The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Dennis McKenna — The Depths of Ayahuasca: 500+ Sessions, Fundamentals, Advanced Topics, Science, Churches, Learnings, Warnings, and Beyond (#523)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dennis McKenna (@DennisMcKenna4). Dennis has spent more than 40 years researching the interdisciplinary study of Amazonian ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. He has conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon.

His doctoral research at the University of British Columbia focused on the ethnopharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon.

He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute and was a key organizer and participant in the Hoasca Project, the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca used by the UDV, a Brazilian religious group. He is the younger brother of Terence McKenna.

From 2000 to 2017, he taught courses on ethnopharmacology as well as Plants in Human Affairs at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. In 2019, in collaboration with colleagues, he incorporated a new nonprofit, the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy. He emigrated to Canada in the spring of 2019 with his wife Sheila and now resides in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#523: Dennis McKenna — The Depths of Ayahuasca: 500+ Sessions, Fundamentals, Advanced Topics, Science, Churches, Learnings, Warnings, and Beyond
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.

Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. And I want to skip my long, usual preamble because we’re going to run out of time before we run out of material with today’s guest, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time — many, many years, in fact. Dennis McKenna, you can find him on Twitter @DennisMcKenna4, and we’ll provide many other links.

Dennis’s research is focused on the interdisciplinary study of Amazonian ethnopharmacology. He has conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon, and we will define a lot of terms in this episode so don’t worry about getting lost in the weeds too quickly. His doctoral research at the University of British Columbia focused on the ethnopharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he — and we’ll double check the pronunciation — two tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the northwest Amazon.

He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute, which does exceptional work and was a key organizer and participant in the Hoasca Project — that’s H-O-A-S-C-A Project — the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca. He is the younger brother of Terence McKenna. From 2000 to 2017, he taught courses on ethnopharmacology as well as plants and human affairs at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.

In 2019, in collaboration with colleagues, he incorporated a new non-profit, The McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy, which we will discuss. In the spring of 2019, he emigrated to Canada with his wife Sheila. And now resides in Abbotsford, British Columbia. You can find him on all the socials, Instagram @dennismckenna_, Twitter @DennisMcKenna4. Facebook at Dennis Jon, J-O-N, McKenna, and also McKenna Academy, that’s M-C-K-E-N-N-A Academy on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter. Dennis, welcome to the show.

Dennis McKenna: Thank you, Tim. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Tim Ferriss: I thought I would start with a bit of history and pull in some colorful characters while we’re at it. Could you please describe your first meeting with Richard Evan Schultes? And that can kind of segue into who Schultes was, but I really enjoyed this story in your book, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, which we will talk about. I’ve printed out my Amazon Kindle highlights.

I have 189 highlights from that book. We’re not going to go through them all, but let’s start with your meeting with Schultes, if you wouldn’t mind?

Dennis McKenna: Schultes was a professor at Harvard. He’s been called the father of ethnobotany. He certainly was not because ethnobotany as a discipline existed before there was Schultes, but he was one of the more high profile people. He was the director of the Botanical Museum at Harvard University for many years, and he made many contributions to Amazonian botany, but the one he’s most notorious for and most well-known for is he was probably the world’s expert on what we used to call hallucinogenic plants, psychedelic plants used in different parts of the world. But that was what made him so famous.

And like many people, I envisioned a career in ethnopharmacology for myself, which is something that I sort of realized was possible when I was 18. We can go back to this, this is earlier than Schultes, when I got my hands on this amazing book called the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, but I digress. We can return to that.

So Schultes was just a towering figure in this field like Einstein in physics or I of that stature, and many, many people with a passion about psychedelic plants and indigenous use of these things looked up to Schultes and wanted to work with him and I was one of those. And in 1974, I was living in Berkeley with my brother or close by my brother who was living there. And I determined to go see the great man, to make a pilgrimage essentially to Schultes. And in those days there was a deal. You could buy a bus ticket, $60 for 60 days, and you could get as far as you could go as long as you kept it within 60 days.

So I made this pilgrimage to Harvard, to Cambridge and — 

Tim Ferriss: And where was your starting point?

Dennis McKenna: Well, I started at Berkeley and I went first down to Louisiana, Hammond, Louisiana and visited some friends of mine who owned a leather shop. A hippie leather shop, a wonderful bunch of people running a leather shop in this totally redneck town. Why did I go see them? Well, I went to see them because they lived out in the country where there were pastures and cattle.

And I went there basically to hunt for mushrooms and my idea in my — this is 1974, and my idea was, well, I’ll get a bunch of mushrooms and dry them, take them back to California and sell them. Well, it was like the worst season for mushrooms in like five years that they’d lived there. So I went down there and I did find some mushrooms, but just a few. Plenty for my own needs, but I didn’t have grocery bags of them or anything like that. That was the first place I went was Hammond, Louisiana.

And then, I just got on the old bus and continued on. I stopped and saw, interestingly, this anthropologist in Maryland who had studied the Yanomami. One of the Amazonian tribes that uses these psychedelic snuffs. And he was a linguist. He was probably one of the few people in the world that actually spoke Yanomami. He had some interesting samples that he collected. I went there basically to pick up those samples and hang on with him.

And then I continued up to Boston. And I had an old girlfriend who happened to live in Boston and we were still on good terms, so I went there. I had a place to stay. And then, I went — I mean I saw Schultes before I saw the girlfriend. I basically got off the bus, and went immediately to the Botanical Museum. And it was an incredible experience for me, because I was like in total awe of this man.

I mean it was like an audience with the Pope or something. But he wasn’t Pope-like at all. He was just a very kindly, down-to-earth ordinary person, and he welcomed me and took me to lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club, and we talked about what I could work on. And “What would you like to do?” was the way the conversation started out. Because Terence and I had been to Colombia in 1971, and one of the things we were looking for was this oo-koo-he, this orally active Virola preparation, which eventually ended up being one of the foci of my doctoral work. But that was 10 years in the future.

But I was interested in Virola. I was interested in those snuffs, and he’s, “Well, you could go to the Amazon and study Virola and sort out the chemistry of it.” So he said, “That’s what you — that would be a possibility.” I totally appreciate that, endorse that. So I said — he said, “Well, there are two things you need to do before you do that.”

And I had my degree. I got my undergraduate degree in 1973, but he said, “You need more chemistry and you need to take more organic chemistry, and you need to take more taxonomy,” which you know as plant classification, the classic approach to plant classification. So I said, “Yes, sir. Absolutely.” I got the message. I got back on the bus. I went back to Berkeley and I moved back to Colorado where I’m from, even though I had my bachelor’s degree. I just enrolled in a couple of courses, advanced organic chemistry and the taxonomy specialty I chose to look in was grass systematics, which was like torture.

Grass systematic classification is the most arcane, difficult thing you could do. I must have had something about wanting to punish myself, but I studied grass systematics and organic chemistry. And an interesting, sort of unexpected delight in this was that the person that was the chemistry teacher of this organic chemistry course, a man named Frank Stermitz, it turns out he was quite a well-known alkaloid chemist.

He used to illustrate his lectures with, “Well, so, here’s LSD. Here’s how you make LSD. Here’s how the fungus makes LSD.” And he was a brilliant guy and another mentor. And he said, “Well, don’t go work for Schultes. Go work for Norman Farnsworth in Chicago.” And I said, “No. No. You don’t understand. Schultes is God.” 

And so Schultes encouraged me to apply and I was getting these courses that he thought I really needed to have on my transcripts and I applied. And I didn’t get in.

I did not get accepted into Harvard, which was kind of a crushing blow, but not unexpected. It was a blessing in disguise in some ways, because while all this was going on, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado going to Colorado State. My friend Larry Beasley was an old friend from high school, and he was a horticulturalist. And as it turned out, he was running the greenhouse at Colorado State University when I moved there.

So I had access to the greenhouse and brought in some ayahuasca cuttings that we had from California and also I had access to a sterile culture lab. They were doing tissue culture there, which can also be adapted to doing fungal culture. And I was messing around with ways to try to figure out how to grow the Psilocybe cubensis and I had access to a university lab to do this work in, which was amazing. And we tried a few things and actually succeeded in growing mushrooms out of these mason jars on sterilized substrates.

You’re probably familiar with the book Psilocybin Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, which Terry and I published under pseudonyms.

Tim Ferriss: And one of your great contributions to humankind.

Dennis McKenna: Maybe the most significant contribution, but that was the method that we developed there. And in the process of growing the mushrooms, and then sampling the mushrooms, and just getting excited about being able to grow mushrooms, I thought, “Wow. Well, maybe I’ll change my focus from Virola to psilocybin mushrooms.” And I wrote to Schultes about this and I said, “What would you think of that?” And he wrote back a rather kind of stuffy letter saying, “Well, my specialty is higher plants and I think if you want to work on fungi, you should talk to Dr. Alexander H. Smith at the University of Michigan.” But basically saying — I mean the subtext was “You’re a traitor.”

Tim Ferriss: “How dare you?”

Dennis McKenna: Yeah. Not really. I mean he was — 

Tim Ferriss: I’m kidding.

Dennis McKenna: — there was subsequent encounters, but he basically said, “If you want to study Amazonian plants, I’m all in. I’d be happy to have you.” And as it turned out, I didn’t get accepted. So that opportunity was taken away, but the unexpected benefit of this was that some years later — well, this was ’74. So after that, I did my masters at the University of Hawaii, not studying psychoactive plants. My plot to study psychoactive plants there was undermined.

