Dr. Dennis McKenna, PhD

Advisor, Eco-Initiatives, Permaculture and Mission

Dennis Mckenna ayahuascaDennis McKenna is an American ethnopharmacologist, research pharmacognosist, lecturer and author. He is a founding board member and the director of ethnopharmacology at the Heffter Research Institute, a non-profit organization concerned with the investigation of the potential therapeutic uses of psychedelic medicines. Dennis also serves on the Advisory Board of the American Botanical Council; as Founder and Executive Director for the Institute for Natural Products Research; as an Independent Research Consultant to the Phytomedicine and Nutraceutical Industry; was formerly on the Editorial Board of Phytomedicine, International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology; and is an adjunct professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. In that role, he has taught graduate courses in Botanical Medicines and Ethnopharmacology and an inter-session ‘intensive’ in Hawaii each January called Plants in Human Affairs. He has also taught summer field courses in Ecuador for the University of Arizona, and courses in the Amazon and Andes for Pharmacy doctoral students at the University of Kansas and the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. In the last couple of years Dr. McKenna has taken a break from regular teaching duties to focus on other activities.

Dr. McKenna received his Master’s Degree in Botany from the University of Hawaii in 1979, his Ph.D. in Botanical Sciences from the University of British Columbia in 1984, and continued into post-doctoral research fellowships in the Laboratory of Clinical Pharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and in the Department of Neurology, Stanford University School of Medicine. His research has included the pharmacology, botany, and chemistry of ayahuasca and oo-koo-hé. He has also conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon. In 1992-93, he organized and was co-investigator on the Hoasca Project – a biomedical investigation of sacramental ayahuasca use among the members of the UDV, a Brazilian religious sect that utilizes ayahuasca in their religious practices. From 2004-2008, he was Principal Investigator on a project to investigate Amazonian ethnomedicnes as potential treatments for cognitive deficits in dementias and schizophrenia funded by the Stanley Medical Research Institute. In 2010, he served as co-Principal Investigator for the Botanical Dimensions/UNAP Digital Herbarium Project, a three-year project to scan and digitize the 100,000+ specimens in the AMAZ Herbarium at the Universidada Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana (UNAP) in Iquitos, Peru.

McKenna’s research led to the development of natural products for the Aveda Corporation, as well as greater awareness of natural products and medicines. He has authored or co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers and written books, including “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna”, and co-author of “The Invisible Landscape” with his brother Terence. His publications have appeared in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, European Journal of Pharmacology, Brain Research, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurochemistry, Economic Botany, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, and elsewhere.

Dr. McKenna and two colleagues are co-authors of a widely recognized reference work on herbal medicines, titled “Botanical Medicines: the Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements”. During the early 1970s McKenna developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms and, in collaboration with his brother Terence, published a small book entitled “Psilocybin – Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide” under the pseudonyms O.N. Oeric and O.T. Oss. This simple and reliable method for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms at home placed the visionary realms of psilocybin within reach of millions.

In 2017, Dr. McKenna, in collaboration with colleagues, organized and presented a landmark conference in ethnopharmacology called ESPD50 (see ESPD50.com) at Tryingham Hall, Buckinghamshire, UK. The conference was in part a 50th anniversary commemoration of the first ESPD conference, sponsored by NIMH and held in San Francisco in 1967. The conference was live-streamed on Facebook to over 285,000 people and the proceedings of the 1967 conference and the 2017 conference are being published in January 2018 by Seynergetic Press as a collector’s edition, two volume boxed set. A matching, interactive ebook will also be published at the same time and made available as a digital download from the ESPD50.com site and on the DMT: The Spirit Molecule Facebook page.

We are excited to have Dennis join our advisory board for Soltara Healing Center, where we will work with him on cultivation and permaculture, eco-initiatives, and education related to the pharmacology, ethnopharmacology, and therapeutic applications of psilocybin and other psychedelic medicines. His voice and experience will help drive our mission to provide high-quality, informative resources across topics in the consciousness and medicine community.

Lectures from the Ethnopharmacological Search for Psychoactive Drugs (“ESPD”) 50

What a trove of psychedelic treasure can be found within this nook of the Internet! The Ethnopharmacological Search for Psychoactive Drugs symposium was originally hosted in 1967, in the dying days of open psychedelic research in San Francisco in the 60s. This was hosted by Dr. McKenna in 2017 in the UK on the original conference’s 50th birthday. Leaning on the academic side of things, a number of speakers discuss their own research into a multitude of different psychoactive and psychedelic drugs, with a particular focus on ayahuasca. Dr. McKenna himself discusses his own history in becoming interested in psychedelics, including his experiences in the Amazon with ayahuasca and plant medicine. He also discusses “bioprospecting for psychotherapeutic drugs in the Amazon rainforest” – the search for new drugs from plants in the lungs of the Earth.

A link to Dr. McKenna’s Keynote presentation can be found here.

If you would like to get copies of the textbook produced as a result of this meeting of the brilliant minds in this field, edited by Dr. McKenna, you can find it here.

The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna

Genuine, vulnerable, loving, funny, brave: there are many positive adjectives one can attach to this beautiful memoir written by Dr. McKenna about his life with his brother. Dubbed “The Bard” for his unequalled eloquence and Irish extraction, the “Psychedelic Godfather” by Aubrey Marcus for his impact on psychedelic culture, or simply Terence, Terence McKenna was a truly unique human being with the divine gift of being able to alchemically transmute the ineffable into something that can be understood (in most cases) by the general population. His voice and likeness will live forever through the talks that he gave (and the power of YouTube).

