Dr. Dennis McKenna headshot with white scarf
Ep 7

Ep 07 Exploring Science, Spirituality, and Psychedelics with Dr. Dennis McKenna

Exploring Science, Spirituality, and Psychedelics with Dr. Dennis McKenna

Episode Summary: 

I’m joined by Dr. Dennis McKenna to discuss some highlights from his 40-year career in ethnopharmacology. In our conversation, we touch on his introduction to psychedelic medicine, the intersection of science and spirituality, Dennis’s perspective on the nature of reality, and so much more. 

Show Notes:

Dr. Dennis McKenna has had such a profound influence on my understanding and relationship with sacred plants, so it was an honor to sit down with him to discuss some highlights from his 40-year career in ethnopharmacology. 

In our conversation, Dennis takes us back to how he and his brother Terrance discovered psychedelics in the late ‘60s and eventually went on to conduct transformative research in the field of psychoactive drugs. He reflects on early trips to South America and their quest to learn more about DMT, Ayahuasca, and psilocybin. It was during that time in La Chorrera, Colombia that he decided to pursue the study of botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of psychedelics. 

We also talk about the intersection of science and spirituality, emphasizing the cultural context and indigenous nature of plant medicine. Dennis touches on the chemical and neuroscientific  side of things, and shares why psychological flexibility is a powerful tool for exploration and healing. We contemplate the joy of existence, the nature of reality, and the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic medicine. Plus, Dennis shares the exciting work and events happening at his non-profit, the McKenna Academy. 

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

Topics Covered:

  • The inherent transformative power of nature 
  • A look back at Dennis’s childhood with Terrance McKenna and introduction to psychedelics 
  • Research and findings that blend indigenous knowledge with hard science 
  • The key insights that can come from psychedelics 
  • Reconnecting with the playfulness and wonderment of childhood 
  • How the McKenna Academy is working to advance the conversations and education around plant medicine 

Resources Mentioned:

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Show Transcript:

Tonya Papanikolov  00:04

Hi, welcome to the rainbo podcast. I'm your host, Tonya Papanikolov. Rainbo and I are on a mission to upgrade humanity with fungi and expand the collective consciousness. This podcast builds a virtual mycelial network of bold, open minded thinkers and seekers. I chat with experts, thought leaders, healers, scientists, entrepreneurs, spiritual teachers, activists, and dreamers. These are stories of healing, human potential and expansion, tune in route and expand and journey with us. 


Tonya Papanikolov  00:45

Hello, welcome back, very excited to introduce today's guest to you, who is Dr. Dennis McKenna. And he's a human that I don't think needs an introduction. But of course, we have new listeners and people in the space that are just coming into this world. So I'm really excited for this to maybe be your first time hearing about Dennis and his brother Terrence more if you do know about them. This is a really, really great conversation. And it's inspiring. I was introduced to both Terence and Dennis McKenna brothers in 2017. And they just had, I mean listening to, to them speak played such a profound role on my development, my understanding of everything from psychedelics, and plant medicines to reality and curiosity and all sorts of things in that vein. So they are kind of an iconic duo of brothers who've played a really big role in psychedelics since the 60s. 


Tonya Papanikolov  01:46

So Dennis McKenna has conducted research in ethnopharmacology for over 40 years. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute and was a key investigator on the huascar project, the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca, he's the younger brother of Terence McKenna, as I mentioned, and from 2000 to 2017. He taught courses on ethnopharmacology and plants in human affairs as an adjunct assistant professor in the center for spirituality and healing at the University of Minnesota in the spring of 2019. In collaboration with colleagues in Canada and the US, he incorporated a new nonprofit, the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy, where they do a lot of education and events. And he recently immigrated to Canada in the spring of 2019, together with his wife, Sheila, and they now reside in Abbotsford BC. We love that they love Canada. And our conversation is really interesting. I love hearing his take on the topics that we covered. 


Tonya Papanikolov  02:52

We talked about what ethnopharmacology is, and how he's been doing this for 40 years. And he just kind of gives us some snippets into his early life with parents, and what led them to both decide to pursue this as careers when they were teenagers and in their early 20s. And we talked about reconciling, being a scientist and being spiritual, and really, that this is about creativity and curiosity. And the science, the spirit of science is curiosity. And that's something that resonates so deeply, we talk about the nature of reality, and how this is impossible to define. We also touch on modern neuroscience, and how that soreness that psychedelics allow us to significantly reduce activity of the brains default mode network to kind of act as this big reboot and defrag of the brain and how this is linked to one of the most enduring therapeutic effects on psychedelic substances. And why this is so important for us and important to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and PTSD. And really just this resetting of the default mode, network, how this can be one of the most meaningful experiences in a person's life, and really allows us to break free from the negative thought patterns that we're hardwired, that our brain is just hardwired to go to. And so this psychological flexibility is so important and allows us to kind of dissolve the barriers between ourselves and the world around us and helps us realize our place in this beautiful tapestry of life. And we talk about the auspicious day of Halloween that we're recording on, and he leaves us with some really beautiful advice and a message. You're really gonna enjoy it. Let's dive right in. Okay, hello, Dennis.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  04:47

I told you how are you?


