.

Alan Watts was a brilliant speaker and philosophical entertainer whose talks about spiritual topics have inspired millions. In The Joyous Cosmology, published at the beginning of the psychedelic Sixties, he distilled the psychedelic experience down to its essence: the dissolution of the “I” into the boundless, oceanic cosmos. It’s a short and accessible peek behind the psychedelic curtain—and it just might expand your mind.

By Alan Watts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Joyous Cosmology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic account of the psychedelic experience

The Joyous Cosmology is Alan Watts’s exploration of the insight that the consciousness-changing drugs LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin can facilitate “when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding.” More than an artifact, it is both a riveting memoir of Watts’s personal experiments and a profound meditation on our perennial questions about the nature of existence and the existence of the sacred.

Includes Watts’s article “Psychedelics and Religious Experience”


Book cover of The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America

Cody Johnson Why did I love this book?

Growing up in small-town America, I learned that psychedelics were evil poisons that would rot your brain and seduce you into addiction. As I grew older I learned about the opposition to the establishment’s War on Drugs—the punks, hippies, stoners, and other countercultural miscreants who downed ecstasy tablets like candy and flew their freak flags high.

What I did not know, and what shocked me when reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club, was that these opposing factions had once been united. In the 1960s, people were hopeful about the potential of LSD and other substances, and researchers were conducting promising research into their merits. Perhaps the most intriguing was the Harvard Psilocybin Project, led by two promising professors: Timothy Leary, before he exhorted a generation to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, and Richard Alpert, who had not yet rechristened himself as self-help guru Ram Dass.

It's hard to believe now, but university students tripping on magic mushrooms was not only tolerated, but sanctioned. Don Lattin’s vivid and insightful tale focuses on these two professors and two of their students—all larger-than-life characters who would become famous in their own right—at a fascinating crossroads in American history.

By Don Lattin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Harvard Psychedelic Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is the story of how three brilliant scholars and one ambitious freshman crossed paths in the early sixties at a Harvard-sponsored psychedelic-drug research project, transforming their lives and American culture and launching the mind/body/spirit movement that inspired the explosion of yoga classes, organic produce, and alternative medicine. The four men came together in a time of upheaval and experimentation, and their exploration of an expanded consciousness set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Timothy Leary would be the rebellious trickster, the premier proponent of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD,…


Book cover of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures

Cody Johnson Why did I love this book?

There are plenty of academic tomes about psychedelics—their chemistry, their medical applications, their cultural impact, and so on. I was hunting for something more personal: stories of people’s experiences while zonked out of their gourds. What I found was this aptly named collection of tripping stories, with chapters submitted by writers from all walks of life.

It's a sipping book—at over 500 pages, it’s one you take a chapter at a time, not devour cover to cover. What makes the book special is its remarkable curation: the stories are diverse, covering the full gamut of psychedelic experiences from spiritual nirvana to hellish ordeals. Some stories struck me as stronger than others, but thanks to the editor’s deft hand, the prose always sparkles.

Like a good acid trip, the overall effect is stimulating and emotionally satisfying. But unlike a real trip, this vicarious ride is one you can pause and resume at your leisure.

By Charles Hayes (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tripping as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of transformational, awe-provoking psychedelic experiences. 

In Tripping, Charles Hayes has gathered fifty narratives about unforgettable psychedelic experiences from an international array of subjects representing all walks of life--respectable Baby Boomers, aging hippies, young ravers, and accomplished writers such as John Perry Barlow, Anne Waldman, Robert Charles Wilson, Paul Devereux, and Tim Page. Taking a balanced, objective approach, the book depicts a broad spectrum of altered states, from the sublime to the terrifying. Hayes's supplemental essays provide a synopsis of the history and culture of psychedelics and a discussion of the kinetics of tripping. Specially featured is an interview…


Book cover of The Museum Dose: 12 Experiments in Pharmacologically Mediated Aesthetics

Cody Johnson Why did I love this book?

This little-known paperback journals the psychedelic exploits of its pseudonymous author, a young bookkeeper who is equally adept at traversing far-out realms of consciousness and, crucially, writing about them.

Each of the twelve short chapters focuses on a unique combination of an obscure “research chemical”—a designer hallucinogen that has not gone mainstream—and a public art exhibit or concert. The result is outstanding. This little volume offers a peek into the life and mind of an avid psychonaut who, thanks to his insightful, relatable tone and strong writing, should appeal equally to trippers and teetotalers alike.

By Daniel Tumbleweed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Museum Dose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Daniel, during the stage of his life described herein, is a young, discrete, mild-mannered bookkeeper by day but an intrepid explorer of consciousness by night and on weekends. He also possesses a highly refined sensibility and an abiding passion for art and music. In this collection of true tales, akin to prose poems, he recounts a series of experiments he undertook over a two-year period that combined his aesthetic and consciousness-modulation interests: twelve psychedelically mediated visits to a range of New York museums, galleries and concert halls to encounter specific collections, shows, installations, and musical performances. Drawing from his substantial…


Book cover of Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

Cody Johnson Why did I love this book?

When I was conducting research for my own book, Plants of the Gods never left my desk and accrued an alarming number of bookmarks and footnotes. This is the reference book on nature’s extensive pharmacy of psychedelics. But don’t expect a dry textbook—this is immensely readable and bursting with color illustrations.

All three of the authors were giants in various fields psychedelic research. Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD and was the first to identify the active compounds in magic mushrooms. Richard Evans Schultes, a biologist and the father of ethnobotany, was the first Westerner to study ayahuasca in the Amazon. Christian Rätsch was a world-renowned anthropologist and writer.

Their iconic collaboration transcends the genre of reference book, and brings the exciting world of natural psychedelics to life.

By Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian Ratsch

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plants of the Gods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three scientific titans join forces to completely revise the classic text on the ritual uses of psychoactive plants. They provide a fascinating testimony of these ""plants of the gods,"" tracing their uses throughout the world and their significance in shaping culture and history. In the traditions of every culture, plants have been highly valued for their nourishing, healing, and transformative properties. The most powerful of those plants, which are known to transport the human mind into other dimensions of consciousness, have always been regarded as sacred. The authors detail the uses of hallucinogens in sacred shamanic rites while providing lucid…


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The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Professor of Humanities Borders Radicalist

Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


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