The best books on psychedelics

The Books I Picked & Why

The Doors of Perception

By Aldous Huxley

The Doors of Perception

Why this book?

I have to start with a classic, one of the most influential trip reports ever written, one that helped kickstart the psychedelic 60s. Huxley had a profound interest in mystical experience, and a longing to know first-hand what the great mystics had beheld and felt. In his mescaline experiences, Huxley believed he’d come close. Borrowing heavily from Indian philosophy to explain his raptures, he set the stage for the explosion of interest in Eastern spirituality that marked the 60s. No wonder the Beatles included him on the cover of Sergeant Pepper. I love his measured tone and his theory that psychedelics turn off the ‘reducing valve of consciousness’ to reveal ‘mind-at-large’, an idea now getting support from cutting-edge neuroscience.


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True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradis

By Terence McKenna

True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradis

Why this book?

McKenna was a blarney-kissed polymath, bard, and raconteur who dazzled audiences with his inspired psychedelic rants during the 80s and 90s. I was lucky enough to meet him once, and he blew me away with his theories about the fractal nature of time. This, his best book, tells the fantastic tale of an expedition with his brother to the Amazon in the 1970s, in search of a fabled indigenous psychedelic compound. They never found it but discovered instead a bounteous supply of magic mushrooms, a find that tipped them right down the rabbit hole, giving birth to some of McKenna’s outlandish theories along the way. A great adventure story, told with wit, erudition, and verve, and an insight into a brilliant, offbeat mind.


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Psychedelic Mysteries of the Feminine: Creativity, Ecstasy, and Healing

By Maria Papaspyrou, Chiara Baldini, David Luke

Psychedelic Mysteries of the Feminine: Creativity, Ecstasy, and Healing

Why this book?

Psychedelic literature is unquestionably dominated by the white, male author. If, like me, you yearn to hear other voices and other perspectives, then this collection of essays couldn’t be more timely. The twenty-three chapters, from academic and non-academic authors, cover a range of perspectives, and while you may not agree with all of them, they’re refreshing nonetheless. It’s hard to single out any particular essay, but it’s always a pleasure to read Kathleen Harrison. Harrison, who was once married to Terence McKenna, spent years living with the Mazatec people, and treats us to her animistic vision of the world as something that’s alive and communicative. But the whole book contains riches and paves the way to a more diverse psychedelic literature.


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Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

By Stephan V. Beyer

Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

Why this book?

I suspect that many of us now know someone who’s been to the Amazon to take the psychedelic beverage, ayahuasca, returning with wide eyes and tales of profound healing. Here, anthropologist Stephan Beyer cuts through the romanticisation to present an accurate and engaging picture of ayahuasca shamanism in the Upper Amazon. He asks difficult questions, such as how well shamans actually cure sickness and why so many shamans engage in sorcery, but his inquiry is never less than sympathetic. That he peppers the book with his own psychedelic, ayahuasca visions, makes this one of the most accessible and engaging books on the subject.


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Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony

By Julian Vayne, Pete Loveday

Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony

Why this book?

If all my choices so far have been, in some way, about the psychedelic experience, this is a practical hands-on guide about how to occasion one yourself. Psychedelics can be consumed safely, but there are attendant risks, not least from their continued illegality in many parts of the world. Vayne, who has decades of experience as a psychedelic user and ritual technician, talks the reader through recommended ways to prepare for a psychedelic experience, how to navigate what subsequently unfolds, and how to integrate it afterwards. This is the indispensable guide for the psy-curious, and even better it comes with a cover designed by legendary British psychedelic comic artist, Pete Loveday. 


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