[1:20] Kimera Koffee
[3:05] Organifi Green Juice
[5:51] About Dennis McKenna
[7:41] How Dennis Grew Up
[12:39] What is DMT
[17:16] Does the body make much of its own DMT naturally?
[20:35] Sound Frequencies and DMT Production
[26:40] Low-level Electrical Frequencies
[28:35] How does Ayahuasca work
[34:36] Experimenting to Get The Effects of Ayahuasca
[37:34] Using Nutmeg
[45:45] Doing Ayahuasca in South America vs. In A Condo/Loft
[47:41] Website or Resource for Ayahuasca and the like
[49:53] LSD Microdosing
[55:05] Safety of Microdosing LSD
[57:22] Psilocybin’s Effects
[1:05:12] Concept of Tapping Movements
[1:08:20] How To Source These Compounds
[1:14:51] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, what’s up, you guys? It’s Ben Greenfield. My voice feels dry to me. My voice feels dry? My throat. I guess my mouth feels dry. I just got out of the sauna, and despite having a giant glass of water, it was hot this morning. I usually turn my sauna on to pre-heat for a little while, about 20 or 30 minutes before I get in, and I turned it on extra early this morning and it heated up for a long time. I put a wine cork in the sauna to cover up the temperature sensor and it gets up to about 155. And I also used a bunch of this Pink Panther insulation from the Home Depot store to insulate the sauna so it gets even hotter. And despite me running out of the sauna flowing my arms and jumping in the cold pool afterwards, I still feel as though my throat is dry, and I had a joint glass of water.
Anyways. I digress from today’s topic at hand, which is an interview with a guy who is relatively well-known in the psychedelic drug world, Dennis McKenna. But fear not, because in today’s episode you’re going to learn about things like tapping, and lucid dreaming, and nutmeg, and things that don’t necessarily involve you needing to, say, foray to Peru to engage in an ayahuasca trip, but we talk a little bit about that too.
However, I want to tell you about a couple of things. First of all, there is this compound called L-theanine, and they’ve actually studied it in combination with caffeine. It’s very interesting. For example, when you combine caffeine with L-theanine, one study showed improved performance in attention switching tasks and reduced susceptibility to distracting stimuli. Another study showed that if caffeine raises your blood pressure, L-theanine actually blunts the effect. They’ve shown that theanine inhibits the vasoconstrictive blood pressure increasing effects of coffee. They’ve also shown that when you combine coffee with theanine, you get better word and sentence recall, faster reaction time, improved rapid visual information processing, and less mental fatigue. Plus it keeps coffee from keeping you awake.
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Alright. That’s it. Dennis McKenna. Let’s do this.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“The nutmeg is psychotropic. It was popular in prisons back in the 50’s and 60’s when prisoners couldn’t get anything else to get high off of. I mean, they could always steal some nutmeg from the kitchen and take that.” “You can use them recreationally some times. I mean, people use mushrooms recreationally at low doses, never really suspecting if they were to up the dose just a little bit, they would discover a whole new aspect.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield, and when it comes to plant-based medicine, my guest on today’s show is considered to be somewhat of a groundbreaking pioneer. His name is Dennis McKenna, and Dennis’ research, which spans back to the 1970’s, has focused for a long time on things like Amazonian ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. During the early 1970’s, he actually developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with his brother Terence McKenna, and they published what they learned in a book called “Psilocybin: The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide”. And Dennis has actually conducted a bunch of ethnobotanical fieldwork all over the place, the Peruvian, the Colombian, the Brazilian, and the Amazonian areas. And his doctoral research at the University of British Columbia focused on a couple of compounds you may have heard of before, at least one that I’m sure most people have heard of, ayahuasca. Another one, and I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, called oo-koo-he, which are tryptamine-based hallucinogens, which you’ll find used by indigenous peoples in places like South America.
He’s the founding board member of something called the Heffter Research Institute and is a key organizer and was a participant in something called the Hoasca Project, which was the first a biomedical investigation of ayahuasca, used by a Brazilian religious group. He’s currently the assistant professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. And today, we are gonna delve, not only into things like psilocybin and ayahuasca, but ibogaine, DMT, and other plant-based medicines and beyond. So, Dennis, welcome to the show, man.