Tonya Papanikolov  04:49

I'm good. Thanks. And you know what? Actually, I should address you as as Dr. Dr. Dennis?


Dr. Dennis McKenna  04:53

Oh, no, that's okay. You can just call me Dennis. Dennis is okay. Okay. Very affordable.


Tonya Papanikolov  04:59

Good. I meant to ask Skip before before we got started. And I just want to express my great gratitude for having you on. And really, I mean to share a little anecdote. You and your brother have inspired me in such major and profound ways. And I was introduced to your work in 2017. So a few years ago, and it really was a huge catalyst for Rambo and for the path that I'm on. And so I really just, I want to share that gratitude with you.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  05:29

Well, thank you so much. I'm glad it makes a difference to somebody what in 2017, got you acquainted with me and territories work?


Tonya Papanikolov  05:38

Well, in 2017, I was going through a bit of this transition and healing journey, which I've been on for a long time. And I found fungi in 2011. So I've been learning about the forest since for a while, and my partner at the time, I was starting to develop a different understanding and relationship with sacred plants. And my partner who's my, my now husband was like, you know, you really need to get to know the McKenna brothers. So it started there. And I mean, he went down the rabbit hole much earlier than I did. But it started there. And it was kind of one thing after another. A few months later, I ended up at a Native American ceremony fire ceremony and had some really major shifts happen, that I got really, really sick after I had to go to the hospital for really big changes happened from that. And in that process, I had to stop what I was doing. And I just said, I'm just going to start reading books from the people that inspire me the most. And then I had a ceremony, a solo ceremony with psilocybin, and nothing has ever, like, nothing has been clear. And with rainbo, we're not specifically educating about psychedelics, and that those aren't our products right now. But it is inherent to part of the transformative power of nature. Yeah. And so I always say that ideas can be psychedelic, too. And they can open our mind and, and that's what you and your brother have provided us. And I like to think of this like, karmic bond that you two have.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  07:10

Well, thank you. Thank you. Yes, ideas can be psychedelic. I mean, after all, the word means mind manifesting, right? So many ways you could manifest the mind. Yeah,


Tonya Papanikolov  07:21

absolutely. So would you mind taking us or telling us a little bit about I know lots of people in our community, know who you are, but also, there's going to be a good deal of people who are just getting introduced to you and your work for the first time. So will you tell us a little bit about you are a researcher and an ethnopharmacologist, and what does that really mean? You know, it's been 40 years in this field for you and I would love to just hear a bit of the background on how did you and your brother both decide to pursue this and give us a little bit of the background,


