My Psychedelic Story Part 1 | Part 2 After understanding that it is my path to be involved in some way with the psychedelic movement I began to be more active in the online community.

Last week I was interviewed on Awaken Atlanta, a breakfast show in the US that covers topics that mainstream media don’t talk about. I was on to talk about, of course, psychedelics, and shared a bit of my experience and answered some of their questions. The show is now available online. You can watch my interview below or see the full show here. Enjoy!

Join Tim and Shannon as they discuss psychedelics. They will be delving into different types of hallucinogens, how they can benefit your mental health, and its long-term effects, as well as hallucinogen addiction. They will be speaking with Alice Smeets, a Trauma Integration Therapist and Kerrie O’Reilly, a Trauma Integration Therapist, and Holistic Health Practitioner. They’ll also interview their John Andrew, a Psychedelic Explorer & Guide.

Rather than do a best psychedelic books list, I thought it would be fun to explore my psychedelic story through books that I’ve read over the last 10 years.

When I was thinking about writing this piece, I thought: ‘is it strange to only count books since I started taking psychedelics? Shouldn’t I include important books from before I started my psychedelic journey?’. I thought about what books I would include from before and I remembered that there weren’t really many.

Though I’d read a few, I actually only really started to get into books after my first psychedelic experiences. The curiosity they fed me gave me an insatiable hunger for learning and knowledge, as well as the patience to read slower, more challenging books and those above my level. My renewed sense of childlike curiosity also made reading more inherently rewarding, worthwhile simply as a means of exploration even if there would be no take away lesson or practical benefit.

Now the idea of living without books seems like a deprived existence. Suffice to say reading remains one of my favourite and most rewarding hobbies.

For this piece I will just run through in a roughly chronological order books that I remember reading and that somehow seem significant or influential as part of my journey over the last decade. It won’t be thorough or complete, but will surely give you an idea of my course.

The form of this piece is going to be loose as I think this will just be a fun way to chart my journey via literature and continue to embrace using this month of blogging to cultivate the experimenter’s mindset. I’ll adjust text size to show significance and add comments by some of the books that I feel have been especially important.

Important Books In My Story

The Doors of Perception – Aldous Huxley

I read this in the aftermath of my first experiences and I fell for Huxley’s literal, almost scientific way of describing, while also diving into cultural commentary and philosophical and spiritual ideas. I even remember at one point standing up and punching the air whilst reading this. Huxley has since become my most read author. His mind and words just get me in some special way. I find the way he explores ideas both through novels and essays to be incredibly stimulating and energising.

The Psychedelic Experience – Tim Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

As cliché as it is this beat classic was a big fuel for me in my wild travel and wanderlust ways. It was a perfect companion on my first budget travel trip around Europe, and it also planted a seed of desire for me to visit Mexico; a journey I made around seven years later and ended up staying in the country for five months. My time in Mexico remains one of my all time favourite chapters and cherished memories.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Woolfe

A rollicking great story following Kesey and those crazy band of merry pranksters. Woolfe plays with form in a psychedelic style which fits perfectly.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest – Ken Kesey

May be my favorite novel that I’ve ever read. Rightly a classic, just brilliant.

The Path of Tibetan Buddhism – The Dalai Lama

 

Introduction to Zen Buddhism – D.T Suzuki

How to Meditate

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tze

Wisdom packed, almost mystical, fundamental Taoist text. I’ve read a few different translations and this is a book I expect I’ll be continuing to revisit for the rest of my life.

Be Here Now – Ram Dass

An incredible story and many great tools for aspiring spiritual practitioners. This book began my yoga practice, I used the core asanas it provided, and was very useful with the step-by-step instructions to both these and pranayama breathing exercises.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
1984 – George Orwell
Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Island – Aldous Huxley

This remains one of my favorite pieces of literature that I’ve ever read. The island of Pala that Huxley describes is in many ways the beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Incredible vision from Huxley of a spiritually and scientifically informed society where psychedelics integrated and used in a coming of age ritual.