Dennis: Thanks, Ben. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Ben: Yeah. And something I’m super curious about, ’cause, you know, it appears that both you and your brother have a keen interest in the psychedelic, and plant-based medicine, and things of the like, how’d you guys grow up? I mean, were you surrounded by the paranormal and by psychedelics? Or did you kinda discover this stuff later on in life, like in college where a lot of people tap into this stuff?
Dennis: Our growing up was remarkably normal, and actually, we grew up in a small town in Paonia, Colorado. Very small town. Brings all the open-mindedness that small towns seem to be known for which is to say not very much. And Terence and I were as teenagers and younger, we were kind of the odd ones, you know. I mean, if they’d the word back in the day, they would have called us nerds. We were interested in science, we were kinda intellectual, we were interested in books, football and girls were not our major preoccupation like most of our classmates. So we were interested in what you might say the unexplained and just interesting things. And a lot of that I have to credit my dad for some of that because he was a strange person in any way.
Ben: Your dad was a strange person?
Dennis: Yeah. A strange person. He was very invested in being just a normal guy, and we’d have conversations about, “I’m just an average guy,” he would say. And I would say, “No, you’re not. Because you’re actually a pretty interesting guy.” And one of the things that he would do is he would travel most of the week for his job, but he would come back on the weekends and sometimes he’d bring the Fate Magazine with him, which is still around. It’s one of those pulp magazines and it was all about the paranormal, flying saucers…
Ben: It’s called Fate Magazine?
Dennis: It’s called Fate Magazine. Yeah.
Ben: Interesting. So your dad had an interest in the paranormal early on as you were growing up?
Dennis: Yeah. I think this was recreational reading for him. But he’d bring these magazines around, and he would occasionally bring like pulp, science fiction magazines like monthly science fiction stories like Amazing Science Fiction and all these things you could buy on the stands back in the day. Low quality, almost pamphlets but containing these science fiction stories. So between, his, and he’d leave these things around, and Terence and I, being curious and being kind of enticed probably by something we’re sort of look at, you know. And I mean, that was true of the so-called girly magazines that he brought occasionally too which he tried to hide but we knew where they were.
But the science fiction magazines and this Fate magazine, which is still going, we would jump all over that. And it would have stories about the abominable snowman, and UFOs, and just the paranormal, all this stuff. So we were interested in that. And I’d really have to sort of credit science fiction for being a big part of that.
Dennis: So when psychedelics came out in the mid-60’s, or when they began to sort of emerge in the mainstream medium we were already ready.
Dennis: We were primed for this. In fact, it was like we thought, “Oh my God. All this stuff about traveling in other dimensions, and contacting aliens, and all that, it’s not just fantasy. You can actually do it!”
Dennis: And psychedelics were a doorway into that. And so we were quite fascinated with psychedelics when they came out. And that led us down the path that we’ve gone down ever since much to our parents chagrin. I mean, our parents were really, like I say, extremely normal people, and they didn’t know why they had to have these two weird brothers. I mean, kinda like their cross to bear.
Ben: Normal, except your father’s Fate magazine infatuation, I suppose.
Dennis: Right. Right. Exactly.
Ben: Yeah. Now, the word on the street, from what I understand, is that there’s this molecule, and I’d like to start with this one if you’re game, called DMT, and I’m curious if you could not only explain what DMT is, but I’m also curious because, from what I understand, you actually discovered DMT. So is it true that you discovered DMT? And if so, how? And, of course, what is DMT?
Dennis: Okay. Yeah. We can do the whole podcast on DMT and we can be happy with that, right. Because there’s a lot to say about DMT. In the first place, no, we didn’t discover DMT. I don’t know how that meme got out into the internet because that’s not true. We personally discovered DMT in the late 60’s when Terence was living in Berkeley and I was coming out there. I was there in ’67 and there was not a lot of DMT around, but Terence was very good at working the matrix and he was able to find it. What little there was, he had sources. So we personally discovered DMT at that time. But DMT was actually, you know, it has a history. In fact, I can plug a book which is not my book, but people may be interested.
