Down the Rabbit Hole: A Psychedelic Reading List

Aaron Gilbreath
9 min readOct 7, 2020

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“On psychedelics,” Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, told The New York Times Magazine, “you have an experience in which you feel there is something you are a part of, something else is out there that’s bigger than you, that there is a dazzling unity you belong to, that love is possible and all these realizations are imbued with deep meaning. I’m telling you that you’re not going to forget that six months from now.” That rings true to me.

For the record, I’m not encouraging anyone to take psychedelics. Powerful substances such as LSD, D.M.T., and psilocybin are not for everyone, and they are illegal. That said, these substances behave in the body very different than opioids, alcohol, and cocaine, and they offer what many people view as the possibility for enlightenment, for constructive personal revelations, and insight into the cosmos. The stories collected here offer insight into this idea.

Not long ago, residents of affluent Western countries began traveling to the jungles of South America to have profound psychedelic experiences with the hallucinogen ayahuasca. And workers in Silicon Valley started taking small doses of psilocybin and LSD, called microdoses, to enhance their work and creativity in tech. Tripping got trendy. It also received more scientific attention. As Lauren Slater wrote in her New York Times piece, a new generation of researchers are studying the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances and their potential for treating everything from depression, alcoholism, and PTSD, to confronting our own mortality. These researchers have differentiated themselves from the questionable, Timothy Leary-style drug studies of the ’60s. It’s exciting to live in a time when scientists are taking a serious, objective look at the way psychedelics work on not only the human body, but the human experience. After the legalization of cannabis in many US states, activists are now working to legalize psilocybin mushrooms. Like all outlawed psychoactive substances, psychedelics come with a lot of cultural baggage. As governor of California, Ronald Reagan stated that “anyone that would engage or indulge in [LSD] is just a plain fool.”

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Aaron Gilbreath

Essayist, Journalist, Burritoist. Longreads Editor. Writing: Harper’s, NYT, Slate, Paris Review, VQR, Oxford American, Kenyon Review. 3 nonfiction books.