THIRD WAVE PODCAST

Can Plant Medicines Enhance Spiritual Beliefs and Shift Religious Barriers?

Episode 46

Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologist and psychedelic icon Dennis McKenna treats us to a discussion on psychedelic medicines, plant intelligence, and the failures of organized religion. Dennis explains what lessons can be learned from psychedelic plants, and what we can do to avoid the imminent obliteration of humanity.

Podcast Highlights

  • Why modern religion has caused so much suffering, and how it prohibits spiritual experiences.
  • Are people starting to take the concept of plant intelligence seriously?
  • How these plant medicines can continue to teach us how to live better lives.

Podcast Transcript

00:25 Paul Austin: Hey listeners, and welcome back to the Third Wave Podcast. This week, we have a very important guest. Ethnopharmacologist and psychedelic icon, Dennis McKenna treats us to a discussion on psychedelic medicine, plant intelligence, and the failures of organized religion. Dennis explains what lessons can be learned from psychedelic plants, and what we can do to avoid imminent obliteration of humanity. Now I first met Dennis about two years ago, a little over two years ago now at the GITA Conference in Tepoztlán, Mexico. The Global Ibogaine Therapeutic Alliance conference. And I actually was his official photographer because for every, basically, interested person who knew of Dennis who wanted a picture with him, I just happened to be hanging around. We’d snap some photos, make it go. And then I ran into Dennis at a number of other conferences, Sumiruna in Bucharest when we were actually supposed to do our first interview, and it got postponed about a year and a half. And then the World Ayahuasca Conference, a psychedelic science, and I just really like Dennis. He’s very kind, and sweet, intelligent, easy-to-understand, and cares, and cares a lot. So this is an excellent podcast, and I know that you as listeners will really really enjoy it. So please without further ado, I bring you, our podcast guest, Dennis McKenna.

[music]

01:49 PA: Obviously your background, as an ethno-pharmacologist, particularly, you’ve done a lot of work with Ayahuasca. Yet a lot of the medicalization of, particularly psychedelics, I mean if we look at Psilocybin and how it’s been used at Johns Hopkins and now how it’s going to be used by COMPASS pathways in the UK with the clinical trials that they’re starting. Obviously, MDMA is a molecule as well. I’d just be curious to hear some of your thoughts on that relationship between these isolated synthesized molecules that are being used from a western medical perspective compared to, this whole plant, which not only has, obviously, kinda the medical aspects but also the psycho-spiritual. What’s your take on like, that balance, that relationship. Because from my understanding with people in the psychedelic space, it’s a little controversial in that there’s this monetization of a molecule, when really with the whole plant, we have this lineage of where it comes from, from a socio-cultural perspective.

02:51 Dennis McKenna: Right, right, well, it’s complex. It’s a complex thing. I mean, basically, I’m in favor of psychedelics as therapeutic medicines and so I’m all in favor of if that’s what it takes to get a psychedelic accepted as a medicine, a synthetic compound, precisely measured dose, all of that, and the FDA is comfortable with that. That’s their model. I say that’s okay because I think it’s more important that this medicine be available to people rather than some perception that, “Well, it’s not natural and it’s not in a traditional context”, and all that. There are numerous ways that you can use something like Psilocybin or MDMA and they’re synthetic, but hey, they’re made by all-natural organic chemists, so you know…

[chuckle]

03:42 PA: It’s halfway there.

03:44 DM: They’re all part of nature ultimately. And they can be used. And Ayahuasca, because it is such a natural compound… Are you okay? Your image is frozen. Ayahuasca is probably not gonna be accepted into that kind of a usage because it is such a plant. It’s not only is a plant, it’s a combination of plants. And there are… You can make a synthetic catalog of Ayahuasca. They have them, they’re called Pharmahuasca. They’re not the same, I can tell you from experience. They are simply not the same. There’s a lot going on with Ayahuasca besides simply the beta-Carbolines and the DMT. So I think that Ayahuasca probably should remain a plant. And should be used that way, and you also overcome a lot of the issues about cultural appropriation. And so I’ve pushed for a long time that Ayahuasca, that we shouldn’t try and do an FDA formal IMD clinical study for Ayahuasca. We can do that, but why not do it in Peru. That’s where the medicine is from. So it would be more appropriate, I think, to do it in that context and that would be what I would argue.

05:01 DM: Because I think also the, I mean with all of these things, but with Ayahuasca it’s a ritual, the way that the experience is structured by the shamanic process and the Icaros and so on is probably the right way to use this most effectively. So I think that Psilocybin is gonna get integrated into bio-medicine. I think that’s a good thing, ultimately, because it’s gonna transform bio-medicine in an important way. Because potentially it will transform, not only psychiatry, which is very dysfunctional right now, especially with its over-reliance on psychopharmaceuticals, most of which don’t work or barely work. Here, you have a medicine that you don’t take twice a day for the rest of your life. You take it maybe two or three times in all of your life. So because it actually gets to the roots of your problem and helps you get to the bottom of what you’re trying to cure and it actually holds up the possibility of a cure. It’s not… The pharmaceutical companies don’t like that because there’s no money to be made on a compound that people take once or twice in a lifetime. And moreover, it’s been known for years. It’s in the public domain.

