Breaking Convention by David Luke

Publication Details

    Breaking Convention: Essays on Psychedelic Consciousness by Various (ed. David Luke)
  • Author: David Luke (Editor)
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books
  • Format: Paperback


From 1st to 3rd of April 2011, over 80 speakers and 600 delegates from 30 countries met in Canterbury, United Kingdom to witness the first conference of its type held in the UK.

The main subject of this ground-breaking event was the effects of changes to human consciousness as a result of the ingestion of psychedelics.

Also under consideration that weekend were the broader social, scientific, spiritual and artistic implications of entheogens throughout the world.

Over the course of the weekend, a variety of experts from their chosen fields were invited to present a short lecture outlining their particular interest in the sacred, ritualistic, cultural and solitary use of a wide variety of mind-altering substances.

Breaking Convention: A Multidisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness was the title given to the gathering from which this book, Breaking Convention: Essays on Psychedelic Consciousness was derived.

The book is a collection of short lecture notes that were presented at the 2011 conference. Contained within its pages are 21 different styles of research into the subject and offered by many of the World’s top researchers into hallucinogens.

Contributors to this book include prominent members of health organizations, clinical and educational psychotherapists, sociologists, anthropologists, ethnobotanists, psychiatrists, religious and English language professionals.

The research papers break down into roughly the following areas: archeology, history, literature, philosophy, medicine, psychology, parapsychology, anthropology, law and politics.

They are presented in no particular order but they do flow from consideration of the use of psychedelic substances in early Neolithic man through to their connections with current ideas on Mysticism.

The papers deal with such subjects as:

  • The early development of Nitrous Oxide
  • LSD research at Porton Down
  • The history of Ayahuasca in Europe
  • Research into the effects of MDMA
  • Insights into the use of ‘herbs’ in Rastafarianism.

As you might expect from scientific papers of this quality, each essay includes a full reference section for any further research you might want to follow up on.

The book contains a small number of illustrations but no index.


Today, while standing in a queue at my local corner shop and wondering how best to sum up my review of this book, I saw three people in front of me, waiting to pay for their goods.

The first person, a rather dishevelled-looking older man, purchased a large canister of cheap alcoholic drink. The second, a middle-aged, slightly nervous woman, bought a packet of cigarettes whilst the last one, a small child of perhaps eight or nine years, handed over a pocketful of small change for a handful of cheap and very sugary sweets.

Try telling me that we do not all live in a drug-enhanced reality!

The question at hand here is how, as a society, do we deal with those non-socially acceptable drugs? Substances which induce deep states of alternative and consensus-challenging reality.

Breaking Convention seeks to present a more balanced and articulate idea about psychedelics than those who form pivotal roles in the so-called War on Drugs (which, much like wars of any other type, only strengthens their opposition).

These different perspectives are offered by some seriously impressive and highly-educated researchers. Just the list of professional qualifications held by them is impressive enough!

However, what is most extra-ordinary about this work is the immense diversity of those professions and the subjects researched.

It seems, finally, that the widespread use of psychedelics gripping all societies around the World today is attracting the attention of a much broader stream of society than those who are simply using them for recreational pleasure.

Their researches show that most of today’s modern substances either form part of a historical context, such as in the case of natural substances like Ayahuasca and Cannabis, or in the example of non-organic, chemical substances, like those based upon MDMA or LSD, to be a part of a very modern, and some would say, timely, context.

Breaking Convention reveals so many diverse elements to entheogens and their use that one is almost convinced that their widespread use and application in our society would be a good thing.

Of course, it wouldn’t for, like the contents of this book, the proper use of mind-altering substances requires a mature and stable mind for the user to remain safe.

All the same, this book does a majestic job at lifting the lid regarding prior misconceptions surrounding drug use. Each paper is expertly written and fascinating in its own regard but some stick out as being particularly pieces of investigative work.

From the historical basis of hallucinogenic drug use as a precursor to our modern religious systems to the modern development of LSD in England during the late 1950s and 1960s, each investigation by its relevant authority is truly fascinating and deeply engrossing from a historical as well as sociological point of view..

As one reaches the conclusion of this publication, It is interesting to reflect upon the fact that it tends to mirror the West’s current cultural use of hallucinogenic substances. It has a clear emphasis on MDMA and Ayahuasca use and excludes other important substances, such as the psilocybin family of plants, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’, whose popularity and use characterised the early 2000s.

Their lack of inclusion is rather an omission and, given the close ties between magic mushrooms, the Christian Church and fly agaric in particular, the book did produce a few glaring holes in its coverage of the subject.

Despite this, the book does cover a massively complex and extensive terrain very successfully. Its editing and publication is an impressive achievement and reflects the amount of organization, co-ordination and planning that the 2011 conference must have required.

The book stands on the threshold of major changes in our understanding of human consciousness, spirituality and sacred drug use. In this regard, it undoubtedly offers its reader an important bridge to a land where these delicate subjects can be more openly and maturely discussed.

On the subject of sacred, ritual and sociological psychedelic use, Breaking Convention is without parallel in its depth of vision and focus on the subject. It is a fascinating read which we recommend unreservedly.



Credit: Review copy kindly supplied by North Atlantic Books.