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14 of the Best Books about Psychedelics

August 21, 2023

Scientists are conducting psychedelic research at a rate not seen since the middle of the last century. It’s an incredibly exciting time for psychology, mycology, pharmacology and other fields that intersect with the burgeoning legal psychedelics industry. Entheogenic substances have huge potential to not only change our approach to medicine but to also influence our fundamental understanding of ourselves.

As psilocybin researcher Bob Jesse pointed out at the 2023 Psychedelic Science Conference, however, the current psychedelic renaissance is just as much a rediscovery of existing research that was forgotten during the War on Drugs. There is a great deal of reemerging research and anecdata that deserves fresh consideration and inquiry in addition to a new generation of scientific inquiry, history and literature. 

A lot of ink has been spilled on psychedelics, and yet we’re only just scratching the surface of what substances like LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine, ketamine and DMT can teach us. Knowledge is power, though, and reading some of the best books about psychedelics is a great place to begin learning more about the wild and mysterious world of entheogens. 

At Grasslands, we’re fascinated by it all. That’s why the Grasslands Lending Library has an expanding selection of psychedelics books on a variety of substances from psilocybin and LSD to DMT, ketamine, MDMA and ibogaine. While there is far more wonderful writing on psychedelic science, culture and personal experience than we can fit into one blog, here are a few of our office favorites:

If you enjoyed some of the books about cannabis that we’ve recommended, these fourteen books about psychedelics. Each provides insights into the history, science and cultural power of these fascinating substances. From the story of how LSD was invented to Dr. Stanislav Grof's expansive encyclopedia for inner journeys to comprehensive guides on mushroom cultivation and psychedelic medicine, this list is full of fantastic resources.

1. Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind by Mike Jay 

For most of human history, psychedelics research was conducted not on study participants, but on the self. Mike Jay digs into the early days of modern psychedelics research. Along the way, he uncovers the profound influence of psychoactive substances from nitrous to bhang to peyote on influential figures like Sigmund Freud, W.B. Yeats and Robert Graves—and thus, even mainstream culture.

2. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by Dr. James Fadiman

Popularly cited as the “microdosing bible,” Dr. Fadiman’s guide for would-be psychonauts is rooted in over 50 years of psychedelics research. He distinguishes between the short- and long-term effects of high, moderate, low and microdoses of LSD and other psychedelics from a scientific and spiritual perspective. 

This guide also outlines other important components of psychedelics consumption that have come to be considered best practices, like set, setting and having a trip sitter in place. Dr. Fadiman breaks down an expansive amount of information into practical how-tos for voyagers and facilitators, the experiences of psychedelic pioneers like Alexander Shulgin and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in their own words and helpful research, case studies, experiments and surveys.

3. Someone Who Isn’t Me by Geoff Rickly

You don’t have to be a fan of Rickly’s post-hardcore band Thursday to appreciate this compelling literary novel that blends tropes of psychedelic and recovery lit in a reimagining of the Divine Comedy. The protagonist of Rickly’s autofiction, also named Geoff, turns to ibogaine treatments in Mexico to kick a shattering heroin habit. 

It’s a stunning, daring debut, both for Rickly as an author and for publisher Chelsea Hodson’s new Sedona-based press Rose Books. The punchy, urgent prose captures the same energy that has driven Rickley’s career as a punk musician, and it’s easy to see why fellow rocker Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance described Someone Who Isn’t Me “a spiral staircase in a burning building.” 

4.  DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences by Dr. Rick Strassman 

DMT is the organic compound behind ayahuasca trips—but it also naturally occurs in the skin and eggs of certain toads, as well as the human body. Dr. Strassman coined it “the spirit molecule” for the profoundly spiritual quality of the psychedelic effects DMT tends to produce. In this book, Strassman connects his own clinical research on DMT to alien abduction experiences, angels, the seventh Chakra and other beliefs that align with the DMT experience. It’s a fascinating look at the science and mysticism of N,N-dimethyltryptamine.

5. Entheogens and the Future of Religion edited by Robert Forte

There are many familiar faces in this wide-ranging volume, including Albert Hofmann, R. Gordon Wasson, Jack Kornfield, Terence McKenna, the Shulgins and Rick Strassman. The contributors make a compelling case for both scientific and religious study of psychedelics. The book explores the ethics of such inquiry and ultimately argues the need for academic and religious freedom to successfully understand the potential of entheogenic psychedelics.

6. Owsley and Me: My LSD Family by Rhoney Gissen Stanley with Tom Davis

Women’s voices haven’t always had equitable prominence in the psychedelics space—or in media and publishing, for that matter. Mothers are even more underrepresented. Even famous figures like Mountain Girl, the long-time partner of Jerry Garcia, primarily appear in psychedelic lit as described by male authors like Tom Wolfe. Here, however, we have a rare memoir in which underground chemist Rhoney Gissen Stanley tells her own story from the front lines and backstage of the psychedelic 60s.

