Mind-blowing in more ways than one, the subject of Psychedelics is a rich, dangerous, fascinating, controversial and very important one indeed. How does one get started with Psychedelics? The answer is education.
First, well done on taking the right approach; too many people dive right in, blindly, and therefore learn very little from their experiences. This is a shame, because psychedelics, taken in an appropriate setting, with the right people, and with correct intentions (by which I mean, no expectations—because expectations, internal or external, can get in the way), can be profoundly insightful, enlightening, life-changing.
Psychedelics are mind-blowing in more ways than one, and in good ways and bad; taking the time to properly educate yourself, therefore, is crucial. Further, whilst drugs like Psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and such like, do open to the door to a alternate reality, do shine the light on a different way of being, do bring incredible clarity, do make you feel good—do present profound, serious, and invaluable life lessons—much of it is incomprehensible, extremely overwhelming, exhausting, and utterly impractical in the real world.
The key word, there, is ‘much’; whilst the majority of a Psychedelic experience is either too much to comprehend, or useless in the real world, there is that little bit—that little bit of insight, observation, epiphany, understanding, illumination, of realisation—that can be applied in the real world, that can change your life, that is the true value, in my opinion, of the Psychedelic experience.
But: knowing how to recognise, make sense of, use, or appreciate the experience—and therefore, takeaway something practical—requires, yes, at the secondary level, such things as the right drug, dosage, people, and environment, but at the primary level, an awareness, the correct mindset, and proper intentions; this comes from educating yourself.
Psychedelics could also induce the most horrible, terrible and scary experience of your life; this is rare, but again, education both decreases the chances of it happening, and helps you cope, should it.
Yes, people have jumped in blindly and came away somewhat wiser, happier, more informed—as better people—but you should think of such people as the exception to the rule (whether this is strictly true or not is not the point). To impetuously jump in and hope for enlightenment is to leave matters to firmly in the grasp of fortune—which is never a good idea. One of the most important ideas, if you want to live a good life, is to wrestle as much of your destiny away from the hands of fortune (or God, Mother Nature, Lady Luck, Fate, Chance, Dame Fortune—or whatever else you want to name it) as possible. This manifests as doing what you can to increase your chances of success; applied to this discussion, it means becoming sufficiently educated and taking the secondary factors very seriously, in order to increase the likelihood of your having a pleasant, worthwhile and useful experience.
Below are a few books to get you started. I would also recommend you listen to some good podcasts on the topic; these you can listen to whilst you commute, go about your chores, workout, or when you hit the pillow at night (listening to podcast/audiobooks is an esoteric habit, and not for everyone, but it can help you drift off; it is also done by some very interesting minds, such as Matt Ridley). I have added a few fantastic podcasts below.
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman Ph.D
This book is a fascinating insight into the world of psychedelics. Whether you are a beginner or well-studied on this topic, you’ll find this book very helpful. James is a self-taught expert and has spent years in the trenches seeing what really works, and what is safe. A must read for the curious, newbie, or the professional hippy.
The Psychedelic Experience: Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary
An instruction manual intended for use during sessions involving psychedelic drugs. Started as early as 1962 in Zihuatanejo, the book was finally published in August 1964. This version of Tibetan Book of the Dead was authored by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, all of whom took part in experiments investigating the therapeutic and religious possibilities of drugs such as mescaline, psilocybin and LSD. A psychedelic bible.
Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge by Terence McKenna
This book is an astonishing look at why we humans are so fascinated by, and desire, altered states of consciousness. Are they telling us something that we don’t know? Are they showing us something we can’t see? As an odyssey of mind, body and spirit, Food of the Gods is one of the most fascinating and surprising histories of consciousness ever written. As a daring work of scholarship and exploration, it offers an inspiring vision for individual fulfilment, and a humane basis for our interaction with each other and with the natural world.
Prometheus Rising by by Robert Anton Wilson
‘We are all giants, raised by pygmies, who have learned to walk with a perpetual mental crouch. Unleashing our full stature—our total brain power—is what this book is all about.’ A comprehensive manual of beginner exercises not just in psychedelics, but in all kinds of brain-change techniques—drawn from Eastern mysticism, Western occultism, Gurdjieff, General Semantics, Buckminster Fuller…
Science Revealed by Reverend Danny Nemu
Danny is a wonderful character, very outspoken, and very much what one would consider a ‘walking encyclopedia’. This book is the first part of The Nemu’s End Series. Say’s Julian Vayne, ‘Science Revealed is a wide ranging book in which we encounter a range of alternative ideas and characters from Jacques Benveniste (an outlaw scientist who claimed to have evidence that homoeopathy is effective) through to Tesla and Bruno. The text has a strong authorial voice that weaves effortlessly from the poetic to the polemic; and this is unsurprising from an author who is renowned as an excellent speaker and creative activist. (There are also some beautiful fragments of poetry, typographic design and illustration towards the end of the book.) This rich tapestry of theories, personal anecdotes, damned data (as Charles Fort would have called it) and radical opinion would be a great read for someone new to these discussions. Science and Scientism, esoterica, meditation, entheogens and politics—all this and more are explored here.’