06:23 DM: How do you make money off something like that? But nevertheless, I think it will be integrated into medical practice in biomedicine. But I don’t think it’s the pharmaceutical companies that are just gonna push it forward ’cause they don’t see the revenue model. But I think the revenue model is really not the medicine, but the context of the services around which you can give this. So the psychedelic clinic of the future a few years down the line, it’s not gonna look like a clinic, it’s gonna look like a spa, it’s gonna look like a nice place you go for the weekend. And you might do yoga, you might do a variety of different alternative therapies, massage and so on. But that will be on the menu and that’s something that you can go and get treated for.

07:17 DM: And it can be a spa, but it can be a medical facility, but it’s not gonna look like one. And I think the revenue, the profits are made by creating… Establishing these centers where people can go. It’s not paying for the drug, the drug should be cheap, it’s easy to manufacture, there’s no reason why it should be an expensive medicine. But everything you offer, the integrated therapy and whatever around it, which may extend to many things like even nutritional counseling and this kind of thing. That’s how these medicines should be offered to people. And in that sense, we can look to the centers in South America as a kind of a template ’cause they’re already doing this. There are a number of them in the States, but they’re underground, but it is happening. And not all the centers in South America, they don’t all operate well or ethically, I mean they have their problems. But that said, there are good ones and properly operated, I think that’s the model.

08:23 PA: Yeah. No, I kinda wanna hit on two points. There are two things that you brought up, which is this biomedical transition, the psychiatric transition, where obviously, pharmaceutical companies, particularly in the United States, are always for profit because there’s so much money they have put into R&D, to clinical trials, that the only way to really facilitate that return on investment is particularly from a psychiatric perspective is this maintenance model that mental health has created. So, like the Carhart-Harris team, Imperial College team, just recently published a really good paper about this model in terms of, with anti-depressants for example, how they activate, I think, the 5-HT1A, which is passive coping. So basically, it blunts the emotional response. Which in the short-term seems it can help, but in the long-term, you’re just kinda kicking the can down the road, so to say. Whereas with psychedelics, with the activation of the 5-HT2A receptor, it creates this active coping process where actually you have to face, for example, trauma from the past, that then you deal with it head-on so that it’s integrated, and then going forward, it’s a sense of being cured from this.

09:36 PA: And so it’s really interesting then what… For example, MAPS has done, because MAPS is, I believe, the first non-profit pharmaceutical company, where they’ve created the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation. And although I think they’ll have the patent on MDMA for maybe five years after it becomes medicalized, I trust Rick and the team there and that I think they’re gonna really put that then a lot of that access profit into additional research in terms of what psychedelics can use. And one other point that you brought up is how cheap to make this medicine is. I just recently read an announcement, maybe one or two weeks ago about Usona, which I know Heffter works pretty closely with in terms of doing research. And Usona has made a commitment to make their process of how they’re creating Psilocybin open-source, I believe. So that they’re not actually holding on to that, it’s just free domain now, which I think it also this… It’s excellent because it’s then making that available to whoever in some capacity.

10:37 DM: Right, yeah. Well, I think that’s the right thing to do. The proprietary position for MAPS is not the drug, the drug’s been around forever, but it’s the use, it’s the use patent that they’ll have for five years. And that’s the right way to do it, and this is really… This really is a humanitarian project in some way. So, it’s not really about making money. It has to make enough money to be viable and stable and to get it into the marketplace. But like I say, I think the money comes from providing the service of this kind of therapy. Because unlike the psycho-pharmaceuticals, the anti-depressants and so on, you can’t really use these things… But well, we know we can use them outside of a therapeutic context, but in an approved medical context, you pretty much have to… It has to be in a context of intensive therapy. You can’t separate the medicine from therapy. So, the, “Take two and call me in the morning,” model doesn’t work for psychedelics, at least if you’re using them, “Legitimately.” As you probably know, as we all know, if we think of it, yeah, you can take two and call somebody in the morning and you may not want to. It doesn’t matter. The point is, you gotta have a therapeutic environment to make it happen.

12:08 DM: In a larger context, I think a couple of things. I think that psychedelics are gonna sort of… When they do get integrated into biomedicine, they’re going to show the other bankruptcy of the current approaches. And many of these psycho-pharmaceuticals, they have little or no effect. And you take ’em many… Once a day, at least for years and years, and they never really resolve the problem, they just sort of paper it over, and I think you’re basically not cured, you’re just patched together in a way by these chemicals, you’re really chemically engineering your personality in a way. And these psychedelic medicines actually can get to the root of people’s problems. So ultimately, and if you had a cancer drug… If you had two cancer drugs, one of which would keep you alive, but the cancer wouldn’t go away.

13:04 DM: And the other one… Well, actually, you can get rid of your cancer, with this one, why wouldn’t you go for that? So that’s one aspect, and then in the larger context as we look at the practice of medicine as it exists now, in general, and here, maybe I’m crossing over into the non-scientific. If you look at medicine, in general, for the last 150 years, they have been concerned to exorcise spirit out of medicine, I mean starting about the beginning of the 19th century with the discovery of morphine and the isolation of morphine from the Opium Poppy. And morphine had pretty much all of the qualities of opium, right. It was an analgesic, it was euphorian, it’s… But it was a crystal substance, it was clearly not alive.