Dr. Dennis McKenna  07:50

okay, as you say, I am an ethnopharmacologist like, at least that's what I call myself. And I just covered if they'll pharmacology and I have to credit my brother who was four years older than I am when we were growing up. So he was that much further ahead in terms of kind of pushing the envelope that I was the little brother, I was tagging along. He was doing I wanted to be involved. And so when he discovered psychedelics, he left home in our little town in Colorado, where we grew up, he left home to finish his education in California, when he was a junior in high school, he didn't finish high school in Palea, Colorado, where we were he went out there because he wanted to be where the action was. And a lot of the action at the time was around psychedelics, you know, and the sort of whole countercultural verbiage that was going on, but there weren't a lot of them there was LSD is what there was, and there were a few, occasionally other things. But there weren't a great many psychedelics around like there are Adel, but anyway, he was able to find them and got interested in them, and then shared those interests with me. And of course, I was felt like the person who in exile, he was sending telegrams back from well, not literally telegrams, but the letters which is what we use those days, you know, kind of a lost start now but with said letters, about things he was doing, and people that he was hanging out with and ideas and so on. And, you know, we actually developed a stronger bond after he left home than we had when we were living together, because when we were living together, he was like, the classic older brother. He was very, very mean to me, you know, you know, that's just the way it is. That's the way families work. But after he left, then he, I think, got a better appreciation. For me, he began to realize that I actually had some things going on, I wasn't the nerdy little geek that I thought I was, well, maybe I was those things, but that, you know, I had a few things going. And so our bond grew, and particularly as we developed this mutual interest in psychedelics, and that came out of really, in some ways, we were primed for that, in some ways, because our dad who was not into anything psychedelic, or anything remotely related to it, in fact, he hated this whole thing. And he was like to ask, totally closed minded about drugs at all respects. However, he was open to science fiction when he turned two sides of science fiction. And he would sometimes he traveled all week, he was gone from Monday to Friday, he was a traveling sales representative for a company. So he would buy these pulp science fiction, books, and also fate magazine. And he would bring home feet magazine, which shall be published, basically. And it was, you know, I don't know if you'd know it. But they talked about all these crazy things like UFOs of aliens and ghosts and paranormal stuff, and all of this stuff, which we were totally fascinated by. So when he would bring one of those magazines home, we would be all over it. And even back in the 50s and 60s, they would occasionally have articles about psychedelics about things like mescaline, peyote, and there was even one I remember this Peruvian Dream Juice or something that was called Well, clearly I Alaska. Right? Right. So I don't know if my dad actually knew that these were about psychedelics, I don't even know if we knew about it. But they would show up in this magazine occasionally. And I don't know if he read them, but didn't change his mind. Of course, when my brother and I began to get interested in these on a personal level, he was very concerned, like a lot of parents were. And we tried to reassure them, my mom and my dad, but you know, my mom was more receptive to, to the idea that my dad was my dad was just not interested in knowing anything about it, or being educated about it. And it was really a bone of contention in our family when we were growing up. But then eventually, you know, as we grew up, and really started to pursue this as a really career decision, in some ways, he kind of soften to that. And he began to see well, you know, apparently these things haven't driven them crazy. Or they were already crazy by the time they got it, and but they seem fairly functional, and they're decent kids. And, you know, smart kids, so he, he became more receptive to it. And definitely, when Terence Knight, Terence, I think, a big juncture for us a big event in my life and Trnsys life as well was when we discovered DMT. And there wasn't much DMT around in those days. But it was out there, if you could find it. And Terence was living in Berkeley at the time, and he was good at work in the matrix. And so he was able to get hold of DMT. And we both I would be like about 1617. And so he was around 20. But we both agreed it was the most amazing thing that we'd ever encountered, you know, in our lives, not just the most amazing drug, but the most amazing thing. And that was really what I think made us determined to effectively drop everything and investigate this. So that was the beginning of it was we take it LSD, we've taken some other things, all of which were profound and influential, but DMT was the key for us. And we just thought this is the most interesting thing in the world, and we have to investigate it. So that's what that is. That's what got us started.


Tonya Papanikolov  14:30

And so your trips, the Amazon started after that.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  14:33

Yes, we went to the Amazon in 1971. For the first time, it was actually the Punto Mile, it was in southern Colombia and this place was called La Chorrera. And the reason we went to La Chorrera was because we had stumbled on a article by Richard Schultz as the famous ethnobotanist from Harvard, who's probably at the time well, who probably for Ever is the world's expert on psychedelic plants, particularly in South America. And he wrote an article called for Rolla as an orally active hallucinogen. What's the title of it? Published in the Harvard botanical museum leaflets, which was like his house ordered. And you know, he was the director of the botanical Museum, so he can printing press in the basement, basically, he could crank out publish whatever he wanted to. So we wrote this article, and we had been working with DMT, smoking DMT, which is how you did it. DMT is amazing, but it's very short. And that was a frustration for us, we thought DMT if we could spend more time in this place, we definitely thought of it as a place as another dimension. Really, that was our bottle, probably coming from the whole science fiction perspective. You know, that's how we got interested, this really is a different place. And you can go there, you know, and, but we thought that DMT is so short acting by the time you actually get there, it's already fading off. So we thought if we could find an orally active version of it, we could spend more time in that place and maybe learn more about what it was to be in that dimension. Our idea was basically very simple and kind of naive. But when we learned about this preparation used by the with Toto people from for Rollo, which is a genus of trees, that is used as it contains DMT and the five methoxy DMT. It's used as a snuff by a number of tribes in the Amazon. But we're toto we're using it as an orally active oral preparation. So we thought, Aha, this must be it. This is worth going after we did not know at the time that Iosco has a similar pharmacology it's it to was an orally active form of DMT, where the model AMI and oxidase inhibitors in the vibe, protect the DMT when you take it orally, DMT is not active orally because it's destroyed by enzymes in the gut monoamine oxidase and so that's the basis of Ayahuasca pharmacology, but that wasn't really known at that time. 1971 the pharmacology of Ayahuasca was incompletely understood, and the importance of the admixture plants was not really understood that well at that time. So this other thing came to our attention, and came up on the radar. And we thought, well, yeah, we have to go to Columbian and look for this thing. And so we did, we went there and in 1971, and we went to lunch, Herrera, because it was where the report was from. And it was it was the ancestral home of the Watoto. And they were the keepers of this knowledge. It was their medicine, which they called buku hay, or less, they can't really pronounce it, but some things like buku hay. So we went for Kouhei. And when we got to La Chorrera, it was quite a trek, getting there. And when we got there, we found that there were this little mission village. There they cleared the rainforest around several 100 acres and they put in pasture or they brought in these cattle Cepu cattle love white humpback cattle. Well, psilocybe cubensis, the pair of tropical psilocybin mushroom happens to love the shit of Cebu cattle. That's the preferred substrate. Wow. And we were in the rainy season at the time. So we got to let you era, those big clusters of psilocybe cubensis growing out of every cow pie. Wow, we knew what it was because we've done our homework, but we have no real experience with it. But we knew what it was, you know, so we thought oh, great. This is fantastic. Well, you know what, we can play with this. We can enjoy this. Well, we're looking for this Wuho Kouhei which you have to ask around for they're not just gonna come out and be presented on a platter. You know, it's a secret, right? So that was what we thought and we did start eating the mushroom. So the regular basis, you know, pretty much on a daily basis. It's awesome. Partly because there wasn't all that much to eat. And these were abundant, you know, they make great soups and omelets and that kind of thing. And so we were kind of in this place all the time, just slightly loaded 24/7 on psilocybin, and the mushrooms, this Kouhei that we were looking for, we had called it the secret, we're sort of played out or living out our old myth here about this quest. And we were seeking the secret, but the mushrooms quickly made it clear. They are the secret. You know, they were really what we'd come for. And they began to transmit a lot of information. Wow, which we took to heart. And I don't know what your experiences with mushrooms but you probably have a few. You know, how you can have a sort of an i thou relationship with these things actually is like talking to another intelligence, you know what, whether you see sea of other or not, there's definite sense of there somebody some entity in Teleki, something that is transparent information, and the mushroom was very much like that for us and had things that wanted to tell us about things we could do, essentially. And we well, this is kind of going down out. I tripped up. I always tell people, I don't want to talk about this because I've talked about it too much. But long story short, it laid out a program or it suggested that we could do an experiment based on the fact that at these high doses of mushrooms, we could hear a sound and internal sound inside our head. And when we listen to their sound, we could imitate it