Peace Is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

I bought this book in Bangkok train station on my way heading south to find a peaceful beach where I could unpack after my 14 month stint in China. I lived in a hut by the beach for a couple weeks, reading in hammocks, relaxing, and practicing meditation ahead of my first silent retreat which was coming up a few weeks later.

Reading this book really helped evolve my meditation practice from a mostly seated stillness practice into a daily life mindfulness practice. Though a simple and very readable format and style, it has depth and gave me ideas for many ways to return to a mindful state throughout the day.

Savor – Thich Nhat Hanh
Shamanic Trance and Modern Kabbalah – Jonathan Garb
The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley
Against Nature – Joris-Karl Huysmans

The Book – Alan Watts
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
The Way of Zen – Alan Watts

War God – Graham Hancock

An incredible semi-historical flight of fancy from one of my favourite authors in the psychedelic space. An absolute page turner, couldn’t put this one down and had me staying up late reading and waking up for work tired.

Vagabonding – Rolf Potts

True travel classic. Certainly one of the most influential books on my path and somehow practical in a philosophical way. Potts saved money for his travels whilst working as an English teacher in the South Korean coastal city of Busan. I read this book whilst saving money for travel whilst working a an English teacher in Busan. That was not planned, but surely another reason why it resonated so strongly with me. Potts was also an inspiration for me as an aspiring adventure and travel blogger.

The 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss

 

The Sunhitcher – Tomi Astikainen

The Book of Tea – Kakuzō Okakura

 

Thousand Cranes – Yasunari Kawabata
The Old Capital – Yasunari Kawabata
Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

The Joyous Cosmology – Alan Watts

The Teachings of Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda

After having been out in the Mexican desert picking peyote and smoking DMT with a band of travellers, I picked up this book upon heading back to the city of San Luis Potosi, where I was based. Reading Castaneda I became so inspired and re-invigorated with that adventurelust I once again packed up and headed back out to the desert town for what turned out to be another incredible chapter which began with bailing a friend out of a local prison for possession, had consecutive days of peyote sessions in the desert, a Mexican country village fair, and lead to me being invited to The Dance Of The Sun – a native American shamanic ritual that includes fasting and blood sacrifices.

The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday

Can’t recommend this book highly enough. Ryan holiday has become one of my favourite authors.

Waking Up – Sam Harris
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – James Fadiman

The Secret Chief Revealed – Myron Stolaroff

Western psychedelic therapy has been huge in informing my approach and I still use methods from this book both as a practitioner and as a guide.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Chögyam Trungpa

The Book Of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa

The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday

The War Of Art – Steven Pressfield

This book has been absolutely hugely influential and inspiring for me. Recommended to anyone looking for inspiration for creative endeavour they’d like to embark upon.
Getting Higher – Julian Vayne

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Atomic Habits – James Clear

I followed blogger and habits expert Clear for a few years before he released this book, being so interested in the subject of habit formation. Atomic Habits is the ultimate compilation of his works and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone interested in habit change.

Zig Zag Zen – Alan Badiner

Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I read this book over the time I was doing mindfulness coach certification and found it to contains so much in so little. Each chapter is 1 to 2 pages, so it’s one of those books where you can read a page a day and slowly digest all the wisdom and depth that is packed in.

Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins

Psychedelic Psychotherapy – R. Coleman

Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – Dennis McKenna

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

This is a book for our times. It has changed my digital life (mainly, getting me off whatsapp and telegram) and continues to inform it. I love the way Newport thinks I found it especially satisfying that the practical system he proposes in this book is almost structurally identical to a practical system I have devised for psychedelic integration. Great minds!

The Pocket I Ching – Richard Wilhelm
Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Currently reading:
Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse

That bring us up to date!

