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January 5, 2023 61 mins

The renowned ethnopharmacologist and research pharmacognosist, Dennis McKenna, wrote "The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna," ten years ago. That book is being republished, with a new afterword by Dennis, this month, so it seemed the right moment to talk about their relationship and respective evolutions, the experiences, people, literature and ideas that shaped them, and why Dennis regards the book that he and Terence co-authored in the mid-1970s, Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, as perhaps their most significant accomplishment.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hi, I'm Ethan Edelman, and this is Psychoactive, a production
of I Heart Radio and Protozoa Pictures. Psychoactive is the
show where we talk about all things drugs. But any
views expressed here do not represent those of my Heart Media,
Protozoa Pictures, or their executives and employees. Indeed, Heed, as

(00:23):
an inveterate contrarian, I can tell you they may not
even represent my own and nothing contained in this show
should be used his medical advice or encouragement to use
any type of drugs. Hello, Psychoactive listeners. So my guest

(00:45):
today is Dr Dennis McKenna. He's the famed ethnobodanist, ethno pharmacologist,
anthropologist who has been studying psychedelics and plant medicines for
over fifty years. He's authored and co authored dozens, if
not hundreds, of articles and a number of books, both
on his own and with others, including his famed brother

(01:06):
Terrence McKenna. The impetus for doing this interview now is
that a book that he wrote some years ago is
about to be reissued. It's called The Brotherhood of the
Screaming Abyss, and it's a memoir by Dennis that also
includes a long account of his relationship with his brother
and the respective journeys together and apart. So, Dennis, thank

(01:28):
you ever so much for joining me and my listeners
on Psychoactive. Well, thank you Ethan for inviting me. It's
a pleasure, so thanks, thank you. Well, just let me
just start off. You know, in part want to be
talking about, right, is your brother Terrence. And I realized
on some level it's got to be awfully irritating to
have a famous brother and a famous brother in the

(01:49):
same field, more or less an intersecting field. Yet who also,
you know because of the last names, obviously you've benefited
from that familial connection, but obviously there was an intense
personal relationship between that. But before we delve into the
origins of that, which I really want to get into,
because you really get into in the book. You know,
when you first wrote this book, I mean, you're fairly

(02:10):
modest about like you know, when when what you said,
when all, when all comes down to, ultimately, people pay
more attention to me because you know, my brother was Terrence.
But I wonder over the last ten years, which is
when I've only known you over the last ten years,
when we crossed paths of various conferences. I mean, it
seems to me that your name has become much more

(02:31):
prominent as the Psychelics renaissance has kind of blasted off.
And so I wonder if you were writing this memoir today,
you know, how do you think it would be different
in terms of your reflecting on your relationship with Terrence
and its impact on your life? Well? Uh, not that different, actually,

(02:51):
I mean, I mean it will be different, and the
difference will be reflected in this afterwards that I wrote
it effectively, and their chapter another about fifty to sixty
page chapter kind of looking back the last ten years
from the date that it was that it was published,
and even back the last twenty years or so since

(03:15):
Terence passed on, because the original book basically ends more
or less when Terence passed on in two thousands, you know,
and you you mentioned that, you know, it must be
it must be irritating to you know, be the brother
of Terence mckinnick, because he gets all the attention, you know,
And uh, in a way that's still true. I mean,

(03:37):
Terence is probably got more Twitter followers than I do.
Not bad for a guy who has been dead for
twenty two years, you know, but I don't really resent
it at all, because Terence and I were, you know,
we were intensely interested in the same things, but different

(03:59):
compliment nary aspects of the same thing. So we didn't
really have any kind of rivalry. We were competing for attention,
and I mean what fame we had was basically from
our books. And and in Terence's case, he was very
much on the lecture circuit and I was not so much.

(04:20):
And that was really by choice, you know, I preferred
to be in the background. I'm I'm inherently you know,
by nature, I'm kind of an introvert, and I like
to be in the background. You know. One of the
things that's interesting is you really part of the thing
about your book, The Brotherhood Book of the Screening Abyss,
is your your skign of like reflecting and psychoanalyzing about

(04:44):
your life and your family and your parents and and
Terrence and you know, obviously you know, you're he's four
years older. He's born in forty six, You're born in
nineteen fifty, but you describe at a young age about
him basically being a fairly torturous older brother. I mean,

(05:05):
you know, you know tickling you, scaring the hell out
of you. What he says, What if that thing never
oppose my will? He says to you, and he freaks
you out about that. Nobody people. And look, I'm the
oldest of four, so I'm probably guilty of some of
the stuff that Terence was guilty of. But I don't
think I was quite as mean as he was back then. Well,

(05:25):
I think that the way, you know, the dynamic was
between us back then is not that atypical from little
brother to older brother, you know, kind of interactions and dynamics,
especially when the gap in ages four years. I mean
that's a kind of a critical gap because that means,

(05:47):
you know, as we moved into education, like when I
was in junior high school, he was in high school.
When I was in high school, he'd already left. But
I described those things. You know, you write a memoir
and you about what you remember, and and in my
early time growing up, that's what I remember, you know,

(06:08):
when when Terrence and I were together, I also remember
a lot of good times. You know, we had great times.
He was you know, he was the big brother. He
was you know, my parents favorite for years at least,
I was convinced so, and they went out of their
way to make sure he had anything he wanted in