Tonya Papanikolov  21:57

a real sound or like a voice of wisdom


Dr. Dennis McKenna  22:00

wasn't it was the voice No, it was a sound it was like sound kind of an electronic. Buzzy Bazin, kind of like chimes, kind of like buzzing, popping, crackling sound kinda like the sound that you hear sometimes when you smoke DMT you know, if you've had that, it's like, it's like crinkly cellophane. Kind of a hard thing to imitate with the voice, but we could imitate it. And when we imitated that, your voice could lock on to it. And they would just sort of come pouring out of you this amazingly powerful sound, it was almost like a physical force. And the mushroom was suggested that if we were to direct the sound at a mushroom on psilocybin, that it could essentially flip our DNA into a superconducting state and shattering a standing waiting for that would radiate information out from this thing. So that was the idea that was suggested to us and this experiment to to carry it out. And like I say, I don't really want to go into it people to look at because I've talked about it a lot people could look at the McKenna Academy, which is my website, the McKenna. Academy. And they can look at the experiment that La Chorrera 50 year retrospective, which we did in 2021.


Tonya Papanikolov  23:41

No find that and definitely link to it in the show notes. Yeah,


Dr. Dennis McKenna  23:45

and people could get the full story, they get the full download there. So anyway, that's how we got started. And after all this happened, we returned, it's really what influenced me to pursue the scientific study of psychedelics. And Terence came away from this experience, with the perspective that what we experienced could never be explained by science. And we should just reject science, you know, and which he kind of did for the rest of his life in some ways he was not so we in some ways, our paths bifurcated because I decided I want to study the nuts and bolts of psychedelics, I want to study that the plants, the pharmacology, the molecules, the mechanics of interference, wanted to study the metaphysics, if you will. And those were the two paths we pursued and, but not that they were separate. I mean, we were very much work together over the years, but that's what got me kind of what got me started. So when we went to lunch, in 1970 word I was 20. Eat. And my brother was like 20. I just turned 20. My brother was four years older. So we were extremely young. So yeah, yeah. So yeah, we were at that place in life where you think you've no, no, nothing. That wasn't stopping us, you know. So we were continuing on that path. But we been obsessed with psychedelics for a few years previously. And in my own life, two things were really influential that led me to travel this path. One was for my 18th birthday, Terrence gave me a copy of the first edition of the teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. And the same year, I got a book, I'm not sure from what source where it came from, that it was the call to ethnopharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. And it was the proceedings of the symposium that the National Institute of Mental Health had sponsored in San Francisco in 1967. And it was a closed conference, the only thing that taxpayer ever got from this was this publication. the publication was all the papers and everything that had been presented at this conference. And somehow or other, it came on my radar and I got hold of this thing. And these two books were very influential to me in the sense that the teachings of Don Juan, which I think the consensus now is that, you know, he made most of them about, but it didn't really matter, in a certain sense, because I didn't know that. And also, it made it clear that there was a tradition, there was indigenous knowledge about these things, you know, whether he was accurately representing that or not, didn't really matter. The point was, that there is a context for it. And then the other side of that was this pharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs, which was very hard science, all about the plants of the chemistry, the pharmacology, as well as the cultural aspects. And it was that that really influenced me to pursue ethnopharmacology. I mean, I realized, from this book that this was a real discipline, it was interdisciplinary by nature. But it was a real discipline. And it was one that I wanted to pursue professionally. So that's what led me and then, you know, when I went, that was really before I started in the university. And for the first couple of years, I studied anthropology primarily, and a little bit of botany and so on. But after LACERA, when I came back, I sort of shifted my studies more into the nuts and bolts of the botany, the chemistry and the pharmacology, because I felt it was important to have a foundation, you know, before you couldn't reject science, the point I made to Terence is, you have to understand science, you have to be able to do science. We were not scientists, when we went to lecture, we may have thought we were