It was discovered in I think about 1931 by a Canadian chemist, Richard Manske, who synthesized this compound. He was working on compounds, he was working on the constituents, believe it or not, of strawberry roots. He synthesized this compound because he needed a standard for his chromatography, for his analytical work. He made DMT at the time it was not recognized that it was a natural compound, he thought it was synthetic, and it wasn’t recognized that it was psychoactive either. He made this compound, he did his analytical work, he put it on a shelf and forgot it. Ten years later, a Brazilian chemist isolated a compound from another hallucinogen, from something called Jurema, which is a beverage used in eastern Brazil, in ritual practices. And it turns out he isolated a compound which he called Nigerin, and it turned out that was identical to DMT. So that was the first inkling that maybe DMT was psychoactive. And then, he didn’t confirm that either. He didn’t take it himself.
So in the 1950’s, there was a guy, Hungarian psychopharmacologist named Stephen Szara, who was wanting to do clinical work with LSD. But he lived in Budapest and he could not get, Sandoz would not send him LSD. They were the purveyors of LSD at the time. They wouldn’t send it to him because he was behind the Iron Curtain. So he decided, “Well, I’ll just synthesize DMT. That’s easy to do. Let’s synthesize this thing and see if it’s actually psychedelic.” And he did, and he administered it to himself, and that’s the first time that DMT was actually definitively shown to be a very potent psychedelic.
Ben: Okay. So what does DMT stand for?
Dennis: Okay. It stands for dimethyltryptamine. So tryptamine’s, how do we explain this. Dimethyltryptamine, tryptamine comes from the amino acid tryptophan, which is in everything. Tryptophan’s an essential amino acid. In two trivial steps from tryptophan, one to remove the carboxyl group, the other to add the methyl groups to this molecule, and I don’t want to get people bogged down in chemistry, but if you take tryptophan, if you remove the acid group, you have tryptamine. If you add two methyl groups, then you got dimethyltryptamine, and that’s what DMT is.
Ben: Based on that, because I know that we’re able to generate some tryptophan endogenously, does the body make much of its own DMT naturally?
Dennis: The body does make DMT. It’s found in different tissues. It’s found not as much, it is found in the brain. But it’s mostly found in the lungs. The lungs make quite a lot of DMT. And that material, that DMT is translocated into the brain by active transport. So it has some kind of a neurotransmitter-like function.
Dennis: And, interestingly, it’s all tied up with the pineal. It’s all tied up with the pineal gland and pineal chemistry. The pineal, as you know, in myth and [0:18:09] ______ is associated with the third eye. It’s an endocrine gland, but it has an eye-like structure and it’s actually sensitive to light. It has photoreceptors in it. And the main hormone that the pineal makes is melatonin. Melatonin is the pineal hormone that regulates circadian rhythms that regulates our sleep-wake cycles, right.
Dennis: Melatonin is a tryptamine. It’s very close to DMT. Melatonin is 5-methoxy-n-acetyltryptamine, and it only occurs in the pineal. And the pineal also makes DMT, but not all the time. For a long time there was controversy whether it did make DMT. I mean, we knew the enzymes weren’t there, we knew the precursors were there. Nobody could actually nail down DMT and say, “Yes, the pineal does make it.” But actually in the last few months, earlier this year that question has been resolved. A brilliant pharmacologist by the name of Nicholas Cosi has shown that the pineal does have, it does contain DMT. That raises a whole lot of questions because if the pineal contains DMT, and if you can stimulate the synthesis of DMT in the pineal through, say, yogic exercises, or breathing exercises, or so on, you can stimulate your own internal psychedelic trip essentially, you’re making your own drug.
Ben: Well, I personally believe that’s quite possible because, for example, I’ve done holotropic breathwork, as one example, like a 90 minute holotropic breathwork session, and induced a deep hallucinogenic state. I also have done kundalini yoga, in which you have your eyes closed and you’re focusing quite a bit on this third eye chakra, on this pineal gland, and also experienced a bit of a hallucinogenic state. So it’s quite interesting that it would seem that you can, if you train yourself to really be in touch with your pineal gland, you can produce some amount of your own endogenous DMT, it would seem.
I wanna ask you in a second about the exogenous use of DMT via something like ayahuasca, but also, are you familiar with the use of like sound frequencies, for example, that different sound frequencies can activate different glands? I actually just read a fascinating book called “The Sound of Healing,” and it goes into how sound frequencies at 900 and something Hertz, I believe is the frequency, but you can actually listen to what are called binaural beats or sounds, that also activate the pineal gland and endogenous DMT production.
