#113 My awesome guest this week is Dennis Mckenna an expert in pharmacology, psychedelics and their therapeutic use. He is also the brother of the late Terrence Mckenna.
There’s a lot of misconceptions around psychedelics, and I wanted to bring Dennis onto the show to help us get a better understanding of them and their uses. Having experienced an ayahuasca ceremony myself, this really had a profound impact on my life, so my interest grew from there. So having someone like Dennis on the show to share his fast knowledge and wisdom was an honor. Enjoy!
About Dennis Mckenna: Dennis McKenna has conducted research in ethnopharmacology for over 40 years. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute, and was a key investigator on the Hoasca Project, the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca. He is the younger brother of Terence McKenna. From 2000 to 2017, he taught courses on Ethnopharmacology and Plants in Human affairs as an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.
Learn more about Dennis:
Ps. Whenever you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help begin to create lasting change in your life with this work.
1. Grab my free Daytime Reset Meditation
This is the very thing I do daily. And it only takes 7 minutes! The benefits are endless and a swear by it. DO NOT underestimate the power of this simple process– Click Here
2. Subscribe to my podcast. It’s completely free
Here I have conversations that go well beyond conventional health, wealth and wisdom to inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves daily. Guests include world leading experts in this field of work. Join my newsletter to stay up to date or… Subscribe on: iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | Youtube
3. Join our Let It In Academy & connect with others who implement this work
This is where the rubber meets the road. Be part of a supportive community and also have direct access to me. This is a proven program to demystify meditation and help create transformation from the inside out – Click Here
Guy: Hi, my name is Guy Lawrence. And thanks for tuning into my podcast today. If you’re enjoying these conversations and you want to check out more of this transformational work, be sure to come back to guylawrence.com.au and join me as we go further down the rabbit hole. Enjoy the show.
Guy: Dennis, welcome to the podcast.
Dennis: Thank you for asking me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Guy: I love asking everyone on the show when they first come on. And especially like yourself, that probably travels a lot. If you sat next to a stranger on an airplane and they asked you what you did for a living these days, what would you say?
Dennis: I’d say it’s an awkward moment. Um, I would, I would assess the person in a flash and figure out, and kind of get a feeling for what I could say. Uh, chances are I might just say, Oh, I’m a retired professor. You know, other people, I might say, well, I’m an ethno pharmacologist. And then that might open the conversation to a real conversation and then I’d have to explain what that is. And yeah, you know, interesting encounters on airplanes for sure. You know, it’s, it’s an interesting environment because the, you know, the usual practice and I’m, I’m as guilty as anyone that is to just ignore the other person besides you as though there were not even real, you know, like they were a puppet or something. But depending on the vibe, you know, uh, I might try to initiate a conversation or if they, they talked to me, I kind of decide on the, on the fly what I can share and you know,
Guy: yeah, fair enough. Fair enough. I got, and I got to ask you, cause it was only yesterday I saw ethno pharmacologist and I was like, Oh, what is that? So I’m going to ask you that anyway. If that’s alright.
Dennis: Sure, sure. Well, if I have a if I have, uh, a title or a specialty that I could name, I’m kind of all over the place, but, and they ask to know pharmacologist is what I say I am. And I guess I legitimately come by that, that name, because that’s, that’s the word I, that’s the word that describes what I’ve done for 45 years. I can give you a formal definition if you’d like.
Guy: Perfect. Yeah,
Dennis: It’s kind of awkward, but it all hangs together. So ethno pharmacology is the interdisciplinary study of biologically active substances used or observed by humans in traditional societies.
Dennis: So all of those, you know, it’s a kind of a tortured definition. Uh, but, but all of those things hang together in the sense that it’s not confined to plants. You know, I mean, fungi, animals, every kind of thing and many things in nature that are not plants can take biologically active substances.
Dennis: You know, what’s another word for, for drugs, but they can be toxins. They can be many things. Uh, and so the biological activities, you know, is the pharmacology part and, uh, the, uh, you know, and there are not necessarily medicines ingested by humans, you know, so used or observed by humans. You know, is that part of the definition? Uh, you know, for example, arrow poisons are good topic for ethno pharmacology uh, you know there’s, uh, quite a lot of research on arrow poisons, you know, because some important medicines, cardiac medicines and that sort of thing have been developed, uh, an arrow poisons. So these are generally not used by humans, but they’re, you know, they’re employed by you. And then the traditional society part kind of narrows the focus because really, you know if you didn’t have that qualifier, the pharmacology as such would be a subset of Vestal from ecology goes.
Dennis: Ethanol, pharmacology, you know, is something that humans do. You know, I mean, so all of biomedicine, all of you know, scientific pharmacology. And so, I mean, it’s really ethical pharmacology in some ways. But you know we narrow the focus to the use of biologically active substances. And, you know, not in the global culture, but in traditional societies or indigenous or however you want to think of that. So that’s the definition. And that’s why there are so many parts to it because it’s like, you know, and there of course, many other definitions. But for example, I don’t know, um, Steve, uh, might’ve told you that, uh, I organized a conference in, in 2017 in the UK.
Guy: we did mention it. Yes.
Dennis: an ethanol, pharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. And Steve was there. Mitch was there. In fact, they were, they were more than there. They were very much helping with the live streaming of all the technical stuff.