Dr. McKenna’s recollections are very warm, though at times critical of certain theories generated by his older brother during their wild adventures in the Amazon and beyond, adventures that are captured on the page in black and white and simultaneously bursting with colour. Pair your reading of Dr. McKenna’s book with True Hallucinations, a novel by Terence from his perspective about their pilgrimage to La Chorrera, Columbia, for an utterly mind-bending experience of psychedelic history.

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brotherhood of the screaming abyss

Ayahuasca: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

In this Apple Keynote presentation developed especially for Soltara, Dr. McKenna reviews the past, present and future of ayahuasca. He delves into the pharmacology of the brew, the first extant written discussions of ayahuasca by botanists and back in the 1800s, the research that was conducted in the 20th century, the biochemical constituents of admixture plants, and the history of the chemistry of the ayahuasca components.

Dr. McKenna then examines the intersection of these chemicals and pharmacology, beginning with series of published letters between William S. Burroughs and Allan Ginsberg titled “The Yagé Letters” and moving into the scientific recognition of production of DMT within the lungs of rabbits, “pharmahuasca” using isolated compounds from the plants, his own investigation of monoamine oxidase inhibition, and his research of the positive long term effects of ayahuasca use on the serotonin system based on research into members of the Uniao de Vegetal (the Hoasca Project).

Finally, the globalization of ayahuasca, the legal implications, the re-emergence of psychedelic medicine are all discussed with a view towards the future impact of psychedelic medicine on medicine as a whole.

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Mind of Gaia

We tend to have a fairly limited definition of intelligence, related only to capacities related to human beings (the result of our brains and similar functions in other species). In this Keynote presentation by Dr. McKenna, he explores an expanded definition of intelligence on this planet. In fact, he discusses the intelligence of the planet as a whole, in its role as a superorganism.

Dr. McKenna looks at the complex systems found in nature, how human beings are negatively impacting the homeostasis and feedback loops of the system of the entire Earth, neural networks on the planet, and a plant-focused concept known as the phytosphere. The hypothesis goes that the plant medicines we ingest, like ayahuasca, actually bear signals from Mother Earth herself. A fascinating look at a potential raison d’être of natural psychedelics like ayahuasca.

This presentation was delivered at Soltara by Dr. McKenna to our guests.

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DMT: an extraterrestrial messenger molecule?

Compelling is the only way to describe this Keynote lecture by Dr. McKenna. It starts with a journey into the pharmacology of DMT, how it is synthesized out of tryptophan, and how simple and similar it is to other neurotransmitters like serotonin. He then looks at the subject experiences of DMT, and how seemingly related they are to near death experiences, out of body experiences, and alien abduction stories.

Plant medicine shamanism and pineal glands: what do they have in common? Psilocybin and panspermia? Dr. McKenna’s hypothesis on where life is heading and the ultimate nature of wisdom is something you do not want to miss!

This presentation was delivered at Soltara by Dr. McKenna to our guests.

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A gram is better than a damn: The chemical engineering of behavior and personality

The concepts of utopias and dystopias have been bandied about in art and popular culture for centuries. What would a perfect world look like? What about a hell masquerading as that same idea? In this Keynote lecture by Dr. McKenna, he discusses these ideas, with a focus on Brave New World and Island by Aldous Huxley. In Brave New World, featuring a sad dystopia, the fictional drug soma was used to keep everyone smiling in a government-run hell. In Island, a comment on utopia, a psilocybin-like “moksha medicine” was a psychedelic not unlike the natural plant medicines such as ayahuasca.

We have many drugs in our pharmacopeia, used to ‘cure’ all manner of ills (usually with a laundry list of side effects). Dr. McKenna discusses our unique opportunity: to use drugs to improve our lives or to make them worse.

This presentation was delivered at Soltara by Dr. McKenna to our guests.

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The medicine is the teacher: Dennis McKenna on Ayahuasca, Shamanism, and Psychotherapy

Wesley Thoricatha of Psychedelic Times conducted a short interview of Dr. McKenna in May 2017. In this discussion, Dr. McKenna states his views on the difficulty of studying ayahuasca using a traditional scientific double-blind placebo-controlled study. He offers an alternative of psychotherapy combined with traditional shamanism. In an answer to a question about his preferences between psycholytic and psychedelic therapy, he points out that the medicine itself is the teacher. Finally, Dr. McKenna gives his opinions about properly organized ayahuasca retreats, based on his 40+ years of experience with la medicina.

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Ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness

In this news article, Dr. McKenna speaks with David Hill of The Guardian. Dr. McKenna speaks about ayahuasca and its place in human development, both personal and social. He discusses the psychedelic medicine’s role in promoting environmental awareness, the wisdom of the medicine in awakening us to our connection to nature, the intersection of medical science, ethics, and ayahuasca tourism, plant intelligence generally, and has a few choice words about human beings’ assumptions about their control of nature.

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Ayahuasca vs. Mushrooms (clip from London Real)

Similar yet different: many people would describe mushrooms and ayahuasca in this way. In this clip from an interview of Dr. McKenna with Brian Rose from London Real, the good doctor discusses the importance of set and setting, and what they actually mean. He states his take on the differences in qualitative experience as between ayahuasca and mushrooms, and gives some examples from his own psychedelic experiences. Extremely informative and helpful for those interested in the plant medicines and what they actually offer.

Joe Rogan Experience Episode 1133: Dr. Dennis McKenna

It would be difficult to list all of the different topics visited by Dr. McKenna and Joe Rogan on this episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. DMT, ayahuasca, mushrooms, the ESPD 50, Dr. McKenna’s experiences at La Chorrera, Terence McKenna, where we are headed as a species: it’s all here. Dr. McKenna’s comments about his dream for humanity and the purpose of the plant medicines and teachers are a positive message for a world that can seem hopeless at times. Very in-depth and very informative: if you have two and a half hours to listen, this is worth your time.