Dennis: Yes. Yes. I’m familiar with all of these things and this is actually a hot area right now. There’s a lot of breakthroughs being made. The yogic exercises that you referred to, the kundalini exercises? Those are essentially exactly that. They’re ways to raise your kundalini energy from your more base chakras into the third eye chakra and to stimulate the pineal. But what you’re stimulating is actually DMT synthesis. And holotropic breathwork, all of these sort of none-drug ways of inducing drug states is essentially you’re inducing your own brain to make the drug.
The sound stuff is very interesting. This is another way to do it. And just in the last month, I learned about a new technology. I met a fellow, I was travelling in the UK recently, and I met a fellow named Guy Harriman. And he used to be an Apple engineer. He worked closely with Steve Jobs in Apple and also in NeXT. Now he’s a Zen Monk in Chang Mai, Thailand. But he’s created this light, he’s developed this technology called the Ajna Light, and he claims that it induces DMT.
Ben: Did you say the Ajna? Do you know how that’s spelled?
Dennis: Yeah. I put it in your text box.
Ben: Okay. Yeah. I’ll check it out, and I’ll put a link to this in the show notes. By the way, for those of you who are listening in, the show notes are gonna be at bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/MCKENNA. I see this, the Ajna Light, A-J-N-A Light. And so, is this a light that you actually place over that area in between your eyes to activate the pineal gland?
Dennis: It’s a light. It looks like a tanning light sort of, in configuration, but it’s got these LEDs set in it, these white LEDs. And what the machine itself is very simple. What makes it go are the different programs that he’s written for it which will induce different states like delta state and deep theta activation, for example. You know, he’s got various programs that he can put it through. I tried it a couple of times. I was actually at a retreat where we were doing other things. We were doing ayahuasca and so on, but I got a chance to test this out a couple of times. And normally I’m pretty skeptical about these things. I’m like, “Yeah, sure. It induces DMT. Tell me something else.” Actually, I’m pretty convinced. I was in the zone after I went under this light. It took about maybe two or three minutes, and I was basically in a state that, if not exactly like my experience with exogenous DMT, were very, very similar.
Ben: Yeah. That’s interesting. Actually, I believe you for a couple of reasons. The first is, I know everybody knows about cones and rods that our eyes have like those different light receptors, but there are these cells called melanopsin cells, like these light-sensitive pigments that the eyes have. And those send messages to a part of your hypothalamus, which influences sleep, and alertness, and hormones, there’s a section of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the SCN, and I know that that particular area, that SCN, can signal the pineal gland to produce a variety of hormones. In most cases, melatonin is the one that’s been studied the most. But I would hazard a guess that by stimulating that suprachiasmatic nucleus, you could probably also activate DMT to some extent. The other interesting thing…
Dennis: Yeah. Exactly. It’s like you’re kinda way ahead of me. Or at least you’re right up there with me. I was gonna mention, yes, this thing, this Ajna Light mediates its effects through this melanopsin system, which is still kind of being investigated. But it appears that via melanopsin, it activates this process of DMT synthesis. So I think this is possibly a tremendous breakthrough myself if this light actually does this. Because then, we believe in our community that DMT in these medicine plants have a lot of therapeutic potential.
Dennis: And if you could get around with the whole drug thing and say, “Well, this is a way to train your body, train your brain to make your own drugs. This is good!”
Ben: Right. Exactly. The most natural method would be…
Dennis: The FDA will have a hard time arresting you for this.
Ben: Right. Right. You can’t be arrested for endogenously producing compounds your body would naturally make on its own. The other interesting thing is, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of this before, low-level electrical frequencies. It was actually just this morning that I was using this, I tweeted about it, but I often will sleep with a device that produces a very low-level electromagnetic frequency. It’s called a pulsed electromagnetic frequency, or PEMF. The one that I use is called a DeltaSleeper and it’s a very, very low frequency. You’re supposed to put it over your collarbone because that’s where your brachial plexus is. And so, when you put it on your collar bone, it causes the nerve signal to travel to your brain to cause you to produce delta brain waves. But one thing that I’ll use it for, is for inducing a state of lucid dreaming, is I wear a sleep mask, and I actually put it right over that third eye, right up at the upper bridge of the nose, in between the eyes. It places this frequency right over the pineal gland, and you go into this deep state of lucid dreaming. And I actually track my deep sleep and my rapid eye movement sleep, and I get much, much higher amounts of both deep and rapid eye movement sleep when I’m using this frequency over the pineal gland. So it’s very interesting how we can use technology to induce, what I suppose could be a DMT production.