14:00 DM: And so the idea that there was some sort of living energy in these plants. That there was a spiritual aspect to medicine and so on was starting with that, and over the 19th century, the idea emerged that, we were just complex machines, there was no spirit as such. No life force, we’re just complex biochemical machines, which we are, but we would like to think there’s more to that. And, you know, you apply the right monkey wrench, you apply the right molecular monkey wrench to whatever your problem is, it’s like bringing your car into the shop for repairs, you fix it and then you’re out the door.

14:44 DM: This mechanistic and spiritless approach to therapeutics is one of medicine’s chief shortcomings, I think, is the failure to recognize this mind-body connection. So then along comes a group of medicines which have been around for thousands of years, but comes into medicine and they are actually medicines for the spirit, right. In a sense, these diseases that these things address are diseases of the spirit, you can think of them that way. Depression, PTSD, all of these things are… Ultimately they have a spiritual despair… Out of all these disorders, I think. And you have molecules that will actually address diseases of the spirit. That means the spirit is real. Medicine kind of has some knowledge that there’s a spiritual aspect to healing, and I think that’s an important element that’s gone out of biomedicine, which is very mechanistic and doctors are like auto mechanics or something.

15:58 DM: They just fix the machine. Doctors don’t find this satisfying. Patients don’t find this satisfying. And in fact, it isn’t true. Psychedelics can expand the whole perspective. There’s no substitute for the dynamic that can exist between a healer and their patients. That’s what’s gone out of medicine, unlike traditional medicine where that’s the dynamic. I sometimes tell people a story of Curandero who told me once, “I can’t cure anything, but I can heal everything.” And it was an important difference including death, right, in a sense there’s no reason why even death can’t be a therapeutic and healing experience, and I think that’s what’s exciting about Psilocybin. It opens up the possibility that used in a hospice situation, it can transform the whole perspective that medicine has on death. Ultimately, everybody dies. Nobody gets out of this alive, right. And bio-medicine does not do death well. Death is usually a pretty grim process. And the person is wired up to all these tubes and the family is usually kept at arm’s length if not entirely out of the room and that person dies alone in very un-trustable circumstances. I look forward to the day when a dying person can be in one of these spas or one of these hospice situations with their family close by, with their family also taking the Psilocybin. I mean, can you imagine how healing that could be for the whole family?

17:48 PA: This is what Aldous Huxley did when he passed away in 1963. He had his wife at the time inject him with LSD and obviously… I think he had cancer at the time… I think he was dying of cancer and this is a really interesting topic, I think if we transition into this conversation about death in that one of the biggest taboos that we have as a Western culture is not being comfortable with death. It’s not addressing death and I think it ties in again to the same reason why we struggle to understand mental illness and this existential crisis that we seem to be going through is this lack of understanding of spirit and the role that spirit plays and this kind of trans-personal dimension has made us kind of these humans really, and particularly Western consumerist materials-driven humans who have replaced spiritual capacity with consumerism. It’s made us very uncomfortable.

18:51 DM: And so, yeah Psilocybin and medicines like can have the potential to completely transform this relationship. We’ll be a healthier society, for it. We fear death so much, and everyone fears death. But this is why people turn to religion and all of this for spiritual comfort and reassurance. But then we can spend the rest of our talk bashing religion.

[chuckle]

19:20 DM: Something that I love.

19:21 PA: We could.

[chuckle]

19:22 DM: I mean religion holds out as essentially a false promise. It’s people’s fear of death. It could be a more honest thing. It could be handled better. I think that these plant medicines are one of the tools, and if we have that attitude to medicine, I think it would have effects beyond medicine, like in terms of mass consciousness, and it’s interesting how we use in medicine all the metaphors of war. We have to fight cancer. We have to kill cancer. It’s the war on cancer and all that. The military, the marshal of whatever approach to fighting diseases maybe not the right way to think about it. At a certain point in life, disease can be a welcome thing for some people, as opposed to, “Spare no resources, keep a person alive at any cost,” without any attention to the quality of life, or… What’s the point to just live another day if you’re in a state of not only physical pain but spiritual pain. And I think that religion could be much more effective if they were not so much about the reward that you’re gonna get in heaven, whatever that means, whatever heaven means, sounds like a pretty boring place if you ask me. So they should focus more on helping people in a realistic way. Face the fact that, yeah, life ends, and the ending of life does not have to be… It can be a joyous thing.

21:00 PA: Right.

21:01 DM: It’s part of the natural cycle. I think that indigenous people and pre-Abrahamic religions recognized this much more.

