Psychedelic Outlaws

The Movement Revolutionizing Modern Medicine

New Release


By Joanna Kempner, PhD

Formats and Prices




$41.00 CAD

An award-winning sociologist unearths how a group of ordinary people debilitated by excruciating pain developed their own medicine from home-grown psilocybin mushrooms—crafting near-clinical grade dosing protocols–and fought for recognition in a broken medical system.

Cluster headache, a diagnosis sometimes referred to as a ‘suicide headache,’ is widely considered the most severe pain disorder that humans experience. There is no cure, and little funding available for research into developing treatments.
When Joanna Kempner met Bob Wold in 2012, she was introduced to a world beyond most people's comprehension—a clandestine network determined to find relief using magic mushrooms. These ‘Clusterbusters,’ a group united only by the internet and a desire to survive, decided to do the research that medicine left unfinished. They produced their own psychedelic treatment protocols and managed to get academics at Harvard and Yale to test their results. Along the way, Kempner explores not only the fascinating history and exploding popularity of psychedelic science, but also a regulatory system so repressive that the sick are forced to find their own homegrown remedies, and corporate America and university professors stand to profit from their transgressions.

From the windswept shores of the North Sea through the verdant jungle of Peruvian Amazon to a kitschy underground palace built in a missile silo in Kansas, Psychedelic Outlaws chronicles the rise of psychedelic medicine amid a healthcare system in turmoil. Kempner’s gripping tale of community and resilience brings readers on a eye-opening journey through the politics of pain, through the stories of people desperate enough to defy the law for a moment of relief.


  • "A compelling account of the promise of psychedelic drugs to treat crushing pain. Kempner tells a convoluted story with sympathy and respect, adding her personal experience to solid research."
    Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
  • Psychedelic Outlaws is a deeply absorbing examination of pain and perseverance. Joanna Kempner's investigation into the Clusterbusters, a group of unforgettable characters caught in the crosshairs of politics and medicine, is an ode to self-experimentation that manages to be as clear-eyed as it is moving.”
    Susannah Cahalan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire and The Great Pretender
  • “A very readable and well researched account of the emerging role of psychedelics in the treatment of cluster headaches. This book is more than a narrative of individuals in pain, for it also describes the history of research on psychedelics as well as raising important issues about the racist and politicized anti-drug policies that did—and still do—limit effective research and roll out of these novel treatments.”
    Professor David Nutt, neuropsychopharmacologist and author of Psychedelics, Drink?, and Drugs without the Hot Air
  • “There are fascinating untold stories about the ways patients with diseases neglected by mainstream medicine have formed vibrant online communities that uncover and share valuable biomedical knowledge. Psychedelic Outlaws tells one such story—one that has lessons not only for the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain but also all of us interested in the cultural, political, and economic factors that affect how scientific knowledge is produced.”
    Maya Dusenbery, journalist and author of Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick
  • “Kempner tells a sobering, disturbing, encouraging, and uplifting story of the bravest people I have ever known. Told beautifully and objectively, the story of their courage, their determination, and their success helping each other alleviate their pain reminds all of us of what being truly human can be.”
    James Fadiman, PhD, microdose researcher and author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys
  • “Psychedelic Outlaws is an inspiring chronicle of citizen scientists and doctors who worked to bring hope, understanding, and effective treatments to those with cluster headache. Patients are the heroes of this story, and their triumph against the odds is a heartwarming tale. All will benefit from—and enjoy—this deeply researched and well-written account of a compelling chapter of headache medicine history.”
    Elizabeth Loder, MD, MPH, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Migraine Solution

On Sale
Jun 4, 2024
Page Count
384 pages
Hachette Books

Joanna Kempner, PhD

About the Author

Joanna Kempner, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers, writes, researches, and teaches at the intersections of science, medicine, and inequality. Kempner’s attention to overlooked problems in health and illness challenges how medicine talks about, understands, and makes policies for those it serves. Her research is often featured in policy debates and has been extensively covered by major national media outlets, such as NPR¸ The Washington Post, Associated Press, Science, The Guardian, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Learn more about this author