(06:32):
terms of, you know, educational opportunities, support, you know, for
his hobbies and so on. I mean that later I
got those things, but I was happy to tag alog.
But Dennis, look if I digg a little bit here
is because obviously all of this you say in the book,
and the love between the two of you and his
profound influence both on you and more broadly, just comes

(06:53):
through clearly. But I mean you say in the book,
and other people point this out that it's not just Terrence,
but it's the two of you whom I be described
as the Johnny Apple seeds the psilocybin. I mean, you guys,
when you come back from the Amazon in the seventies
and you produced this book, The Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide,
I think inventies six, which is really kind of the

(07:15):
first how to guide to how to, you know, use
mushroom spores to grow you make your own marijuanat home
in a very simple way and thereby essentially and I
think I think it might be the most single most
important thing that either of the two of you ever did. Um.
But just tell us a little bit about that book,
which the two of you and I guess with another
fellow and Jeremy Bigwood played a role as well. But

(07:37):
tell us how that book came about and why and
its impact. Yeah, I can't do that. So some people
even recently have said, you know, have been at pains
to point out that we were at the first ones
to do that, you know, And I never really claimed
that we were. People were experimenting, they were trying to
figure it out. I think what was different was that, uh,

(08:00):
we were the first to publish a book that was
a simple method that got into many people's hands, and
that was the social impact of it, not that other
people were doing it at the time. Other people were
not publishing books about it or even talking about it.
And because it was illegal, it took a certain amount
of either foolishness or courage or both to publish that book.

(08:23):
And we did, and it had it had a an impact.
But I was not taught how to do this. I
puzzled it out. I was taking courses at Colorado State University.
I had been out to Harvard to see Shalties. I
wanted to work with Shalties. This was nine four and

(08:47):
Shaltis told me after I did by pilgrimage, he said,
you know, go back and take more chemistry and take
more taxonomy, because I thought I was going to study
higher plants. You know. Well, as it turned out, a
friend of mine was the head of the botany greenhouse
at at c s U. When I went back to

(09:09):
c s U to take these additional courses, even though
it already got my degree, I took these additional courses
organic chemistry course, which turned out to be a revelation
because the teacher of that course was incredible mentor. And anyway,
I had access to this laboratory at Teaching Culture Laboratory,

(09:31):
so I had all the tools to mess around, and
I had the spores and then this paper and Michaelogia surface,
which was called by James P. San Antonio. It was
a USD researcher that was something like, you know a
simple method to grow a Garicus by s boris on

(09:52):
substrates of sterilized rye, you know, And basically I tried
that with the mushrooms and it worked, you know, so
that was the breakthrough. It just worked for this other species.
So then once we had that technique, you know, figured
out it reliably worked. I shared that with Terence. I

(10:15):
shortly after that finished my work at c SU, and
I moved to California and we actually set up growing
operations there and then published the book. And at some
point Terrence had already connected with Jeremy Bigwood, and I'm
not sure how he made that connection, but I think
it was from through Jonathan Ott, and Jeremy was a

(10:40):
part of that whole coterie of psychedelic enthusiasts at Evergreen
State College, out of which Paul Stabbits came, but then
also Jeremy and Jeremy, so that was the connection. And
Terence had had met Jeremy and Berkeley at some point
and invited him to be the photographer on the book

(11:06):
to photograph the methods. And then Terence's girlfriend and then
later his wife, Kat Harrison, was the illustrator, producing these
beautiful uh line drawings of the mushrooms, the life cycle
and all that. So that those were the four people
that generated the book, Terence and myself, Jeremy with the photographs,

(11:28):
and Cat as the as the artist. But you published
it under pseudonyms, right, well, yes, all pseudonyms, and I
thought it was ironic that. You know, in some ways,
Jeremy chose the pseudonym uh Eremaus the obscure. I used

(11:50):
to kill him, I said, is that a reflection of
the terrible photographs that you put in the book, because
they weren't really that good. They did the job, but then, uh,
you know, they weren't that great. They were they were
little and sort of money and so on, but they
did show how to do it. But he made up

(12:11):
for it with the beautiful color photographs and the color
insert for the first edition. You know, those were great.
I was really disappointed when they re published it under
a different company and they dropped those color photographs because well,
de's ly, as you mentioned, you and Terrence starting to

(12:33):
grow mushrooms as well. So were you making I mean,
imagine the statue limitations has got expired by now. Were
you making a lot of money selling mushrooms in those days? Uh? Well,
we were making money, you know. I wouldn't say a lot,
but we were. We're probably making enough that we didn't

(12:54):
have to, you know, have actual jobs a certain way.
That's something that Terence continued for for many years. But
he decided, you know, maybe that's maybe that's too edgy.
Maybe he didn't really want to do that. As his
fame grew he decided it was a good idea. It's

(13:15):
a step back from that. I mean, you also talk
about terrences. You know, time is you know sort of
you know, sending hasheesh or cannabis around the world and
having to be on the run as a fugitive for
a few years. But going going back to the book
book again and your and your and your youth and
the influences you talk about, I mean, you also talk
about growing up as Catholics. That's how you until certain

(13:38):
age you're a good Catholic boy. But you also have
an encounter with a Catholic priest who does what you know,
many Catholic priests have become into the floor. Do just
just just tell our list is a little bit about
your your Catholic childhood and your encounter to which you
seem to respond to feeling like it wasn't all that traumatic.