I’m not sure how interesting this post may have been to read but it was really fun to write! Reflecting on how much these books have contributed to my life has me really excited to read a bunch more. If you enjoy reading, try exploring your story through books, its a fun activity 🙂

I think I’d like to return to this post sometime to add photos but for now, I’m off to finish Steppenwolf.

Tschüs!

Something I find very interesting is how perspectives change on a collective and societal level. At our current point of incredible and accelerating global change, many societal shifts are underway, and this is happening with attitudes towards different types of drugs too.

Very taboo ones, like psychedelics, are becoming more accepted, championed even, and party drugs like MDMA and ketamine are gaining respect as therapeutic treatments.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how quickly a collective attitude towards a drug can shift from negative to positive is that of marijuana. Not so long ago it had fairly firm connotations of lazy people and potheads, and now in the States, it is a legitimate and respected medicine prescribed by doctors, with that reputation making its way worldwide.

In the other direction, older ones that have long been accepted like alcohol are dying down. Many people are cutting back, or quitting altogether, and the young generation are not drinking nearly as much as those gone before, even as recent as the youth of 20 years ago. A great example of this trend is the rise in alcohol free beers.

I happened to walk past this bar this morning

Sugar is another one that seems to be on the decline, something that people seem to be more conscious of in their use. The fact that many people now even view sugar as a drug is notable and this is something I think we will continue to see.

Another one which is beginning to be viewed more as a drug is caffeine. More and more people seem to be cutting back on coffee and keeping an eye on their caffeine intake. The idea that people have coffee addictions would have seemed very strange to me just 10 years ago. Now it seems totally normal, and also totally understandable due to the jitters and anxiety that a high intake can bring. I myself am currently doing a 30 day coffee break this month (yes another 30 day challenge, I know 🙂 ).

What is Shifting Awareness and Social Acceptability of Drugs?

Awareness around mental and physical health is growing in general, as can be seen by the rise in the term ‘wellness’ which is at least in part as a response to rising rates of mental health problems. Also a big contributing factor is lots of good science and solid data, combined with thoughtful researchers and writers.

Recent examples that spring to mind are Michael Pollan’s best seller How To Change Your Mind, and The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. Pollan’s book tells us before we even begin, through its subtitle, that psychedelics have something to teach us across a wide variety of topics, and Taubes title sets the tone, with the book basically concluding that sugar should be a controlled substance.    

New Categories Of Drugs

Another type of drug which is on the rise, and whose category bleeds into that of enhancer or supplement, is the nootropic. Nootropics are riding the wave of the rising trend of human performance and optimisation, and is linked to health as well as productivity. The category of nootropics is not that specific and could generally be termed as cognitive enhancers. As such it is wide ranging and includes things like medicinal mushrooms supplements, vitamin pills, and ‘study drugs’, such as modafinil. Because of its wide ranging term, it also includes drugs from other categories, such as coffee and microdoses of psychedelics.

What’s The Difference Between Drugs and Food?

An interesting discussion point made by both Terence McKenna and Michael Pollan is that of the distinction between food and drugs. Both affect our neurochemistry, our mood, health, energy, and sense of wellbeing. Both are consumed, as an external item into the body (this is where you would exclude exercise, for example, as a drug). Previously, one might have said that what is made in a lab is a drug and what is grown on land is food but the lines are blurring.

Some examples to consider the distinction:

  • Magic mushrooms
  • Processed food. Factory farmed meat.
  • The very idea of ‘organic’ food

Are mushrooms food or drug? If they have a psychoactive effect, do they stop being a food? If diet affects mood and how our mindbody organism operates, is food a drug? If standard coffee is a drug, is decaffeinated coffee not? If our food is created in a lab or factory, is it still a food?

I find this to be a very interesting topic and I think the changing attitudes to drugs are intertwined with changing trends and increased focus on nutrition and diet. This can be seen with the huge rise in veganism, and also in new ideas of diets, such as gluten free, lactose free, paleo, keto etc. In general we are paying much more attention to what we are putting in to our bodies and the impact it has on us.

