Growing advancements in psychedelic research are transforming the face of health and well-being, while also challenging our current bioethical and legal landscapes.
In literature, the subject of psychedelics lives where neuroscience, self-improvement, philosophy of consciousness, and the spiritual meet. Writers from around the world have written about the fascinating effects of compounds like LSD and mushrooms and truffles containing psilocybin.
Here are five key books that share compelling ideas on the science, history and the life-changing potential of a psychedelic experience. These mind-expanding companions explore how psychedelics can be tools to help with the challenging journey of healing. While highlighting that this experience is not for everyone, the following writers agree that psychedelics could help on the global quest to improve the well-being of humankind, and help people to fulfill their potential in life.
1. How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan (2018)
Michael Pollan has written an engrossing take on the recent history of psychedelics and the colourful characters involved. How to Change your Mind presents the scientific research to unravel ideas about consciousness, death, addiction, depression and transcendence. The investigation is interwoven with the celebrated food author’s own compelling personal experience.
Michael Pollen’s influential book is symptomatic of, and a catalyst for, the societal rise of interest in the therapeutic potentials of psychedelics, reaching an entirely new audience of curious people. Essential reading if you’re interested in self-discovery, psychedelic history and scientific research.
2. Sacred Knowledge by William A. Richards (2015)
Sacred Knowledge opens your mind to the possibilities of psychedelics by investigating the biological processes, human consciousness and revelatory religious experiences that psychedelics induce. Based on three decades of legal research, Bill argues that if psychedelics are used legally and responsibly, they have the potential to improve your quality of life and alleviate suffering.
This book spans philosophy, anthropology, theology, and religious studies, alongside bringing depth to research in mental health, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. Bill contributes to socio-political debates surrounding the responsible integration of psychedelic substances into contemporary society. An eye-opening read and deserving of a place on your bookshelf.
3. The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley (1954)
Aldous Huxley, author of the acclaimed novel Brave New World, is world-renowned for his expansive knowledge and imaginative storytelling. A psychedelic experience is notoriously hard to put into words, but Aldous was able to do this better than anyone. This is a major reason why the seminal book The Doors of Perception is still relevant today.
Elaborating on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline, Aldous reflects on how mystical insights created by psychedelics can greatly benefit science, art and religion. The short stream of consciousness account is filled with beautiful description and mind-expanding ideas.
4. Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer, John C. Lilly (1968)
John C. Lilly is famous for inventing the floatation tank and for being a member of counterculture scientists and thinkers who shaped the field, becoming known for being a psychonaut exploring consciousness and altered states.
Lilly framed this book with the metaphor that our minds are computers, running programs that have purposely or accidentally been coded into us, perhaps with great precision, perhaps carelessly. He believed the psychedelic experience gives us the chance to project our minds in front of us and assume the role of “metaprogrammer”, thus gaining the ability to recode old, faulty programs that are causing harm or no longer useful. This book is a favorite of the pragmatic, tech-minded neuro-hackers out there.
5. The Psychedelics Explorer’s Guide, James Fadiman (2011)
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide contains everything you need to know about using psychedelics as a tool for self-improvement to safely enhance your emotional well-being, creativity, thinking and introspection. It will teach you how to use psychedelics, with information on different psychedelics and dosage, and how to prepare yourself and your surroundings.
James brings valuable insights from the life-changing experiences of celebrated thinkers like Aldous Huxley, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Steve Jobs. As a result, this book shows how psychedelics, when used wisely, can lead to healing but also to spiritual epiphanies and scientific breakthroughs. Drawing on extensive scientific literature and personal wisdom, it’s a must-have for beginners and the more experienced psychonauts alike.
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Synthesis is leading a movement to transform the way people approach emotional, cognitive and spiritual well-being through safe and legal psychedelic experiences. If you’re interested, take a look at Expansion, our 5-day immersive psychedelic transformation program.