Dennis: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know the technology that you’re talking about, but I’d like to learn more. I mean, that sounds really quite, what did you call it?
Ben: This one’s called a DeltaSleeper. It’s just a very, very low-level cell phones, for example, make a pulsed electromagnetic field frequency that one would probably not want to place on their heads. But these are like very, very low level frequencies, a little bit more biologically appropriate. Similar to what you’d get if you were, say, like grounding or Earthing, right, like standing barefoot on Earth.
But when it comes to exogenous use of DMT, a lot of people, of course, have heard of ayahuasca. Now, you mentioned that DMT is produced in the human lungs to a certain extent. Is ayahuasca something that one would ideally vape? Inject? Consume? How does ayahuasca work exactly for those people who are listening in who haven’t used it yet?
Dennis: Well, you can, with synthetic DMT, you can vape it, if you have the freebase form. And if you have the freebase form, you can vape it. It produces a very rapid, very short, and quite overwhelming psychedelic experience. It lasts maybe 10 to 20 minutes at the outside. Extremely astonishing and amazing, but, you know, over quickly, right. So, and that’s the basis of the snuffs. DMT is very wide. There are lots of things that contain DMT. Ayahuasca though is kinda unique because it’s an orally active, it’s a bevarage. And the thing is, with DMT, it is destroyed in the body by enzymes called monoamineoxidases. And because it is a natural compound, the very, something that our bodies make, our bodies make it, but they also break it down very readily. So this is why it’s been so hard to find DMT in the pineal ‘cause it does appear, but then it disappears as quickly.
So DMT by itself is not orally active, right. If you eat DMT, nothing will happen. If you take a plant containing DMT, nothing will happen because it’s broken down by the enzymes in your gut. What’s amazing and interesting about ayahuasca is that they figured out to make it in, to put a DMT-containing plant in combination with another plant that contains alkaloids that inhibit those monoamineoxidases. So this protects the DMT in the gut, allows it to be absorbed into the bloodstream in an active form, and then it’s orally active. And then, instead of 10 or 15 minutes, it’s four, five, six, or seven hours. So it’s kind of like, you change the whole pharmacokinetic profile. It takes, it unfolds over a much longer time. You sacrifice the intensity that you find in the short, when you smoke it, but what you get is a much richer content, you know. It’s sort of like the difference between playing a video at fast forward. I mean it goes by, you see it, you can’t make a lot of sense out of it versus playing it at normal speed that it makes much more sense. So ayahuasca is the solution to the oral inactivity of the DMT. It’s a way to make it orally active, essentially.
Ben: Now this is something that’s always been a head-scratcher for me. I understand people’s infatuation with wanting to perhaps use a spirit-based molecule like this, or a psychedelic medication in the traditional way that it would have been used, right, like for example, as one would use it in South America, drinking the beverage. Why wouldn’t the folks simply bypass the oral use of DMT which presents these issues with the monoamineoxidase breakdown as you’ve alluded to and instead, for example, just inject or vape DMT? Why is it that that’s not done more frequently? Or why is that not more popular, at least doesn’t appear to be?
Dennis: Well, it’s done, I mean in traditional medicine, you’re not dealing with pure compounds. So it’s not practical to inject it or vape it, you know. It’s not really practical to do that in South America. What you get are snuffs. There are several tribes that prepare various DMT plants as snuffs. So they get around this oral inactivation problem that way. And so you can do that if you have a more sort of prolonged exposure to that sort of being in that dimension, if you wanna characterize it that way. You get more out of it, essentially.