But I ended up applying to the University of British Columbia. And I started there in 1979, and my supervisor there was a man named Neil Towers. Also kind of a giant in this field, not as gigantic as Schultes, but very much known in the world of phytochemistry and ethnobotany and so on. And he was quite open to me working on mushrooms.

I actually started out in his program, because he had come to Hawaii while I was a graduate student there and my supervisor in Hawaii was another one of these incredible mentors that I’ve been blessed with throughout my academic career, Sandy Siegel. And Dr. Siegel, whenever anybody came to visit, a visiting professor or dignitary, he would always invite the graduate students up to his house and we’d sit around and have pizza and beer and shoot the breeze with whatever luminary was in town.

And Dr. Towers was one of the luminaries. In the process of having this conversation, he said, “Well, I’ve got this young master’s student working on psilocybe. He’s working on the enzyme that converts psilocybin to psilocybe, the phosphatase, and she’s not getting very far with it, but it’s a very interesting project and I wish there was somebody to kind of continue that work. And I practically spit my beer out and I said, “Well, Dr. Towers, I’ve had some interest in this and what do you think about letting me do it? What do you think about taking me on?”

And he said, “Well, yeah, if you’re interested, that’s a possibility.” So we started corresponding. And I was like midway through my master’s thesis in Hawaii at that point, and we started corresponding. And I got accepted and I got, with Dr. Tower’s support, I actually got a four-year graduate fellowship, and I started working on psilocybe and the idea that I had developed the technique for growing them. 

Tim Ferriss: Dennis, may I pause for just one second?

Dennis McKenna: Certainly, I’m getting off on many tangents.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, no. I love all the tangents. If there’s any theme to this show, it is embracing tangents, but I want to just mention a few things and ask a couple of questions, but I want you to bookmark that. So we’re in Canada, or we’re headed to Canada at that point, but I just want to mention a few things. So is it true that when you first met Schultes, when you walked in, he was effectively hugging an air conditioner? And the reason I ask is that if you look at pictures, photographs of Schultes in his prime, it very much evokes an Indiana Jones, minus the tomb raiding, of course, resilience and durability.

I mean you see him in native dress. You see him really fully engaged as not just an observer, but as a participant. He spent more than a decade as I understand it — 

Dennis McKenna: About 15 years — 

Tim Ferriss: 15 years in the Amazon, and this is not flying first class — 

Dennis McKenna: No. No.

Tim Ferriss: — to the Amazon.

Dennis McKenna: No.

Tim Ferriss: And so your first exposure to him was him hugging an air conditioner, as I understand it.

Dennis McKenna: Yeah. Well, he was obviously a little past his prime at that point, but when I took this bus and got off the bus, it was like early September. It was a sweltering summer, and I got off the bus and I took my backpack. I must have looked a mess. I mean I’d been literally on the bus for four days. But I got to his office and I went up, went to the desk downstairs. I said, “I’m here to see Dr. Schultes.”

They said, “Oh, he’s upstairs in his office.” So I went upstairs and couldn’t see anybody there. There was nobody at the reception desk, and I sort of peered in this dark room with all the blinds closed and wiping the sweat from my brow. And then, I could see him back in the back of this office laboratory that he had there, and he was hugging the air conditioner.

Tim Ferriss: When you have an AC, you might as well use it, I suppose. Otherwise, why have it there? 

Dennis McKenna: Well, yeah, I figure. It was like utterly charming, because I expected this swashbuckling, like you say Indiana Jones, tough guy, and he was all those things, but you got an air conditioner, you may as well hug it. So that’s what he did. Yeah. It was very disarming.

Tim Ferriss: I love it. I absolutely love it. Let also pick up on a couple of other points and ask just a couple of definitions for people listening, which we’ll get to in a minute, but I would like to read a few things from the Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, if you’re willing to bear with me, because I think it will hopefully help tie some things together in the minds of those who are not familiar with your background and your work.

So, Sanford Siegel, who you mentioned. So his research interests among many other things included exobiology, but I want to read just a paragraph about him from your book. And then, three sections that I pulled out about science. It’s going to take me a minute, but if you could bear with me. So this is from the book and on Sanford Siegel. And this is where the excerpt begins.

“In his NASA-funded work, he was extremely creative in his thinking about stress physiology in extreme environments. For example, he wondered what would happen if he tried to grow a cactus underwater. Turns out, it grows fine as long as you bubble oxygen and carbon dioxide through the water. How well does a tarantula survive under a radiation flux similar to that at a Martian surface? It survives just fine for months. Can you germinate onion seedlings and liquid ammonia as a substitute for water? Yes. Ammonia can substitute for water and many biological processes.

He had a genius for thinking of these incredibly creative, exciting, and simple experiments, and yet they all had a rationale and a reason behind them. He was an out of the box thinker.” And then, I’m going to jump to what you said separately in the book about science. “I knew scientific thought had its limits, but before we could reject science, the most powerful set of intellectual tools ever developed by the human mind, we first had to learn how to do science. Then, if we still wanted to reject it, we could do so as scientists with full knowledge of what it was we were rejecting.”

I think these are really, really important to tie together, because you have such broad exposure. And as I understand it there are many influences early on, two of which were, I believe it was the Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda, even though subsequently a lot of people, and you’re aware of this, came to conclude that a lot of that, if not most of it was fictionalized, and a book that I have about 20 feet from here, which is the first edition of something you already mentioned, the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, ESPD.

And that’s from 1967. I have the updated — I shouldn’t say updated, but a second volume from 2017, which you organized for the 50th anniversary. Could you speak to perhaps the appeal of science? Because what I’ve noticed in the, let’s call it the psychedelic ecosystem, is that you have purists in many different silos, if that makes sense?

Dennis McKenna: Mn-hmm (affirmative)

Tim Ferriss: And part of the reason I’ve been so excited to spend time with you is because you have been a boundary walker of sorts across these different silos. So what is it that drew you most to science and the scientific method in addition to some of the facets perhaps represented by Castaneda’s work in some respect?

Dennis McKenna: I think 1967, 1968 were like pivotal years for me in terms of my discovery of my professional direction and my professional interests as well as being psychedelics these are also very personal things, but that year, 1968, is the year that these two books came across my desk. The Teachings of Don Juan, the first edition that my brother gave me for my 18th birthday. And then the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, which I am not even sure, I don’t even remember where I originally got the first edition, but that had come across my radar a few months earlier.

And these two books were very important for me in terms of sort of framing my interests. It made me aware that there was this ethnographic background and these traditional backgrounds, even though we, probably most people agree that Castaneda made a lot of this stuff up. Didn’t really matter. It doesn’t really matter. It made it clear that there was a body of traditional knowledge around the use of these things, whether what he described was accurate or not, didn’t matter.

That was one page, one side of the frame. And then the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs made me aware that a lot of this was about chemistry and plants and pharmacology and molecules and a more hard science biologically oriented aspect to it. So these two things seem to fit together very well. And I thought ethnopharmacology is a real thing, at least, to the extent that this book exists. It’s a real thing.

Tim Ferriss: And could you define ethnopharmacology?

Dennis McKenna: Yeah. Well, ethnopharmacology, there’s various definitions of it. The one I like is kind of tortured. It’s kind of long, but I’ll explain why I like it. So ethnopharmacology is the interdisciplinary, by definition interdisciplinary, scientific investigation of biologically active substances used or observed by humans in traditional societies.

And the reason it’s so tortured is, it’s not always about plants. It’s not always about medicinal plants. It’s not always about things that humans ingest. For example, arrow poisons. Totally legitimate kind of subject for ethnopharmacology. And then, traditional societies kind of limits the scope. We’re talking about not — I mean in some sense, all of pharmacology is ethnopharmacology because it’s people doing it. But we’re talking about traditional knowledge, indigenous knowledge, and that sort of thing. That’s the formal definition of ethnopharmacology that I like.

Tim Ferriss: And I think it’s also worth highlighting for folks and you would have, I’m sure, dozens or hundreds of examples how many commonly used compounds or drugs have come out of in some form of ethnopharmacology, right? Whether it be aspirin, or you mentioned dart poisons, that curare leading then into anesthesia, and the list just goes on and on and on. There are so many things we take for granted that have their origins in these places.

Dennis McKenna: The whole spectrum really of when you’re talking about natural products, especially for things like CNS-active natural products, and so on. They come out of a cultural context. We know about these things because they have a cultural context. And I mean if you look at even just herbal medicines, herbal remedies, every one of these things that you can buy in the drugstore or the health food store has a story behind it, has a cultural back story.

And then, entrepreneurial forces and commercial forces take that and develop products out of it. For example, kava kava is a good example of that. I mean it’s now a supplement and you can buy it in a health food store. It’s a very useful muscle relaxant and sort of tranquilizer, but it comes out of the context of Polynesian traditional medicine. Many, many things are that way. So there’s always a cultural backstory.

That’s what I like about ethnopharmacology. It ties those kinds of things together with the nuts and bolts side of it, what are the active ingredients? What’s the chemistry? What’s the pharmacology? And so on.

Tim Ferriss: If you don’t mind, I know this is a bit stochastic, but I would love to jump into this volume, the 50th anniversary volume of the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, and just as background, and please correct me if I get any of this wrong, but the 1967 gathering was subsidized by the US government. Was it the NIMH?