As a lab wiz, Rhoney worked with Owsley “Bear” Stanley, who famously supplied the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead and much of the Bay Area with vast quantities of LSD. Eventually, Rhoney also became Owsley’s romantic partner and the mother of one of his children. “Owsley and Me” is a long-overdue look at what it was like to be a woman living, working and mothering in the psychedelic underground—and leaving it all behind to forge her own challenging path as a midcentury female healthcare professional. 

7. The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

Nobel Prize nominee, public intellectual and mescaline aficionado Aldous Huxley published this book a year after his first psychedelic experience. Six years after that, The Doors of Perception helped Timothy Leary along his path from Harvard professor to psychedelic figurehead when a friend gave him a copy to read after his first mushroom trip. This is truly one of the seminal accounts of the psychedelic experience (pun intended) written by an author who enjoyed masterful control of language and self-perception.

8. LSD, My Problem Child by Dr. Albert Hofmann

Swiss Chemist Albert Hofmann famously discovered LSD while working for a pharmaceutical lab in 1938. It wasn’t until 1943, however, that he intentionally dosed himself at work before commuting home—a trip (in every sense of the word) commemorated each April 19 as Bicycle Day. Translator Jonathan Ott notes “Numerous accounts of the discovery of LSD have been published in English; none, unfortunately, have been completely accurate. Here, at last, the father of LSD details … the inside story of the birth of the Psychedelic age.” 

In this classic text, Hofmann recounts what happened next— as psychedelics collided with psychiatry and psychology, blossomed into counterculture and slammed headlong into prohibition. From Basel, Switzerland, to Mexico and beyond, this is certainly a story worth revisiting in-depth.

9 and 10. The Way of the Psychonaut Vol. 1 and Vol. 2: Encyclopedia for Inner Journeys by Dr. Stanislav Grof

Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof is exactly the generation of psychedelic researchers that Bob Jesse, who today advises the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research , encourages current psychonauts and scientists to revisit. He was one of the leading authorities on LSD prior to the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Anyone presently studying the role LSD can play in the treatment of substance use disorders is following in Grof’s footsteps. His belief in the potential of psychedelics for mental health care laid the foundation for a new legal paradigm in Oregon and Colorado that will permit licensed psychedelic clinics. This eclectic two-volume encyclopedia spans Grof’s expansive knowledge of psychedelics and the ways they facilitate transcendence. 

11. The Psilocybin Mushroom Bible: The Definitive Guide to Growing and Using Magic Mushrooms by Dr. K. Mandrake PhD and Virginia Haze

There’s more to understanding psychedelics than peering at their chemical makeup under a microscope. There’s also the study of how plants like psilocybin mushrooms are best cultivated. Here, mushroom botanist Dr. K. Mandrake explains step by step how to grow mushrooms and prepare them for consumption. The goal is a comprehensive guide to responsible personal mushroom production, with lovely photography by fellow mushroom cultivator Virginia Haze.

12. Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin and Ayahuasca by Dr. Richard Louis Miller

This is a must read for anyone curious about the pharmaceutical potential and scientific efficacy of psychedelics. Dr. Miller delves into the long history of psychedelic therapeutics, from pre-prohibition research over 50 years ago to some of the latest and most promising double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with MDMA, psilocybin, LSD and ayahuasca. Psychedelic Medicine serves as a great primer on the work of leading psychedelics researchers Rick Doblin, Stanislav Grof, James Fadiman, Julie Holland, Dennis McKenna, David Nichols, Charles Grob, Phil Wolfson, Michael and Annie Mithoefer, Roland Griffiths, Katherine MacLean and Robert Whitaker. 

Importantly, Dr. Miller doesn’t neglect the important study of how Indigenous peoples use psychedelics and the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry and current political climate could impact our approach to plant medicine.

13. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe 

Students of both psychedelics and New Journalism will find something of interest in what is perhaps the best-known account of the swinging psychedelic ‘60s. Journalist Tom Wolfe got on the bus in every sense of the term when he joined One Flew Over the Cucko’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters on a cross-country road trip in Further, a Day-Glo splattered International Harvester school bus. 

What follows is the story of how the Acid Tests became the garden in which West Coast psychedelia flowered. Wolfe chronicles the Merry Pranksters’ series of experimental art parties featuring the titular LSD-spiked Kool-Aid and a soundtrack provided by the recently-formed Grateful Dead.

14. This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan

Before How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan was best known for writing about the close-knit ties between people and plants—that is, the kind you can readily find at Whole Foods.  This book bridges the gap between Pollan’s areas of expertise. One of the substances he investigates in This Is Your Mind on Plants—a book dedicated to the effects of opium, caffeine and mescaline—is available at the average grocery store, at least. In the vein of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, Hal Herzog’s examination of the relationships between humans and animals, Pollan asks why we categorize only two of these substances as drugs.