Dennis: So that conference was the 50th commemorative anniversary of the first one, which happened in 1967 in San Francisco, sponsored by the national Institute of mental health. And so it wasn’t, you know, government conference and, uh, you know, but it was just ironic that it happened in San Francisco in 1967 that same year was like the so-called summer of love. Uh, you know, the hippie countercultural revolution. Um, the conference had nothing to do with that. Nobody even knew it was happening. In fact, it was a few months. It was early in 2017. Uh, but that was the coolest thing going on in San Francisco from my point of view. And then the only thing that ever came out of it was, uh, this volume, you know, and, uh, F I mean, it was a closed conference. It was not open to the public that they publish this volume called ethno pharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. And that volume came into my hands at the age of 18, you know, the next summer after I come.
Dennis: And that’s what got me on this path, you know, because I, I totally, I couldn’t believe in the first place. The, the U S government of all people or of all institutions would even publish such a thing, you know, because, because of the topic and, and uh, you know, there were supposed to be follow up, uh, conferences every 10 years or so. And then the war on drugs came along and the cover was embarrassed that they’d ever had anything to do with this. So none of those followup conferences ever happened. And yeah, ethanol, pharmacology continued to develop as a, as a discipline and discoveries were made and so on. So it became sort of a bucket list, uh, you know, milestone for me to do a commemorative conference. And, uh, in 2017, everything came together. You know, I found a venue, beautiful country house and in English, uh, English countryside near Buckingham, sure found, you know, uh, enough support to invite some people and, and so on.
Dennis: So we, we pub, we presented that conference and then we came out trying to be true to the spirit of the original one. So even though ours was more public, so we live streamed it on face book. So we have, you know, 75,000 people looking at some of these lectures, uh, you know, and, and overall over four days we got about half a million clicks and uh, and we recorded the videos and the videos are, are still online and anybody and connects us to them. And then we publish the symposium proceedings. But we, we published the 2017 proceedings, but we decided, well, let’s reprint the 1967 book as well, because it was more or less out of print. It was in the public domain. Taxpayers paid for it. So there was no copyright issue. So we came out with a really beautiful collector’s edition box set of these two books. And uh, it’s been wonderful actually. It’s been, uh, it’s, it’s been well received. I can, I can, uh,
Guy: we’ve come a long way since 1967.
Dennis: It’s come a long way. Let me see if I can, um, pull up this, uh,
Dennis: Link to send to you. Okay.
Dennis: So I’ll send it to you later, but Oh, here it is. Okay.
Guy: Yeah, I’ll link it in the show notes for sure. I have to ask you, Dennis, that book you read and as 18 year old in 1967, what was it then that sparked you into your journey about that book?
Dennis: Well, the interesting thing was, you know, so I was 16, 17, 18. At that time my brother was often Berkeley, you know, and we were both obsessed with psychedelics. You know, I’m very much part of the cultural conversation at that time. And he was like said, dig me news from, you know, the West coast where the action was. Here I am, doc goodness, Colorado mining town. Essentially in the mountains, I’m feeling very cut off, you know, also. So Terrance was there, you know, I’ll where on the West coast where I wanted it to be more than anything. Right in the middle of it, you know, and two, two important books came to my intention at that in that period. One of these was this book which, and the other one was the, the teachings of Don Juan.
Dennis: With by Carlos custom-made, which was his first book. And his first book was probably, you know, the closest to the actual truth. I mean, he went on to write lots of books. Most of benches made up, you know, not that it’s bad stuff, but it’s not really accurate. But when the teachings of Don one came along, I realized, you know, I mean, nobody knew it was, it was not accurate at the time. It seemed really fascinating and that, that was like two pages, two sides of the same coin, you know. Um, by reading that book, I realized there was some ethnographic connection and what the ethnography of that, these things were, you know, not new at all, have been used for thousands of years on their roof tradition. You know, their Rose, there was a, you know, traditions of use. So there was that. But then the ethno pharmacologic search book showed me the science side of it.
Dennis: And you know, the other side of the coin was, yeah, not only is there ethnography of history and culture, there’s all scientific aspect to this, which, uh, I was, uh, you know, I mean, I knew it existed, but I didn’t until I discovered that book, I didn’t really know what it was. And so that book inspired me and just both of those books that inspired me to, you know, direct my career toward ethno pharmacology, you know, without really thinking, well, how am I going to get a job out of this and so on. I didn’t do that. I did it because I was interested. And I’m, I’m one of those people that, uh, you know, I pursue it. I’m interested in, it’s not necessarily going to get me a job. In fact, coming out of my PhD and stuff like that with a specialty of ethno from not only ethno pharmacology, but that’s no pharmacology of psychedelics. You know, who the hell is going to touch me as a, you know, employment prospect
Guy: for sure. Well how did you know the question that Springs to mind are like psychedelics? How would you, what uh, what are they exactly? Cause I think there’s such a miss conception out there. When you say that word, you can put whatever belief system you want to it. I think,
Dennis: you know, the, the, uh, the, the, the nomenclature that the terminology for these drugs is all over the place and that’s, you know, they’re, they are called hallucinate. Gyms are called, uh, you know, in theologian sometimes they’re called like mystical mathematics and psychotic memetics and all these things. These terms really, uh, are an example of how difficult it is to describe just what exactly they do. You know, and psychedelic is a deliberately vague term. And I, I like it because it, for one thing, it’s an older term, it was one of the first terms, but it uh, it means mind manifesting, right? So it, no psychedelic means mind manifesting, psyche, mind and Delos is to delineate or manifest. So, so, um, it seems appropriate because you’re not putting any spin on it. It manifests different aspects of the mind and depending on sentence setting the circumstances which are all important for the kind of experience that you have, you can have almost any kind of experience.