21:11 PA: Absolutely, Gnosticism as well, which was Christian mystic sect, and you had Sufism in Islam, but of course the biggest challenge with mystical branches is there’s a lack of hierarchy, there’s a lack of authority. For example, I remember I interviewed someone for this same podcast where we talked about drugs in the Bible, and there were quite a few psychoactive substances that were available back then but they were restricted only to priests in the temple. By and large, the “Common folk,” didn’t have access to this. So I think this also brings up a really interesting conversation about psychedelics, and we could say mystical or religious experience. I was just speaking with someone else on the phone yesterday, another guy that we had on the podcast, Steven Kotler, who writes a lot about flow states and… Really interesting guy. And he was reminding me of the Good Friday Experiment that Walter Pahnke did back in the ’60s, where something…

22:15 PA: He gave placebo to one half and he gave Psilocybin to the other half, and of the people who ended up taking Psilocybin, something like eight or nine out of 10 of those people went on to become priests, because they had that direct experience with this ineffable, higher, mystical being. And so I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts, a little bit more about this, particularly because of your work in ethno-pharmacology and in the Amazon with Ayahuasca, obviously Christianity is still quite relevant, but it seems to be dying off more and more. Nietzsche was quite prophetic in the late 20th century or late 19th century talking about how god is dead, and where are we gonna get the sense of morality from? It used to come from Christianity. Where is it going to come from now? And there’s also, obviously the New Age movement popped up, but there’s no lineage with the New age movement, and lineage, I remember Bob Jesse gave a talk at Horizons, I think about a year and a half ago. Lineage is an important part of a spiritual practice. So where do you see, how do people in 2018 find spiritual community, whether that’s facilitated through psychedelics or not, in a way that helps to facilitate this healing process, whether that’s from trauma or just generally this existential crisis we seem to be living in?

23:38 DM: Yeah, you’ve touched on a number of important things. We could be here all night but…

[chuckle]

23:44 PA: I do that, I don’t know why I do it, but I do it.

23:46 DM: Yeah, right, well, no reason to avoid the important questions, but I agree with you. I think, in the west, I think religion is supposed to be the repository of the sacred. Religion is where you find, where you go to find meaningful experiences, spiritually, and personally meaningful experiences. So, and, I mean, I’m very encouraged that Roland Griffiths right now, his group is working on, they have clinicals and they have FDA approved studies. I shouldn’t call them clinical ’cause they’re not really clinical. FDA approved studies though, to give Psilocybin to religious professionals to help them learn to be better spiritual ministers. To actually put them back in touch with their spirit so that they can be better, essentially spiritual healers to their flocks. And I think that’s a really important development because I think that religion especially the Abrahamic religions, they have nothing to do with a meaningful spiritual experience, except that they are set up to make sure that you don’t have one.

24:58 DM: I mean it’s, they’re hollowed out spiritually. They are basically behavioral. Their goal is behavioral. To make people toe the line, not ask too many questions, have faith, accept what we tell you, and God forbid you should ever get close to an actual meaningful spiritual experience. That’s not what they’re for. The message is, well, that’s reserved for the priests, and then we’ll tell you what it means, but then they forgot to actually have the mystical experience, so they’re as deluded as everybody else, and I guess you can say I’m anti-religious because I think they’re mechanisms for seducing people into turning off their minds basically, and stop asking questions and stop actually having, using their own minds because we’re expected to have faith. We’re expected to accept these tenets of the faith, which is basically when you come down to it, what it means is there’s a whole bunch of stuff we want you to believe.

26:03 DM: There’s not a shred of evidence for it; but you believe it anyway ’cause we tell you to. And if that’s comforting to people, then I feel sorry for them. Because they’ve basically lobotomized themselves. They’ve given up their own ability to experience life, experience the world, and make of it what they will. So psychedelics are the anti-religion in that sense. You don’t have to have faith, to take a psychedelic. All you have to have is courage. Enough courage to sit down and take the cup, or smoke the pipe, or whatever it is, and then open yourself up to it. You don’t have to believe anything. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Let it be what it is for you, and then make of it what you will. And your own, it’s an intensely personal thing. Your own psychedelic experience is unlike anyone else’s. It’s unique. I mean it’s like other people’s experiences, but it’s ultimately it’s yours, and it’s personally meaningful. So I think this toxic sort of, I guess you could call, side effect of religion has had very, has done a great deal of damage to western culture.

27:14 DM: It’s essentially toxified western culture because it requires that we reject nature. We are encouraged to see ourselves as separate from nature. Nature exists for us to dominate, and exploit, and use. We’re not seen as part of it, we’re seen as superior and somehow separate from it. We’re not any of these things, we’re just monkeys after all, and we’re part of nature. And, if we felt a little closer to nature, maybe we’d be more invested in taking care of it. But this mindset that’s fostered by the Judeo-Christian traditions, Judeo-Christian propaganda I would more say, is you don’t have to value nature. And not only do you not have to value it, you should devalue it. In the sense that, all the things that Christianity and these other religions get so wound up about in terms of what should not be experienced. Well, what are they? Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, basically. Right? And that’s what they are. And what is life? Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

28:28 PA: These feelings of ecstasy, right? And it’s wanting to monopolize these feelings.