Dennis McKenna: NIMH, that’s right. National Institute of Mental Health.

Tim Ferriss: And so, you have this gathering of titans of sorts to discuss exactly as the title would imply, the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, after which a volume was produced, printed and sold by the US government, which included the findings. And suffice to say, shortly thereafter, you have the Nixon administration, the Controlled Substances Act, and game over.

Dennis McKenna: Right. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then you organized this 50th anniversary and just to give people an idea of the contents, and also I want to tell people, if you were interested in the science, this is published by Synergetic Press. You can find it on the Synergetic Press website as well as on Amazon. This is a beautifully produced double volume where you have the original 1967, and then the 2017 edition.

The contents are just fascinating. And one of them that I’d love to dig into, it doesn’t necessarily have to be — our discussion doesn’t have to be reflective exclusively of the content in this, Broad Spectrum Roles of Harmine in Ayahuasca by Dale Millard. Could you speak to some of the more recent findings related to ayahuasca? Which could include this discussion of harmine, but I think a lot of folks have assumed that ayahuasca is this psychedelic brew principally containing Banisteriopsis caapi, this vine and a plant source containing DMT like chacruna or Psychotria viridis. That the vine really just serves to render the DMT orally absorbable or active. But it seems like there’s a lot more to the story.

Dennis McKenna: It does do that. It does do that. It’s the MAO inhibitor, monoamine oxidase inhibitor, that renders the DMT containing the admixture plants active, because DMT itself, as you know, is not orally active if you just take it pure or if you make a tea of chacruna one of these, and then drink it by itself, nothing’s going to happen unless you have an MAO inhibitor on board. But it turns out the alkaloids of Banisteriopsis, these beta-carbolines, are much more than just MAO inhibitors.

For example, one of the primary alkaloids in ayahuasca is harmine. And harmine is a strong MAO inhibitor, but it also stimulates neurogenesis, which is nerve growth. And these are recent findings. Another constituent in ayahuasca is a related alkaloid called tetrahydroharmine, which is an MAO inhibitor, but also a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. So it has like SSRI-type activity. And also, some other unexpected things.

For one thing, and this came out of our ayahuasca study in Brazil. It has long-term effects on the levels of the serotonin transporters in the brain. That the serotonin transporters are the pre-synaptic molecules that take serotonin back up out of the synapse and recycles it and re-releases it.

Well, like SSRIs, tetrahydroharmine inhibits that, but it also causes a long-term elevation in the levels of these serotonin transporters. And that was a unique finding. We didn’t know what to expect, but that came out of the study. And it was kind of surprising. But then when we found this effect, this is all done, this is all in vitro. We took tissue samples, platelet samples, and so on, and this was all done in the lab, but we found this persistent elevating effect on the serotonin transporters; we thought, “What does that mean?”

It wasn’t really clear. We were asking a naive question. Is there anything biochemical that makes regular ayahuasca drinkers different biochemically than normal people or other people? And this was one clear difference. We didn’t really know what it meant, but then we looked into the literature, and we found out there were a number of pathologies that were associated with abnormal deficits in the serotonin transporters.

For example, various kinds of alcoholism addiction, suicidality, even homicidal behavior, various kinds of behavioral pathologies, which happen to be the very pathologies that many of the people in our UDV study were saying ayahuasca had saved them, usually from alcoholism. That was usually their problem, and if they stayed in the church, in that supportive context, and drank ayahuasca regularly, then they stayed on track and many, they were on track.

These were very behaviorally, psychologically functional people, not sick. If they were sick, they were cured, and they attributed it to ayahuasca. And then, in our in vitro studies in a couple of vial assays, we found that it was really tetrahydroharmine that was having this effect, and the course of action was over about two weeks. And my friend, Jace Callaway, who was one of the investigators on this and figured out how to do it, he had access to brain imaging technology at his laboratory in Finland. He was doing postdocs in Finland.

And so, he tried taking tetrahydroharmine himself and imaging himself and showed, well, sure enough, it did raise the levels of these serotonin transporters on about a two-week cycle. And then, if you stop taking it, it went back down to baseline.

Tim Ferriss: So does that mean on the two-week cycle that after one administration, the levels remained elevated for two weeks, or that it required two weeks of administration to elevate?

Dennis McKenna: It required about two weeks of continuous administration to bring it to that level. And that was the cycle that the UDV — customarily, they took it every couple of weeks, not that they knew about this effect, but that was just their practice.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I guess they knew about, in a sense, they indirectly knew about the effect, but not the mechanism, right?

Dennis McKenna: That’s right. That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: And for people who don’t know UDV, I’m probably going to mispronounce, but that’s the União do Vegetal, something like that. One of the syncretic churches found in Brazil.

Dennis McKenna: That’s right. Yeah. I should have explained that. One of the syncretic churches, the group that invited us in to do this biomedical study in the early ’90s. And that was one of the chief findings.

Tim Ferriss: Does the UDV differentiate between different types of brews for different purposes? My understanding is that some of the Daimitas or some of the members or perhaps groups within Santo Daime, another one of these syncretic churches, do have different, I don’t want to say admixtures, but concentrations of different things and different brews for different purposes. Are you aware of that existing in, within the UDV?

Dennis McKenna: Yes. The UDV does have that. They do have different formulations and so on and they don’t talk about them. I mean we were not able to get any information out of them about that other than the fact that, yes, we do have these different formulations. I mean we came up against a couple of interesting things about when we were dealing with the UDV, which was that they were very concerned that ayahuasca or hoasca as they called it, be viewed as a sacrament, not as a medicine.

And so, if you wanted to — 

Tim Ferriss: Much less as a drug, right? That would be a big problem.

Dennis McKenna: Much less a drug. They didn’t like the idea that you would study it as a drug. So I mean they were totally open to doing this biomedical study, but as far as going the next step and looking into mechanisms, and that sort of thing. They were kind of conflicted about that.

They could see the value of it, but then they didn’t like the idea of godless science delving into their central mystery sacrament. And I could understand that, but as a result of that, we lost some opportunities to do some interesting things.

Tim Ferriss: Totally. I wonder if that would be different now, because my understanding — I think I got this from the book, is that or maybe it was from a different reading that I did of yours. That part of the reason for their cooperation was politically sort of legally motivated in the sense they wanted the local/national government and potential policy makers to view this as beneficial. And so they were open to showing the benefits, but they didn’t want reductionist science to, as you put it, remove the mystery by explaining some secular mechanism of action.

Dennis McKenna: Yeah. There was definitely a political aspect to this. This is a big reason why they wanted this work to be done by outside investigators, who presumably would — if it was just UDV, and there were scientists in the UDV, it was a middle to upper class demographic segments, but they wanted people from the outside to be the chief investigators to avoid the perception that the work would be biased. And that’s one reason I got invited and Charlie Grob was the chief principal investigator.

I invited him to do that and he became that. So they wanted this regulatory agency called CONFEN, kind of a combination of the DEA and the FDA. They wanted to present data to CONFEN that showed that this was not a public health menace or danger, and also that it was beneficial and/or potentially beneficial. So there was definitely a political sub agenda here, but as it turned out, I mean we just did the science and the science supported that it was beneficial, not only for — 

I mean the people, almost all of our subjects to join the UDV in a state of life crisis. And they felt like the medicine, the tea, as they called it, and the very supportive context of the UDV, which they did not — they said that’s equally necessary, but they felt like that was a vessel for redemption essentially, and turning their lives around. And so it’s a complex thing. It’s a complicated matter.

Tim Ferriss: I’m endlessly fascinated by the syncretic churches that use ayahuasca as a sacrament, because I think there’s so much that could be learned when you have these relatively large groups consuming twice per month. I mean it’s just an incredible opportunity. Question for you around ayahuasca because I think in the, we’ve already alluded to this, but in the minds of some, ayahuasca is one thing, right? It’s like an old-fashioned that is always made the same way, but there are many, many different cocktails that could be called ayahuasca, and in The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, you talk very briefly about — and I’m not sure if you called this in the book, but Chacruna panga, which is also, I think it’s a Diplopterys cabrerana. Is that how that’s pronounced?

Dennis McKenna: Mn-hmm (affirmative). Diplopterys. Diplopterys.

Tim Ferriss: Diplopterys. Oh, so many words I only read; I never hear them said.

Dennis McKenna: Close enough. Close enough.

Tim Ferriss: Which, by some like the Awajún, it’s called yagé and it’s a different plant from chacruna. Did you ever have the opportunity to consume ayahuasca with the Chacruna panga?

Dennis McKenna: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Experientially, did you find it to be different?

Dennis McKenna: Well, I only consumed it a few times. I found it to be shorter acting, and in terms of the visionary stage of the experience, and also more intense. So there’s something pharmacokinetically going on there with the absorption of it. But people are mistaken if they think ayahuasca is one thing. Ayahuasca is a very complex, in the cultural context, it’s a very complex thing. There are many varieties of ayahuasca. The vine, there are then all these admixture plants. Some of which contain DMT and varieties of those.

And then, a whole pharmacopoeia of other admixture plants that are more or less associated with ayahuasca. They’re part of the dietas, which is a common practice in the Amazon. You learn about the properties of other medicinal plants by taking them, and then you take ayahuasca, either in combination or after you take them, and you learn about their properties from the visions that ayahuasca gives you about their — so, ayahuasca is like the pipeline to plant wisdom in a certain way to tap into this, I don’t know what you might call it, Gaian mind that’s represented by these many admixture plants.

