The top 8 psychedelic books you need to read

psychedelic books

There are countless ways to acquire knowledge these days, especially when it comes to psychedelics. Tuning into a podcast or finding a righteous video to watch on YouTube often takes top billing when people are learning something new. This focus on audio-visual elements has taken center stage, but there are still avid readers who prefer to leaf through (or devour) psychedelic books.

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The psychedelic library is extensive, ranging the gamut from dry medical texts to vibrant fiction novels to poignant memoirs. There are various selections to choose from when searching for a psychedelic text to read, and some might wonder where to start. Well, that’s where this list comes in. These eight psychedelic books can serve as the jumpoff for a literary psychonaut.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule

By Rick Strassman M.D.

Those who have dipped even a toe into psychedelic counterculture have likely heard of DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. The book offers a peek behind the curtain of psychedelic research conducted by author Dr. Strassman at the University of New Mexico. Read The Spirit Molecule or watch the documentary-style film adaptation for first-hand accounts of sixty participants who were injected with N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT.

Strassman shares theories on alien abductions, connects the substance to the pineal gland, and engages in a conversation on the soul’s journey in and out of the body. The trippy but scientific text is a staple on the shelves of psychonauts everywhere and serves as an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the movement.

psychedelic books

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Food of the Gods

By Terrance McKenna

When speaking of the classic books on psychedelics, Food of the Gods: The Search For The Original Tree Of Knowledge always makes the list. Author Terrance McKenna is treasured in the psychedelic culture as an ethnobotanist and mystic.

Food of the Gods was the first time readers were introduced to the stoned ape theory, which posits that humans evolved into cognitive beings when Psilocybin cubensis was introduced into their diets. Many in the scientific community discredit the theory as conjecture, but it provides a solid example of what to expect from this book that views human history through a psychedelic lens.

Whether someone seeks to learn about magic mushrooms or ponder on the anthropological role of psychoactive substances in evolution, this book is for them.

Exile & Ecstacy

By Madison Margolin

One of the newer releases on the list, Exile & Ecstasy is a memoir-style exploration of the space where the psychedelic movement meets Hasidism. Journalist Madison Margolin sweeps readers through experiences growing up around “HinJews,” a term coined for those who practice Hinduism and Judaism.

Her world exists in the space between the Ram Dass movement and Hasidic Judaism. Sharing more about this culture opens a dialogue with the reader about spirituality, countercultures, and psychedelics as Margolin searches for her own truths on the matter.

LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process

By Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Ph.D. and Oscar Janiger, Ph.D.

LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process earns a place due to the first-hand accounts of things people see and experience while tripping on acid. The results come from one of the largest clinical studies on acid from 1954 to 1962, before it was made illegal. See real artwork, read poetry, and unlock personal reports from almost 1,000 subjects who consumed LSD-25 for the study.

Author Marlene Dobkin de Rios studied hallucinogens in indigenous societies before conducting the experiment, which aimed to examine the creative process. What becomes most striking by the end of the text is the intangible psychic links that seem to join humanity. Anyone interested in how things work will appreciate the knowledge within this psychedelic book.

PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story

By Alex and Ann Shulgin

Though somewhat controversial to DEA agents, every thread on psychedelic books recommends readers peruse PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. The text was penned by husband and wife Alex and Ann Shulgin. Alex was a chemist and pharmacologist who believed that people should have access to Phenethylamines; in fact, PiHKAL stands for “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.”

The first part of PiHKAL is a fictional autobiography of the Shulgins, and the second part is an extensive encyclopedia of 179 psychedelic compounds. Part two was free on Erowid, but the full two-part story is only available in the printed text. The DEA raided Shulgin’s lab just three years after PiHKAL was released, taking his DEA license and deeming it a cookbook for illegal drugs. The synthesis listed for MDMA, or Ecstacy, is still used by many manufacturers to this day.

We definitely don’t recommend making any phenethylamines, but this book plays a part in the psychedelic history of the U.S., earning it a spot on this list.

psychedelic books

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The Psychedelic Experience

By Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert

The authors of The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead are three heavy hitters in the American psychedelic movement. The 1964 book compares the ego death and other psychedelic experiences with the Tibetan Book of the Dead hoping to provide psychonauts with a manual to traverse the sometimes rocky landscape of a trip.

This book is a hands-on guide to navigating nuances and challenges that can emerge after consuming psychedelic substances. The book culminates in suggestions for an assisted psychedelic session from the three former Harvard researchers. Readers looking for insight into what to expect from psychedelics or curious about how the West embraced them will appreciate this book.

Be Here Now

By Ram Dass

In the decade following his release from Harvard, Richard Alpert became Ram Dass, and the world was given Be Here Now. Spirituality, yoga, and meditation take center stage in this book that introduced many American Baby Boomers to Eastern religion.

Ram Dass created the book after being initiated into a Guru-chela relationship with Neem Karoli Baba. Though the text isn’t specifically about psychedelics, the topics and imagery evoke the right mentality. Many day-trippers have spent time leafing through the pages.

Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change

By Tao Lin

Another memoir, Trip follows Tao Lin in a time of self-inflicted isolation. While Lin isolated for creative reasons he became obsessed with Terrance McKenna, researching the mystic and in turn, psychedelics and entheogens.

This book takes the reader on a cruise through the history and current understanding of psychedelics while exploring Lin’s own psyche. Personal tales of recovering from pharmaceutical drugs while experimenting with substances like DMT and psilocybin juxtapose philosophical quandaries regarding the purpose of art and more. This is a journalistic look at the internal psychedelic revolution many individuals might have experienced.

Psychedelic books that belong on the shelf

These are the top eight psychedelic books for anyone with an interest in the history of these substances or trying them. From memoirs to manuals to historical texts, these books cover it all. Read them all already? Not to worry, there’s always new editions like Welcome to Psilocybin and many unlisted classics like Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. There are tons more fantastic psychedelic books, these are just the staples.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.