Title: The Essential Psychedelic Guide
Author: D.M. Turner
Source: Review by JF
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.