Tonya Papanikolov  28:27

the spirit, the spirit of science, we


Dr. Dennis McKenna  28:30

were in the spirit of the science, but we weren't.


Tonya Papanikolov  28:33

Right. That actually, I do want to talk about your work with the McKenna Academy. But that does lead me to one of my questions I had for you. And it's a good segue, which is, I mean, maybe this doesn't need to be reconciled. But how do you reconcile being spiritual and being a scientist? And it's not that I believe that they're separate in any way, but that we kind of still perceive them as separate? I'm really excited about the intersection amongst those in those places.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  29:01

Right. I think this is a misunderstanding. I think that science is actually a spiritual activity properly pursued, I think the best scientists, so I'm not necessarily including myself in that. But I think great scientists pursue what they pursue because they're driven by curiosity. They're driven by a desire to uncover make discoveries, uncover new information, and, you know, ultimately, to understand ourselves or our place of nature. You know, that's a spiritual quest. It just be used as the tools of science, the tools of experimentation and hypotheses, and discovery. But it's most importantly, I think it's driven by curiosity, you know, and curiosity is what pushes science forward and then individual life if It's also what pushes development forward, the curiosity is at the basis of learning, you know, so I don't agree at all that say, you can be spiritual. And you can be a scientist, and some people pursue science. And they forget that there's a spiritual angle to it, they forget that really, this is what it's all about, it's very easy to get caught up in the routines of science, you know, it's science is what is safe. So it's about being an academic and publishing papers and having graduate students and going to conferences, or getting grants and all that stuff, right. That's an aspect of it. And you don't have that you don't even have to do that. To be a scientist, you have to remember that it's good to remind yourself occasionally that what's what science is really about, is the search for truth. It's a search for better understanding of the world and of the universe that we find ourselves in, puts us in a study sheet place, and truly taught science has the tools to ask questions of nature, and get answers back, that makes sense, you know, and thus move up your standing forward. That's the true scientific quest, all the rest of it is well, I mean, it's kind of this is the way big science operates these days. But you don't have to practice that, well, you can practice that. But it's important. And I think this where psychedelics can be particularly useful for scientists because they can provide a reminder of how little we know. And it's really important to keep that in mind. Science is a discipline that lends itself to arrogance, you know, at least for certain scientists, you can reach a point where you kind of think, well, you know, we understand all that we've got it all figured out. No, you only have a tiny, tiny fraction of reality figured out and even that even that could be wrong. And that's yeah, you know, that's the challenge. And the beauty of science, you know, is that, you know, it's one of the few disciplines where you construct models, you construct hypotheses or ideas about the way something is some physical phenomenon or something that in nature, you have notions about how they work. And then you try like crazy to demolish that to find out what will invalidate it, what is the piece of data that will completely disrupt this theory, whatever it may be your notion, you have to honestly approach it and say, what are the deficiencies? What does it not explain? And if you say, Well, I can't really think of anything, this looks like a pretty good model. So you accept that, but it's never proven. Right? You accepted provisionally, knowing that next week, next month, or 100 years from now, some piece of data may come along and demolish your idea. But it's, it's useful, it's helped to advance knowledge. But you have to be ready to abandon the hypothesis if there's data that it can't explain. Yeah, you never reach a point where you say, this hypothesis is proven, this hypothesis is absolutely nailed down. You can't do that. So I think that science is useful that way. You know, and I think that actually, I think that even that psychedelics are useful for helping us remain humble, because they put fool in your face they experience of how little we know, and how far beyond our ability to comprehend actual reality is, you know, because it's, it's because it just exceeds that, but also, I think that psychedelics can be viewed almost as scientific instruments. In some ways. If you take psychedelics and look at nature, it's almost like you look at it through a fresh lens, you look at it from a different perspective. And you can notice things about natural processes that normally escape notice, because the brain is very much trained to put the details in the background, right? Because you're focusing on what's in front of you. The brain has very much focused on attention directed outward to that saber toothed Tiger that's about to come attack you. You know, you definitely want your attention on that. Right, right. But all the other things that are going on in the background, those are important too. And it's important to pay attention to those and psychedelics, because they have this ability to disrupt what they call the default mode network, that gives you an opportunity to notice things that normally are just suppressed, because they're not immediately important to your survival. Yeah, but they're important to be aware that they're there. And look at these things in detail. And I think psychedelics give you a tool. Absolutely. To do.