(14:00):
And my encounter with the priest was not all that
traumatic because I was so clueless. Basically, I was I
think about eight years old, maybe a little older than that,
but I didn't realize I was being abused, you know,
I mean, I lived close to the rectory. I used

(14:22):
to go over and hang out with the priests there.
There were other priests there usually, and there were some
some of them were pretty cool, you know. I mean
they were like Jesuits and they had you know, they
were intellectuals. Father I won't say his name. I think
I call him father Dad in the book. But he
was not like that. But he was also he was interesting.

(14:45):
He had been an engineer before he'd been a priest,
and you know, and he liked the altar boys. And
now now I have a better idea just why he
liked the altar boys. And I don't know how many
of them he actually molested. But but you know, the
way it happened with us is I confided in him that,

(15:10):
you know, I was ticklish, and I was very ticklish,
still am ticklish, you know, and I confided this, and
then but he said, well, well I can help you
get over that. So you know, we went into the
basement and I disrobed at least mostly, and he kind

(15:33):
of touched me all over. He didn't penetrate me, there
was no nothing like that. It was just you know,
it's kind of a weird massage, you know, And again,
I'm working in the assumption that he's helping me get
over being ticklish. So I was not alarmed, you know,

(15:54):
at all, or didn't really think in terms of abuse
and so on what was going on in his that
I don't know. I suppose he was getting the charge
out of it. But you know, it took me like
I didn't even think about it for years, you know,
and then suddenly one day it dawned on me. Man,
I was being abused, you know, But at the time,

(16:17):
I was not traumatized. And Dennis, in all of your
thousands of psycholic experience, who is with different types of
mushrooms in Ayahuaska and d MT and everything else. I mean,
have there been times when processing either you know, terrences
tormenting and torturing you or this experience of the priest
or other traumatic things of Chilode kind of came up

(16:39):
and got processed for you or was that never really
because I don't I don't come across references that, I
mean when I was reading the book to that sort
of processing of these kind of early things. Yeah, they
don't really, they haven't come up you know, in my
in my psychedelic experience. It's probably because apart from that,
you know, and apart from from Terence's abuse and torture,

(17:03):
But I didn't really experience those things as trauma. I wasn't.
I may have been traumatized by other other factors, but
I don't look back on it and think, you know,
I'm I'm screwed up because of childhood traumas. Actually, my childhood,

(17:24):
I would say our childhood was was remarkably normal and
free of that kind of thing. I mean, I think
there was always dysfunctionalities and in families, but in general,
I mean, my father and mother were not abusive, you know,
and they were very loving and supportive. At the same time,

(17:46):
Terence and I you know, pushed back against them, Terence
particularly on all kinds of fronts. I mean, I'm sure
that we, you know, made their lives miserable in many ways,
you know. I mean you described Terence at point like
I mean, I mean, at one point you say, you know,
in some respects, he was unforgiving, you know, when it
once you once he decided, you know, you know, he

(18:08):
had ridden you off, that was it, and not only empathetic.
And he also described at a very young age him
cutting off your father like emotionally in a way that's
never really recovered, I guess, never really recovered, never really
got over that. That's right. And at the age of four,
and this is not a teenage thing. This is at
the age of four or five or something, right, right,

(18:31):
right exactly, there was an incident which I'd rather not
describe in graphic detail, but but you know, it led
to an estrangement on some emotional level between him and
my dad, and I think at at a certain point
he crossed the threshold there where he came to the

(18:51):
conclusion that, you know, I've got to look out for
myself or I am you know, I have to be
number one. I mean kind of all I wouldn't say
a Trumpian kind of thing, but preoccupation with his own
self preservation and all that. You know. Well, I mean

(19:16):
you describe also, you know, and Rand as something of
you know, one of the influences on Terrence when he's
growing up. Yeah, and Rand was one of the one
of the books that he was reading as he was
growing up. And and everybody, I mean at that age,
you know, eighteen sixteen, seventeen eighteen, in that era of

(19:39):
the late sixties, everybody was reading a Rand, you know,
and and getting the you know that that download that
that she that she transmitted. You know. The other popular
book was Catcher in the Rye, you know, and everybody.
I wasn't reading them because I was four years younger.

(20:00):
They were not really part of my universe. But I
think Anne Rand and and the or Iron Rand as
they call her, and and capt Her there influential books
for people of terence, this generation when they were teenagers
in the you know, in the late even mid sixties,

(20:21):
so he was about four years ahead, so all of
these things were coming down. I don't know how much
it influenced him. I mean, I Rand is identified with
the right now and and so on. I think, you know,
I think there's a wider perception that her philosophy is

(20:42):
you know, pretty distasteful in some ways, uh not not compassionate,
you know, sort of very typical of some of the
you know, right wing ideologies that people are. You know,
it's it's everyone for themselves, you know, there's a great
lack of compassion and empathy. And in this perspective, well,

(21:06):
I don't agree with that, you know, I think that
we have to I mean, I think if I if
psychedelics teach you anything, it is that we are all connected,
we're all one, We're all in the same boat. And
I think, you know, they're useful for eliciting compassion and empathy.

