Book Review - Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal by Tom Shroder


I originally discovered this (then-unpublished) book in an email from MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) that was requesting support for the Legalizing Psychedelic Therapy campaign on Indiegogo. Being a supporter of MAPS' efforts and intrigued by the book's premise, I jumped on the opportunity to donate right away.

The book came in the mail just before I had the opportunity to see author Tom Shroder and one of the main characters in the book, Nicholas Blackston, speak at the 2014 Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference in New York City. I was moved by their presentation and looked forward to reading the book, although I wasn't able to make time to read it until this month.

Shroder is an editor at The Washington Post Magazine, an acclaimed journalist, and the author of Old Souls. As a fellow writer, I look up to him although I was previously unfamiliar with his work prior to this book. Acid Test weaves several non-fiction narratives together into a page-turner tale that includes a fairly in-depth history of psychedelic research, explores some of the various characters in the psychedelic community, and describes the current state of psychedelic research with a focus on MDMA-(also known by its street name "Ecstasy") assisted psychotherapeutic treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I was familiar with many of the characters in the book. These include (but are not limited to) Rick Doblin, the founder of MAPS, Michael Mithoefer, a former emergency room physician-turned psychiatrist at the forefront of modern psychedelic therapy, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who first synthesized LSD in 1938, and Stanislav Grof, the creator of Holotropic Breathwork therapy. However, I wasn't familiar with the story of former Marine Nicholas Blackston.

Before I began the book, I thought I would be more interested in the descriptions of psychedelic research and its various characters, but as I continued to read on and on, the story that really pulled me in and kept me coming back was Blackston's. As a former Marine, Blackston witnessed horrors in war that most of us cannot fathom, and when he returned stateside he was tortured from the inside-out by reoccurring nightmares, uncontrollable flashback hallucinations, a temper with an increasingly short fuse, and physical pain from shrapnel wounds acquired during his combat missions.

Blackston ended up being one of the lucky ones, however. Compared to the majority of our returned military personnel who are currently suffering tremendously from PTSD, he was fortunate enough to seek and receive help from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and has experienced many positive results from his treatment. Although his PTSD is not completely gone, it is greatly diminished due to the healing power of MDMA and the wisdom of his experienced therapeutic guides. Acid Test argues that our veterans deserve the right to receive reliable and effective treatment, rather than the typical, dangerous, and fruitless hodgepodge of pharmaceutical drugs that they receive from traditional sources of help like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

MAPS is on track to reach its goal of legalizing MDMA by 2021, and books like Acid Test go a long way toward supporting that effort. As a person who is well-educated on the psychedelic research side of the book, I can vouch that it is well-researched and presented in an easy-to-understand manner. The personal stories that make up the book make for a fascinating and personal reading experience, and I hope that the message continues to reach as many people as possible.

5/5 stars. 426 pages.