Tonya Papanikolov  35:37

So what I'm hearing, too, is like, everybody is a scientist, everyone's a creative scientist of their own, in a way, and that we can't be dogmatic in our approach to spirit or science or really anything and to stay open minded. did want to touch on with you, the default mode network, and just hearing your take on why that psychological flexibility is so powerful to us. And you know, this combination of the default mode network in combination with like, do you think it needs to be combined with an experience of ego death, for there to be long standing therapeutic benefits that are long lasting? Well,


Dr. Dennis McKenna  36:16

I think yeah, I don't know if I really equated to ego death, but but I think the abilities of psychedelics to temporarily disabled that default mode network, which, which I sometimes called a reality, hallucination, and it's kind of this construct that our brains make, it's a model of reality. And that's the reality, we have habit, not reality itself, because it's kind of like a, I wouldn't say dumbed down, it's a schematic of reality, a lot of what the brain does is filter information out. I mean, we have portals, sensory neural portals, our senses, and so on, for information to come in from outside. But if it all came in, we wouldn't be able to handle it, you know, we wouldn't be able to have. So the brain constructs this model of reality. That's the reality that we inhabit lives, ordinary consciousness, its day to day consciousness. And that's fine, we need that in order to navigate. So we don't step in front of buses, you know, we can open a can of tuna fish, and things like that. But occasionally, it's useful to disable that and step outside that reference frame. And really, in some ways blow it up, that's what psychedelics do temporarily is they can open up these portals, the the filters, or the gates, the gating mechanisms that the brain works on, are temporarily disabled. So you get a flood of information that comes in, that's why you need to be prepared for that, you need to do it in the right set and setting, because you're deliberately opening yourself up to this. So you have to be able to pay attention to it, you have to be ready to, to surrender to it effectively, because that's where the learning goes on. So you want to do that in a place where you don't have to worry about ordinary stuff, other people or you know who's at the door, or who's on the phone, or you want to do it in a special circumstance. So that's the whole importance of set and setting. And I think that the ability to disrupt this default mode network temporarily is at the basis of the therapeutic effect, because it gives you a chance to step out of that reference frame, look at your existential situation from a perspective that you don't normally have, and whether that be addiction, or trauma, or depression or PTSD, or what anxiety. And again, I don't want to say that psychedelics that you have to take them that you have to be sick to benefit from them. I mean, they are their learning tools. And it's perfectly legitimate to say, you know, well, I, you know, I don't have any particular problems that I'm trying to solve, but I'm curious sort of about the nature of consciousness and the limits of conscious experience. And so they're exploratory as much as they are therapeutic. But all of these things, all of the many therapeutic uses that they talked about for psychedelics have to do, I think with this ability to step out of your reference frame to, to actually disable that. And the therapy comes in, or the therapy comes from the insights but then this this thing, this construct that the brain makes, it tends toward equilibrium, right? And so it's going to come back, it will fall back together. It's very much like booting your computer rebooting your computer, I think, I think that's exactly what it does. It's a big serotonin receptor in the brain. And when the default mode network does come back up very much like your computer troubles back up after you restart it, but it's gotten rid of a lot of kludge that builds up and same thing exactly is going on. And so habits, misperceptions, misunderstandings, these sorts of things, they're cleaned out. And so the system just works better for a while. And sometimes it works better for the rest of your life. Sometimes you have to go back and, and top it up once in a while. But I think this is why psychedelics have this long term therapeutic benefits that you don't get from other cycle pharmaceuticals like SSRIs, these sorts of things, because they don't really address the problem. They just they're like band aids, you know,


Tonya Papanikolov  41:07

yeah. And I think what's missing from that, too, that psychedelics provide so beautifully is like, allowing this tapestry of life, of our connection and interconnection to come together. And that there is such profound awe in getting back getting the brain back to that state. Right.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  41:24

Yes. So, I mean, that's why Yeah, I think, awe, is is a good term for it. You know, it's an overused word. But in this context, I think it's quite right. I think there's a lot about the psychedelic experience that is reminiscent of childhood. And I think we feel like children often take psychedelics because children, they're in that place all the time, you know, they don't have these gates, that it takes a lifetime to develop, they're just completely open to whatever's coming in. They're like little beans on acid.


Tonya Papanikolov  42:09

True, yeah. You


Dr. Dennis McKenna  42:10

know, I mean, it's, they view the world with wonder, and wonder is a wonderful thing. To have. So if we could do more flat, you know, and less of the of the other thing, we'd be happier and we'd be wiser, you know, because we, you know, the sacrifice you make living inside a default mode network. You know, I mean, it need to do that, because it's for our convenience, but you don't want to get trapped there, you know, you want to approach it, knowing that there is a world of knowledge, a world of wonder, literally be beyond that.


