The best books on the history of psychedelics

The Books I Picked & Why

The Doors of Perception

By Aldous Huxley

The Doors of Perception

Why this book?

It is almost cliché to recommend Doors of Perception in a list of books about psychedelics, but the book is a true gem. The work of a brilliantly curious writer, it takes us inside a world of mind alteration and sets in motion a conversation that nourished an early generation of psychedelic enthusiasm. The book is a reflection of Huxley’s mescaline experience, which he took under the direction of British-trained, but Canadian-based psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. In his Los Angeles home, Huxley met Osmond for the first time, and a month after his auspicious first trip, Osmond coined the word ‘psychedelic’ in his correspondence with Huxley. The book took on a life of its own, part memoir, part guidebook as psychedelic experimentation captivated the minds of researchers and psychonauts during the Cold War, and continues to be a rich entry point into this expanding field.


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Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD

By Kay Parley

Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD

Why this book?

Kay Parley is a remarkable woman. Her book takes readers through her amazing life and the diverse experiences she encountered in an effort to make sense of her family history of psychiatric illness, her own institutionalization, and later her role as a psychiatric nurse and psychedelic guide. Against contemporary medical advice, Parley took LSD in Saskatchewan with Frances Huxley (Aldous’ nephew), and in this book, she explains how it gave her insights into her own excursions into madness and how to be a gentle guiding force for others who experienced disorientation, whether through illness or through mind-altering drugs.


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Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation

By Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Clancy Cavnar

Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation

Why this book?

This editorial team has worked tirelessly to promote informed discussions about psychedelic plant medicines. Peyote is one of their many published books that takes seriously the need to consider issues of Indigenous reciprocity, gender inclusion, cultural context, and environmental sustainability in the world of psychedelics. Psychedelic justice is not simply about consuming plant medicines but involves a reciprocal set of relationships that honour a long and often disturbing history of cultural appropriation and psychedelic tourism.


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The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact

By Alexander Shulgin

The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact

Why this book?

This is the first volume of lecture notes from the infamous Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, “inventor” of MDMA “ecstasy or molly”. Sasha and his wife Ann are well known in the world of psychedelics for their publications based on Sasha’s incredible knowledge of chemistry, Ann’s capacity to integrate experiences, and their shared contributions to the world of psychedelia. This new book, with an introduction from Mariavittoria Mangini, is a ‘warts and all’ introduction to the chemistry of mind alteration. It is highly accessible, at times comical, and a fascinating opportunity to voyeuristically sit in on a series of Shulgin lectures that promises to pique your curiosity about our chemical lives.


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Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research Since the Decade of the Brain

By Nicolas Langlitz

Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research Since the Decade of the Brain

Why this book?

Langlitz takes readers inside neuroscience laboratories in the United States and Switzerland to show readers how a cultural shift towards brain research has helped to lay the groundwork for a return of psychedelic science. Peaking behind the academic curtain, Langlitz gives readers a rather ‘sobering’ look at the business of neuroscience research and the innovative ways that scientists have invested in psychedelic studies while meeting new demands for ethical protocols and standards for human experimentation that do not allow for the kinds of approaches taken by an earlier generation of psychedelic researchers. 


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