(21:29):
And I think we need more of that, not less
of that. I mean, not only for each other, but
for nature itself. But as I get older, I get
more sort of maybe disillusioned, you could say a little
more cynical about it. Uh. I think they have great
potential for societal evolution and transformation. But the question is,

(21:58):
isn't happening fast enough? And you know, because we are
looking as as I say in the book and afterwards,
you know, we're looking at a closing window here where
we're having we have to make decisions, and our choices
are becoming more and more restricted. So can psychedelics turn

(22:19):
this around? I think they're part of the process. I
don't think psychedelics alone are are gonna do it. We'll
be talking more after we hear this ad, you know, Dennis.

(22:47):
I mean one of the things that when I when
I've seen you speak and really some of your writing,
I sometimes you know, on the one hand, you're very
much the scientist, and you very much fit within that,
you know, the all the other growing the scientists in
this in this world of the psychedelic renaissance. But you're
also this kind of bridge to the ways of thinking
that Terrence epitomized. And so in the book you talk

(23:10):
about the influences on both of you growing up, and
some of them were common influences, like you talk, for example,
about your fascination with cosmology and astronomy, and then especially
you talk a lot about science fiction and how that
shaped um really you're thinking, and you can sort of
see that manifesting not just in you know, some of

(23:31):
the stuff, some of the terences recordings, but even in
your own speaking and and and obviously Stanley Kubrick two
thousand and one, you you come back to that movie frequently.
There's another movie called Charlie. You come back to UM.
So just talk more about, you know, the impact of
of science fiction and cosmology and those movies and the
in both you're thinking, and to the extent some extent

(23:52):
your brothers as well. Well. Science fiction was a huge
influence on this, you know, and I think we can
attribut you that to a certain extent. In fact, to
a large extent to our father who also read science fiction.
And he when he was a child, he had had

(24:13):
ramatic fever, so he'd spent quite a lot of time
in bed as a child. He couldn't go to school.
What did he do? He read? He read all kinds
of things. He read a lot of Westerns and things
like that, but he also read what science fiction there
was of those days, you know, and there wasn't I mean,

(24:35):
not like we think of it, but it was like fantasy,
Tom Swift's Adventures and this kind of thing. And so
when he had a family and all that, he spent
a lot of time. His job required him to be
on the road five days a week. He was a
traveling sales representative for a company in Denver, so he

(24:57):
would be gone from Monday through Friday. And he would
need things to read on on the road. So he
would buy these pulp science fiction magazines that you could
buy off the shelf. He would also buy fake magazine,
and he brings these things home and Fate Magazine is
very interesting magazine. It's it's still published, and it was

(25:21):
the sort of popular magazine about the esoteric and the strange,
you know, so all about aliens and and paranormal phenomena
and UFOs and occasionally drugs. You know, there were articles
about mescaline and ayahuaska and things like them. You're talking,

(25:44):
you know, the sixties, the fifties and sixties. But he
would bring Faate magazine and these science fiction uh you know, uh,
pulp magazines like as Abov science fiction or fantasy and
science extreudent, these different ones that you could buy, and
Terence and I were all over those, you know, and

(26:06):
particularly Fate magazine. I mean, he would bring these faith
magazines home and we would be all over it. So
when so, I think in Terence and me, it cultivated
a fascination with the esoteric and the strange, you know,

(26:26):
I mean for from our perspective, you know, we were
weird and the weirder the better, you know. And so
when psychedelics came along, I think that we viewed it
not from a context of uh, spirituality or or indigenous

(26:50):
practices or anything like that. I mean we discovered that later,
but originally the idea was that, hey, we these are
other dimensions. Psychedelics can take you to other dimensions, and
we thought of that quite literally, you know, that these
were tools for actually visiting other realms, you know, hyper

(27:15):
spatial dimensions. That was the approach, and that perspective really
colored our whole experiment at Lachrera because I just say quickly,
you know, Lachrera Um is the place in the Colombian
Amazon where Dennis and Terrence in around nineteen seventy one

(27:36):
go for a number of weeks and have a really
formative experience. Um. They go there looking for a particular
you know, psychedelic and land up finding out that maybe
mushrooms is the one that they were really needing to
learn to know understand better. And where Dennis describes basically
having whether it was a psychotic break or a or

(27:57):
a spiritual breakthrough or a communication with Eli ends but
going what might be seen is largely crazy for a
while and a bit unhinged, and and his brother worrying
he might not even come back. Um. But it's then
it describes almost the pinnacle of their relationship being though
is a very traumatic time. Did I did I sum
it up fairly? Yeah? I think so, without going into

(28:19):
too much detail, I think that was exactly it. You know,
I've done various talks of the experiment at luch Are,
but at what at the Convention Breaking Convention Conference a
few years ago, I did a talk called the Experiment
at lucher Era colon psychotic break, shamanic initiation or alien

(28:41):
encounter question mark, and it looked at these different modalities
that might that could be applied to the experiment at
luchur Era, And I was kind of arguing for the
idea that yeah, there were elements of an alien encounter
in this, along with the shamanic elements and the psychotic

(29:03):
elements and so on. And uh, you know Eric Davis
who writes very eloquently about this. He in his book
High Weirdness. Uh, there's a whole chapter about Terrence and
Dennis and our adventures and lace Erera, and he makes the,
I think really insightful point in a way that we

(29:29):
went to Lacerera thinking that we were doing that we
were doing an act of science, you know, which we weren't.
What we were doing is we committed an act of
science fiction. And I think that's I think that's very apt.
I think that's exactly what we were doing because you know,

