The Pharmacology of Ayahuasca | Dennis McKenna – EN30

In today’s episode, we host author and ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna to talk about the pharmacology of Ayahuasca. Dennis is also a lecturer and the brother of the late, celebrated psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna. We chat with Dennis about exactly how Ayahuasca works in the body both immediately and in the long term. Dennis has himself conducted studies on these fields and his findings, although early, in an under-crowded field are very thought provoking. Dennis gives a great introduction to the DMT compound and its place in the natural world and its history of human usage. From there we look at its current status and increasing usage before considering some of the chemicals with which it should not be combined. We also share some inspiring and special music from Liquid Bloom to guide us out of the episode. So listen in to hear all about it!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • A basic illustration of exactly what pharmacology is as a field of study.
  • How Ayahuasca fits into this study and its components.
  • The evolutionary function of our internal detoxification processes.
  • Ways that DMT and Ayahuasca bypass this processes of inhibition.
  • Speculation about how early Ayahuasca brews were discovered or invented.
  • Suitable plant candidates for the brew.
  • Balancing the DMT compound’s ubiquity in nature with its illegality.
  • The relationship between the legal status of substance and its so-called toxicity.
  • Why certain antidepressants should never be combined with Ayahuasca.
  • The process that can occur when combining these drugs.
  • Why serotonin transporters are usually more efficient in Ayahuasca drinkers.
  • The studies that Dennis conducted around these findings in Brazil.
  • The lack of long-term studies on the pharmacological effects of DMT.
  • The potential transformative quality of Ayahuasca to the human psychological state.
  • A beautiful and meditative piece of psychedelic music from Liquid Bloom.
  • And much more!

Art by Jheferson Saldaña Valera


“I think the agenda of those who want to prohibit it or restrict access, the reason they do is because it makes you have funny ideas.” — @DennisMcKenna4 [0:14:43.1]

“It is extremely common, it is actually a neurotransmitter in the brain. It occurs not only in plants but also in fungi and animals, including us. It does occur in the brain, it occurs in other parts of our body, our lungs, adrenals and so on.” — @DennisMcKenna4 [0:22:27.1]

About Dennis McKenna

Dennis Jon McKenna is an American ethnopharmacologist, research pharmacognosist, lecturer and author. He is the brother of well-known psychedelics proponent Terence McKenna and is a founding board member and the director of ethnopharmacology at the Heffter Research Institute, a non-profit organization concerned with the investigation of the potential therapeutic uses of psychedelic medicines.

McKenna received his Master’s degree in botany at the University of Hawaii in 1979. He received his doctorate in botanical sciences in 1984 from the University of British Columbia,where he wrote a dissertation entitled Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in Amazonian hallucinogenic plants: ethnobotanical, phytochemical, and pharmacological investigations. McKenna then received post-doctoral research fellowships in the Laboratory of Clinical Pharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health, and in the Department of Neurology, Stanford University School of Medicine.

McKenna’s research led to the development of natural products for Aveda Corporation as well as greater awareness of natural products and medicines. He has authored numerous scientific articles and books. He co-authored The Invisible Landscape with his brother Terence and Botanical Medicines: the Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements with Kenneth Jones and Kerry Hughes. McKenna spent a number of years as a senior lecturer for the Center for Spirituality and Healing, part of the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is now a senior research scientist for the Natural Health Products Research Group at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in the Vancouver area.

His research has included the pharmacology, botany, and chemistry of ayahuasca and oo-koo-hé, the subjects of his master’s thesis. He has also conducted extensive fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon.

During the early 1970s McKenna developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with his brother Terence and they published what they had learned in a book entitled Psilocybin – Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. McKenna and his brother were the first to come up with a reliable method for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms at home.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss

Dennis Mckenna

Terence McKenna

EntheoNation Patreon

Graham Hancock

Joe Rogan

Aubrey Marcus

Paul Stamets

Spiritual Evolution with Sacred Plant Medicines






Pub Med on Ayahuasca

Liquid Bloom

Art by Jheferson Saldaña Valera

Medicine Music for the Soul


Birds of Paradise

Desert Dwellers


The Human Experience


Phuture Primitive

Shaman’s Dream

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