28:34 DM: Sort of experiential way. The essence of biological being, which is what we are. Maybe we’re spiritual too. Maybe something survives, yeah, I don’t know. But right now we’re engines made out of meat, and we like sex, and we like drugs, and we like rock and roll. Because those are the essence of life. I mean, sex is obvious. That’s how they probably propagate each other. So there’s all sorts of reasons why it’s pleasurable, and why we spend a lot of time, going after it. Drugs are the other thing. We are made out of drugs. You’ve probably heard me say this in podcasts. We’re made out of drugs. That’s why all these plant compounds have an effect. They’re not unnatural, they are part of nature. We’re like semi-permeable membranes. Things are coming into us and going out of us all the time. Rock and roll is maybe a little more difficult, but think about what biology is. Biological systems are oscillating systems like by cycles. Their metabolism is essentially the rhythm of life. Rhythm and oscillation is built into us as living things. When we’re not rocking or oscillating, we’re not very interesting. And the reason we’re not interesting is ’cause we’re dead if we get to that point. So people don’t recognize, people… I mean it’s obvious to everyone, but we never think about it. But you’re not an object, you’re a process. I’m a process, but we appear to have a solidity, but actually, we’re something that’s expressing ourselves through time.

30:14 PA: That acts as a good transition into the next question that I wanted to dig into, a little bit, which was your experiment at La Carrera, which I read about, in Brotherhood of a screaming Abyss. Yeah. That was like, a fucking fascinating story. Obviously, I don’t want you to tell that story. I think our listeners should go read your book to hear the full download. But I was, or, I am curious, because of all the work that you’ve done with Ayahuasca and because of your early experiences with Psilocybin. Does Dennis McKenna have a personal preference when it comes to Psilocybin versus Ayahuasca? In other words, do you prefer one over the other? Do you utilize one for some sort of spiritual practice, and one for the other? I’d be curious just to hear what your relationship is with each one of those.

31:00 DM: Well, I have a relationship with both. And I still take mushrooms on occasion; maybe once or twice a year. And I take Ayahuasca a lot more than that. And partly because I spend a lot of time in South America, and take groups down there and that kind of thing. I think they are different medicines that complement each other, and they’re both my teachers. And this idea of plant teachers, well mushrooms are the plant. But I can say those two are probably my primary, what I learn from. I take LSD very rarely. It’s also a good teacher I take. But it’s mainly mushrooms and Ayahuasca, and I respect both. But, I think they’re complementary, they’re different. I think Ayahuasca is much more of a mind-body type mechanism. It has a lot of effects on the soma, on the body; that maybe mushrooms don’t. It works on so many levels. I think Ayahuasca, for example, is probably a strong immune stimulant. I think it really is very helpful and very good for your body.

32:14 DM: Mushrooms are much more cerebral, and I don’t think they have this holistic effect. I think they more or less work on your head and not so much the whole body system. But you can learn different things from both of these plant teachers. And people get the ideas that Ayahuasca is very heavy and somehow above mushrooms. I don’t think so. I think mushrooms can be just as a profound as Ayahuasca but they’re easier to take at lower doses in a recreational way, so people… Which is okay. And I really think it’s alright to take low doses and have a good time. But Ayahuasca, you can’t really have a good time no matter what the… Unless throwing up is your idea of a good time. But you can take a low dose of mushrooms and have more or less a recreational dose. People should not make the mistake that if you lifted the dose a bit if you took that Terence McKenna heroic dose or worked up from there, I mean, it can be just as profound as Ayahuasca, just as terrifying as Ayahuasca sometimes is. When you get up into the six, seven, eight-gram region of mushrooms, it can get pretty gnarly out there.

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33:43 PA: Hey, listeners, Paul here… Just a few quick announcements before we get back to the interview. First of all, Johns Hopkins, they’re looking for people who have encountered DMT entities to describe their experiences for a new study. The survey is anonymous. It takes about 20 to 40 minutes to complete if you’re willing to help out with that. We have a backlink on our website for that. The second piece of news. Santo Daime, the world-wide Ayahuasca church, has lost their freedom of religion in the Netherlands and will not be able to continue using Ayahuasca in their ceremonies. The church has appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court and will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary. Which brings me to the last piece of news. We are facilitating Psilocybin Truffle retreats in Amsterdam. That’s part of Synthesis. If you want access to these retreats, if you wanna do Psilocybin Truffles in a legal structured setting, oriented towards creativity, personal development, self-understanding, self-reflection, please go check out details at Synthesisretreat.com. I would love for you, as podcast listeners, to join us for our next retreat in late July, early August. So anyway, without any further ado, let’s get you back to the interview with Dennis McKenna, and oh yeah if you enjoy the podcast, please leave a review on iTunes, and don’t forget to send us your questions on Twitter or Facebook.

[music]

35:09 PA: How has your experience changed from when you were first eating mushrooms or drinking Ayahuasca in the early ’70s to now? What sort of insights or understandings were you privy to in those early experiences compared to maybe what you’re privy to now? I’d just be curious to hear if it’s fundamentally changed or if a lot of the lessons still remain similar.

35:32 DM: I think a lot of the lessons are similar. I think I approach it much less casually, maybe more respectfully than I did before, especially with mushrooms. Like a lot of people, my approach to it was essentially recreational, but then it became more, less recreational and less frequent, I guess. I was one of these people, and I’m not putting them down. I’m just saying I was one of those people who takes a couple of grams and enjoys the evening, goes to a party, or whatever. But after a while, that began to be, well, not satisfied. I realized that if you’re gonna do it, make a commitment, and one is required to use these things in a spiritual way or in an insightful way. It doesn’t even have to be about spirituality. You should pay attention to the medicine and for that, you have to create a special, call it sacred space and time set-up. Do it in a special place at a special time. The old set and setting formula, right? Do it and set aside a time and a place that’s devoted to learning from this very wise source of knowledge. That’s the difference. I wouldn’t necessarily take mushrooms and watch a show on Netflix or something. If I’m gonna take it, I’m gonna pay attention to it.