So, there’s a whole lot of work left to be done with ayahuasca and looking into more depth than we were able to look at at that time. That’s one of the projects that we’re trying to get off the ground with the McKenna Academy. We want to do a very extensive phytochemical botanical survey of different ayahuasca brews, document their preparation, document the plants that go into them, and then follow that up with bioassays and just get a better handle on the varieties of these different brews and their uses. Why would we care? Why do we want to do this?

Well, it’s gathering knowledge. It’s gathering information, but the potential practical outcome of this is that you can formulate brews that might be specific for different types of disorders. Maybe some work better for addiction, some work better for trauma, some work better for depression or that sort of thing. All of this is kind of supported by the fork knowledge, but there’s been nothing like a controlled study of any of this. It’s very hard to get funding to study ayahuasca in a clinical setting, because it’s not a pure compound. It doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of double-blind placebo-controlled protocols where you can use with something like psilocybin. It’s complicated.

Tim Ferriss: It seems very complex. I’d love to ask you about one particular plant, which, well, it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes, because it depends on the orientation. It could be Datura metel or it could be Brugmansia. I want to ask you about Brugmansia, also called floripondio or toé. Do you think there’s a place for that? It scares the hell out of me and I know it’s sometimes used, but what is your position if any on Brugmansia?

Dennis McKenna: Well, first of all, you’re right to be scared. This is a very dangerous plant. It is not only toxic, but it produces a kind of delirium. It’s not a psychedelic. I sometimes say in my lectures it’s a true hallucinogen, but not psychedelic, but by that I mean, psychedelics, you see hallucinations sometimes behind the eyes or whatever. You usually know that these things are hallucinations. With Brugmansia, which used to be called — the genus is very close to Datura.

In fact, they used to be classified as Daturas, but with Datura, the experiences that you have, you see hallucinations and you cannot tell if they’re real or not. And so, in that sense it’s a true hallucinogen, but it’s not psychedelic. And it produces a state of profound disorientation and delirium, essentially. So it’s used very badly. It’s used as a date rape drug and things like that in Brazil and Colombia, and it’s often associated with brujeria in the ayahuasca tradition.

In other words, black magic, sorcery. And if you take a brew of ayahuasca that contains Datura or Brugmansia, you can tell because it causes this dry mouth sensation, which is typical of these anticholinergics like Datura. 

Tim Ferriss: Is that like the scopolamine?

Dennis McKenna: Exactly. It’s scopolamine. So you can tell that if you’re taking ayahuasca that’s got toé is the traditional word for these things, toé, T-O-E accent. That’s a good sign that you’re dealing with a brujo, and that’s a good sign that you should get the hell out of there, because they do not have your best interests at heart and are unlikely to. That said, now you have to acknowledge that it has a place in this whole ayahuasca complex.

And there may be people that can, practitioners that can use it beneficially. But my own experiences with Datura, which you’ve probably read about in the book, that scared me away. I mean — 

Tim Ferriss: Horrifying. Yeah.

Dennis McKenna: — I had no idea what I was getting into. And we were very lucky. We could have killed ourselves.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. There are documented, lots of documented fatalities with both of those and I wanted to mention, to bring that up just because there are risks associated with a lot of these things. There are documented fatalities with tobacco over-ingestion, tobacco juice in the Amazon. You have to be really, really careful. And I want to come back to a second to this kind of hired gun aspect, I think as you put it in the book in the world of vegetalismo, and in this, let’s just call it the medicine world in South America.

It’s not the case that everyone is focused. It’s actually rarely the case that practitioners are exclusively focused on how we perhaps view these medicines in North America for healing, for the contending within processing of trauma. It’s a much — the cosmo vision and the use case is much, much broader and I just want to mention one more thing, which is even if you don’t believe in black magic or anything like that, you can believe in manipulation.

And the Brugmansia, like you mentioned in Colombia, is one example and elsewhere, although I think that people are kind of hip to this and law enforcement is hip to it. So perhaps the use has declined, but it was very common that crime syndicates would take the Brugmansia extract or somehow purify the scopolamine and walk — then, they would have prostitutes or other people blow the powder into the faces of victims, and this is the crazy part that I want to highlight for folks.

That after which sometimes these victims would be brought to their own home, they would help the perpetrators load everything in their house into a loading van, and they would appear totally normal to say the doormen and so on, and 12 hours later have no recollection of what they did. I mean it’s wild. I mean it brings up kind of these visions of The Serpent and the Rainbow. It’s crazy to think about.

Dennis McKenna: It is. They appear totally normal except that they’re helping load all the furniture into the elevator at three in the morning.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Dennis McKenna: Yeah. I think it was vice.com that — 

Tim Ferriss: Vice did a good piece on this.

Dennis McKenna: — did a good thing. Yeah. So that’s the thing. The Datura, the Brugmansia confuses you and makes you extremely suggestible. So you get this stuff inside you, and then people say, “Well, let’s go to your apartment and take out all the furniture. Let’s go to your ATM and take out all your money.” And you say, “Oh, well, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s go do that.”

So black magic aside, it can definitely — it doesn’t have to be magic, it just puts you in such a state of confusion and susceptibility, suggestibility. That’s the way it works.

Tim Ferriss: It really is so fascinating, and simultaneously sometimes terrifying to go really deep into the rabbit hole with this. Could you speak to traditional use of plant medicine in ayahuasca and hearkening back to the mention of the sort of non-inherent, good nature of practitioners or ayahuasca non-inherently bad nature, but sort of this neutral available for higher aspect in some instances that I think a lot of people are not aware of? Could you sort of speak to that a bit?

Dennis McKenna: There are brujos. There are people who don’t really have your best interests at heart, and there are other people, other practitioners who really are amazing healers and they can help a great deal of people. But the thing is that the context of traditional use has changed due to outside cultural influences. Because like anything else the people want to give the extranjeros — the ayahuasca tourists or whatever — they want to give them their money’s worth.

And so the nature of the ceremonies changes, has changed in response to this. I mean back in the day before there was anything like it, when ayahuasca usage was still kind of a tribal based tradition, there wasn’t all this outside influence, it was the shaman who took ayahuasca, not the people. Rarely would the ayahuasca be given to a person that came to the ceremony unless there was some specific illness or something they wanted specifically to be treated, but it was the ayahuasquero who had the visions that downloaded the information about the plants and other kinds of practices they might engage in to help people with healing.

Well, that’s all changed. The outside influence of the global culture and people are not going to go to South America and spend all this money to sit and watch somebody to drink ayahuasca. They are there to have the experience, and that’s okay. I mean I think it’s just fascinating what we’re seeing go on now with the ayahuasca tourism thing is definitely a complex thing. It’s not necessarily a completely bad thing or a completely good thing. It’s a mixed bag, because many people are helped by this and all the tourists coming down, they bring economic benefits to these communities, but then those are not equitably distributed.

You get a situation where the local ayahuasquero, who used to be just some guy or some gal that was a person in the village who kind of did this work on the side, and they had their own livelihood, farming, fishing or whatever, well now these people are kind of superstars, and they get a lot of income. It generates a lot of jealousy within the community where that can happen. 

Tim Ferriss: They also get priced out of the local market, right?

Dennis McKenna: Exactly. They get priced out of the local market. There is pressure on the resource base. Ayahuasca and the admixture plants are being overharvested, and there’s not enough effort being made to really make sure the sources are sustainable, but that’s changing. The market is adjusting to this. But these changes take place over — they take years, and there are some very hopeful trends now. People are becoming more aware of some of the issues with overharvesting and so on.

Tim Ferriss: Let me pull another paragraph here, and then I want to ask you a question about some of your personal experiences. And this is related to the science that was brought up earlier. “There are many things in Heaven and Earth that are beyond the ken of science and may remain so forever. Anyone who has taken psychedelics seriously or has had other transcendent experiences is likely to share that conclusion. At the same time, science remains the most effective method for asking questions of nature and getting back answers that can be tested and validated.”

You fascinate me on so many different levels, and I’ve actually read much more of your writing than I have read the writing of your brother. And part of the Venn diagram that makes you such a subject of interest to me is the scientific, let’s call it the esoteric, and then the personal.

And I’ve heard in other interviews you talk about, when prompted, you don’t just volunteer this, but when people ask about the number of sessions you have done with let’s say ayahuasca, it seems to number — even though you don’t keep track — in the 500 plus range. 

Dennis McKenna: I’d say so.

Tim Ferriss: Something in that range. And as far as I know you’re not a member of one of the syncretic churches where people would drink twice a month, so people can do the math if someone does that for decades, it adds up. I would love for you to speak to, because many people will hear that, and they’ll say, “Wait a second, you do it once, it changes your life, and then you’re kind of done. Why on earth would you ever do it so many times?” And I would just love to hear you speak to that.

Dennis McKenna: Partly it’s because of the context in which I have used ayahuasca and brought other people to South America to have these experiences. I’ve organized retreats and that sort of thing. So I’m one of those — I’m guilty. If you want to point at the people that have fostered ayahuasca tourism, I’ve certainly contributed to that. I’m a little conflicted about it.

So when I do these retreats, then I drink. People expect me to drink and I do drink. The other reason is, I think every time you take it — maybe this is the more valid reason — every time that you take it, or most times that you take it, not every time you take ayahuasca is going to be a peak experience. I mean there’s lots of times when it’s disappointing and you just get sick and the brew is bad or whatever. But it has a lot to teach us.