Where will be in 20 years?

I think that psychedelics will continue to rise, as both a means of self exploration and a science backed response to the mental health crisis, and I’d also suggest that veganism will continue to rise, as awareness rises of the appalling conditions of exploited animals, and seeing as the environmental problems we are facing don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

As for the others, I really am not sure. Perhaps nootropics will usher us towards the next stage of our evolution and we will merge with tech in an transhuman stage of life on earth. Really, its anyone’s guess.

Nitrous oxide is very rarely mentioned in the psychedelic world and isn’t taken seriously in the way that say, psilocybin, MDMA or ketamine now are. I guess part of that is because its nickname, laughing gas, and how its commonly taken, by breathing it in through balloons – a party item – make it kind of a joke to begin with.

It has been used in dentistry for its analgesic and anxiolytic properties but not much is said of its hallucinogenic or mind expanding properties…

Historical Influence

What is interesting is that it has history and influence with serious thinkers and scholars, most notably the great American philosopher and Harvard psychologist William James, “the Father of American psychology”. James was particularly interested in mystical experiences, investigating them throughout his life, and he experimented with nitrous oxide, as well as others including the more classic psychedelic peyote.

James claimed that whilst under the influence of nitrous, he was finally able to understand the philosophy of the German philosopher Hegel. He went on to do important work in the philosophy of religion and provided a wide-ranging account of The Varieties of Religious Experience in a book of the same name that was based on his lectures.

In the earlier history of nitrous oxide is the British chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davy, who came upon it when investigating surgical gases. Davy gave it the name ‘laughing gas’, because of its effects on him, and was a huge fan, giving demos at the Royal Institution where he would take it himself or give it to others. He openly espoused its enjoyable qualities and introduced it to others, many of whom he converted, including the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

“LIVING MADE EASY” A satirical print from 1830 depicting Humphry Davy administering a dose of laughing gas to a woman

Davy became addicted to nitrous and this does highlight its potential for addiction. The short lasting nature and euphoric and relaxing effects lend itself to this, and its addictive tendencies have gotten it the nickname ‘hippy crack’.

My Experience

Personally, nitrous oxide has been host to some of my most intense and extreme but also revelatory experiences. I have seen scientific truths in incredible detail, seeing how particles form waves, and experienced first hand Relativism, that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference and all concepts, like large and small, for example, are never objective, that they can only be used in relation to something else.

I have found nitrous oxide can be used as an aid on sessions to ‘blast’ through anxiety and ground, dropping in to experience. It can also have this strange way of giving a moment of clarity and almost sobriety in the midst of an LSD trip, giving a frame of reference as to where and how deep you are in the journey.

Nitrous is a potent combinator and has a powerful multiplier and synergistic effect when combined with other psychedelics. When mixed with others, the experience is always more than the sum of its parts. Taking into account its combinations, the variety of experience is amazingly wide. Sometimes I compare it to being dropped into a multi verse roulette; you jump, it will spin you around, and you have no idea where you will land. You might experience being another person in another part of history, before coming back to yourself. 

Short Lasting

When inhaled from a balloon, the effects are very short lasting. The peak rises quickly after about 10-20 seconds, and then the effects gradually fade, retuning to baseline after 60 seconds. As with other short acting psychedelics, its harder to really integrate these experiences and I do wonder about the lasting value of them, as compared to say psilocybin, or LSD, which are less like flashes and when you are submerged in an experience for hours.

Nitrous oxide can be a very unpredictable experience and can be fun, wild, chaotic, and also like a punch in the face.I have been left both blissful and shaken after experiences on both ends of the spectrum of harmony and disorder.  Still, I would like to see some research done on it as I find it to be a fascinating substance with possibly untapped potential. I suspect its ability to dissolve reality and be dropped in to another could probably have some useful and pragmatic application.