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Full Review
Psychedelic Chemistry
by Michael Valentine Smith
Loompanics Unlimited 
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Merlyn, 12/8/2005

Psychedelic Chemistry has been a long standing favorite, a must for every clandestine chemist’s bookshelf for decades. It was first published in the seventies, with the most recent edition appearing in 1981. While a lot has transpired in psychoactive chemistry since then, with PIHKAL and TIHKAL taking notable preeminence among such books, Michael Valentine Smith’s Psychedelic Chemistry nevertheless towers over chemical claptrap rag publication such as Basic Drug Manufacturers Handbook. It’s an absolute must have, a necessary companion piece to even the forementioned PIHKAL & TIHKAL .

In days of yore, Psychedelic Chemistry was the bible of synthesis. Your humble reviewer religiously followed Valentine’s preparations with success, as no doubt many others did. It was the authoritative source for information and even today stands up to contemporary standards. The simple reason is this, to date, no other book contains the original citations to the syntheses described therein. No other work gives the chemist the original references to the actual chemical journals, such as the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Beilstein, Organic Synthesis – all of which are the actual published articles as reported by chemical researchers. This allows you to track down the original sources for the methods used and get the necessary details, at least for most of the preps depending on which journal and how long ago – yes, even chemists get sloppy or won’t divulge all their secrets and/or details. But like any other decent chemical cookbook, it is always assumed the reader is a trained, degreed chemist, experienced in synthetic methods, chemical handling, hazards, disposal, etc. You could kill, hurt or maim yourself and others if you play around without the proper training, equipment, facilities, reagents, etc.

That said, Valentine’s work includes many favorites, including tryptamines (DMT, DET, pscilocin, etc.), mescaline and psychoactive amphetamines such as MDA, MDMA, TMA and so on. But what sets it apart are the exotics, such as the beta carbolines, muscimole and isoxazoles, as well as “miscellaneous psychedelics”– if you need to know what those are, you shouldn’t be reading this anyway! It even contains cocaine preps, which almost no one can do, so don’t get excited – otherwise coca wouldn’t be the national cash crop for so many third world nations.

Beyond chemistry, Valentine discusses such topics as underground labs, the role of the DEA in lab busts, how to avoid a bust, etc. In my opinion, he doesn’t go nearly far enough in those matters; one could write a book on those subjects alone, but at least it’s more than any other cookbook offers. It even has a few neat pictures, though most of the DEA lab bust pictures are crusty old photos the DEA has flaunted for quite some time.

Whether you having a passing interest in psychedelics, you’re a practitioner of the craft or a want-to-be, this book is a definitive classic that’s worth the money. (Hey Michael, a new edition would be well received!)


  1. The chemistry is largely sound, but totally lacking detail. Even a skilled chemist will need to source the original papers in most cases. It is also totally outdated and hence none of the reagents he lists are really accessible to anyone these days. Only someone in a fully stocked University lab with access to all the locked store rooms will be able to make any use of the book. It does present a nice historical perspective of how drugs were made in the 70’s and 80’s and how many of them would be made if they were available in pharmacies today.

    I found the book interesting because I did a lot of research into contaminants of street drugs. Looking at recipes can for example help to explain why in the 80’s and early 90’s most ecstacy was contaminated with about 15-25% of MDA, while this is almost unheard of these days. Jeez, I miss MDA ;)

    Overall for the modern OTC clandestine chemist I’d say the book is a waste of money. The book annoys the hell out of me and I’d hate to see it getting an undeserved positive review.

    Comment by Anonymous — 12/13/2005 @ 9:57 am

  2. I remember back when I was a regular visitor to The Hive, the general feeling there was that the book was mostly good but that it was outdated. The problem is that for clandestine chemistry, being out of date means the solvents and reagents described are probably impossible to come by.

    Comment by anon — 12/13/2005 @ 2:55 pm

  3. The two previous comments were right on the money. This book does not deserve a positive review unless your reading it solely because you’re interested in archiac and inaccurate and functional usely organic chemistry. Spend your money on Strike’s “Total Synthesis”

    Comment by Eli Cates — 12/27/2005 @ 3:39 pm

  4. Anyone considering the content of this book should also read Yogi Shan’s short review of it here:

    Yogi tells of “two known serious mistakes… with possibly
    unfortunate results”, among other things.

    Comment by Embroglio — 12/29/2005 @ 9:45 pm

  5. It is now 2009. Why is LSD still illegal?

    Comment by Roger — 4/3/2009 @ 10:06 pm

  6. The author of this book wanted to pass on knowledge about Psychedelics, but, he was not a chemist and I don’t believe that he tried to re synthesize anything. To me, he seems like an English major that read all the published papers of the chemists that first synthesized the substances. So, there is a lot of information, but, I don’t think it is a good stand alone book to re discover the chemistry of the chemicals. I have taken a handful of chemistry classes, but, I am not a chemist and If I quickly read the scientific journals and tried to condense and spit it out into a book, this book is what you would get, Vs Alexander Shulgin that actually read the journals and then physically tried to re replicate the journals, then wrote about what happened. I am happy and thankful for the work of Smith, but, because he never tried to create the substances, his recopies are lacking the understanding that is needed to re replicate the experiments. But, this book sources the material well and gives the reader the ability to go to the books and journals yourself, so, use this book to point you into other directions. Maybe Alexander Shulgin could use this book as a stand alone book to re create chemicals, but not me.

    Comment by ERIC Blust — 3/31/2017 @ 9:17 am

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