Dennis: I mean it can be a religious experience or it can be a psychotic experience or it can, it can be many things, but whatever it does, it manifest the mind in some respect. And that’s why I like the term because it’s deliberately a vague term and thus more accurate because other terms like hallucinate jam, they don’t really cause hallucinations. You know, this class of, I mean they can, but that’s not characteristically or always what they’re about. You know, they don’t really mimic psychosis, you know, they, I mean aspects may resemble psychosis. They don’t really even, you know, I mean, mystical mimetic is like, it simulates mystical experiences. Um, but that’s a big word to wrap your tolerant round. And even that is not really accurate because it depends on, again, the circumstances. You know, the same person can take the same medicine in different experiences, different circumstances, maybe have a profound mystical experience the next time under different circumstances might have, uh, you know, experience the hell world, you know.
Dennis: So, you know, I mean, you know how the term, um, psychedelic came about? Do you? I have no idea. No idea. Okay. Well, Humphry Osmond, who is one of the early, uh, clinicians that was exploring LSD mostly for the treatment of, of alcoholism and Aldous Huxley, you know, who he was and the Osmo and is the person who gave out the sexually masculine for the first time. And they correspondent, right? They actually use the letters of that time. So it was a, it was a, you know, slower process, but they were discussing, you know, what do we call these things and this and, and he actually wrote, uh, something about, uh, I don’t know, but it had to have something to do with take a pinch of, for narrow thyme that that was the term that he proposed. And Osman wrote back and said to sink in hell or sore angelic, take a pill, take a pitch of psychedelic. And that’s the word that got, that got adapted. So, so it came out of that conversation.
Guy: Wow. In terms of psychedelics then
Guy: why, when or why would somebody start exploring this? I mean, you, you’ve obviously not seen a lot of studies over the years and the impact it has on people. Maybe that’s a good place to start. What kind of impact is it having on people longterm?
Dennis: Um, when or why would somebody want to explore them? Well, I think, you know, there are all sorts of reasons, uh, but I think inherently are a curious species. You know, we’re curious about things. This is, you know, this is what drives discovery. This is what drives a lot of creativity. You know, this impulse to understand how things are and psychedelics provide a a window into our consciousness, you know, which is perhaps the most interesting game in town in a certain way because actually everything is filtered through consciousness, you know, so if we can expand consciousness or use these medicines to explore kind of the limits of conscious experience, uh, then that appeals to people’s, you know, curiosity. And so I think curiosity is the impulse. So then, you know, as people use them, every body has their own set of problems. I mean, many people have, you know, diagnosed problems like depression or PTSD and so on.
Dennis: Everybody has got some degree of that, right, because I don’t think you can live in this world without being traumatized. You know, Eric airport and then people experimented with is they found that, yeah, this can, these things under the right circumstances can provide relief from those things. You know, they’re, so, there are tools for exploring consciousness, but they also have a therapeutic, uh, you know, therapeutic application. Um, and I’m very much, you know, in favor of all this research. Um, do you know all this clinical work, uh, with siliciden and other things? I think this is great because it, because in some ways mental health care these days is kind of a joke. You know, it’s not very effective for a lot of these chronic conditions. And the best, uh, medications that are currently accepted are things like SSRI, you know, which don’t really resolve the problem.
Dennis: They’re like bandaids, they paper it over, but they don’t really resolve it. Many people say, and it’s, it’s not a cliched, they’ll say that, you know, my Iowasca session or my silicide Bilal session or whatever was like 10 years of psychotherapy in a single night, you know, so the power of that is recognized and you know, they just work. I mean, they need guidance. They need the right setting. They need to, hopefully the help of experienced a therapist, guides or shamans, whatever costume they’re wearing, doesn’t matter. The point is, shamans and psychotherapists fulfill very similar functions. You know, that the cultural context is different. The assumptions are different. The point is that you provide a safe and supportive set setting for people to directly have their experience with these medicines and, and learn what they can. I say the medicine is the teacher, you know, or going at it reiterating that a different way.
Dennis: You’re the teacher, you know, you are your own teacher. The medicines facilitate your learning, your insights into your condition and that could lead to healing and then the resolution. But psychedelics are a bit of a, uh, you know, they’re a threat to conventional mental health care because they don’t really fit into the capitalist, uh, you know, para, the biomedical paradigm where, you know, if you’re lucky you get to talk to a therapist for maybe 10 minutes, you know, and you expect to go out the door with a prescription, probably for some SSRI or other psycho pharmaceutical, you still have all the problems. You’ve just numbed them down. You know, psychedelics actually give you the champ, the tool, get to the root of these things and actually resolve your questions. But it requires a different therapeutic paradigm. You know, I mean, it resolves, it requires that therapists spend not 10 minutes with a patient but like ours, you know? And so that messes up the revenue model, but it is a necessary way to approach it. So these things potentially are gonna revolutionize mental health care. And it’s about time because mental health care is not very effective the way it is now.
