Episode 123 – A Drink With Dr. Dennis Mckenna: Plants, Ecology, Ayahusca

“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.” ~ Dennis McKenna, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.

Dennis McKenna, 67, is a noted ethnopharmacologist, focusing on pharmacognosy, especially with psilocybin and ayahuasca. After travels to the Amazon, in search of the Sixties experience with his older brother, Terence, Dennis’ curiosity was piqued in a scientific way. He wanted to know how these plants worked.

In 1979, McKenna earned his Masters in Botanical Sciences at the University of Hawaii. With his continued studies in the Botanical Sciences, he earned his Ph.D. in 1984 at the University of British Columbia. He studied the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two orally-active tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by the indigenous peoples in Northwest Amazon.

McKenna received post-doctorate fellowships in the Lab of Clinical Pharmacology at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and in the Department of Neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He recently completed a project, funded by the Stanley Medical Research Institute, to study the Amazonian ethnomedicine for the treatment of schizophrenia and cognitive deficits.

In 1990, McKenna became director of ethnopharmacology at Shaman Pharmaceuticals. In 1993, he became senior research pharmacognisist for the Aveda Corporation. In 1993, he also founded and continues to serve as VP and board member of Heffter Research Institute, where they are researching use of psilocybin with cancer patients.

In 2001, he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing and has since become a popular professor. He serves on the advisory board of The American Botanical Council and on the editorial board of Phytopharmacology.

McKenna’s authored four books and countless research papers. In 1976, he wrote the still popular, cult classic Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.He can be seen in documentaries on the esoteric. He continues to lead expeditions to the Amazon to study the culture, shamanism and ayahuasca.

Far Out, Man

For anyone who’s been to Paonia, CO, it’s no surprise that the small mountain hippie town produced two of the most learned ethnopharmacology luminaries — the dynamic duo, brothers Dennis and his senior, Terence, now deceased. What began as a popular recreational experimentation in the Sixties counterculture opened the door to new realms of legitimate soul-searching, growth and healing. Dennis wrote about his accounts with his brother in his 2012 book, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. They discovered there was some power in the medicine! Thus began the McKenna’s pursuit in the mysteries of ethnopharmacology — Terence, artistically, and Dennis, scientifically. And the science and the beauty was out there, for both to report back on.

McKenna and his Heffter Institute studies are there for your perusal, by category — cancer distress, addiction, spirituality, neuroscience and the Heffter Review — on Heffter’s website. But it may seem as though the medical community is oblivious to the healing properties of the truly magical mushrooms. Many of us on the outside whose bodies are too sensitive for big pharma poisons, await the day that we can break the ties that bind and discuss these truths and make them mainstream. Some under-grounders are paying attention.

Never Trust “The Man”

There is a revival, an underground movement to legitimize the use of these phytomedicines. The focus these days is more on self-discovery, self-actualization, and self-healing. We are sick and need real healing. We need to take over the reigns, clean ourselves and this mess, and put the “kind” back into the word “humankind.”

McKenna, in a 2014 Vice interview, McKenna discusses the dynamics of the cool brother duo, saying that they were “Big Picture People.”

“This inclination partly explains our early interest in metaphysics and philosophy. We were dissatisfied with the pat and shallow answers proffered by our Catholic faith, and with the priests who, with a few exceptions, responded angrily, or disingenuously, to our persistent questions.”

A recent New Yorker Magazine article featured the growing trend of ayahuasca in the US, attributing some of the rise to the work of the McKenna brothers. The reporter describes the new movement that is “characterized by wellness cravings, when many Americans are eager for things like mindfulness, detoxification, and organic produce, and are willing to suffer for our soulfulness.”

This is a good thing. The Age of Aquarius! Bring it on!

Perhaps even more poignant is that McKenna is trying to convey an important message about how necessary an Age of Aquarius is today. In a July 2016 interview with The Guardian newspaper, he says, “ … we have forgotten our connection to nature. We’ve come to the conclusion that we own nature, it exists for us to exploit, and we’re destroying it in the process. We’re destabilising (sic) all of these global mechanisms that keep the biosphere habitable by life.

“I think ayahuasca is waking up a lot of people and reminding them that, ‘No, that’s not the way it is. The plants are running the show, by sustaining life on Earth, if nothing else.’ There needs to be a global shift of consciousness …”

Let us just hope “The Man” does not make it illegal to save ourselves and our planet.

~The 411 & Source Links To Fascinating Other Stuff~:

University Of Minnesota page

Rate My Professors




Dennis Wiki

Terence Wiki


The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss


Screaming Abyss Kickstarter

Heffter Research Institute

Heffter Studies PDFs

The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past & Current Research Study PDF

Ayahuasca & Human Destiny by Dennis, 2008, profound today more than ever!

Cognition Factor Documentary

The New Yorker article

The Guardian article

Top 8 quotes by Dennis McKenna

Between Humans & Psychoactives

Journey of the Spirit (JotS) Ayahuasca Trip


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