There’s a lot to learn from ayahuasca. And even though you’ve taken it multiple times, you still keep getting new insights or new — I mean the experience seems worthwhile. And so I keep taking it. Maybe I’m thick-skilled. Maybe other people have an easier way to assimilate the lesson and say, “Yeah. I got the message. Okay. I don’t need to do this anymore.” I’ve come close to that a couple of times, but I think Ram Das famously said, or maybe it was Alan Watts, I’m not sure who said it, “Once you get the message, hang up the phone.”

And I sort of think I disagree with that. I think, in other words, the message is not the same every time. There is no standard message, and this is a dynamic interaction with the plant that you’re learning from. Indigenous people talk about plant teachers, and you can get into the weeds about whether that’s a valid concept, are they really intelligent? Are they not?

The point is, it doesn’t really matter whether the plants, the ayahuasca opens up some part of yourself that may present as something not the self, but that knows things, that has information to transfer. It doesn’t really matter. What I say: is the information good? So every time you take it, or when you take it, there’s really a bottomless well of things to still be thought about and assimilated and so on. So I kind of don’t believe in the “Hang up the phone” approach.

My approach would be, I guess, keep listening. Keep listening, because a lot of what you might hear will be stuff that you’ve heard before, but there may be new things that come along that make it worth it to stay engaged. And so that’s how I relate to it. It’s not a waste of time to keep listening.

Tim Ferriss: And you’ve also noted that, and you’re not the only person, Luis Eduardo Luna and others have also noted that these habitual consumers of ayahuasca often seem to remain exceptionally sharp and lucid into older age. And as I’ve thought about this and spoken with people who have a lot of experience like yourself, it seems like there are kind of different frames through which you can look at this experience.

One is almost like the replacement of a malfunctioning hip. So you have a hip replacement, it’s one and done, maybe you need it again 10 years later, but that’s it. That’s the “Hang up the phone” approach. And then there’s this way of looking at it almost like going to the gym, and there are all these use cases historically that seem to, at least, offer other use cases, like the use of ayahuasca for hunting, let’s just say.

And another one that kind of occurred to me as I talked to some of these folks who drink in South America, some people drink four, five, six times a week, and it’s almost like you could, let’s say, live in New York and go to Japan and study things in Japan in the hopes that you can bring it back to New York and apply it in your life in New York, but you could also go to Japan and just get to know Japan and the culture and how to operate in that space. And I’d love to hear you speak to outside of the groups that you bring down where you are expected to drink, How do you decide when to drink?

Dennis McKenna: Well, just usually the occasion presents itself. I mean I don’t go — it’s rare that I would come to one of these places and not drink or just when it seems appropriate is when I decide. If I’m in a situation where ayahuasca is being drunk, then I would probably drink it. And I tend not to go after it outside of a ceremonial context, and even for a while I would say, “Well, I don’t even drink it in the States or Canada. I just confine it to South America when I’m down there.”

But then I can’t really stick to that because there are opportunities here, and now I go to a place called Soltara in Costa Rica, which is one of the higher profile ayahuasca retreats. I’m an advisor to Soltara and I like the way they’re doing it. I think they’re very ethical in their approach to all this. And so, it’s a matter of opportunity rather than anything else. When it seems appropriate. But to what you alluded to before about how — it can be, in some ways ayahuasca and a lot of psychedelics can be a big reset, but then there is the maintenance part of it.

And the work we did with the UDV and the finding about the modulation of these serotonin transporters is really an eye opener, because what that speaks to is that regular use of ayahuasca can actually repair some of these deficits. In fact, it may be the only drug or medicine that can do that.

I think peak experiences can be major reset moments. And I think this is part of the therapeutic profile of a lot of psychedelics. They basically get you out of your default mode network. They get you out of your personal reference frame. They let you look at situations from a slight remove. And you have insights as to your existential situation, whatever it might be. Not all psychedelic experiences, not all ayahuasca experiences, are necessarily these peak experiences, and they don’t have to be. They can be beneficial and they can help you remember, maybe is a more accurate term, some of the insights you had from previous experiences. And then I think there’s a physiological aspect too, particularly with ayahuasca like this modulation of the serotonin transporters and so on.

And neurogenesis, you mentioned that a lot of practitioners, ayahuasqueros, seem to be unusually sharp and lucid, even though they’re maybe of advanced age. And I think that is a reflection of ayahuasca. I think that, in general, I am a skeptic about this whole microdosing fad. I have my doubts about it, but in the case of ayahuasca, I think microdosing might make sense, not for the hallucinogenic-psychedelic effects, but for the things the beta-carbolines do for your nervous system. You can think of them as a nerve tonic. And keeping these serotonin transporter levels elevated is probably a very good thing, guarding against depression and that kind of stuff. So again, just like with the plants and their chemistry, there’s lots to be learned about the pharmacology of ayahuasca too.

Tim Ferriss: So I want to talk about the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy. We’re going to spend a good amount of time on that. Before we get there though, since we’re talking about some of the possible benefits of, in this case, ayahuasca, I would love to discuss perhaps the other side of the coin. And I know that the experiment at La Chorrera does not relate to ayahuasca specifically, but I’d like to, and I know you’ve described this many, many times, we don’t have to spend a ton of airtime on it, but the — I’m going to read a paragraph, actually two paragraphs and then we can use that as a way of backing into it if that’s okay.

Here’s the prelude to the chapter that introduces the experiment at La Chorrera which, again, we don’t have to spend too much time on it. Just enough to frame this. “In some respects, everything in life before we arrived at La Chorrera was a prelude to the events that engulfed us there. And everything afterwards has been a reflection of them. Terence chronicled the events in True Hallucinations. Though his account may seem unlikely and bizarre, I believe it is largely accurate, even if interpretations vary as to what it all meant. I can’t vouch for every detail if only because…”

And this is the part that I’m just going to highlight here, “…I was lost in hyperspace for much of the time or overwhelmed by psychosis, again depending on interpretation. Anyone with an interest in the ‘facts’ of our story, if the word even applies, should regard Terence’s narrative as required reading.” And then we flash forward too much later in the book. “Terence mentions that on March 20th, we all celebrated at one of Bogota’s finer restaurants and that the others agreed I was ‘totally back.’ They weren’t aware that in my mind I was in telepathic communications with all the waiters and that our dishes were being wafted to the table by telekinesis. Rather than alarm them, I kept that to myself, but except for a few episodes like that, I was doing all right.”

There’s lots to discuss here. I have personally experienced many upsides to psychedelic use, including ayahuasca. I’ve also been put into hyperspace, as you put it, on a few occasions or have become, say, destabilized, if you want to be a little less charitable. And I have friends who have become destabilized, dietas in some cases, using ayahuasca in other cases. In some cases, from LSD — we don’t have to go to South America for this — for weeks, months at a time. And I would love to just hear you perhaps expand a little bit on your personal experience, and if you have had more experiences like this, so that people can be aware that this is one of the cards in the deck.

Dennis McKenna: It is one of the cards in the deck and people should be aware that this is a possibility, which is one reason why it’s important to have a strong ritual environment, a strong ritual context in an ayahuasquero, a practitioner that knows what they’re doing because they can keep you on track and get you out into hyperspace and get you back. And that’s the whole essence of shamanism. I have not, since La Chorrera, had the experiences that have kept me three sheets to the wind, if you will, for weeks at a time. It was not particularly pleasant. I mean at the time, I was not concerned about getting back. All those concepts had evaporated. But after I did get back and actually did get restabilized and truly back in my body and then in ordinary reality, on reflection, I realized what a dangerous place this was to be in and that potentially it could have gone the opposite way, where I never did reintegrate. 

One of the reasons that I was able to reintegrate, I think, was because of the circumstances of La Chorrera, the process had to play out. There were people in our group who said, “This is totally out of control. We need to get these people out of here, into a psychiatric facility, and under treatment.” And Terence and I both completely resisted that because we understood what was going on. At least we thought we did. We were in communication with each other. It was like, “No, you just need to let this play out.” And I think that was the right thing. I have a lecture I give, a talk I give. Was it a psychotic break, was it a shamanic initiation, or was there an alien encounter? Probably all three in a certain way, but it was closer to a shamanic initiation in a certain —

Not that I call myself a shaman, I’m not, but it’s — the shamanic initiation is where you get to explore these dimensions and then you get back out. You get back onto your mundane feet in 3D and ordinary reality of whatever that is. I’m wandering here, but I think the point is because of the fact that it was able to play itself out from beginning to end, it was actually a very healing experience. Rather than being disorganized and incoherent for the rest of my life, maybe some people say I am, but I don’t think so, but it was actually a healing experience and I came back from it stronger.

And I feel like even though I’ve continued to take psychedelics ever since on occasion, I’ve never gotten to that place again and I’m grateful for that and I also feel that I’m basically a fairly stable person.

Tim Ferriss: Let me ask a couple of follow-up questions, because there are a few things that struck me in the book in describing this. And people should pick up the book and read all of it including this chronicle, but — 

Dennis McKenna: Only the Kindle version is available, as you know.

Tim Ferriss: Which is perfect for me because — 

Dennis McKenna: Hard copies are no more.