Guy: Totally. I, I remember, um, I, I did, uh, my very first iowaska ceremony back in 2013, 14 I think about six years ago and I’ve spent months preparing. I was in the right hands, the right environment. I was terrified before I did it. Um, it was probably the most courageous decision of my life at that point. Um, and, and what happened that night changed honestly, like it took, it took months to integrate it, but it actually changed the whole direction of my life. Like the wisdom that came from that. I still struggle to even Nick describe it to this day to people.
Dennis: So there you are. You’re a satisfied customer.
Guy: Exactly. I was a very nervous customer before.
Dennis: That’s okay. It’s all right to approach these things with a bit of a, you know, a bit of butterflies in the stomach kind of thing because they do deserve respect, you know, and the, and the, the, you know, your nervousness is healthy. It’s a sign of respect. You’re not play it around here. This is a serious, you know, and I often say in my talks, you know, you, uh, you know, often the question of faith comes up to that. Um, you know, you don’t have to have faith to take a psychedelic leave, anything. In fact, it’s better if you don’t, you know, you, uh, what you need is courage. You know, what, what you need is the courage to, you know, trust yourself enough. Trust the medicine of trust, the circumstances of mouth to take that plug. She, you know, just step off the cliff as it were. You know, and you may find, you know, you may say, Oh God, I’m falling into the abyss. I’m completely lost. But the next thing that happens, wait a minute, I’m floating. There’s this not, I’m not going to crash on the rocks below. I’ll be able to spend some time in these dimensions and learn from.
Guy: Yeah, totally. I am, I got to, you mentioned the word consciousness earlier as well. And with your ex experience with all this and your life’s experience, what does consciousness mean to you? Because, because it suddenly it, you know, I, I kind of have this inward conversation myself all the time because from different experiences through my life, you begin to question things more and more. And I’d love to, yeah, I’d love to hear your view on it.
Dennis: Well, you know, philosophers and neuroscientists and scientists and everybody have talked about what is consciousness forever. It is kind of the topic of conversation and, you know, consciousness is, is many things. But I think, you know, consciousness implies self-awareness, you know, awareness of your experience. I mean, we can, uh, you know, we don’t know entirely what the, what structures of across S as in the brain underlying consciousness, but we know very well how to abolish it. You know. I mean, anesthetics abolish sleep is not really, sleep is maybe not a good term because even though you’re asleep, you’re still, you know, you are unconscious. But that doesn’t mean the brain is not doing its thing. You know, it’s doing lots of things while you’re asleep. But this idea of a general awareness of being a subjective experience, you know, and being in a, you know, having an orientation to place and space and time, um, you know, those are kind of the, uh, you know, uh, essential qualities of consciousness.
Dennis: And in fact, in, in the term, in discussions about consciousness, there’s, there’s an interesting though, neuroscientists, uh, uh, I think his name is remet hadn’t Durham, the university of New Mexico of uh, San Diego. And he talks about, you know, quality, uh, and like there are many selves, you know, and it’s probably too complicated to talk about this, but there, it’s not that consciousness is necessarily one thing. It’s a constellation of things, you know, and there are certain aspects that are, you know, uh, like looking after w you know, your focus on place and time, your executive judgment, this sort of thing. But then you’ve got intuition and you’ve got imagination and you have all of these things that are, that are, uh, sort of spun together. You know, I like to, uh, talk about how, you know, we, you know, we construct our own reality. You know, we live inside of a hallucination in a sense.
Dennis: I sometimes call it the Sarah tolerant hallucination, but that’s a misnomer because everything we experience is a reflection of our neurochemical brain state. You know. And what the brain does is take information from the outside through your sensory portals, your eyes, ears and other receptors associate with, you know, take all that, mix it all together with stuff you already know, like memories and associations and other types of things. And it mixes all this together. And this is like the raw data of, of experience, the raw data of reality. And it’s like you dump all that into a big blender and then you spin up the blender and everything mixes together, you know, and then you can pour it out and then you, what you do is you extruded out into the movie that you’ve just created. You’re the director, star and every, you know, producer and everything else for this movie you construct for yourself.
Dennis: It’s your reality. It’s your reality, hallucinations. And everyone has one of those, you know, some are not so interesting, some are, but the two of the person, they’re always interesting does that. But that’s what they have. And this is not necessarily a reflection of what of reality. We don’t know what reality looks like because what we, what this is is a model of reality that, you know, we construct so that we can make sense out of the world. I mean, if we didn’t have this function, the world would be just a blooming buzzing bunch of inputs and so on. So, so the brain is, you know, brain not only constructs reality this way, but, but it works. You know, a lot of it is what the brain does not let have. I mean the brain is a filtering function as much as anything else. There is the term in neuroscience, it’s called neuro Gatey and uh, you have to block most everything. Uh, you have to keep it out so that you can then work with the reduced data set to try and arrange it in a way that you can comprehend. That’s your experience of consciousness. And it doesn’t, it, it, it must reflect reality in some sense. But it’s not reality. It’s this, it’s this construct that, that we make, you know, and that’s what the brain does.
