High Society


UK edition: Thames & Hudson

US edition: Inner Traditions

German edition: Primus Verlag


Mind-altering drugs have been part of virtually every human culture that has ever existed. Mike Jay’s narrative traverses the globe and ranges from prehistory to the present day, exploring the role of drugs from ayahuasca in the Amazon to coffee in early modern Europe, opium in China to the discovery of psychedelics.


In the process, he shows how they have shaped cultures, kick-started global trade, transformed our understanding of the mind, built empires and threatened the fabric of society.


Originally published in 2010, in conjunction with the High Society exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London.

New, revised and updated UK edition  2024


‘Excellent…shows that drug use stretches back too far, and too widely across the globe, to be considered an aberration of the human condition’
Financial Times

‘Marvellous…deserves high praise for rendering a complex, controversial topic with clarity and elegance’
British Medical Journal

‘A compulsive, colourful journey…breathtakingly diverse in its scope’   Mind Hacks


EXTRACTS: read the opening of the book here

extract in Spanish from Revista de la Universidad de México


VIDEO: Mike talks about High Society at the October Gallery, London



BooksPodcast: in conversation on High Society with Tim Haigh

Describing the Drug Experience: panel discussion with Geoff Dyer and Dr. Sue Blackmore

Expanding Mind: in conversation on High Society with Erik Davis

extended interview on High Society with Jeremiah Greer Live

interview with Robert Larson, Down the Rabbit Hole on KUCI



‘Illustrated with fascinating posters, artwork and rarely seen drawings, it deftly exposes the narrow view of drugs’
Sunday Express

‘A vivid report on the other side of drugs’
Hanif Kureishi, Books of the Year, The Guardian

‘Take the long view, says this entertaining book…the discovery of novel psychoactive substances has been going on throughout human history’
Wall Street Journal

‘Jay explores medical, religious, social and economic roles psychoactive substances play around the world…an excellent overview’

‘A wonderful accomplishment…Mike Jay offers a well-balanced, historically very rich and culturally very diverse presentation of drugs. His writing can be cited as an example to all those who want to popularise science’

‘An excellent book…a wonderfully open-ended subject’

‘Mike Jay’s excellent, highly illustrated book…shows us the richness and variety of drug cultures throughout history’
History Today

‘Concise, readable, profound in its implications, and beautifully presented…a remarkable achievement’

‘A masterful account of the history of drug culture’
Arts London News

‘An alluring fusion of prose and illustrations…I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to all as a must-have, must-read’
Drugs and Alcohol Today

‘Stunning…highly recommended’
Aesthetica Magazine

‘An enthralling mixture of text and image that brings alive the historical relationship between drugs and culture in all its multiplicity…fascinating and highly recommended’
Psychedelic Press UK

‘Highly informative, always engaging, Mike Jay has produced a wonderfully detailed book which offers exquisite observations on a difficult and controversial subject’
A Sound Awareness

“Beautifully presented…a wide-ranging review of drug use in its historical and scientific context”

“Articulate and intelligent…a solid, engrossing read”
Culture Magazine



The Pope of Opium: Thomas De Quincey, the archetypal drug fiend

“Watson – The Needle!”: Sherlock Holmes and cocaine

Enter the Jaguar: Hallucinogenic temple cults of ancient Peru

Mushrooms in Wonderland: Mind-altering fungi and Victorian fairy lore

Opium and the Symphonie Fantastique: The fever dreams of Hector Berlioz

The Green Jam of ‘Dr. X’: science and literature at the Club des Hachischins