(29:51):
given our limited grasp of science, we were not scientists.
We thought we were, we fancied we were, but we weren't.
Given our limited grasp of scientific understandings and so on.
You know, we were trying to bring all these kind
of more or less you know, unrefined, unsophisticated scientific concepts

(30:16):
to what we were doing, to the idea that you know,
we could actually crack the space time continuum, you know,
and step through into this new a temporal rime. So
that that goes right back to the sixties, you know,
fascination with other dimensions and all that, and the idea

(30:38):
that that psychedelics could could be portals to this. We're
not alone now, lots of people are talking about this
very same thing, you know. I recently attended a private
conference in in the UK in October which the uh
you know, the theme of the conference was the Sentient Other,

(31:01):
and it was all about d MT entities and other
kinds of entities that you encounter in psychedelic experiences, you know.
And the problem with d MT it's too short. You know,
by the time you get there to this place or
this dimension or the state, it's already fading away. It's

(31:23):
very hard to too spend enough time there to really
get a handle on what's going on. So you come
back with a sense of astonishment, but not much actual data.
It's such a short acting uh experience when you've smoke it.
Then it's just to clarify for our listeners. I mean,

(31:45):
D and T is one of the essential ingredients in ayahuasca,
but it's also something that can be smoked for a
shorter experience. Right. And then you have I guess one
of the early early books that kind of you go
back to the early origins, early twenty one century origins,
the cycle like Renaissance. Some of that goes back to
Rick Straussman and his research in books and the spirit

(32:07):
and molecule, and he were distinguishing that from five and
the O D M T, which also people smoke for
a short intense experience. These are the two. These are
the two two tryptamans that are short acting. Uh. They're
not orally active unless you potentiate them with a monoamine

(32:29):
oxidase inhibitor, right, And that's the basis of ayahwatska. The
two plants, one of them contains an M A O
inhibitor which inhibits the D m T from breakdown in
the gut, and then it's orally active. And instead of
fifteen twenty minutes you have six to seven hours, but
much less intense than the fifteen to twenty minutes. The

(32:52):
other way people take it is so the term is
parentally either injected or usually people smoke the free base
and then you get this very intense uh fifteen to
twenty minute I sometimes refer to it as like a
like a trip on a Neon roller coaster. I mean,

(33:15):
there is definitely a very visual space, you know, and
all sorts of things going on, really like being in
a different place. Five athoxy is actually not like that.
Fivethoxy is different in that it lacks the the visual
dimension for some reason. Fivethoxy is the same as is

(33:37):
the same thing as five m O d n T. Yes,
five m e O d m T fivethoxy people call
it it is you get effectively the the same feeling
of dissolution being in this space, and this feeling of acceleration,
but there's no visuals, you know, And the things that

(34:00):
set d MT apart is it's all about visuals, you know,
including the apparent encounter with other intelligences d m T.
I mean, I have much more experience with d m
T than five thoxy d MT, but my experience with
five athoxy is that it is the total ego and

(34:25):
really self dissolution drug. I mean, what it does is
for me at least, it just dissolves the self. It
dissolves the ego. It's like, you know, the cliche with
the psychedelics is we are all one, you know, and
we we merge with with everything. And five athoxy delivers

(34:48):
that experience when you really have very little or almost
no sense of the self as a discrete entity. You're
just part of the continuum, you know. D m T
is not that way. It's not the ego dissolving kind
of approach. It. I mean, you're still you, I mean
your ego. Maybe you know, the boundaries may be getting

(35:11):
a little shaky, but you're still yourself and very often
in relationship in this uh you know, relationship with these
extra dimensional entities which are presenting as intelligences and you

(35:32):
know maybe so, I mean, I'm skeptical and you know
that the main question here if you have these encounters
with these apparent non human but obviously intelligent entities, the
first question is are they real? You know? And then

(35:52):
but then that's a loaded question because then you have
to say, well, what do you mean by real, you know,
and and this is where I get you know, I mean,
people look at me and say, well, you you just
you just can't accept it. I'm not saying it's not
that they don't accept it. I'm trying to figure out
is this coming from some part of the self, some

(36:15):
part of myself that is presented as something that is
not me, or is it really something from elsewhere that
is in communication you know, well, you know, I mean
ess interestingly, because you describe in the book, you know
that you and Terrence returning from La Gurea, you know,

(36:36):
fifty years ago, fifty two years ago or so, and
and you know, Terence comes back and says, basically, science
can't explain any of this stuff, essentially, let's skip it.
And you come back saying, well, we can't dismiss science
unless we understand science better. And it seems like that's

(36:57):
a key place where your trajectory is really golf in
different directs. That's where you decide to go and get
the degrees and become a scientist. And it seems I mean,
I'm more sympathetic to your point viewpoint, which is if
we want to try to figure out whether there is
something about aliens communicating with us through mushrooms, or these
things being exported to Earth from in that way, or
how we think about different manifestations of reality. We better

(37:20):
know the science a lot better, so we can critically
evaluate both its you know, what it has to say,
as well as its limitations. Yeah, exactly. I mean you
put your figure right on it that at that point,
you know, after our return from psychedelics represented a uh
you know, a point where our trajectories in some ways diverged,

(37:44):
you know, And and Terrence yes, said well, science is
never going to explain this, we should just throw science out.
My response is, we can't say that because we're not
scientists and we don't really understand how to do science,
you know, So for to reject science, let's learn how
to do it first. Then we can examine these phenomena

(38:06):
in the light of sort of the scientific perspective, scientific
framework and decide or help us decide what is going on,
or give it up and say yes, science can't explain this.
In trying to understand nature, I think science is a
good place to start, you know, because science, unlike most

(38:30):
endeavors of human thought, Uh, it's a way to construct
models about the way things are, the way you think
things are, and then test the model, you know, tested
against what the evidence is, and either reject the model
or modify it or whatever. In this way, scientific knowledge advances.