Guy: And do you think psychedelics then is widening back gating and, and rewriting the movie? Would that be fair? That’s playing inside.
Dennis: That’s exactly what it does. It widens the gating or it lowers a lot of these gating mechanisms and some, it lowers a lot of these. So it does whiten what you can perceive. One of the things that does is it brings the background forward. You know, these, these girl neuro gating mechanisms are designed to suppress most everything that’s going on in the background. It’s not immediately relevant to your survival. So it kind of fades into the background and the brain tends to focus on what is really immediately in front of you. You know, the bus coming at you or the saber tooth tiger or whatever that might impinge on your actual survival. That’s where you want to be focused, right? And that’s why it’s important when you take psychedelics to do it in special circumstances because you’re deliberately lowering your defenses and your, and your, you know, you’re defocusing.
Dennis: So instead of focusing on, you know, a very narrow focus of attention, you’re kind of giving up attention in some way. So you’re softening it so that you, and as long as you’re in a, uh, you know, safe environment, no buses coming after, you know, saber tooth tigers and that sort of thing, then you can trust yourself to let it go and lower these neural, uh, Gates that, that the brain constructs, you know, for very practical reasons. You can lower those and you bring the background forward. You know, and, and so, um, you know, there are now what I used to and still do called the reality hallucination as it’s now been formally defined by a Robin Carhart, a terrorist who is a very, uh, respective neuroscientist who studied psychedelics. He talks about the default mode network and you’ve heard of that term? Yeah, yeah. Essentially it’s the same thing.
Dennis: The default mode network is this, this constructed reality that we experience, you know, uh, it’s, it’s based on, you know, past experience and memories and projections of how we think it’s going to be in the future based on what we’ve already know. And then sensory dated, it’s all the same and psychedelics temporarily disrupt that and that’s very useful. That’s very useful for exploring consciousness. And it’s very useful therapeutically because people can essentially step out of the box temporarily. And that’s where a lot of therapy can go on. If you couldn’t just distance yourself from your immediate situation, look at it. There’s no from an outside observer. So if you’re involved in things like a addiction or PTSD or these various things, you can step out of that reference frame. Look at it in a different way. And in some ways, uh, you know, um, you, you, well, you can integrate that perspective I guess so that you, you know, you can get away from these habitual behaviors of these, these, these behavioral loops that are created, you know, out of, uh, essentially a dysfunctional default mode network.
Dennis: You know, you have these, these processes going on. It’s like, it’s literally like rebooting your hard drive, totally hard drives anymore, but it’s like rebooting a computer where when it comes back up, you know, you’ve gotten a rid a lot of clubs that shows up, you know, in, in computers. It runs faster. It’s more efficient in the way it allocates time. I think literally that’s what’s going on. I think that you can, I think by, by hitting your brain with this massive, um, activation of serotonin, uh, which is pretty much what they are. Uh, you can, um, you know, uh, you can rearrange, you know, um, I mean during the experience and they’ve done scanning studies and all that, that show that all these systems of normally don’t connect with each other, are hyper-connected during this experience. And then after the experience it settles down. But there’s still communication going on and it’s, it’s possibly more efficient and a lot of the stuff that, uh, tends to slow things down or mess things up that has been eliminated. And then of course we tend to get back into habitual behavior but advantage. But you can always go back and drink from the well again. And I think it’s useful for people to do that periodically.
Guy: Totally. I, I hear them. Uh, I think the analogy like where we’re look inside the jam jar looking out and, and having these experiences allow us to step outside of our own jam jar and look back and maybe even read the label on the front.
Dennis: That is exactly that. That’s a good analogy. Exactly. Yeah. We’re, we’re all within the, some set of assumptions and, and habits and everything else. And we, you know, we make the mistake of thinking that this is reality. No, it’s a version of reality that you’ve connected, that you’ve constructed, you know, and it’s a very useful, it’s very useful. I mean, we, we want to be in that in a, you know, a well functioning default mode network most of the time, but it’s important to be able to step outside of it, you know, and people that never step outside of the, well, they’re missing a lot, you know, and they’re, they’re risking, um, you know, essentially they’re denying themselves a learning opportunity, you know, uh, uh, to rethink how they are, how they think, how they relate to the world and so on. So,
Guy: yeah. Yeah. You don’t do the other, the other question is coming to mind as well is with psychedelics, is that there, there are so many different psychedelics as well and to all paths lead to the same place, or do you use different psychedelics for different modalities?
Dennis: Well you can, you can, um, getting into the, I mean, there are many things, uh, that are psychoactive, you know, that will produce profoundly altered States of consciousness that are not necessarily psychedelics. Depends on how narrowly you want to define them. For example, you know, I just for the sake of, of facilitating the discussion, I tend to, uh, I, I sometimes say will true psychedelics and something is a true psychedelic it, it works on a serotonin, two a receptors. It’s an agonist of the serotonin, two a receptors, which is one of the subtypes about 14 different subtypes, serotonin and the true psychedelics all hit those receptors. So Simon DMT, LSD, masculine, the ones we think of as the classic psychedelics, they’re all five HT two a receptors, something like MTMA. It’s not a psychedelic, you know, it works on serotonin, but it works on releasing serotonin from presynaptic storage vessels and so works on the, what’s called the serotonin transporter, which is a protein pump and the presynaptic membrane that controls the release and re uptake of the neurotransmitter at the synaptic junction, right at the synaptic gap.
