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Full Review
The Essential Psychedelic Guide
by D.M. Turner
Panther Press 
Book Reviews
Reviewed by JF, 6/24/2001

D. M. Turner’s The Essential Psychedelic Guide is often touted as the premier guide for the advanced psychonaut. Trey’s review for the Lycaeum, for example, is certainly enthusiastic enough in its praise. I, however, object to the tone of Turner’s accounts of his hyperspatial wanderings, and I find their implicit intent to be exactly the opposite of what responsible users should encourage in others and cultivate in themselves. Accordingly, I would like to provide a rather more critical counterpoint to the accolades “The Essential Psychedelic Guide” has received.

Turner’s slim volume is not entirely without its merits. Foremost among these is the extremely personal nature of the narrative. Though the author prudently conceals himself behind a cleverly chosen pseudonym, his personality and individuality are fortunately not similarly hidden. He does not pretend to present anything more than his own experiences and insights, which, at their best, need no adornment. Turner also recognizes the limitations of objectivity, particularly when self-experimenting with such powerful plants and chemicals. Whatever science can teach us about psychedelics (and it has already taught us an incalculable amount), it does not currently supply the best guise in which to present Turner’s investigation. Thus Turner’s book does not suffer for the fact that he makes little attempt to corroborate his views. Nevertheless his differentiation between the effects of LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline mirrors the experiences of most people with this trio of psychedelics, including myself, while mostly avoiding digressions into the implausible and unverifiable. The ability to accurately make subjective distinctions such as these should not be undervalued, especially since it is claimed that these substances cannot be distinguished under controlled conditions.

But the personal, even idiosyncratic nature of “The Essential Psychedelic Guide” is a double-edged sword. Turner’s style occasionally degenerates from the agreeably informal to the inappropriately casual; his writing can be irritatingly clumsy and is rife with minor errors in grammar and usage. Turner also lets certain annoyingly persistent prejudices creep into his book without adequate explanation or discussion: “Natural” psychedelics differ fundamentally from “synthetic” ones. Psychedelics are the sine qua non of human consciousness and spiritual life. “The Man” and his underlings conspire to suppress psychedelics and those who use them. Psychedelics are the key to the future. And so on.

These are, on the whole, relatively minor complaints. More problematic is Turner’s uncritical acceptance of the value of the psychedelic experience itself. He states frequently that psychedelics have helped him improve his life, but provides few details. I would take Turner on faith for the sake of his anonymity were claims like this not a recurrent problem. One of the more seductive and subtly addicting effects of psychedelic drugs is their ability to fill one with a sense of profound meaningfulness without necessarily providing access to meaning itself; many who experience the psychedelic state feel forever changed, yet rapidly sink back into the grooves of their prior life. I fear this has happened to Turner despite his beliefs to the contrary. But nowhere is Turner’s approach to psychedelic drugs more disturbing than his chapter on multiple combinations. I can only speculate as to why he feels it necessary to use such bizarre, and, to this reviewer, excessive drug cocktails. I conclude, however, that it is more a product of boredom and a desire to impress his readership than any quest for self-improvement and spiritual growth. And if it is sheer intensity of experience that one seeks, there are much simpler ways to achieve a level 5 trip. If no one but Turner has tried mushrooms + syrian rue + DMT + nitrous oxide + ketamine, it is because there is simply no need. What the multiple combinations chapter reveals most starkly, and the rest of “The Essential Psychedelic Guide” supports is this: Turner is addicted to the psychedelic experience—the beautiful visuals, the head trip, the sense exploring a fantastic new world. He seeks new ways to “get off,” not because they are better, but simply because they are different. When Turner mentions the “clear light of reality,” one has the impression he conceives of it as just another interesting visual and has, wilfully or not, ignored the true significance of this important Buddhist concept. He treats the drug as an end, not a means.

For better or worse, Turner faithfully espouses the currently fashionable psychedelic paradigm. (He does not, however, define it. That honor belongs to Terence McKenna, whose ideas are referred to by Turner throughout.) But the experienced psychonaut should work on actually uncovering the reality that psychedelic experiences allow us merely to glimpse rather than simply seeking strange new drug combinations out of a self-indulgent desire for novelty, as Turner is evidently content to do.

Postscript: Soon after I wrote this review, I learned of D. M. Turner’s untimely ketamine-related death. In light of this, my admonition to refrain from rushing in, as Turner sometimes did, where angels fear to tread, is now more imperative than ever; it is truly sad that this lesson was made evident in a manner so tragic and shocking. The psychedelic community has indeed lost a valued figure, unique and colorful even in his anonynimity.