Dennis: This is why ayahuasca has a lot of therapeutic use. DMT may too, but DMT is kind of a shock, you know. You can’t really come back from it other than with a [0:33:35] ______ . I was like, “Oh my god. What happened? What was that?” That’s a great impression, but what is the therapeutic content, you know? So experiencing it over a longer period of time for therapeutic use, you get more out of it.
Ben: Okay. That makes sense.
Dennis: Just to complete sort of to complete the chemistry lesson in a way, I should mention that psilocybin is also an orally active form of DMT, basically. So psilocybin, in the mushrooms, is chemically related to DMT, very closely related. Psilocybin is converted to psilocin in the body. Psilocin is the active form of psilocybin, and it’s really just one atom different than DMT, but it’s a critical difference. It allows the, again, the DMT to be orally active.
Dennis: It doesn’t require an MAO inhibitor.
Ben: Okay. Now, I have a question for you. Speaking of MAO inhibitors. You know, that there are certain things that I’ve recommended to people before to help them fall asleep or relax when they wake up at night. Examples would be like passionflower extract, or kava kava, for example. Now I know that one of the ways that these work is they are indeed monoamineoxidase inhibitors and may allow for a little bit of endogenous production of DMT. Have you experimented much with natural compounds like this in conjunction with some of things we talked about, like, holotropic breathwork, or pineal gland activation to see how close one could get to, for example, simulating an ayahuasca experience without the actual use of ayahuasca?
Dennis: Well, yes and no. I have worked with kava quite a lot and kava is many things. It is an MAO inhibitor, but it’s also works like benzodiazepine. It works mainly through the GABA system.
Ben: Yeah. It’s great for sleep.
Dennis: Oh, it’s great! It’s a wonderful thing! I mean it’s, again, one of these, you know, traditional medicines that’s far better than the pharmaceutical alternative for anxiety, sleep, muscle relaxants, all that. And it is a weak MAO inhibitor, but I don’t think that has, that’s not that remain to its activity. Now passionflower is kind of a different, it has some of these beta carboline alkaloids, the same ones, or similar to what you find in banisteriopsis, the vine component of ayahuasca. It also contains some flavonoids that have a kind of, similar to a kava-like effect, if you will. It works on the GABA receptors.
So, I have heard of people using passionflower in place of banisteriopsis to activate oral DMT. I am not, I haven’t experimented with that myself. I’ve heard that that can work. There are other plants that people use in place of banisteriopsis. For instance, syrian rue is not something you can buy on the internet.
Ben: What’d you call that one?
Dennis: It’s called, the scientific name is Peganum harmala.
Dennis: And syrian rue is the common name.
Ben: I gotcha. I see that you’re typing those into me now in the Skype box. I’ll put links to some of these in the show notes for folks. Another one that I wanted to ask you about, and then I also have some questions for you about some of the other things I know you’ve worked with such psilocybin, and ibogaine, et cetera. I’ve heard some people will actually get a little bit of a trip, a hallucinogenic trip through the use of nutmeg. And from what I understand, nutmeg may also be some kind of an MAO inhibitor. Are you familiar at all with people responding and almost going on trips when they use too much nutmeg, or nutmeg essential oil?
Dennis: Oh, yes. Yes. This is a whole, nutmeg is psychotropic. It can be, it was popular in prisons back in the 50’s and 60’s.
Dennis: Yeah. When prisoners couldn’t get anything else to get high off of, you know. I mean, they could always steal some nutmeg from the kitchen and take that. It is psychotropic. And it’s a whole different chemistry, actually. The chemistry of nutmeg, the essential oils of nutmeg are things like myristicin. And these are, there’s a whole family of these essential oils, and they have ring substitutions that are similar to some of the compounds that Shulgin, Alexander Shulgin developed. So these are really, they’re not indoles, they’re not tryptamines like DMT or psilocybin. They’re phenylethylamines and actually resemble, their chemistry is closer to amphetamine or mescaline. And they are hallucinogens, and the thinking is that myristicin or some of the components in nutmeg might be converted into some of these active compounds. ‘Cause you can convert myristicin to something like MDMA or MMDA by simply adding an ammonia to the group, by adding the nitrogen to the group. Easier said than done, but theoretically this could happen in the body. Yeah, I mean what I tell people about myristicin or about nutmeg is, there are liver issues here. These things are not that easy on the liver. And the high is not worth it.