Dennis: It’s all under the control of these, uh, you know, these, uh, transporters, MTMA jams that transporter open, all of the serotonin leaks out. Suddenly your brain is flooded with serotonin. Well, serotonin is the feel good hormone. So you feel really good. You feel euphoric, full of love, openhearted, all that. And that’s all very therapeutic, right? That’s useful. SSRI is work on the same thing they work on. They were called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. That’s what SSRI beans, and they have the opposite effect. They actually jam the transporter closed. So the serotonin that’s in the synaptic junction cannot be taken back up and recycled. It stays in this aseptic judge. So you have a higher level of serotonin there. That’s the basis of the therapeutic effect of, uh, of uh, SSRI. So MTMA and SSRS have an opposite effect. They have the same, they have the same target, if you will, something like Salvador and a completely outside, you know, from the diterpene, from the Mexican mint, salvia divinorum who may have had experience with it that works on a completely different system, you know, that works on the cabinet opiate receptors.
Dennis: So nothing to do with Sarah Toma. Absolutely. Profoundly consciousness altering, you know, I mean in a way that’s uh, you know, fascinating, but a lot of people and, and in some ways dysphoric, you know, but some people like it. It’s not my cup of tea. It’s very bizarre. Have you ever experienced it? I haven’t. No, I haven’t. Well, it’s worth putting it on your map because it is so strange, you know, and, and you know, but these things are strictly not in. If you, if you cleave to the strict definition of psychedelics, these aren’t psychedelics, but they’re certainly psycho. And, uh, other things are things like detour as you know, the tollways or Brooke Mansi is, which are in the night shades. They, again, they perfect use, profoundly altered States, but it’s not serotonin. They actually block, um, acetylcholine, which is another neurotransmitter in the brain and lead to some very, very odd States of consciousness. The, um,
Guy: with all this in mind, I’m just thinking of the listener as well. Right. And where would one start if they want to start looking into this? Is that it? Because we were discussing your mechanic Academy as well, which is launching soon. Is that something what will then allow people to educate and then,
Dennis: yeah, uh, I mean it’s just a matter of accessing the right information. If you want to learn about this, there are books and so on that are, you know, not technical. They, I mean, there are plenty of books that are highly technical, but if you’re just a, you know, a layman, whatever that means, who wants to understand neuroscience a bit? There are good references, uh, out there. One of the, um, best ref online references, which you probably know about already, is, uh, just specific to drugs is, uh, erowid.org. You know that I’ve, I’ve heard of it. Yes. Yeah. So this is a very youth Sheryl website and they, it has information on every conceivable kind of psychoactive drugs that you can imagine, you know, most of which I’m not even interested in. Most people are interested, but the information is there, but they have very, very good information.
Dennis: And you know, these different vaults about different psychedelics, they call them faults. So if you go to the Iowasca fault or the mushroom wall, lots and lots of information to quickly, uh, you know, get up to speed, they include, uh, you know, links to scientific papers and how these things work. Slings to the chemistry of the plants. Uh, and also usefully a lot of trip reports, you know, which are, which are, which are useful. Especially if you’re thinking about taking a one of these things and you want to never have done it to or haven’t done that particular one. You want to get an idea, what is it like you can go to arrow would very quickly find out what other people’s experiences are. So that’s a very good resource. The other one that most, uh, uh, biomedicine, no, uh, is a hub bed. Uh, a lot of nonmedical people, um, they’ll know about it, but this is, this is the national library of medicine, uh, biomedical database.
Dennis: So it’s open access. Anybody in the world can access it. And, uh, and anything that comes up in, in biomedicine, biochemistry, anything in medicine, really pub band is kinda your first go to place to see what the state of the art is there. Real fine. The most recent articles you’ll find review articles and so on. For example, uh, well they’re their students, a treasure trove of information. And uh, um, you know, for example, David Nichols who you probably have heard of, um, you know, he’s published two or three comprehensive reviews on psychedelics. Um, cause this has been a specialty for 50 years. So, uh, he, uh, yeah, he, so, you know, you can, you can look up these references. Uh, I’ll put a link to a pub med here. This is, this is their main search page. And you know, if you, they have very sophisticated, you know, search protocols, you know, you can tailor these searches very well, um, which they have to, because they’re massive amounts of data. But if you just go to pub Madden, plug in something like a word like silicide, but our word like Iowasca that the, the sort of the current scientific picture of those things, you’ll see, you’ll get hundreds of references, right? Nobody can, can, uh, you know, process all those, but you can select it to say, okay, show me only review articles or you can link things together. You know? So it, it again is a, eh, an important educational resource for people that want to learn about these things,
Guy: which, which is important, right? Because I think, um, you know, it’s in today’s day and age, we are always looking for a quick fix. And if we’re, if we’re in a situation where we’re not happy or there’s something being eaten us away for many years and you know, just jumping on a plane and, and doing something without, you know, preparing yourself, I think, you know, it could be asking for
Dennis: trouble. Yeah, very much. I mean, these things need to be approached thoughtfully, you know, and you need to inform as much as possible about them before you venture into it. You know, and this is just common sense. I mean, I mean you, you wouldn’t go across the, you know, he wouldn’t cross the ocean on a Spanish galleon to the new world. I mean, you might, but you have no idea what’s going to be there. You know, I am taking psychedelics as similar. You’re voyaging into to an unknown realm, you know, unknown for you. It helps that a lot of other people who are proceeded, you. And so there is this body of knowledge and you can, you can, uh, you know, you can educate yourself ahead of time as kind of what you’re gonna, what you can expect. You know, at the same time, you have to remember everybody is unique. So your trip is uniquely your trip. It will resemble other people’s, but it’s not the same. That’s one of the beauties I think of psychedelics. It’s, it’s a, it’s a unique encounter between an individual and an a molecule or, or, you know, a plan.