37:01 DM: And it’s sort of like you’re having that opportunity to sit with someone who’s very wise and they have stuff to tell you and so they deserve that respect. That’s what’s changed. I give it my respect. And sometimes people say, “Well, you know, you’ve been doing this 50 years. Haven’t you got the lesson yet? Haven’t you… Because there’s one perspective that says once you get the message, hang up the phone. Well, I am a kind… Maybe I’m a slow learner. But I’m still learning from these things. They’re not like an answering machine, and it’s not like there’s only one message. It’s like if you had a mentor, a teacher, someone that you respect, you’re not gonna reach a point where you say, “Well basically I’ve learned everything you have to tell me, so thank you very much and I’ll just be on my way.” Chances are, they still know more, and they always will know more than you will know. Every time I take Ayahuasca or mushrooms l learn something new, or I am reminded of what I’ve forgotten and it’s easy to forget in the day-to-day hustle of life. I just feel it’s still valuable. In some ways, it’s a touchstone.

38:20 DM: It’s a way of giving back to that place, that sacred space, sacred time, environment, where you can remind yourself of the eternal truths, in a way, I guess is the way to say it. This is the concept of sacred space and sacred time is… Comes from Mircea Eliade, is where I first learned of this content. Now when you create a ritual situation that provides a context for some kind of spiritual transformative experiment… Experience, you really are returning to the beginning, and you’re returning to the origins, the golden age, you’re returning to the center of the world. And as he pointed out, it’s not just a symbol. It’s not symbolically, and these… Within this context, you are actually doing that. And I think that’s true. I think that in some sense there’s a profound truth to that. In some metaphysical way, you’re really returning to the beginning of time and the center of existence.

39:30 PA: I don’t know if your… I remember you wrote about one of your experiences. I believe this was in again, Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, where you were a photosynthesis… You were maybe a molecule or a droplet of water that was following…

39:46 DM: Yeah, I was a droplet of water. Yes.

39:49 PA: Following the process of photosynthesis, and this… Speaking with a friend lately, who mentioned a similar thing when he was drinking Ayahuasca, that he was going into his mother’s lineage, then his grandmother’s lineage, then his ancient ancestors’ lineage. Then he was literally… He just kept going back and back and back into experiencing the sense of the beginning of time. And so, I’ve had experiences similar to that. It’s really interesting, this ties back into the conversation that we were having about religion, this is then the experiential truth. This is experiencing what it means to have that direct relationship with the unknown or the mystery, which I think coming out of an experience like psychedelics provides this kinda profound gratitude for the chance and the ability to live and exist in planet earth in the year 2018, even with all the fucked up shit that’s still going on.

40:53 DM: Yeah, I think a profound gratitude and waking up from this nightmare that religion has imposed on us and waking up to the fact that we are not separate from nature, and nature is actually intelligent, it’s permeated, I believe that nature’s permeated with intelligence. It’s just built into the structure of reality, I think that consciousness… And this is much closer to the indigenous worldview than it is to the Christian worldview. Actually, it’s indigenous worldview, but it’s also actually closer to the way that science is beginning to come around to understand how things are. So these days you can talk about things like plant intelligence, and not everybody gets up and walks out of the room at this point. Because actually, there’s accumulating evidence that in a lot of ways plants are intelligent. You see this manifesting in all sorts of ways. The reason nature is so elegant and so beautiful in the way it works is it’s programmed to find the solutions that are optimal, the solutions that make sense. And you can’t always see that, but on a psychedelic, you can see it.

42:20 DM: Because then it comes forward and you can perceive aspects of reality that we are programmed to keep in the background most of the time, just by the nature of the way our consciousness is structured, certain things are right in front of us… There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the background but we ignore or we just… It’s not that it’s not important, we’re just genetically programmed… Behaviorally programmed to suppress those things. Psychedelics reverse that relationship temporarily. They bring the background forward and they give you an opportunity to notice things about your environment that are always there but you just don’t notice. And then to what you were saying about your friend, that’s the other thing. The entire history of life is built into our DNA. We are a reflection of the entire phylogeny of life. I think of LUCA, likely universal common ancestor. Whatever that thing was, whenever it showed up. But we have a genetic memory that goes all the way back. So psychedelics, I think, they enable you to do it, they call it phylogenetic time travel or something. You can actually recover those memories all the way back. Is it delusion? Who knows.

43:42 PA: Yeah. I think the sense of lineage, it gets into then transpersonal psychology. And you probably met or know of Jim Fadiman who founded…

43:52 DM: Of course.