Tim Ferriss: Hard to come by, so I can take notes and then export my notes, which is my favorite thing in the world to do. So I have my 189 highlights and then I went through and I added three asterisks to the things I wanted to follow up on. That’s a six-page document, so I’m fully nerded out when it comes to my digestion of this book. And please fill in the details or fact check me on this, but one of the things that struck me, and this also seems to be a pattern across people who, and I don’t want to characterize your experience this way, but those people who might come unmoored and stay adrift for longer periods of time, is there was a real density of consumption of psilocybin mushrooms when you were there.

And my understanding is you guys had very little in terms of food, maybe some instant noodles and rice. And you had this just almost ridiculous abundance of mushrooms due to these zebu cattle who were down there. And so you started spicing up meals and so on by throwing in psychedelic mushrooms. So you had just not only a high-dose experience, there’s a lot more to it, of course, but you had a really high density of continuous consumption. Is that accurate? Is that fair to say?

Dennis McKenna: Yes, yes, yes. And so in this process, we never really did give ourselves a chance to get back to baseline, as you will, and look at, “Well, what’s going on here now that we’re unstoned?” We were never unstoned! Most of what happened with the experiment at La Chorrera — when we actually performed the experiment at La Chorrera — was post-mushroom. We weren’t eating them anymore.

Tim Ferriss: That’s right. That was about two weeks later.

Dennis McKenna: But there were plenty of them in our system. And then, of course, on the night that we did the experiment, we ate them. But mushrooms are tricky. Mushrooms are not necessarily to be trusted, in a certain way, because they can lead you into these delusional spaces. And as a plant teacher, well, they’re not plants, but as a psychedelic teacher, they’re somewhat less trustworthy than ayahuasca. You can get into these delusional spaces. And it’s something to be careful of.

Tim Ferriss: Certainly not to be trifled with in a sense. I think it’s a good idea to respect the mushrooms.

Dennis McKenna: None of these things should be trifled with.

Tim Ferriss: To follow up on that, you mentioned letting things play out and how that was beneficial to you and your reintegration, and perhaps, if you had been subjected at that point to a psychiatric intervention, that that could have been problematic for you. This presents a dicey situation, I suppose, for people who might experience things in the sense that, as a counterweight to that, I know one person, for instance, who went to Peru, did a traditional dieta, where he was consuming something called chiric sanango and ayahuasca on alternating days, and he did this for quite a long period of time. Chiric sanango is seen in a number of cases now, people who have had psychotic breaks after continuous administration. Not to say it’s bad, I just think that this is an observed kind of phenomenon.

Dennis McKenna: Right.

Tim Ferriss: And his family had to go down to South America — he thought he was God — and convinced him that if he were God, the gift he could give would be getting on this thing that was made up in his mind called an airplane and coming back to the United States. But I suppose there’s a plausible argument to be made that he would have been among the lost and maybe would not have come out by himself. So how do you think about when it is appropriate? And again, we’re not giving medical advice. Everybody needs to talk to their medical professionals, but would there not be times when a psychiatric intervention would be called for? How do you think about that?

Dennis McKenna: There would definitely be times when a psychiatric intervention — I’m not saying that every time. For me, the fact that the experience did play itself out, what was allowed to play out was this process of integration, and integration is really important, as you know, to psychedelic experience, and this process of getting back to some kind of baseline, but with that changed perspective, with the benefit of having had this experience and changing that perspective and so on. But sometimes, this is why set and setting is so important. When you take it in an inappropriate set and setting, then there’s the potential to come up against what we call the real world, society and its conventions and its expectations.

For example, I could share with you the son of a very good friend of mine in Minnesota, about age 18, went with his, I don’t know what his previous psychedelic experience had been, not great, but a few low-level mushroom experiences and so on, but he decided with some of his friends to take a trip to New York City. This is like small town boys in the big city and just having a great time. They took a lot of mushrooms and he descended into this delusional world. His friends said, “Well, we’re going back to Minnesota,” and he said, “Well, I’m staying here.” “What are you going to do, live on the streets?” “Yes,” and he had this whole thing.

Well, it didn’t take very long for him to come up against New York’s finest, as you might say, because he was acting pretty strange. And he got into a tussle with the cops and punched one in the face. That was a big mistake. Next thing you know, he was in jail and being transferred to, what is the huge psychiatric hospital there? Bedlam or something?

Tim Ferriss: Bedlam? Bellevue, maybe.

Dennis McKenna: Bellevue, Bellevue. The only reason that he was able to resolve it in some ways was that at this point, I was getting involved. I was actually in Brazil. I was in my ayahuasca retreat with all this was going on. But my friend called me and said, “This has happened. Is there anybody in New York, a psychiatrist, that could help him?” As it turned out, I said, “Well, yeah, as a matter of fact, Steve Ross might be able to help him.” And I called Steve. This is all done by Skype. When I called Steve and I explained the situation, and he said, “Well, as it turns out, I have admission privileges at Bellevue,” which I had no idea that he did, but he went over there and he was able to intervene on this young man’s behalf and get him out of there, but the guy never did recover.

He went back. He was on psychiatric meds and he was fairly functional when he was doing that, but he hated being on psychiatric meds. And it was a tragedy in many ways. He never fully recovered.

Tim Ferriss: How old was he at this time?

Dennis McKenna: He was about 18 or 19.

Tim Ferriss: Did he have a family history of schizophrenia or anything like that?

Dennis McKenna: Potentially, yes. There was schizophrenia in this family. It was a very strange family situation. His mother was a devout Evangelical Christian and his father was a psychedelic cowboy. He grew his mushrooms in the basement and brewed his own ayahuasca and so it was a weird family situation.

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Dennis McKenna: It was very bad. I don’t want to disclose too much.

Tim Ferriss: Of course, of course, it’s very sad.

Dennis McKenna: It was a very sad outcome. It’s hard to predict, but apparently, he had this family history of schizophrenia and the mushrooms triggered this. This is why you have to approach it from an informed place and hopefully with a practitioner, whether a therapist or a shaman or whatever, who can hold that space and modulate the outcome. To take it on the streets of New York, probably not a good idea if you’re not from New York. I don’t know.

Tim Ferriss: For sure. It also just brings to mind, maybe it should be the four S’s, right? You have screening, set, setting, and then support.

Dennis McKenna: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: You have a safety net in place before you get on the trapeze.

Dennis McKenna: That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: A therapist. Someone who’s supervising.

Dennis McKenna: This was just approached by these young men in a very recreational way and they were out to have a good time and it was not good.

Tim Ferriss: Powerful compounds and this applies across the entire pharmacopoeia. SSRIs also can produce suicidal ideation and all sorts of states. It’s a really good idea to have professional assistance and supervision with these things. Well, let’s talk about the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy because you bring so many different perspectives and lenses and also toolkits to bear on these discussions. I would just love to hear about this new nonprofit and why you started it.

Dennis McKenna: The new nonprofit, The McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy, which is www.mckenna.academy, academy is the suffix of the website. I wanted to create — originally the idea that we would start this academy and that we would have a physical place in South America where we could do retreats, which we had been doing all along, and then conferences and different types of educational activities to explore natural philosophy.

And a lot of it was the ideas that would be a modern mystery school, modeled after Eleusis — or not modeled after it, but in that spirit, a place where people could come together and share ideas and marvel at the cosmos and marvel at existence and do what natural philosophers do, natural philosophy being the precursor of science, what science used to be before it became so quantitative and reductionist. Natural philosophy is the root of science, and it differs from science in that it admits that there are other ways of knowing, rather than the reductionist way of knowing. That’s valuable, but that’s not the whole trick. This is the limitation of science. Science can understand segments of reality, but in small pieces, but it doesn’t fit the whole picture together too well.

So the Academy is basically, I guess, the modern analog would be something like Esalen, a place where ideas of brilliant minds can come together and create dialogues. Of course, COVID changed our business model radically because we couldn’t do these conferences and so on, so we’ve had to pivot and go online. And that’s what we’re doing now, just trying to create an online presence and continue our work. It’s partly educational and it’s partly research. We’ve got a project going on down in Peru right now. We’re making a documentary about the current state of traditional medicine in the Amazon around Iquitos. And a lot of it is about this botanist that I’ve worked with for 40 years there who’s the curator of the Herbarium at the University in Iquitos.

He’s one of these people about which it’s said, “When the medicine man dies, it’s as though a library has burned down.” He’s not a medicine man in the sense that he’s not a healer, but he has tremendous knowledge of the Amazonian flora and the medicine properties of these plants and he knows many, many healers in the community. So we’re trying to document his knowledge because even though he’s a scientist, he doesn’t write things down. So we’re trying to, through videography, make a documentary about what he knows, and then hopefully, that will attract funding. We have big plans for this project that we call The Knowledge Preservation Project.

The first aspect of it is to make a relatively short documentary about this gentleman whose name is Juan Ruiz and then to develop — over the long term, what we want to do is work with the Herbarium there and digitize the Herbarium and try to make it into a world-class resource for plant research of all kinds that would be centered at the University. So this is all described in our website and that’s probably our biggest project right now for which we’re seeking support.

Tim Ferriss: Support, and so people can find that at mckenna.academy. I encourage everybody to check it out. There are five key departments. Tell me if this requires updating, but you have therapeutics, education, retreats, R&D and media. Is that still an accurate reflection or has that been modified?

Dennis McKenna: That’s an accurate reflection, but then some of those things are dormant at the moment like the retreats.

Tim Ferriss: Due to COVID.