Dennis: What can we expect from the McKenna Academy? Well, McKenna Academy is, is again, uh, emphasizing learning, you know, and we, uh, I mean that’s, the name implies. We hope to have a permanent site for it. Right now we don’t, but we’re doing a lot of things. We’re doing retreats, we organize conferences. Uh, we may be offering courses. So it’s a, it’s, it’s a, I think of it is a, it’s a mystery school in the, in the spirit of hallucis, a looseness was a mystery, one of the longest lived and longest lasting of the Mediterranean mystery schools, which use psychedelics, psychedelics farriers and important part of the initiation, uh, rituals that people in Greek society went through. If you were everybody who was anybody in the Greek society between about 580 and maybe three or five, 500 BC to 300 a D or so, made a pilgrimage to elusive.
Dennis: So at some point, and they were, uh, showed into a dark chamber and they were given a brew, which, uh, you know, probably a psychedelic of some sort, almost certainly a psychedelic, and they had an amazing experience and they were forbidden to talk about it. Right? But of course, some did, some li some leaked. And Katie, the, you know, the sacrament was a, was stolen from the temple of Demeter, which is where it was. And, and you know, by a guy named Al [inaudible] who was a heretic, he took him to his house. It was basically, uh, throwing acid parties with it to, you know, in a sense. So the thinking is it was probably an ergot, uh, it was made from ergot, uh, infested barley and God contains less surgery. Coulson. There could have been mushrooms, could have been combinations of these things. But the idea of the Academy is that a 21st century elusive, it’s a 20, the first 21st century psychedelic university in 1500 years.
Dennis: And, uh, you know, the, the, uh, focus of, well, it plan medicines, what you might want are sometimes called plan teachers are really a big part of it, but it’s not exclusively, um, you know, it’s not exclusively focused on that. We, we view psychedelics as learning tools. So, you know, you might say it’s the first university in which, uh, not all the faculty members are human and, and, uh, but they’re there to facilitate learning. What are we trying to learn in the Academy? We’re basically trying to learn about the universe, the cosmos, ourselves, our place in nature and in the cosmos. And, uh, you know, and, and so that’s why I call it the mechanic, how to be of natural philosophy. You know, natural philosophy was what science was before it became quantified. And, and, you know, kind of boring. Not that science is boring, that’s, that’s a bad word.
Dennis: But, you know, scientists preoccupied in these days with, you know, what you can measure and there are many parts of phenomenon that you can’t really measure, but we know they exist. Like thoughts for example, we know what, we know what a thought is and we know a thought exists. Try and tell being what is a thought, you know, and how is that reflected in the brain? That’s more difficult. But, but so natural philosophy is a more holistic way of trying to extend the sphere of our understanding. You know, and recognizing there are other ways of knowing things that are valid, you know, that, um, you know, uh, I mean it does not always have to be reductionist and quantitative. That’s powerful, but that’s also limiting, you know, and science is a, you know, it’s a powerful tool, but we can’t assume that it has all the answers that way that it’s practiced these days. You know, reductionism is, is useful, but it’s, it, it necessarily requires that you narrow your focus if you’re trying to, uh, you know, investigate phenomenon. So, so now the Academy of natural philosophy is to, uh, you know, teach people how to think basically how to use their own intuition and everything else to really push forward their understanding. You know, and we’ve used psychedelics is a really important part of that, but other, other things as well.
Guy: Yeah. Awesome. Well, I’ll make sure a link in the show notes as well to that so people can sign up and stuff following it. Yeah, absolutely. Um, I’m Dennis, I’m aware of the time and I ask a few people a few questions on the show every week to everyone. And just to, just to help get a little, um, to know you a little bit more. And one question I ask a lot is, um, what’s been a low point in your life for as later turned out to be a blessing?
Dennis: What’s been a low point in my life?
Guy: Yeah. But later became a blessing.