  1. An extremely interesting yet ultimately impractical book…

    Turner seems to present the book as a sort of “trip manual” ,but in agreement with the above review, I think some of psychedelic voyages seem to be irresponsible and even reckless at times. I understand that everyone is unique in how they are affected by these chemicals,but some of the drug combos and doses are just insane. Turner claims that his trips are not just hedonistic and that these chemicals have vastly improved his life over the long run,and I don’t doubt there was probably some truth to that (to be fair I know nothing about the man,so I can’t presume to judge him),but some of the things he does seem to be soley out of pure novelety with no desire for any kind of spiritual fufillment or anything of the sort,which runs contrary to his claims. (He states over and over that psychedelics have provided him with real growth and invaluable spiritual gains,but he provides little details to back this up.)
    I’d also like to point some annoying biases that creep up in the book. For example, natural psychedelics differ fundamentaly from synthetic ones.He states that the mushroom and cacti “spirits” do not like being intruded upon by Frankenstein molecules such as ketamine and the resulting experiences are undesiarble. I don’t know for sure,but the more rational side of me thinks that perhaps certain drug combos just don’t mix well from a neuropharmacological standpoint,and one does not need to resort to flaky new age attempts to explain them. His chapter about DMT and water about how the “DMT spirit” and the “water spirit” compliment each other also seems pretty wacky and a product of wishful thinking to this reviewer. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was presented as purely subjective,but Turner seems to go out of his way to rationalize it with logical reasoning,and suffice to say,it doesn’t work.

    All things considered,the book is not a total bust,however. The author seems to be gifted in describing the ineffable. The “trip reports” are very entertaining and are almost worth the ticket price alone. This is the book’s main strength. Turner seems to realize the total subjective nature of these experiences and doesn’t even attempt to rationalize them (for the most part anyway). While no words can ever capture a profound psychedelic voyage,reading Turner’s experiences can provide the moderately experienced psychonaut with some useful information about more “exotic” substances. For the sake of your health and well being, just don’t follow his advice without some serious critical thinking of your own. Turner readily admits to being a “hardhead” and needing larger doses than most people,and as has been mentioned previously, some of his dosages and drug combos can be extreme.

    Recommended for curiosity and novelety’s sake,but that’s about it. Read it online through the “Erowid Library” links if it seems to interest you (good luck finding a copy of this out of print book anyway)

    Comment by monoamine — 11/27/2005 @ 2:16 am

  2. I found this book most useful in my early 20’s when I was ‘candyflipping’ every weekend and getting stoned everyday. In reading the above reviews I, I think they have missed the point of the book. “Turner’s style occasionally degenerates from the agreeably informal to the inappropriately casual; his writing can be irritatingly clumsy and is rife with minor errors in grammar and usage…” This is not fine literature, duh. It is a user’s guide written from the perpsective of an experienced psychonaut for those interested in the world of psychedelics. Psychedelics are potent, powerful tools for opening us up to ourselves and the universe. They are not to be taken lightly and this book is very clear on this. I have my own personal accounts of taking lightly the ingestion of sacred mushrooms and because of this I concur with Turner’s idea of a residing spirit in these plants and substances. To try to put my psychedelic revelations into words would be pointless. It just ‘is’.

    I knew DM Turner. He and I had many profound journey’s together. We called him ‘Inner’ because of the pen name he gave himself before settling on ‘DM Turner’. ‘The Inner Astronaut’. He pushed his nervous system to the brink time and time again, coming back to give us a glimpse into that world that we might just be a little afraid to enter ourselves. This book did not encourage any irresponsible drug use in me. Quite the opposite. I was informed with good, first hand information to make good choices. He was a seeker just as I am. He just dared to do things most of us would not. He was a Shaman. This was his contribution to mankind.

    Comment by Mindy — 11/15/2007 @ 4:16 pm

  3. D.M. Turner was a fearless pioneer of entheogen use. Now, what is the definition of a pioneer? He’s the dead one with the (ketamine) arrow in his back! Human societies have always had the occasional rare individual who will fearlessly expand the known boundaries of our knowledge, whether they be mariners like Columbus traveling towards the edge of the world or psychonauts like Turner tripping into new realms of consciousness. Their lack of fear is not good for their own longevity but it is vital for our species survival and we should recognize this. Rather than criticize them, or apply our prudent values to their actions, we need to accept them for who they are. So, Mr. Turner, I say to you, “Thanks, dude! Better than you than me!”

    Comment by Markus — 5/3/2010 @ 1:25 pm

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