#523: Dennis McKenna — The Depths of Ayahuasca: 500+ Sessions | The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • “The deeper you go in this, the stranger and more fascinating it all becomes”Tim Ferriss speaking on psychedelics
  • “Science properly pursued only deepens the mystery. Remember how little you know” – Dennis McKenna
  • Ethnopharmacology defined by McKenna: the interdisciplinary scientific investigation of biologically active substances used or observed by humans in traditional society
  • Ayahuasca can be brewed in a variety of methods leaving plenty of opportunity for customized medical solutions
    • Single-use can apply a reset to your mental wellness, psychology, and perspective from the experience
    • Sustained use can change the chemical properties of the brain and body for the better
      • Long term effect on improved and sustained serotonin levels in the brain
      • Improved on dangerous behavioral pathologies like addiction & depression
    • Important to have a ritual context and intent behind ayahuasca usage
  • McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy – Non-profit organization for continued education on the topic

Intro

Richard Evans Schultes

  • The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss by Dennis McKenna
  • Schultes was known as the ‘father of ethnobotany’
    • the scientific study of a people concerning plants in their medical and religious practices
  • Schultes encouraged McKenna to study more before exploring Virola in the Amazon:
    • Organic Chemistry
    • Taxonomy – Chose grass systematics
  • The first time they met was an awkward introduction, Schultes was hugging an air conditioning unit in a dark room

Ethnopharmacology

  • Books that framed McKenna’s interests in science:
  • Ethnopharmacology defined by McKenna: the interdisciplinary scientific investigation of biologically active substances used or observed by humans in traditional society
    • Many common drugs like Aspirin have their origin in this natural disciplinary

Ayahuasca

  • Ayahuasca – a psychedelic and entheogenic brew commonly made out of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, and the Psychotria viridis shrub
  • Basic ayahuasca chemistry and pharmacology:
    • Harmine – alkaloid, strong MAO (Monoamine Oxidase) inhibitor stimulating neurogenesis
    • Tetrahydroharmine – MAO inhibitor and serotonin inhibitor
      • Long term effect on improved and sustained serotonin levels in the brain
      • Improved on dangerous behavioral pathologies like addiction & depression
    • Different brews have different formulations with various ingredients resulting in complex experiences
      • The variety should be helpful in customizing medical solutions
  • Ayahuasca has the potential to solve different types of problems
    • Single-use can apply a reset to your mental wellness, psychology, and perspective from the experience
    • Sustained use can change the chemical properties of the brain and body for the better
  • It’s often part of ceremony and sacrament in syncretic religions

Brugmansia

  • Brugmansia: a very dangerous plant. It’s toxic and produces a sense of delirium (true hallucinogen rather than psychedelic)
    • Used as a ‘date rape’ drug commonly in Brazil and Columbia
    • People appear totally normal but can be extremely manipulated
    • Can be found in ayahuasca brews. If you have a dry mouth, you are dealing with a dangerous brew with likely malintent by the practitioner
  • Associated with brujería – black magic or sorcery

Cultural Impact

  • Traditional use of ayahuasca has changed due to outside cultural influences
    • In the nature of recreation, people want their money’s worth as a tourist
    • This has had mixed effects: its usage in tourism certainly increases beneficial awareness and medical opportunity but puts pressure on market pricing and overharvesting
  • Traditionally it was the shaman that used ayahuasca, not the ordinary people unless there was a medical exception. The experience and information used to be passed down.

McKenna Personal Ayahuasca Experiences

  • McKenna has had over 500+ ayahuasca experiences
  • Many people think a single experience can change your life. Why has McKenna used ayahuasca so many times?
    • Fostered the experiences with many people, always participated with them
      • Feels somewhat guilty for influencing the popularity of ayahuasca tourism
    • Continues to learn something new with every experience
      • “A bottomless well of things to be thought about. Keep listening” – Dennis McKenna
    • Habitual users of ayahuasca seem to slow mental depreciation with aging
  • Negative experiences:
    • Important to have a ritual context and intent behind usage to reduce the chance of a negative experience
    • Having a practitioner can keep you on track and can help you avoid negative experiences, moderate the space
    • Avoid it if you have a family history of schizophrenia
    • Integration: Troubles with maintaining expectations in the real world compared to your experience realized during your psychedelic usage

McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy

  • McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy: Non-profit organization intended to be a physical place in South America to hold retreats and conferences to explore natural philosophy
  • Natural philosophy: what science used to be before it became quantitative and reductionist, there are other ways of knowing natural truth
    • “Science can understand segments of reality but doesn’t fit the whole picture” – Dennis McKenna
    • “Science properly pursued only deepens the mystery” – Dennis McKenna
  • Academy projects:
    • Knowledge preservation project – focus on documentation and digitization of information
    • Create an herbarium – a collection of preserved plants for scientific study
    • Develop an ethnobotany course
    • Virtual symposium on the Stoned Ape Theory

Amazon

  • 80,000 – 90,000 unique plant species in the Amazon
    • 10% have been properly studied, 1% have been thoroughly investigated
    • Incredible potential for natural drug discovery
  • The McKenna academy wants indigenous people involved and recognized in the continued plant research in the region
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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