Tonya Papanikolov  42:51

Dennis, if somebody is micro dosing, does that have the ability to also turn off the default mode network? Or is it only really through larger doses of of a substance,


Dr. Dennis McKenna  43:02

my personal feeling is that micro dosing doesn't really do that a micro dosing may be useful, I think it's particularly useful after you've had one of these macro experiences, you know, that reboots the default mode network, then the micro dosing can be followed up, simply as a way to kind of remind you of that, and in way, tickle your memory, and keep it going. But I don't think micro dosing can substitute for macro dosing experiences myself,


Tonya Papanikolov  43:37

that resonates. That was yeah, my feeling as well. That makes a lot of sense. One thing you kind of touched on, I know you've, you've mentioned it before in interviews, but I would just love to hear your take on it. Knowing that I know that you're open to things being wrong and whatnot, I would just love to hear your take on like we often say like the nature of reality, and what does that mean to you based on the experiences you've had? What is your take on the nature of reality,


Dr. Dennis McKenna  44:04

the nature of reality, right? Well, like I say, I think that, you know, I think reality is unknowable, in a certain sense, because we don't interact usually with reality in the raw, if you want to put it that way. We live inside this bubble. You know, we live inside this model of reality which the brain has to do so that we can cope to it. So in some ways, you can't really see that much about the nature of reality. And these are difficult questions to talk about because you get into these sort of epistemological conundrums where the words you're using are simple, but the meanings are deep and often not thought about very much like reality. What do you mean by real? What do we mean by real What do we mean by it inside and outside? One thing you've learned from psychedelics is that everything is connected and that you're not there really isn't an inside, or an outside, we're one with the cosmos, and all of these things that people say about cosmic consciousness and, and being one with nature. And so they sound trivial to say, but they are actually real experiences, and they force you to view reality, they force you to kind of dump your assumptions about reality. I mean, we assume that there is, we assume that there is a reality. But what does that mean? Is it reality? Just our own subjective experience? Right? Or is there more to it? Is there an insight? Is there an outside? Are we really separate? You get it? Yeah, rather confusing places.


Tonya Papanikolov  45:57

Absolutely. And so there is like, there's an inherent mystery to it. And I didn't ask I know, it's it is like a cliched or trite thing. But it's it's an interesting topic, because


Dr. Dennis McKenna  46:08

philosophers have been preoccupied with this for 7000 years. I don't think anybody knows the answer. Even today, you know, I don't think there is an answer. I don't think there is a point where you where you go, and like, given the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Well, the answer is 42. Of course, everybody knows that. Yeah, it doesn't work that way. I think it's not that there is an answer, and you're gonna find the answer. The important thing is you're asking the questions. And and I think you have to kind of accept them. In some ways, you have to realize that is the point. That's what you're doing, then that comes back to this concept of curiosity, of discovery. I mean, the joy of science, I think the joy of existence, in a way is trying to learn what we can, and knowing that we're probably not going to get it figured out. And probably because nobody has it figured out. And you have to be okay with that. You have to just be able to step away from that and say, Well, you know, the point is not to understand everything, because that's not going to happen, the point of existence is to understand what you can, and have fun doing it.


Tonya Papanikolov  47:36

Yeah, and ideally, maybe, maybe just like, stay really present, stay present in the present moment, instead of that, like backwards forwards, directions that we propel ourselves into so often. Yeah, this


Dr. Dennis McKenna  47:49

this is another thing that psychedelics can be very helpful for is to get you help you stay focused on the present moment, you know, because when you think about it, there's really nothing else we have experience and whatever we experience, that is our reality. And whatever comes up in that reality is real in the sense that you experience it. And we can remember the past, but that's a memory. It's not actually the past. It's our reconstruction of the past, we can think about the future, but that is the future. It's our supposition about what the future these are artificial things there is. So like Rob dos or his teacher have the right the right idea that certainly be here. Now, just be here now having to accept that that though? Oh, there's not a whole lot else.


Tonya Papanikolov  48:50

Yeah, yeah. It's true. I just started, I've been studying, you know, lineages, yogic lineages and philosophies for a while. And I just started just exploring Buddhism and reading books. And it's really liberating living that way. And it coincides so beautifully with with psychedelic experience and the reminder every day to come back to the precious unfathomable gifts that we have that to be here and just how curious it is to be in this existence and to not know so much and to look up at the sky at night and see these stars and allowing them to have some sort of a sense of like perspective and in significance, but not in a disempowering way, but in a way that's like, really can connect us to something bigger than ourselves.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  49:38