(38:52):
This is the scientific method, and it's not often, it's
not often practice the way should be. But in its
pure form, this is what science is, and it's very powerful,
UH way of thinking. We describe in the book doing
a very powerful having a very powerful ayahuask experience. I

(39:14):
think in the context of the of the UDV Church
in Brazil, and and and and and the single sentence
that you that you most come away with is this one.
You monkeys only think you're running things? Yes, how does
that fit into what you were just talking about about science?
I think that psychedelics are great counterbalance to science. I

(39:37):
think one of the UH pitfalls of science and scientists
particularly is a tendency to think that, you know, we
have made such advances, we have such sophisticated understanding of
the cosmos and the way things are, we pretty much

(39:58):
have this thing figured out, you know. And I think
psychedelics emphatically illustrate to us we only have a tiny
part of reality figured out, you know. There's no excuse
for arrogance here. What we should be humble because we
should always bear in mind how little we really know,

(40:21):
what a small part of the total picture. Science, science
furnishes us. For us, it's science tend to be arrogant,
you know, there's no room for arrogance. They should be
more humble. They should recognize no matter how much we
how much science advances, how much we expand our understanding,

(40:42):
it's still only going to be a tiny slice of
the total picture. And psychedelics are useful for for that
making that realization. And that's that's effectively what I meant
by you monkeys only think you're ready this show. We
are not in control. You know, I'm not sure anyone
is in control, but we're we're participating in this, uh,

(41:06):
you know, this coevolutionary process with the plants, with everything
on the planet. And we're not reading the reading the
show at all. Let's take a break here and go
to an ad Well. You know, I said, I think

(41:35):
in the book, I think one of the indication of
the kind of not I shouldn't say two sides as
if they're oppositional, but the two aspects Dennis to your
way of thinking about this is you know, you talk
about you know, in the fifties, um, really Gordon Wasson
and his wife's writings in Life magazine and their encounter
with Maria Sabina and the book about Mushrooms and Russia

(41:56):
really kind of launches the first stage of of really
popular awareness about about about psychedelics. And then in the sixties,
I mean you're a bit dismissive of Timothy Leary. I mean,
I think you're more critical him than not, and in
some respects, you know, later on you worry, oh my god,
I don't want my brother, you know, Terrence, to become
like the new Timothy Leary and do the kind of

(42:17):
harms that oftentimes associated with Timothy Leary is kind of
going over the top. But which you do credit are
two books, which both of which come out I think
in the late sixties or early seventies. One is Carlos
custand is The Teachings of Don Juan, which you know,
I probably sold billions of copies. I remember I had
a copy when I was when I was younger as well,

(42:37):
which is you know, probably largely fictional, but you say,
nonetheless very important. And the other book, though you're surprising
someone surprisingly. Quote is a volume that's published by the
National in student Meental Health, you know US, you know
Health Agency, the proceedings of a conference health in San
Francisco seven. To explain why those two books actually play
an important role in your revolution. They were very influential

(43:01):
for me personally, those two books. The Castidated book, which
Terence gave to me for my eighteenth birthday, and yes
it probably is largely fictional, but I didn't know that
at the time, and it doesn't really matter because what
it presented was the ethnographic side, the indigenous origins of

(43:21):
these things, the idea that there were you know, uh,
indigenous world views and understandings about these substances and these
plants and fungi. So that was that was like the
Cosmo vision of you know, the indigenous world. And then
on the other hand, the ethno pharmacologic search for psychoactive

(43:45):
drugs the name of this conference in sixty seven, which
was a private conference. The only thing that the taxpayers
ever got was the publication that the book itself, which
was published, and somehow or other it fell into my
hands again at the age of eighteen the year after

(44:08):
the conference, and This actually happened some years before my
my understandings about science and are the whole conversation about
rejecting science and so on. That book really opened up
for me that that ethel pharmacology was a real discipline.
There was actual science here, There were people working in this,

(44:30):
people like you know, icons of still icons like Sualties
and shul Gun and even Andy Wild wasn't that conference
and and you know, so it was an eye oldener
for me in the sense that there's a real discipline
here and potentially a discipline that you know, I could

(44:51):
follow as a career path. And that was kind of
what led me to to that direction to start studying
not only ethnography, which I was also interested in, but
but botany and chemistry and pharmacology and all that. It
was the inspiration. That book was the inspiration for that.