43:52 PA: The Transpersonal Institute. And I think this… It ties into our earlier conversation about how the introduction of psychedelics is going to change the biomedical paradigm. Because also, a lot of the way that, obviously, we treat these mental health issues is, “You have an issue now, it’s in your brain, has nothing to do… Maybe it has something to do with your nurturing, but there’s not really a lot of credence given to the impact that trauma has, not only in your own life but in your parents, your grandparents. I remember reading Stan Grof’s book, LSD: Doorway to the Numinous, which was this extensive collection of all of this LSD psychotherapeutic work that he was doing in the Czech Republic before he came to the States in the late ’60s, early ’70s. And I remember one specific example that he spoke about, how he was facilitating a psychotherapeutic session with a woman, who was maybe under 500 to 600 micrograms of LSD, and she basically in that process relived the beheading of her 13th-century ancestor or something crazy, ridiculous like that.

45:09 PA: And that for me, it’s like one of those little data points, so to say, that modern western medicine, as it stands now, has no way to integrate or understand. And I think then when we talk about things like plant intelligence, for example, in particular with things like Ayahuasca, this is a field of study that is really just starting to take off. I remember maybe a year or so ago I read a piece that was written about you in The Guardian, about Ayahuasca and plant intelligence. And then recently, I spoke at a business conference in Zurich in Switzerland. It was the oldest think tank in Switzerland. Maybe 300 business leaders from Germany and Switzerland, and I spoke about micro-dosing to this audience, and then there was a guy speaking about plant intelligence, his name was Stefano Mancuso, and he works in a lab in Florence. Do you know Stefan at all?

46:09 DM: I have not met him, but I know his work. He’s one of the big researchers about this. Yeah. There’s a wonderful article, you know what Michael Pollan says?

46:22 PA: Yep.

46:22 DM: Yeah, so have you read his article in the New Yorker called The Intelligent Plant?

46:27 PA: No, I have not.

46:28 DM: Alright, just put it there. Google that one, it’s in The New Yorker. It’s a really excellent introduction to this whole area. He wrote it a few years ago, but it’s still very current.

46:39 PA: And so I’d like to continue that. Specific to Ayahuasca, from your understanding, what intelligence exists in Ayahuasca? Or what is the nature of intelligence in a substance like Ayahuasca, or in a plant like Ayahuasca, particularly in its relationship to us as humans? What message does it have to share? How is it dictating or facilitating our own maybe evolution, so to speak?

47:04 DM: Yeah. I think that… I’m a panpsychist essentially, or I believe in panpsychism, the idea that all of nature is conscious. And I believe in the Gaia hypothesis, both as a spiritual concept and as a scientific concept. But I go one step further, and I think that these plants like Ayahuasca, these psychotropic plants that contain these neurotransmitter-like compounds have essentially been delegated by nature as ambassadors to the human species. The indigenous people… The concept is these are plant teachers. And I think they have it exactly right. These are sources of wisdom, or they are the representatives of this Gaian wisdom that is usually more diffuse and not exactly even comprehensible to an individual. But the plant teachers are waiting. Condense that down and transmit that message to an individual mind and thereby to the species mind of this Gaian knowledge. And the Gaian knowledge is basically… The basic message to us right now is, “Wake up.”

48:23 DM: And we understand how you fit into the context of nature because this is what we’ve forgotten, this is what religion has poisoned, at least western consciousness. And we’re seeing the consequences of it because religion encourages us to devalue nature. Why should we preserve the environment or any of that because our reward is in the next life? I’m sorry, this is a con game, this is a total con. Maybe there’s another life, maybe there isn’t. But I’m betting on this one here. And if there’s another one, fine. But I think we’re not getting the message if we give up trying to make this world as good as it can be. And so I think that’s the message of the plant teachers. That’s what they’re trying to tell us, “Wake up, and then wise up.” And we see the consequences of the pervasive lack of this attitude. And it’s causing all the environmental problems that we’re having. At the root, it’s a failure to recognize that we’re part of this holistic system. And our job should be to nurture nature, not to dominate it, not to exploit it. And if we can’t nurture it, at least get out of the way. People say, “Well, we should be stewards of nature.” That’s certainly better than being exploiters, but I’m not sure nature even needs stewards. It needs us to quit mucking with things, and wake up, and stop doing the things we’re doing. Easier said than done.

50:03 DM: But I think these things are catalysts to try to nudge collective consciousness to the next level. It’s not gonna happen unless we fundamentally re-understand our relationship to nature. Because I know never before have we reached a juncture in history or in evolution where we actually can contemplate the end of nature and then the end of ourselves as a consequence. We can actually visualize a situation where we may kill nature within our lifetimes if we don’t get straightened out. It’s very distressing to me that the people who apparently are in charge, think they’re in charge, are so unresponsive to this message. And even in the face of the incredible impact that we’re seeing as a result of climate change, all these mega-storms and all this stuff. This is not happening by accident. This is a reflection of nature’s response to the destabilizing influence we’re having. Gaia, the global biosphere is a homeostatic system, where it tends towards equilibrium. It’s very resilient that way, to take a lot of punishment, and yet it will still return to equilibrium after these disruptive influences. But at a certain point, you reach a tipping point, and the homeostatic mechanisms that have kept earth hospitable to life, more or less, for the last 3 to 4 million years, are completely disabled. And then you get…

51:48 DM: You’ve reached this tipping point and it cannot correct itself. Then you’re in deep shit, I mean you’re in deep trouble when that happens. And we’re approaching that tipping point on a couple of different fronts right now. It’s very distressing to me and should be to everybody but especially to people like yourself who are young, even I may live to reach a point where we know… We will be able to say, either we’re gonna be able to save this thing, or it’s too late, we’ve already screwed it up. And we can look forward to the… Or we can anticipate the day when life on Earth may not be able to survive. Or at least, our species may not be able to survive. Life’s a pretty tough thing. Gaia’s a tough bitch, I sometimes say to people. Probably something will be alive even after tremendous climatic and environmental change. But if it’s anaerobic bacteria or cockroaches, if that’s all that’s left, that’s too bad.