Dennis: Oh wow. Uh, there’ve been a few, uh, I would say probably one of the lowest points of my life is, is when my brother got sick, you know, with terminal cancer, it completely shattered my life, you know, for years, really. Not just the period when he was sick, but then afterwards the, the aftermath of that, trying to deal with his estate and that sort of thing. I mean, it was a very dark time for me, you know, because we were close, we were really close. We had our differences and like be brothers, I mean brothers fight, you know, but I loved him very much and uh, uh, respected him very much and didn’t always agree with it. But I did respect him and it was really hard. And, uh, but it became,
Dennis: I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s not exactly a blessing, but you know, cause I would give anything if he could still be here with us. And you know, I often wonder what he would think of what’s, what’s going on, but it became Healy into the sands to come to terms with that, you know, and, and come to terms with that loss. And again, psychedelics were very helpful to me to, to kind of integrate that and, and put that into, you know, into the quiver if you will. Um, and the integrate that experience. So that was one of the big ones. And, um, you know, there have been others, so a lot of my, you know, more difficult experiences have had to do with sicknesses of loved ones. Either way, I went through particular, similar kind of thing with my mom. She died of a bone cancer when I was 19, so that was pretty rough, you know. Uh, but a lot of I’ve been lucky, you know, I, I, uh, I mean many people have had serious, you know, misfortunes that due to, not necessarily their fault, but a lot of suffering and I haven’t had to suffer that much other than these types of things. Thank you for sharing a lot. But
Guy: yeah, we can all do that for sure. Last question is, um, if you could have dinner with anyone from any timeframe, anywhere in the world and have a conversation with them tonight, who do you think it would be and why?
Dennis: God, any one at all? Well, Hmm. I have to name one person.
Guy: You can name as many as you like, I guess, and turn it into a banquet.
Dennis: Well, people that would be on my, a high on my list would be, uh, uh, you know, probably, uh, I’d say CG Olin would be one, maybe Stephen Hawking. Um, you know, Albert Hoffman. I actually have had wonderful conversations with him. Uh, and uh, well that’s enough.
Guy: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, fair enough. Beautiful, beautiful. And, um, and to wrap it up, everything that we’ve covered today, is there anything you’d like to add for our listeners to ponder on
Dennis: Yeah, I would just say, uh,
Dennis: no. W w uh, I mean I guess if, if you want to condense things down into, into a few sentences, the con, the, the, the message I get from Iowasca, you know, uh, over many years of, usually every time it comes up, you know, every time I take it. But the message is, you know, remember how little, you know, you know, and appreciate the universe for being more complex, more marvelous, more wonderful than you can possibly imagine. And don’t arrogance get in the way of trying to understand that, you know, if that is important to you to try to understand it the same time you recognize that we bill a tiny fraction of the way things really are. And that’s okay. You’re probably never going to fully understand that, but that’s okay. It’s not the, you, the goal is not particularly to, uh, you know, exit this life with a nice tidy package of how it all is.
Dennis: You’re not going to know how it is even when you exit. You know, important thing is to enjoy the process, the journey, the process of trying to understand, recognizing that will, it will always be a perfect, you know, but you can still enjoy it and have fun. You know, play with ideas. Playing with ideas is fun. Yeah. I love it. Yeah, absolutely. Try not to get involved in these, you know, habitual ways of thinking. A lot of people think that science is a superior thing and if it’s not scientific, it’s not valid. I don’t go so far. I think science is a beautiful thing. It could also limit our understanding, you know, so we have to be careful. These are all tools and we have to be careful how we deploy that, you know? Yeah. Agreed. For sure. Where’s the best place to send everyone?
Dennis: If they want to learn more? Well, they can always go to the website and uh, they can sign up for our mailing list and put their names in there. Any events that we do and so on. Will will be on that website sooner or later. I mean we’re not as good as we should be keeping everything just up to date, but we do keep it updated and if they want to know more about the Academy, that’s you know, and then you know, so that’s one place. And then the others are, uh, you know, if, if you’re interested in the, in the medical side of psychedelics and so on maps, maps, everybody knows about Hefter which a lot of people don’t know about. But that’s, that’s actually Hefter is, uh, the, a nonprofit that I’ve been involved with. I was, I’m a founder and it started in 1992 and heffter.org and is, uh, kind of leading the, uh, the research side, the clinical side for silicide. But nobody’s heard of us. They were not good publicists like maps are, but we’re just as effective in doing research and you know, and then maps, those kind of tied their, their thing to MTMA. So they focused on that. But you know, so those are both good sources. Half after.org maps.org. They have lots of information.
Guy: Yeah, we’ll link to them too. And you have a number of books as well. Would you recommend any one? Where’s the best one to start with?
Dennis: I could always recommend my memoir if you want a personal thing, a brotherhood of the screaming abyss, uh, which is now effectively out of print. You have to, but you can order the ebook from uh, Amazon. And then this book, the ethno pharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. Uh, if people want to get into the, nuts and bolts, if they want to get into ethno pharmacology is probably spice synergetic press. You can order it there. And what else? And then my brother and I, we’ve wrote books back in the day. Uh, psilocybin magic mushroom growers guide we published in 1975. And his skills selling robustly a very simple methodology for growing a few mushrooms or a lot of mushrooms if you have the time and patience. But that’s a classic. And then our other books, my brother’s book, a true hallucinations is a true hallucinations of the brotherhood of the screaming abyss really go together. People should read true hallucinations first, and then read brotherhood of the screaming abyys to find out what the real story is.
Guy: Yeah. Fantastic. Dennis, thank you so much for coming on the show today, mate. Appreciate everything that you do and all the information you put out there, and, uh, it was just a pleasure to have you on the show. We’ve been able to share it with my audience.
Dennis: Thank you. Thank you too. It was really, it was really fun. So let me know where it’s, uh, where it’s posted so I can tweet it and all that.
Dennis: All right Guy. Have a wonderful day. You’ve got most of the day ahead of you.
Guy: I do.
Guy: Thank you sir. Thank you! Bye bye.