(45:11):
You know. You know, it's another thing that pops up
in your writing. You keep coming back to more than
most people I know, right about psychedelics, and it's the
dark side. I mean, you write about the bluejas um,
the witches both in Europe and Latin America, and the
uses of the toura, and you tell the story of
a leading and quite powerful um Iowa Scarrow Pablo Amaringo,

(45:34):
who basically you know, stops doing that, stops leading sessions
because he's gotten involved in some sort of you know,
uh conflict with what he sees a brujas which could
use could potentially be a conflict to the death by
where either kill or be killed. So say something about
that dark side of this. Yeah, well there is a

(45:57):
dark side. I mean, I mean, psychedelic are a tool,
you know, like any other technology, They're a tool, and
they can be used or misused, you know, and because
they are, they can put people into very vulnerable states.
That's kind of the point of these intense psychedelic therapy

(46:20):
sessions is to provide circumstances where you can open up,
you know, and but you have you can open up.
You can look at your problems, whether they be addiction
or depression or you know, whatever your issues are from
a different perspective. I think that's really the most important
therapeutic aspect of psychedelic therapy is they let you step

(46:44):
away from your reference frame temporarily what we now call
the default mode network, although there are other terms for
it as well, and in traditional cultures like in South America,
for example. Uh, not all the Iowa Scarrows are good people,

(47:04):
you know. I mean there is a power dynamic there,
and if you have a drug or something that will
let you get power over people. There are many cure
and arrows that are effectively sorcerers. They want power, they
want money, sex, they want all of these things that

(47:25):
you know, people people year to have. And if they
can be used to you know, to effectively render you know,
people compliant and willing to give up their their selfhood,
then they will employ them that way. I think most
of the people traditional practitioners using Ayahuascat really do it

(47:50):
from the standpoint of being healers and helping people. Uh
Like Pablo ever Ringo, you know, was a good examp
apple of that. Like many of the Iowa Scarrols that
I was lucky enough to to work with, I had
no idea. I mean I learned this over time that

(48:13):
not all of these people can be trusted. And we
see this now, you know, there's a great deal of
maybe overstated. On the other side, there's a great deal
of paranoia for people that are doing, you know, want
to go to South America and do Ayahwaska retreats, and
so I like, you know, people say, well, you must

(48:33):
be very careful, you know, uh not to get in
with the wrong people because you know, damnaged you in
many many ways. And that's true. I think it's a
matter of proceeding thoughtfully and sort of not just don't
sign up for a retreat at the first website that
comes up. You know, do your research, ask around, talk

(48:57):
to people that know the ropes down there, and you know,
take care to get to the right places. Well, you've
talked about sometimes the ayahuasca actually being mixed with a
little bit of the tour or something or yes, that
that does happen when the ayahuasca is mixed with the toura. Uh.

(49:17):
You know, sometimes they put it in because they actually
make bad ayahuaska and they if they add in the
de toura, that ensures that something will happen, you know,
not necessarily what you want to happen, but that pretty
much will make it active. And other times they put
into tour because they're you know, their motives are more sinister.

(49:40):
I mean, detura is a Brent banzi is. It's called
the Tree de tours in South America. But the de
tours in European uh, you know, European witchcraft and all that.
These are deliriums and these are they're not psychedelics, they're
deliriums there. They're drugs that create a great deal of confusion,

(50:05):
and they also wipe your memory out and to a
certain degree, and they also make you very suggestible, you know,
so classic example of like a date raped drug, that
kind of thing. And actually in in UH Colombia it's
used that way. You know, if you take ayahuasca and

(50:28):
there is there's the tour in it, there's bergmancy have
been added into it. The traditional term for it is
to a they call it to a. You can tell
if your ayahuasca has been dosed with the tour because
you get this classical dry mouth reaction. Those trop pains

(50:52):
make you feel very thirsty, and they of course dilate
the eyes greatly and so they produce blurred vision and
all that. If you're getting those symptoms, that probably means
there's a good slack of towai in the brew And
for me, that's a red flag, you know, to get
the hell out of there, because this person does not

(51:14):
have your best interests at heart, you know, in a way.
I mean, you've been identified so much with ayahuasca, but
also of course mushrooms and not just the growing guide.
But and it's interesting the way you talk about them.
Right at one point you say, are they alien artifacts?
And you've mentioned this already. Then another time you say, well,
mushrooms can be tricksters, and someplace else you say bullshitters

(51:36):
at times, and they have way of presenting delusions at
self evident truths, and in someplace else you go they
are mushrooms the perfect psychedelic exclamation point. Well, they are
the perfect psychedelic you know, I mean in the sense
that there you know, they're non toxic there generally non threatening.

(51:58):
They're usually enjoyable, and then they do download information, you know,
but like all psychedelics do. But I think it's up
to the individual too, you know, not necessarily, uh, lower
your your analytical antennas. You know, you get revelations, you

(52:19):
get insights from psychedelics, and they seem maybe at the
time they seem like true revelations, but you know, you
need to look at it the next day in the
cold hard light of reality and see if that really
stands up, you know, And that's what I mean by
by they can be tri trickster to them. And whilst

(52:40):
it can be a trickster, although I think it's I
think it's less common. But you you know, you have
to you know, you have to keep your powder dry
in a certain sense, and and not necessarily just take in,
uh everything that the mushrooms tell you, or the danger

(53:03):
is you're going to get into some delusionary state that's
very hard to get out of, you know, if you
just accept this. I mean I get emails kind of
dismayingly frequently from people, you know, that have had these
really powerful experiences and they've come away and they say, oh, yes,