Danny’s second book Neuro-Apocalypse is just as good, if not better than his first. Looking beyond the web of words, Nemu explores savant skills emerging in autism and trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, the wit in the tics of Tourette’s, and the super-strength of people in life-threatening situations. Synaesthesia and other extraordinary experiences are described in the Bible, alongside a stash of psychoactive agents and instructions on how to use them. What can the characters and techniques of this ancient legend reveal about managing our compulsions, aspirations and inspirations—the gods at work in our heads?
To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic by Dr Ben Sessa
Ben is one of the five co-founders of the totally awesome Breaking Convention conference. Although a well-rehearsed author, this is his first novel; and judging by the response, it may not be his last. This book follows the journey of conservative NHS psychiatrist Dr Robert Austell, as he breaks free of tradition and learns to challenge the failure of psychiatric medicine. The transformation begins when he stumbles upon the field of psychedelic therapy and meets the enigmatic Californian maverick Dr Joseph Langley. Soon a small farm in Somerset is transformed into a hotbed of psychedelic research: traumatic memories and personal awakenings emerge amongst a plethora of damaged and colourful characters and their uniquely therapeutic psychedelic experiences.
Tim Ferriss interviews James Fadiman on the Tim Ferriss show. James Fadiman, Ph.D., did his undergraduate work at Harvard and his graduate work at Stanford, doing research with the Harvard Group, the West Coast Research Group in Menlo Park, and Ken Kesey. He is the author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide. In this episode he talks about risks, micro-dosing, Ibogaine, and much more.
Tim Ferriss talks to Ph.D. and neuroscientist Sam Harris about exploring the science of lying, uses and types of meditation, psychedelic drug uses and risks, spiritual experiences, and more. A brilliant and very interesting conversation with one of the deepest and wisest minds today, Sam Harris.
Are psychedelic drugs the next big medical breakthrough?—with MD’s Martin Polanco and Dan Engle.
The Joe Rogan Experience—Joe Rogan’s podcast is, I think, the most popular podcast in the world. Joe is an outspoken advocate and experienced user, and regularly brings trusted authorities on his show to talk about the science, safety, functionality and politics of Psychedelics—especially DMT, which Joe has much experience with, and Cannabis (he has been known to spark a spliff or two during his live shows). You can find the show on iTunes, Soundcloud, YouTube, and pretty much every other podcast platform. Notable episodes include his conversations with Sam Harris, Dennis McKenna (Terence’s brother), Russell Brand, and all of these. And…
Steven Kotler and Joe Rogan—Kotler is an award winning author, journalist, and is co-founder of the flow-genome project. He has deep knowledge on the subjects of human performance, and consciousness. This 3 hour conversation is packed with practical tips and entertaining stories on a variety of topics—including creativity, and the science behind it; neurotransmitters; the powerful healing potential resulting from altered states; psychedelics, why they work and how, the dangers, alternatives, and more. For the psychedelic part, skip the first half—but the whole thing is a gem.
The Duncan Trussell family hour—Duncan is well-known american comedian and actor. He has experience with Psychedelics, is a proponent, and regularly speaks with smart guests on the topic. Notable episodes: a conversation with Dr Drew, about the safety and real-world benefit; Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist, philosopher, and brother of the famous Terence McKenna; and Graham Hancock.
Finally, this 20 minute self-narrated essay from well-known philosopher, neuroscientist, writer and podcast host, Sam Harris: Drugs and the Meaning of Life.
There are several organisations doing some outstanding and very important work in the field. Following them on social media will keep you informed and aid in your education. Here they are, in no particular order.
MAPS (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)
A non-profit research and educational organisation that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.
The UK Cannabis Club
Campaigning to change the laws that unfairly criminalise cannabis consumers. Advocating a regulated adult market.
The Beckley Foundation have been at the forefront of global drug policy reform and scientific research into psychoactive substances. They collaborate with leading scientific and political institutions worldwide to design and develop ground-breaking research and global policy initiatives.
Multidisciplinary conference (UK) psychedelic consciousness, featuring more than 150 presenters from around the world.
Open discussion of psychedelic usage, harm reduction techniques, and resource of positive support. See their profoundly detailed and extremely handy Drug Combination Chart.
The Psychedelic Press
Publisher & archive dedicated to the role of psychedelic substances in culture, science, history, and literature.
The Third Wave
Providing reliable, well-researched information about psychedelics; incubating online and in-person psychedelic community; and working within mainstream culture through constructive conversations with thought-leaders across all major fields and disciplines.
Member-supported organization providing access to reliable, non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants, chemicals, and related issues. Working with academic, medical, and experiential experts to develop and publish new resources, as well as to improve and increase access to already existing resources.
Dedicated to exploring and discussing the important academic/scientific and other research in the field of psychedelics. They also host a fantastic podcast, named, rather fittingly, Psychedelic Today; you can find this on iTunes, stitcher and other podcast platforms.
Most of all, be safe, be wise, and you’ll be okay.
Also, if you have any of your own recommendations (of books, docs, articles, instituations, etc), please share them below.
Further reading: see this post on choosing the right trippin’ partner.
Psychedelicstoday.com is also a great podcast and resource!