Reading provides the ultimate escape to a new dimension. Immersing yourself in a good book can feel like entering another world. When mind-altering drugs are also a part of the narrative, that world can be discombobulating and all-encompassing in the best way possible. Here are five books surrounding drug use that are guaranteed to transport your mind to a higher place.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson
You guessed it! It would be considered an injustice not to mention Hunter S. Thompson’s magnum opus, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This semi-autobiographical novel follows a road trip that takes place over a weekend, as Raoul Duke (a version of Thompson) and his attorney Dr Gonzo (Oscar Zeta Acosta) engage in drug-fuelled debauchery. It is a comedic and hallucinatory tale that intoxicates you simply with words, mimicking and describing the mind-bending effects of LSD and other drugs. Though don’t be fooled, it’s not simply a story about recreational drug use, it also provides an intriguing insight into the so-called ‘American dream’.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) by Ottessa Moshfegh
This witty and darkly comic novel tells the story of a beautiful and privileged young woman in New York at the turn of the millennium. Recently orphaned and fed up with her life, she embarks on a personal project to sleep for an entire year. She relies on a cocktail of prescription drugs to carry out her plan, including the fictional ‘infermiterol’, a drug rendering her completely unaware of her bizarre actions when intoxicated. Both the unnamed narrator and we as readers are left to piece together the fallout when she regains consciousness at various intervals. Despite the protagonist spending most of her time asleep, this book is anything but boring, and provides a satirical look at privilege and pseudo ‘self-care’.
Narcopolis (2011) by Jeet Thayil
Indian novelist and poet Jeet Thayil’s debut book is set in 1970s Old Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and chronicles the decline of opium and the emergence of heroin over the next thirty years. This hazy novel has a cast of fascinating characters; sex workers, drug den owners and Dimple, a hijra (a term in India and other South Asian countries that legally recognises a third gender outside of a cisgender identity.) Thayil’s book gives a voice to the marginalised and displays the effects of chronic drug abuse on the city, with his own twenty-year battle with addiction providing an authentic and informed portrayal of drug use in literature. Part of the narrative is even told from the perspective of an opium pipe – need I say more?
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) by Tom Wolfe
It is well documented that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey was an avid psychedelic taker. He even volunteered to be a human guinea pig in a CIA-funded project that studied the effects of mind-expanding drugs on humans. He was also renowned for handing out LSD at parties and travelling in a psychedelic-painted school bus with his gang of ‘Merry Pranksters’. Tom Wolfe’s non-fiction novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test details Kesey’s various adventures during the emerging psychedelic movement in the 1960s. and makes for an extremely colourful read. It has often been described as a truly great depiction of the growth of the hippie movement; a must-read for any hallucinogenic enthusiast and self-proclaimed hippy.
The Doors of Perception (1954) by Aldous Huxley
This autobiographical book chronicles Aldous Huxley’s own experience taking mescaline for the first time, as he ponders why people take drugs and the effects they have both visually and spiritually on an individual. He describes his visions in great detail, which is particularly interesting seeing as there is much speculation that Huxley himself was almost blind.
His writing is philosophical and can at times be very word-dense, but for an avid reader with an interest in hallucinogens, this is the book for you. In his essay Heaven and Hell he elaborates further on his musings.