(53:25):
you know, I am the Messiah, I am the transcedentdal
object at the end of time. I figured all this out.
And you know, wait a minute, cowboy, calm down, think
about it, think about it, and get that, you know,
or hopefully don't get back to me because I don't
have time for this ship anyway. Let me actually ask

(53:47):
you this, you know. I mean, I mean, obviously some
of this stuff that Terrence was coming up with, um,
you know, like like the world ending in twelve and
a whole lot of stuff just seems off the wall
in retrospect. But there's there's at least one thing that
not just he but you also have talked about with
frequency that's maybe looking a little better over the years,
and that's the stoned ape theory. Yes, yeah, so just

(54:12):
explained your listeners what that is and why it's looking better. Well,
the stone ape theory, it's kind of a pejority of
way to describe it, but the idea of basically that
we co evolved with mushrooms that you know, the hominid
species evolved in Africa, you know, three to two to
three million years ago, and they evolved and leading eventually

(54:37):
to you know, they're different species, starting with Homo habilists
and then uh, you know, Homo erectus, Homo neunderthal, eventually
Homo sapiens, although it wasn't quite as linear as that implies.
But what we know is now it's it's a very

(54:57):
hard theory to prove, but what we do know is
that hominid lineages were evolving in northern and actually southern
africas well during this period. We know that the climate
about two million years ago was much wetter, there were
seasonal rainfalls, It was not a dry desert like it

(55:20):
is now, and you know, we've got the paleoclimate theological
data to support that. We know that there were cows
or the precursors of modern cows boasts, uh I forget
the species, but there were cow species. The fossils of
these cows have been found. They evolved in the same

(55:43):
environment that the hominids did. Undoubtedly the hominids hunted them
and ate them. Well, the mushrooms grow on the dung
of these cows. And if you look at any tropical ecosystem,
you know, where there's rainfall pastures and grazing cattle, you're
going to find these mushrooms. And you know, philosophy convinces

(56:05):
in in most places. The thing that makes it more
plausible now is so probably in that environment, obviously the
primates were there and they had to be eating the
mushrooms if the mushrooms were there, after all, they're hungry,
you know, the mushrooms are good to eat, and they're
not hard to spot. The two things that make it

(56:29):
more plausible now is what we've learned about the effects
that psilocybin have on neural connectivity and the you know,
neuro genesis and basically the complexification of the brain, you know,
could have been triggered by these mushrooms because this is

(56:49):
what they this is what they do, and you know,
we have the data to support that now. So potentially
it could have been a cognity boost for the populations
that were eating these mushrooms, leading to language formation and
the formation of the brain structures that support cognition, internalization

(57:11):
of imagery, you know, synesthesia, all of these kinds of things.
And then the other side of this coin is, well, okay, maybe,
so what's the heritable mechanism. How is this transmitted from
generation to generation? Well, now we can invoke epigenetics, which

(57:31):
was not a concept that was talked about when Terrence
published this book. In neither that nor this neural plasticity element.
We now know that, you know, mushrooms foster neural plasticity,
which has to do with adaptation to external stimuli as

(57:52):
well as internal and then epigenetics provides a mechanism whereby
these traits can be transmitted across generations. So, I mean,
you can't ever prove this idea, but I think these
two uh notions move the needle from plausible to more

(58:12):
than likely, if you want to put it that way.
And I think I think it's more than likely that
mushrooms did play a role in this evolutionary period where
we saw an expansion in the size and complexity of
the human brain over a mirror. Two million years well too,

(58:34):
million years sounds like a long time, but evolutionarily, it's
actually the blink of an eye. So how did this
exponential expansion in human neural complexity take place? I submit
that mushrooms were the catalyst for this. Well, Dennis, on
that fascinating note. I want to thank you for joining

(58:57):
me and my listeners on psycho Active for discussion about
your book and your brother and your work. Thank you
very very much, Thanks so much, it's been a pleasure.
If you're enjoying Psychoactive, please tell your friends about it,

(59:20):
or you can write us a review at Apple Podcasts
or wherever you get your podcasts. We love to hear
from our listeners. If you'd like to share your own stories, comments,
and ideas, then leave us a message at one eight
three three seven seven nine sixty that's eight three three
psycho zero, or you can email us at psychoactive at

(59:42):
protozoa dot com, or find me on Twitter at Ethan
natal Man. You can also find contact information in our
show notes. Psychoactive is a production of I Heart Radio
and Protozoa Pictures. It's hosted by me Ethan Naedelman. It's
produced by no h'm osband and Josh Stain. The acutive
producers are Dylan Golden, Ari Handel, Elizabeth Geesus and Darren

(01:00:04):
Aronofsky from Protozolla Pictures, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick from
my Heart Radio and me Ethan Edelman. Our music is
by Ari Blucien and a special thanks to a Bio
s f Bianca Grimshaw and Robert BP. Next week we'll

(01:00:30):
be talking about the global history of drugs with Professor
Paul Gudenberg of sunny Stony Brook, perhaps the leading expert
in this area. Drugs we're actually quite important in the
constitution of modernity as we think of it today. Starting
in the sixteenth century, all types of stimulants began to

(01:00:54):
flow together and reach first Europeans and Middle Easterners and
Asians and North Americans, and they began to be part
of our kind of integral lifestyles, everything from coffee to
tobacco and then later things like you know, Coca cola,

(01:01:14):
or opiates. Subscribe to Cycoactive now see it, don't miss it.
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