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Four Famous Books About Altered States

Updated on July 18, 2014

First-Hand Experiences of Altered States

Illicit substances have always been a hot, controversial topic. The war on drugs. teenage experimentation and drug-fueled rituals and experiences aren't as new as we might think. Long before the rave scene, the party craze of the 1980s or the smoking VW buses of the 1960s, people we talking about drugs and their personal experiences with them.

These tales aren't just valuable to those who love a good story or a bit of fantasy with out recreating themselves. These books have been studied by doctors, psychologists, mental health professionals and addiction experts because they provide such a lurid behind-the-scenes look at the complete experience shared by those who have achieved altered states and even overcome addiction. For the rest of us, these taboo treats offer a crazy ride on the wild side. Who can pass that up?

*Intro Photo courtesy of Zbigniew Lubicz-Miszewski through a A Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

1. Carlos Casteneda - Life Lessions with a Side of Peyote

Published in 1968, "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge" explores a metaphysical side of drug use that involves deep preparation and mysterious rituals. This marvelous story captures a complete spiritual journey based on Indian traditions that have great cultural and anthropological significance. The pace of Don Juan's teachings is slow and methodical yet the pages fly--as fast as the crow that our hero Carlos Castaneda embodies during powerful rituals involving, poisonous datura, mushrooms, mescalito and peyote, the drug that Castaneda sets out to understand and study.

As an anthropology student at UCLA in 1960, Castaneda has a down-to-earth, semi-scientific approach that is fascinating and alluring. He learns something about these psychoactive plants, but he learns much more about life.

Why You'll Love It: It's a magical, wonderfully written book. You'll feel like your learning a life-changing secret as you read this surrealistic, yet hyper-real story. Simplicity is the real secret, as you'll discover.

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Carlos Castaneda has written a pile of other books, that I haven't read, but I can completely endorse this book. It's an incomparable, well-presented story that you can enjoy again and again. I promise.


This is a must-read for fans of pop-culture, counterculture, history, hippies and everything 1960s. Penned by super-charged journalist and writer Tom Wolfe, this vivid, mind-bending tale of a cross-country trip on LSD is a superb introduction to and an example of stream of consciousnesses writing, which flows and flows like a drug-induced rap, an endless conversation with the self, the audience and the atmosphere.

The now infamous group known as the Merry Pranksters is portrayed in stark nudity, sometimes literally. Using an endless collection of tapes, letters and first-hand accounts, Wolfe reassembles and retells an impossible cross-country journey completed in one psychedelic school bus. Beginning in the California mountains at La Honda, the famous ranch of the singular Ken Kesey, the story follows the adventures of the Merry Pranksters as they get into trouble on the West Coast, travel across the country is a tripped-out school bus and arrive on the pastoral East Coast only to be met by the uptight, wet-blanket LSD researchers linked to the area's ivy-covered colleges. There are arrests, wild parties, concerts, orgies involving the Hells Angles and plenty of acid.

Why You'll Love It: EKAT is a cultural time capsule of another place and a totally different time. Tom Wolfe's adroit writing is exceptional and laced with vocabulary words. So, are you on the bus?

Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel through a A Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike License.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

From a California commune to an East Coast estate, this rambling non-fiction book reveals both sides of the acid era. There's the famous author Ken Kesey, who's arrested on drug charges, Jerry Garcia's future wife "Mountain Girl," and a host of crazy characters like the Intrepid Traveler, Gretchen Fetchin, aka, Slime Queen and oh so many others.


3. Confessions of An English Opium-Eater - Confessions that you can eat up!

shepherd's dream
shepherd's dream

Confessions. So many books start with that word. What you might not know is that they stole it. That's right. "Confessions of a Bartender," "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and even "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" owe their titles to Thomas De Quincey. Okay, there may have been another book before him, but he's the original confessor.

De Quincey was a well-off student par-excellence who escaped his middle-class fate and struck out on his own. Months of starving left him with extraordinary pain and gastrointestinal issues requiring a bit of self-medicating. Our dear author with a prolific, not well compensated writer and a lover of books, like thousands of books practically holding the ceiling up. In addition to his life-long fling with poppy juice, De Quincey had many other fascinating experiences. Some of the most iconic passages are his exotic dreams of imaginary, fantastic lands that occurred while experiencing altered states. In addition to his first-hand biography-style story, he provides the reader with a real-time experience of his adventures. These controversial stories were originally written as an essay for a serial publication in the early 1800s. Confessions is the first book, however, there are two more follow ups that are surely equally interesting. Just haven't read them yet!

Why You'll Love It: Confessions is one of the most historic books on this controversial subject. In addition to the lurid, drug-induced moments and crazy stories of his life, De Quincey frequently interacts with the great poets and writers of the time. He's a real, incorrigible wit and an unusual hero who is easy to become attached to.

Photo courtesy of The Tate Museum Britainby public domain. Image is "A Shepherd's Dream from Paradise Lost by Johann Heinrich Fussli.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Confessions of an English Opium Eater

This fantastic true-life tale is a real warts-and-all telling of drugs, life, writing, addiction and so much more.


Vocabulary Words From Thomas De Quincey

It seems I through I haven't looked up the definitions for these yet, but I will! De Quincey was a phenomenal Greek and Latin scholar, so he really knows his words and isn't afraid to use them, particularly familiar words with other definition that are older or more true to the root. From his first book, I gathered 52 words that I couldn't true define or hadn't even heard of.

abjuration amanuensis apocryphal avers


calumny casuistry chace conciliate concomitant coterie

demir demireps dilatory

emolument entreated epigrams equanimity equipoise evinced



impugn involution

laudable luguriously

maudlin metier militate



palimpsest palliations penitential penury peripatetic pernicious phantasmagoric premptorily preternatural profligary

rend rime rubric

scion solesism spurious sublunary subsumed

tippled torpor


Paradise, passion, purgatory and hell are amply explored in this dark, Gothic-style romance. Author Aleister Crowley is a dark, flawed hero with additive tendencies and occult interests. Written in the first-person, except for one of the middle sections, which is penned by his lover and female companion, this is a raw, first-hand look at the initial pleasures of the powdery white substance followed by the intense pain and suffering brought on by its use, withdrawal and then the recovery. The test is deftly written, the story takes the reader on an endless romp from England through the poshest cities on Europe. Plus, there's a happy ending as the love-struck pair recover.

Why You'll Love It: It's sophisticated, raw, emotional and an exceptionally satisfying read that show you parts of addition that no one wants to mention, and it touches on the hypocrisy of regulating drugs and reaping profits. If drugs aren't taboo enough, the mystical occult is brought to light by King Lamus, who eventually become the couple's savior. I hope I'm not revealing too much now!

P.S. If the historic verbiage of Confessions is too much, this is a much more manageable read!

*Photo courtesy of Flickr User Abode of Chaos through a A Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

The Diary of a Drug Fiend
The Diary of a Drug Fiend

This lush tale takes readers on a terrifying journey through bliss, torture, emotion and recovery in the posh cities of Europe in the early 20th century.


P.S. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed my lens!

Have You Read Any of These Books? - Tell me what you think, and share your other slightly taboo recommendations!

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