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Hallucinogens: A Reader
by Charles S. Grob (ed.)
Publisher:
Tarcher / Putnam 
Year:
2002 
ISBN:
1585421669 
Reviewed by Mason, 7/21/2005

I was introduced to psychedelics well into graduate school in chemistry and sometime after I had already formed my present spiritual view, so it came as quite a relief to find that these substances were so well able to help me bridge the gap between the science that I’d been trained in, and my spiritual views which often resisted any experimental treatment. Hallucinogens: A Reader, a new anthology edited by Charles S. Grob, M.D., in places considers that view. But it also looks at psychedelics in society, how we as a society view drugs, alternating between information that would be useful for a novice tripper, arguments that more experienced trippers might use to convince their parents that drugs really have some benefits, and scientific discussions on the utility of drugs. Featured authors include Andrew Weil, Terence McKenna, Huston Smith, Albert Hofmann, Ralph Metzner, and others.


In the introduction to this book, Grob briefly describes Timothy Leary’s very public relationship with drugs and the way in which that relationship in part, he asserts, brought about, or at least hastened the war on drugs. He also describes Aldous Huxley’s more quiet approach to the use of psychedelics as a tool to transform society as well as the visit that Huxley paid to Leary in an attempt to convince him to work more quietly with these substances. Grob uses these two men as an analogy for ways in which drugs are used in our society; he discusses the use of drugs in religious settings or for psychological purposes on the one hand, and the abuse of drugs by “immature individuals” on the other. The message he then tries to drive home is that by making our society more accepting of drugs, we can obtain the many spiritual and medical benefits they have to offer as well as being more able to confront the problem of abuse.


“Using Psychedelics Wisely” by Myron Stolaroff should be required reading for first time trippers. It is, in ten short pages, a distilled version of everything I wish I had known before the first time I placed blotter on my tongue. He defines set and setting and gives advice on how to make the best of those. His suggestion of a sitter or guide as a key element of a good set and setting may strike one as obvious unless, perhaps, your youth was spent without one, eating drugs playing in traffic, cutting your hair, and calling your mom collect. Perhaps less obvious is his discussion on the motivation to seek knowledge and to continue to focus one’s goals for self improvement, and to share this growth with others, in order to have the most rewarding experience.


Rick Strassman’s essay “Sitting for Sessions: Dharma & DMT Research” is a fascinating look at the blending of scientific study – the intravenous administration of DMT in a hospital setting – with the Buddhist belief-system of Dr. Strassman and some of his study volunteers. In this vein, he delves into the issue of the similarities between psychedelic and mystical experiences. He briefly looks at the old idea that the soul is some how connected to the body by way of the pineal gland, postulating that “The wisdom of the psychedelic experience, without the accompanying and necessary love and compassion cultivated in daily practice, may otherwise be frittered away in an excess of narcissism and self-indulgence.”


Jeremy Narby discusses the trip that three molecular biologists took to the Peruvian Amazon in an attempt to use ayahuasca to help answer scientific questions that were on their minds. One American biologist working on the human genome had found a particular, structurally unique DNA sequence to be present in near sixty percent of all human genes. After ingesting the ayahuasca she found herself flying over these DNA structures and viewing them as if she were a protein. She realized in this vision that these structures acted as “landing pads” for transcriptional proteins. This idea had not occurred to her before and she knew now that she could verify this vision in her genomic research. I suspect that just about everyone who has ingested hallucinogenic substances a few times has tried to use it to answer questions with various success. This essay is most interesting in that it presents a very clear, and scientifically verifiably example; however, it disappoints in that the author fails to provide us with any follow up on the scientific verification of the question.


This book is filled with some very good essays which resonate strongly with me (as well as a few which fail to resonate with me) and is in part an enjoyable read. It suffers from the problem which I think many books on so broad a topic as hallucinogens suffer: lack of focus. One theme that can be extracted from this text is that hallucinogens when treated with respect and care have a great deal to offer to society. Perhaps another is that science, religion, and spirituality are not mutually exclusive and can, in fact, inform one another, especially with the use of psychedelics as catalysts.

Originally Published In : Trip

2 Comments »

  1. Pretty mediocre is the only way I can really describe this book. Almost every essay in the book I’ve read/heard before in one way or another.

    Jaremy Narby’s ayahuasca experiences and his thoughts on the “cosmic serpent” and DNA can be found in The Cosmic Serpent. Leary’s “Good Friday Experiment” can be in many of his books and countless other works. Rick Strassman’s scientific experiments with DMT can be found in DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Andrew Weil’s musings can be found in The Natural Mind and Chocolate to Morphine and several other of his books. Etc,etc,etc….

    It’s not a bad book per say, it’s just that anyone familar with the psychedelic literature has probably heard everything in greater detail before. I can’t really think of anything new and interesting I learned that I haven’t read in non condensed version.

    You may be saying to yourself “Hey,not everyone knows this stuff. People aren’t born with an innate knowledge of this crap you know.” And you would be right. However, I think a lot of this information is over the head of the “noobie”. Therein lies the problem. There isn’t a demographic I can really think of that would get any benefit they couldn’t from better books.

    Comment by monoamine — 11/8/2005 @ 6:47 pm

  2. Pretty mediocre is the only way I can really describe this book. Almost every essay in the book I’ve read/heard before in one way or another.

    Jaremy Narby’s ayahuasca experiences and his thoughts on the “cosmic serpent” and DNA can be found in The Cosmic Serpent. Leary’s “Good Friday Experiment” can be in many of his books and countless other works. Rick Strassman’s scientific experiments with DMT can be found in DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Andrew Weil’s musings can be found in The Natural Mind and Chocolate to Morphine and several other of his books. Etc,etc,etc….

    It’s not a bad book per say, it’s just that anyone familar with the psychedelic literature has probably heard everything in greater detail before. I can’t really think of anything new and interesting I learned that I haven’t read in non condensed version.

    You may be saying to yourself “Hey,not everyone knows this stuff. People aren’t born with an innate knowledge of this crap you know.” And you would be right. However, I think a lot of this information is over the head of the “noobie”. Therein lies the problem. There isn’t a demographic I can really think of that would get any benefit they couldn’t from better books.

    Comment by monoamine — 11/8/2005 @ 6:57 pm

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