Dennis McKenna: Due to COVID. Eventually, we want to get back to that. Media obviously is an even bigger part of it because the internet is our teaching platform now. Therapeutics, again, not so much because they’re usually associated with the retreats, but education for sure and R&D. And I put this project that we’re dealing with this gentleman at UNAP, the university there, is in the category of R&D.

Tim Ferriss: And the McKenna Academy is public charity. Is that right in the sense that it’s tax exempt as a 501(c)(3)?

Dennis McKenna: It is. It’s a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization chartered in the United States, even though I don’t live in the United States anymore. I live close enough. I live in Canada, but the Academy is incorporated in California as a 501(c)(3).

Tim Ferriss: And who is involved with the academy besides yourself? Are there any particular people who are acting as advisors or research collaborators?

Dennis McKenna: Yes, definitely. Yeah, we have a number of people that are associated with it. The woman who is the executive director, Christina Chaya, lives in Peru and I’ve worked with her previously on organizing retreats. So she continues to work with me. We have very good people on our board, one gentleman with lots of experience in the financial industry. Another woman is a corporate lawyer, so we have that expertise. And then we have just a fantastic bunch of advisors, one of whom is Alexandre Tannous, who you know very well, and Wade Davis is an advisor. Paul Stamets is an advisor. So we have a number of high-profile people.

Tim Ferriss: A strong roster.

Dennis McKenna: Yeah, definitely.

Tim Ferriss: What types of projects would be on the shortlist of things that you would like to engage with and explore assuming that you have the resources to do so?

Dennis McKenna: Well, a couple of things are on the plate. So we’ve got this long-term project, this Knowledge Preservation Project, which we’re beginning to brand it as Biognosis. The focus right now is on the documentation part, but then the next phase which will take much longer and cost a lot more money, is to focus on the herbarium there, of which Juan Ruiz is the curator of this herbarium. So that’s a long-term project that we want to do. In the shorter term, we’re working on developing an ethnobotany course in collaboration with the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica and we’re going to be offering that course this fall.

And one of the people that is working on that is a guy named Michael Coe, who is an ethnobotanist and I was on this committee. He got his degree at the University of Hawaii and he studied cultural keystone species in the Amazon around Pucallpa, which is basically ayahuasca. He is going to be the main instructor in this course, which will be online. 

And then we’re planning to do a virtual symposium probably in August on the Stoned Ape Theory. We’re going to do that because one of Terence’s books, The Food of the Gods, is being reprinted again. I’m actually doing an online event with Michael Pollan and the publisher. We’re doing essentially a podcast together, but then we’re going to do a one-day symposium on the Stoned Ape Theory and have some interesting speakers. 

I wrote a new foreword for it, which I’ll be happy to share with you. And we’re going to have this symposium because we’re going to revisit this whole idea, which actually, based on new discoveries, is more plausible than it was when Terence first proposed it. And that’s what my foreword is about in part is that we didn’t know about the way that these psychedelics can create these hyperconnective neural architectures and their neurogenesis and enhancing the connectivity in the neocortex and that sort of thing. And that was not known at the time Terence wrote the book.

What was also not known was anything about epigenetics. And epigenetics provides an evolutionary mechanism by which these changes in neural architecture could be propagated through generations. So if you look at the environment that we now know from paleoclimatic data, that sort of thing, Northern Africa was a wet place a couple of million years ago. And there was seasonal rainfall, there were cattle there — there were the ancestors of the modern cattle — and there were hominids. So the three variables in this environment did exist. What was the long-term impact of that? Well, you know The Food of the Gods basically led to the origin of consciousness and the imagination.

Tim Ferriss: I read a draft of your intro or maybe the final version, I don’t know, but it’s really a great exploration, review of more recent findings, but also a great exploration of language, images, imagination, consciousness, and then also the data to support this overlap of hominids with ungulates and coprophilic mushrooms.

Dennis McKenna: Right.

Tim Ferriss: It seems almost inevitable that our ancestors would have been munching on these and found them very, very interesting and compelling on a lot of levels.

Dennis McKenna: I think so. I just think it’s worth looking at this in the light of some new discoveries. These things can never be proven, which actually makes them more fun because then you can make these wild claims and nobody can disprove them either. That’s where we’re at with that, but I think knowing what we know about neuroplasticity, was the word I was looking for, that psychedelics foster neuroplasticity, epigenetics provides a mechanism for inheritance, and so I think that changes the speculation from plausible to maybe more than likely.

Tim Ferriss: This stuff is endlessly fascinating to me. And I want to return for a second to The McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy because you mentioned something that I just want to underscore and that is that to do these things, that is to further the Knowledge Preservation Project, Biognosis, the ethnobotany course, and many other things, you are currently looking for support. If you don’t mind saying, if you can, is there a specific number that you have determined will allow you to pursue these projects with the resources required to really gain some degree of traction with them?

Dennis McKenna: Yes, we have a rough idea. We’re undertaking a capital campaign, now fundraising campaign, people should feel free to visit the website and donate if it grabs you, but we’re looking to raise about $600,000 by the end of the year, and this is to support various projects like this. And then the Herbarium Digitization Project, which is much more ambitious and much more expensive and it’s going to stretch over a couple of years, what we’re dealing with is essentially an herbarium, which is a gem, a scientific gem, but it’s in a third world developing country university, so there are a lot of deficiencies.

For example, at this herbarium there’s like 100,000 specimens, but at least half of them aren’t even mounted. So we want to get enough funds to complete the Herbarium essentially and then link it into various online database of resources for natural products, pharmacology, genomics, and so on, just create an open access resource for anyone with an interest in Amazonian flora. It doesn’t have to be medicinal or psychedelic or whatever the interest. And that’s probably going to be a two to three-year project that will cost somewhere north of a million dollars, but it will be well worthwhile.

It’s just, again, I’m a big believer in collections and collecting knowledge. That’s the thing. Knowledge collections are important. Every plant that you can attach a piece of information to enhances the value of the plant and provides a reason not to drive it into extinction.

Tim Ferriss: Important, yeah. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. You’ve mentioned a phrase in a number of other interviews I listened to that I’d love for you to define because I don’t know the phrase. And I would like to — the importance of voucher specimens, I think that was. Is that the right word?

Dennis McKenna: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Voucher specimens, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: What is a voucher specimen?

Dennis McKenna: Voucher specimen, this is what Schultes used to rave about all the time. He would go on about, “We did all this chemical work,” on, say, Banisteriopsis, for example, and there is a whole history of chemical investigations going back to the late 19th century. People looking into the alkaloids, the composition of Banisteriopsis. Voucher specimen is simply an herbarium specimen that you make. And if you’re collecting plants and you’re dragging them back into the lab to tear them apart chemically and see what’s in there, you have to be able to reference a referenced specimen, essentially.

Tim Ferriss: So keep one that you don’t tear apart in other words. Is that what — 

Dennis McKenna: Collect pieces of the plant. Make an herbarium specimen of the plant. Make several deposits in different herbaria around the world, but at least the herbarium of the host country, and then you can always go back to that. Because taxonomists love to question each other. So if you have a referenced specimen, you can always go back and look at the actual collection. If somebody said, “Well, this is Banisteriopsis caapi that McKenna collected in 1981,” but five years later, some other botanist may come through there and say, “Well, that wasn’t Banisteriopsis caapi. That was Banisteriopsis longeolata, and these people are fools. They didn’t know what they were doing.” This is what taxonomists do all the time. They fight with each other.

But the point is that the chemical investigations are documented by an herbarium specimen that you can always go back and check, and now of course, they use DNA profiling and this sort of thing, just another tool in the arsenal. If you look at the chemical history of ayahuasca, if you look at who did what when they were sorting out what the alkaloids were, the first four or five investigators, I can send you a keynote about this, which you can look at your leisure, but the first four or five groups of investigators, they didn’t take vouchers. So their work is not worthless, but in some ways degraded because there are not vouchers to document what they actually worked on. That’s the thing with voucher specimens.

Tim Ferriss: Just to put some more connective tissue around, let’s just say, the Amazon and the flora of the Amazon, how many species would you say we currently estimate plant species to exist in the Amazon?

Dennis McKenna: In the Amazon?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Dennis McKenna: About 80,000 to 90,000.

Tim Ferriss: And how many of we, and this is maybe a loaded word, but properly studied and examined in any way?

Dennis McKenna: Around 10 percent.

Tim Ferriss: 10 percent and so — 

Dennis McKenna: Of course, worldwide, they’re always revising the number, but the total number of higher plant species in the world is around 240,000 to 260,000.

Tim Ferriss: It’s just such a wealth of biological, not just knowledge, but practicality. You have such potential medicinal application.

Dennis McKenna: Well, there’s great discovery, great potential for drug discovery because we have only looked at about 10 percent. Those are the number that we maybe took a superficial look at. The number that have actually been thoroughly investigated is closer to one percent. So there’s tremendous potential to find new compounds. In fact, that’s another project that The McKenna Academy is working on or collaborating with a group called Woven Science, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists and other types. And we’re in the process of developing a bioprospecting platform app that will be affiliated with the University in Iquitos.

And then you get into basically a search for new molecules, screen them against a whole variety of possible targets. So this is another long-term project that will probably run into the millions if it’s properly done. The McKenna Academy is peripheral to it. We’re involved, but we’re nonprofit, so we don’t have to make profits.

But it’s going to be a very interesting project and it goes into these ethical areas about who owns this knowledge, who owns this — 

Tim Ferriss: Biopiracy.

