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Books on Psychedelics

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Psychedelics are substances that cause an altered state of consciousness and temporarily induce changes in the perceptive-sensory sphere. Classical psychedelics, the ones with a broader and deepest culture and scientific influence are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and psilocybin. The former is one of the most potent psychedelic substances and it was synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann starting from a naturally occurring compound found in the infecting grain fungus, ergot. The other cited substances are found in plants (mescaline, DMT), fungi (psilocybin) and also in animals (DMT).
Modifying the structure of mescaline, the American chemist Alexander Shulgin created the psychedelic class of 2C compounds, modified phenethylamines containing methoxy groups at the position 2 and 5 of the benzene ring. The most widely known compound of this family is the psychedelic 2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromophenethylamine also called 2C-B.

Over the course of human history, psychedelics were used for spiritual purposes in religious ceremonies. Studies about the accidental inclusion of psychedelics such as psilocybin containing fungi in the diet of our hominid ancestors, assess that psychedelics may have contributed in the expansion of social bonding, facilitation of ritual and collective activities, managing of psychological issues and physical problems and enhancing of group-decision making. [1]

There is a wide list of books dealing with the theme of “psychedelia”. From scientific treatises based on chemistry and ethnobotanical studies to novels based on true stories involving the synthesis or consumption of psychedelics, the list is countless. Nevertheless we decided to propose to you a list of readings that can’t be ignored if you are working in the field of psychedelics or if you are passionate and curious about them.

  • Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers
  • The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens
  • LSD my problem child
  • PiHKAL – A chemical love story

One of the aspects that made possible the following book selection is that the authors of some of the proposed books are the major personalities in the scientific field of hallucinogenic plants, synthetic hallucinogens and their uses: Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann and Alexander Shulgin.

About the authors

Richard Evans Schultes (1915 – 2001) can be considered as the father of ethnobotany. His researches, joined with influential chemists such as Albert Hoffmann, have been crucial to understand the effects of many hallucinogenic plants among indigenous peoples, revealing peculiar cultural uses depending on the chemicals contained in the plants. Schultes studied the medicinal and hallucinogenic plants of Amazonian forest, the peyote cult among Plains Indians, the Mexican hallucinogenic plants and fungi, respectively the ololiuqui plant (Turbina corymbose, a morning glory species) and the teonanàcatl species belonging to the genus Psilocybe, making many other researches in the field of psychedelic ethnobotany.

Albert Hofmann (1906 – 2008) is the first chemist to have synthesized LSD and to have studied its hallucinogenic effects, at first on himself. Moreover the members of Hofmann research team were the first to isolate the active compound of hallucinogenic mushrooms psilocybin and psilocin. Hofmann’s research on the effects of LSD inspired several psychiatrists and the use of the substance in controlled settings as a tool for psychotherapeutic sessions. During his life Hofmann conducted researches discovering and isolating the active compound of Turbina corymbose, the ergine also known as d-lysergic acid amide (LSA), a compound strictly related to LDS and responsible for the psychoactive effects of the plant.

Alexander Theodore Shulgin (1925 – 2014) also known as “Sasha” is the chemist and pharmacologist who invented 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and more than 230 psychoactive substances with psychedelic and entactogen effects. He tried all the substances on himself and is the one introducing these compounds to psychologists in the late 70s for their potential use in neuropharmacology. Due to Shulgin’s incredible work in the systematic research and rational drug design of psychedelic drugs, he can be defined as the “godfather of psychedelics”. [2]

Psychedelic books — Our readings selection

Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

(Authors: Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann. Publication: 1979)

Dr Schultes of Cambridge and Dr Hofmann of Basel, joined their knowledge of botany and chemistry to create this interdisciplinary book. Here are reported information regarding psychoactive alkaloids responsible for the psychedelic effects of certain plants all over the world, used since primitive cultures till modern ones. This ethnobotanical book describes the ritualistic use of hallucinogenic plants, highlighting the importance of their use in shaping the culture and history. Whether its datura, cannabis, peyote, belladonna or others, reading this book will explain you in detail the way the hallucinogenic plants were prepared and consumed, myths and history related to the plants, the active compounds contained in them and their therapeutic and mystic use.

The authors believed that the scientific research about psychotropic plants can help in the evolution of psychiatric research. Using the active compounds from plants could help reveal the unknown regarding the central nervous system. Moreover the study of hallucinogenic plant components could help rational thinking about new possibilities of psychopharmacological entities to treat psychiatric disorders.

This book is full of photographic testimonies of the ritualistic use of hallucinogenic plants, artworks created under the effects of the plant derived psychotropic molecules, tables describing minutely the botanical entities and maps illustrating their distribution in the world.

What makes this book special is the level of specialistic details the authors, luminaries of science, give. This masterpiece is the milestone of any kind of ethnobotanical study about hallucinogenic plants. And you can’t miss reading it if you study this field or you are passionate about the argument.

The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens

(Authors: Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann. Publication: 1980)

The authors continue to focus on hallucinogenic plants and include in this book newly discovered botanical entities, highlighting the historical, ethnobotanical, pharmacological and psychological aspects linked to them. Different families of psychotomimetic plants are presented reporting insights regarding the molecular structure of the active compounds. Separate chapters include a list of plants with alleged hallucinogenic effects that have been never used in any rural community due to the potent toxic side effects. The book is provided with an exhaustive bibliography, giving to the reader many interesting references for further studies and insights. The book presents interesting photographic records. Differently from the other mentioned book by the same authors, here the pictures are in black and white.

LSD my problem child

(Author: Albert Hofmann. Publication: 1979)

In this book Dr Albert Hofmann gives a complete picture of LSD, from its origins to its effects and possibilities of therapeutic administration. Here are also described the potentially dangerous side effects of the compound misuse. This interesting book contains many reflections about sacred drugs, mysticism and science, following the thoughts of Dr Hofmann, his retrospective opinion about his discovery and his researches about hallucinogenic plants. Hofmann shares the correspondences with some notable figures including Aldous Huxley, Walter Vogt and Timothy Leary.

The powerful conclusion of Hofmann is that mystical experiences could be the best hope for humanity’s survival, and doesn’t matter if induced by LSD or reached with meditation, such experiences help us understand the wonderful infinite questioning about the universe.

PIHKAL – A chemical love story

(Author: Alexander Theodore Shulgin & Ann Shulgin. Publishing: 1991)

The title of the book is an acronym of the phrase: “ Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved”. This book represents the life and discoveries of this notable chemist. While the first part of the book is a fictionalized story of the love between Shulgin and his wife, the second section of the book reports detailed synthetic routes for 179 psychedelic drugs discovered (and tried) by Shulgin. In addition to the synthesis instructions the book also reports bioassays, dosages and comments about these compounds. The purpose of the book was to make the discoveries of Shulgin more available to the world, instead of being limited to the research university field. While some techniques are beyond the possibilities of a person with basic chemistry knowledge, there are quite some hints about how to obtain reagents extracting compounds from plants or producing alternatives to expensive reagents in an easy and cheaper way.

Most likely the license of Shulgin was terminated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to the publication of this book. DEA agents compared Shulgin’s book to a cookbook on how to make illegal drugs. Nevertheless the importance of this publication lies in the meticulous and detailed description of the class of compounds phenethylamines. The direct experience of the author on the effects, and the described synthetic route make this book a treasure of historic importance.


[1] Front. Psychol., 29 September 2021, Sec. Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 12 – 2021 |
[2] “DIRTY PICTURES” – Alexander Shulgin documentary movie trailer, SXSW 2010 on YouTube

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