Yeah, and what is bigger than ourselves? And I think that's the Ceefax insight that can come from, from psychedelics, that's part of what we can learn is that we're just this moat, you know, we're just this little particle of consciousness in a sea of consciousness. I mean, I'm basically a Pan psychist I think that consciousness is built into the structure of the universe, from the most fundamental level to the most cosmic level, everything is conscious in a certain way. And this is the indigenous perspective, animism is pretty much this perspective. What's ironic now is that in some ways is that this is pretty much where science is at to now come to the idea that consciousness is almost like a gravitational force or some other physical constant. I mean, it permeates reality underlies reality, and perhaps it generates reality


Tonya Papanikolov  50:41

that resonates. I got shivers when you said that. And that's always an experience of truth for me. Yeah. Yeah. And I would love to just hear a little bit more about your I know, in the past couple of years. 2019. You, you started the McKenna Academy? Will you tell us a little bit about what what you're up to there?


Dr. Dennis McKenna  51:00

Well, okay, so the mechanic Calamy. It's a nonprofit that I founded in 2090. There really 2020 is when we organized it in the States as a nonprofit. That's basically it's about education, in the in psychedelics, in traditional practices, originally, we have the idea that we would do primarily conferences, retreats, and that sort of thing. And but then COVID came along. So it forced us to kind of go virtual for a while, you know, we really got started in 2020. About the time we were beginning to plan a lot of these conferences and so on the pandemic hit. So we had to pivot and develop a online presence. And we've pretty much done that. There are many things on the website that you could look at. And now that COVID has lifted somewhere, we can get back to doing physical conferences. We actually did a conference in the UK in May I mentioned earlier, the Ethno pharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. That book that came out in 1967. So, in 2017, I did a, I organized with a lot of help, of course, a 50th anniversary Symposium of that, so it was called ESPD. 50. Yes, I'll bet that you saw that. Right. And then in May, we did ESPD 55. So we just finished that. And we're bringing the volume out, and it was great little conference to well, it wasn't so little really we have like 50 five.com, you people couldn't go there. Yeah. link all of this. Yeah. Have you looked at the content,


Tonya Papanikolov  52:57

and have looked at the content? I've also, I'm so curious that the mystery school looks so incredible. Yeah. Have, you know, holds conversations with really incredible people. So I'm excited to introduce our audience to this as well.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  53:11

Okay, that's great. Yeah, tell people to look at ESPD 55. They have to register with their email and a password. But after that, it's open access, awesome. watch or read anything they want. There's lots more on the website as well.


Tonya Papanikolov  53:30

Okay. Well, yeah, we'll link to that. So we are recording this on Halloween, All Hallows Eve. And your I know, you know, it's a day to kind of lots of cultures and traditions have recognized as this day where the dead walks amongst us. And we can use prayer and really our intention to pay our respects to our loved ones and spirits that have passed. And so, in that spirit, I wonder if you could share one of your favorite memories of your time with your brother Terrence


Dr. Dennis McKenna  53:59

one of my favorite memories of my time with Terrence at Halloween. Well, I can tell you a story about Halloween. Okay. Because back when we were young, Terry and I, we were the, you know, we were not your typical kids, you know, in this small town we were thought of as the weirdos. Definitely not the same. But we did like to do Halloween. And what we used to do was we would get dressed up and decorate the house and greet the little kids as they would come to the house, you know, to get the candy and so on. But we were very effective at doing this. So actually, our house became notorious and the mothers would stand at the corner and direct the kids away from our house because when they couldn't take, they couldn't take what we were doing. Of course, we were delighted this was the whole idea was that We were trying to scare the big kids at work. No. So that's kind of a story.


Tonya Papanikolov  55:09

That's great. That's so funny. That That makes a lot of sense, I think. And one question that I asked our guests is, if you could share a prayer and intention, a message with our audience, what would you leave us with?


Dr. Dennis McKenna  55:21

Just be humble. Remember how little we know. And don't view that as something to be depressed about? Look at it as something to be excited about, because it means there's an infinite amount of things left to learn. And that's exciting to me. I guess that it's important to have fun. Don't forget to laugh. Yeah, if the universe is a cosmic giggle, you may as well get it.


Tonya Papanikolov  55:50

That is medicine. D. Thank you so much for this chat and your time and sharing your knowledge and insight and humor and all of this with us. It's so appreciated.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  56:02

Well, thank you so much, John. Yeah, they appreciate your inviting me and let me know we'll get it posted on social media


Tonya Papanikolov  56:10

and awesome for lessons. Okay, thanks again.


Dr. Dennis McKenna  56:14

Thank you so much. Great to me like why? buy buy buy


Tonya Papanikolov  56:21

with deep gratitude. Thanks for tuning into this episode. If you liked it, hit subscribe and leave us a review that is always very appreciated. Mushrooms transformed my mind and body and if you're interested in bringing medicinal mushrooms into your life and health journey, check out rainbo.com for our meticulously sourced Canadian fruiting body mushroom tinctures. Until next time, peace in and peace out friends