52:58 PA: And I think that’s why so many people, particularly in the psychedelic space, are so passionate about this work because I think many of us perceive psychedelics as not necessarily a panacea, but certainly as an underutilized tool that if integrated properly, and that will likely happen from a biomedical perspective first, but then also from a cultural, I would say even business, however, just from a general societal perspective, the integration of these substances will ideally enable this awakening process, even if it’s through a backdoor mechanism like treating PTSD in veterans.

53:36 DM: Yeah, I think potentially that’s what these… They’re coevolutionary catalysts, this is what’s going on. They’re coevolutionary partners with us, they have a message to give to us, and that is the message, basically. Get over this delusion that has been foisted on you, us as a species, at least for 2,000 years by this really toxic, essentially religious dogma, which is not pro-life at all, even if they say they’re pro-life, actually, they’re more pro-death. I think the Christian culture is in some way the death culture. And if you look at history, this is definitely the case. I mean most of the wars and genocide of history have been fought over religious issues. I think this is partly when you speak of plant intelligence, I think this is partly why you’re seeing things like Ayahuasca are literally invading the world.

54:41 DM: Ayahuasca has escaped out of its home in the Amazon, it’s become a global entity now, and it’s part of the conversation that’s trying to wake people up. And what we as psychedelics people need to do, since we have the message to a certain degree and we believe in the message. I see, at least for myself, I see, and I think many other compassionate people, is partly to facilitate bringing that message to other people who need to hear it. The people who are in positions to change things on the geopolitical level. And there’s no messianic… I mean, maybe there’s a little messianic element here. But I don’t see myself as the savior, I see myself as the advocate for the plant teachers, they’re the saviors if there is a savior. What I can do is create situations to bring people to those medicines and let them hear the message for themselves. Bringing them to that juncture, I’m not there to tell them what they’re supposed to think, I’m there to help them have the experience. They can figure out what to think when they have the experience.

55:53 PA: Absolutely. That’s where it’s at. I think that’s a great place to end is I think on a somewhat optimistic or hopeful note, that these are becoming medicalized and that it looks like with things like Ayahuasca and a lot of the medical research that’s going on with the recent rise and even something like micro-dosing, that there seem to be more and more conversations at least occurring around this. And I think it is incumbent upon anyone who has had a psychedelic experience then that’s been transformative to talk about it and to mention it and to try to overcome some of the stigma that’s still associated with it. Because I think at this point in time, we have a lot of the research, for example, that shows the efficacy. Now a lot of it is about this emotional manipulation.

56:37 DM: Yeah, and this is happening, this is happening, the question is, is it happening fast enough? I think that’s something we don’t know, but I think that, yes, people are waking up to it. And again, your generation, I guess you’re a millennial. I guess that would be your… You’d fall into that demographic, correct?

56:56 PA: That would be correct, that would be correct, yes.

57:00 DM: I think millennials are amazing. I think that as a generation, they are some of the more awake, aware, compassionate people on this planet right now. Just look at the response to this Parklands thing. Finally, teenagers whose lives are at risk for this are saying, “For God’s sake, enough is enough, let’s do something about this.” However you feel about gun control, and I basically think that it’s out of control, but I’m happy to see that they’re stepping up. And the same with psychedelics, you’re seeing psychedelic interest groups forming in so many universities, and that’s where the action is. This is the new generation, these are the… You guys are the doctors and the leaders of the future. And if you can go into that informed by the lessons that you’ve learned from psychedelics, I think there’s great reason for optimism.

57:58 PA: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Dennis. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for all of your insights. Thank you for all of the work that you’ve done, and you continue to do. You’re one of the pioneers in all of this. So just as a way to say thank you and show my appreciation, and everyone who is listening, I’m sure is also appreciative of everything you’ve done.

58:15 DM: Let me… One more shameless self-promotion here.

58:20 PA: Let’s do it.

58:21 DM: Tell your people put up espd50.com, which you may know about, it’s the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Conference, which I organized last June. And now the symposium volume is about to come out in April sometime. So tell people to check it out, they can link to the videos from the conference. They can preorder the book. It’s gonna be a rather landmark publication, and I’m really happy about it.

58:52 PA: Great. We’ll do that then, we’ll link to it. We’ll mention it in the podcast so people can check it out. And yeah, once again, thank you.

This Week in Psychedelics

Spaces still available on the Synthesis Retreat in Amsterdam!

Johns Hopkins are looking for people who have encountered DMT entities to describe their experiences for a new study. The survey is anonymous and takes 20-40 minutes to complete.

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