Dennis McKenna: Biopiracy, so we have to be very sensitive to all those issues, so that we can say, “We’re bioprospectors, not biopirates. We want to share the wealth if there’s any return on the investment. We’re committed to having indigenous people have a big stake in that, have a place at the table and a big say in how this goes forward,” because really, they’ve been the stewards of this knowledge for millennia really. And it’s always been the case that big pharma, big science comes in. They take what they want. They say, “Thanks very much. See you later,” develop million dollar drugs off these things and that’s not right.

The indigenous people should get some recognition for being the stewards of this knowledge. That’s the whole thing. This is what’s in danger. As the habitats are impacted, community structures are impacted and the traditional knowledge. And one of the first things to go is the knowledge of plants.

Tim Ferriss: Well, Dennis, there are a million things that I could ask you. I didn’t even get through 10 percent of the questions that I — 

Dennis McKenna: Good, we’ll have 10 more.

Tim Ferriss: We have space for many more conversations. I want to say a few things. One is that for those people listening who also want to extend their exploration of these topics, I think Mark Plotkin has also done a lot of great work with the Amazon Conservation Team and he’s thinking about enabling and empowering those groups to participate in prospecting and the preservation of knowledge. He and his wife and other people in the organization have done really great work. And I know you guys are friends and go back really, really far.

Dennis McKenna: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: And I also want to ask, so just to confirm for people listening, donations to The McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy are tax deductible since they are donations to 501(c)(3). The target of 600k, I will commit here to kicking that off with 50k of my own.

Dennis McKenna: My God.

Tim Ferriss: And I want to encourage people listening to consider doing the same because at 50k a pop, that’d be 12 people, can be done very easily. And this is an early stage bet, right? Albeit in a nonprofit side, I don’t expect, of course, I can’t get any returns from this in a financial way, but I really view you as a pioneer who also has a high degree of biochemical and ethnobotanical fluency who can participate and reconcile and critically examine multiple spheres. And you have a history of producing really fascinating and I think important work. And I definitely encourage people to also grab the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs. They’re in a boxed set.

If you just search Dennis McKenna on Amazon, it pops right up and you can purchase it on Amazon Prime. It’s a beautiful collection. It will give you a taste of some of what Dennis has curated and certainly you can find his writing everywhere else, but I will commit to 50k. I encourage people to — this is not investment advice. It’s a nonprofit, but I really view this as worthwhile and you’re coming into this also as someone who has proven a decade’s long dedication to examining and studying various facets of psychedelics and beyond, not just limited to that, much like I think Schultes was also very, very well versed in orchids and other things.

Dennis McKenna: One of the world’s experts on orchids.

Tim Ferriss: And Roland Griffiths. Also a lot of people don’t realize, even though he’s known for psychedelic work with psilocybin at Hopkins, one of the foremost experts in caffeine and caffeine metabolism. And so you have such a broad spectrum of expertise, I feel like this is worth supporting, so I commit to 50k and I encourage people to take a close look.

Dennis McKenna: That’s incredibly generous of you, Tim. Thank you. Thank you for that and thank you for encouraging your listeners to contribute. If we get a few more donations in that range, we won’t have to do a fundraising campaign. Our goals will be pretty much met. And we want to be responsible stewards of these funds. And in that regard, we’re also open to people who, they may want to support us financially, but we want more than just finances, we want advice. We want wise people. We’re creating a, we call it the Symbiotic Circle, but a circle of advisors with connections to other supporters, but also ideas like people like yourself, for example. I don’t know if you’re interested in joining our Symbiotic Circle, but you’re certainly welcome to.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I like the sound of it. Symbiotic Circle sounds like a good thing.

Dennis McKenna: I’ll send information about all this stuff. I don’t know how much time you have to go through all this stuff, but I could send you absolutely all the stuff.

Tim Ferriss: One thing in the world that I seem to have time for is this kind of stuff.

Dennis McKenna: I’ll send you more details about that capital campaign and some of the other projects that we have. And this has just been amazing. We killed two and a half hours.

Tim Ferriss: It was easy. This is easy to do. And we have plenty — I have enough questions, we could do a round two in short order. It’d be extremely easy to do. What I would encourage people to check out mckenna.academy. I have a few thoughts on things that could be added to the website that might be helpful for listeners, so we’ll chat about that separately. I think it’d be easy to do also, but check out mckenna.academy. Certainly you can find Dennis on social. Where are you most active, if you’re active at all, Dennis, on social media?

Dennis McKenna: Well, I have people handling most of the social media for the Academy. So I’m not on there. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, but not much. You know?

Tim Ferriss: That’s why you get more done.

Dennis McKenna: Well, I wouldn’t say that, but if it helps, it helps. I would love to have more conversations with you, Tim, online and offline.

Tim Ferriss: I’d definitely enjoy that.

Dennis McKenna: This has just been incredible. You’re a fantastic interviewer. I’m sure I’m not the first that told you that.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Thank you, Dennis.

Dennis McKenna: And you’re informed. You really do your homework. So that’s a huge thing. I think it couldn’t have gone better; we could talk all afternoon.

Tim Ferriss: Easily, and I’m only 30-40 percent of the way through Volume Two of ESPD. This is one of those fields, I’m sure it’s true with a lot of fields, where the deeper you go, the more fascinating and the stranger it all becomes. And you spoke to at the very, very, well, maybe it wasn’t the beginning, maybe it was in the middle, about some fears around, this is related to some of these syncretic churches, of science removing the mystery or the wonder. And it makes me think of Surely [You’re] Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman, a famous physicist who later in life developed a deep friendship with a painter. And the painter had the same concern about Richard through his scientific lens, removing the wonder of, say, the beauty of a flower. And Richard’s perspective was actually, “You’ve got it completely backwards…”

Dennis McKenna: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: “…because I have the aesthetic appreciation. I am acutely aware of how much I don’t know and I can also be dazzled by the scientific findings when you go down to the microscopic level and look at this beautiful thing in front of us,” and I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I find it so reassuring in your representation of these multiple facets that these are not mutually exclusive silos, even though there’s so much goddamn infighting in the psychedelic space. It’s comically tragic.

Dennis McKenna: We’re humans. That’s what we do, but I am totally on the same page with you about this. To my mind, science, properly pursued, only deepens the mystery. That’s the thing. It doesn’t take the mystery away. It shows you how mystery exists profoundly at every level. That’s the whole idea of The McKenna Academy being a mystery school. The mystery is the mystery of existence, which is bottomless. It’s endless. And science is one of those tools we have, not to take the mystery away, but to make us appreciate what the mystery is. And I’m thinking of something that *beep* and I had a couple of exchanges. He said, “Tim’s going to ask you ‘What would you put on a billboard?'” But we didn’t get to that, but I was thinking about that.

What I would put on the billboard is what I get from ayahuasca and other psychedelics, which is: “Remember how little you know.” Remember how little you know, and science often forgets how little it knows. So it can be arrogant at times. But you can’t be a true scientist without being a mystic, I think. That’s the thing. The deeper you probe, the more complex, the more beautiful, the more intelligent it all seems. And this is why I think we have to appreciate science, but understand it’s not the whole story. It’s not the end of the story. Just a useful tool.

Tim Ferriss: We’re all holding different parts of the elephant, like that parable.

Dennis McKenna: Exactly. Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: Dennis, this has been wonderful. I will follow up on the donation, which for clarity I’ll make through my foundation, which is explicitly for this type of thing. I could not be more excited. Is there anything else you would like to mention to listeners, any closing comments, anything like that? Anything you’d like to direct their attention to before we wrap up for this round one?

Dennis McKenna: No, I think we’ve covered it pretty well. I would say look at the website. We have resources there. We have events, which have been done in the past, but you can still register. They’re all recorded. Think of it as a place for resources, but also get in touch. We want to be open. We want people to bring their talent and their wisdom and everything else to the table — and their money, but that’s not necessarily the most valuable thing. Money is just the grease that lets the thing run. So there is that, but we’re trying to bring together brilliant people and propagate this worldview, this idea that we’re out of sync with nature essentially and that psychedelics is one way to help us realize that and help us get realigned with nature because that’s the big challenge that we face right now. And then that could spin off into another three hours of discussion. We won’t go into that.

Tim Ferriss: For sure. And for those people who want maybe a cliffhanger or a teaser, I wanted to focus on a lot of the science and the biographical stuff in this conversation, but we didn’t even get into some of the really strange and weird stuff, which we might next time.

Dennis McKenna: That’s another one. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So I’ll leave that as a teaser for round two. Well, thank you so much, Dennis. This has been wonderful and so much fun for me. I’ve been really looking forward to this and have done so much reading and I can’t wait to do more. I’m looking forward to it. And to everybody listening, as always, we will have links to everything in the show notes that we’ve discussed. Of course, we mentioned mckenna.academy. That is the beacon, the main call to action here. Please check it out. And until next time, be safe. And thanks for tuning in.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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One Reply to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Dennis McKenna — The Depths of Ayahuasca: 500+ Sessions, Fundamentals, Advanced Topics, Science, Churches, Learnings, Warnings, and Beyond (#523)”

  1. Tim, thank you! Question for Dennis. What does he mean by: « they’re somewhat less trustworthy than ayahuasca. You can get into these delusional spaces. » any chance he can expand in a next episode ?

    Thought provoking episode overall. It seems like there is such a fine thread to walk on with Ayahuasca or any high level experiences. Dennis has so much insight into that world!