Ben: Yeah. The same can be said of kava as well, right? Like a lot of the kavalactones I know can be, you may wanna test your liver enzymes if you’re frequently using a lot of these things because I know that they do get metabolized by the liver. Any of these things that you’re not, for example vaping, and just sending into the bloodstream through the lungs, they get a liver pass, and so you need to be careful ’cause that’s a pretty important organ.
Dennis: Yeah. The liver is, I mean that’s a big part of its function is it metabolizes toxin. The liver toxicity of kava is a complicated topic, and basically I’ll just say it’s overhyped. It turns out it’s not as bad for the liver as we thought, or as the original reports were. Myristicin, all of these things, I mean, for me the bottom line is, unless you’re really desperate, don’t bother with nutmeg. There are much better things out there. The quality of the experience is not really worth it. There are better things.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. And by the way, I know that there are a few people right now who have perhaps your eyebrow is raised because you’re wondering why you’d want to do things like hunt down ayahuasca, or nutmeg, or kava, or syrian rue oil, or anything else that Dennis and I are discussing. I don’t know about you, Dennis, but for me personally, whether I’m looking for a personal breakthrough or a business breakthrough, I a lot of times find that I’m able to tap into higher amounts of creativity and personal insight when I’m using some of these type of compounds. And full disclosure, I am a Christian. I also engage in devotion, and prayer, and Bible reading, and I’m in touch spiritually as well with a higher power. But I don’t deny that a higher power has also given us a lot of these plant-based medicines very similar to a glass of wine to be able to engage in specific behavioral patterns that help us to have breakthroughs. And so, I don’t think that this is all about going to a party and having a good time necessarily, and I’m not endorsing that folks just go about getting high just for the sake of getting high.
Dennis: No. Right. Exactly. These things are really, their spiritual tools in a certain way, or they’re tools for exploring consciousness. You can use them recreationally sometimes. I mean people use mushrooms recreationally at low doses, never really suspecting if they were to up the dose just a little bit, they would discover a whole new aspect of the mushroom experience that’s much more profound and a chance for spiritual revelation, for actually the reason there’s revived interest in these compounds now is they can be used to treat things like depression, and PTSD, and a drug addiction, and this kind of thing. We’re seeing whole new therapeutic paradigms being developed now for actually using these things, not in the way that psychopharmaceuticals, like antidepressants are used. They don’t really solve the problem. They just put a band aid over the problem. Some of these psychedelics actually have the potential to actually cure these conditions.
So, which is one reason why big pharma is not really interested in these things. They’re interested in drugs that you take four times a day for the rest of your life. A drug that you might take two or three times in your whole life, there’s no revenue model for that as far as big pharma is concerned. So these things, again if you look at a couple of great websites here which I mentioned before, heffter.org is one, maps.org is another, these are two non-profits. Heffter is kind of, Heffter’s the one I’m affiliated with. MAPS is much bigger and more visible, but MAPS has kind of adopted MDMA in the same way that we’ve adopted psilocybin. We’re trying to get regulatory approval. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show that these things have value, but then you’re up against a regulatory framework. So MAPS is developing protocols to use MDMA, right, which is ecstacy on the street, or now it’s called Mollys sometimes. Very good for treating PTSD, you know. Extremely effective for that. So they’re trying to get FDA approval, they’re trying to get the thing changed from Schedule I, which is the most restrictive. Schedule II or III, that will make it easier for therapists to use it. And we’re kind of doing the same thing with psilocybin.
Ben: Got it. I will link to those websites over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna, M-C-K-E-N-N-A, for those of you who want to take a deeper dive into Heffter and MAPS. So should someone not want to empty the entire bottle of nutmeg from Starbucks into their cup of coffee to experience a DMT release, Dennis? Let’s say someone wants to have an ayahuasca experience. I know that there are a lot of ayahuasca experiences popping up in places like New York and San Francisco lofts, where shamans [0:45:59] ______ and bring one through an ayahuasca ceremony. Would you say that there is a difference between, say, traveling to rural South America or the Amazon to do ayahuasca versus just finding it at a safe place in say, like a condo or a loft somewhere with a bunch of friends to use it.
Dennis: In New York. Well, yeah. There is a difference obviously. If you do travel someplace for this experience, then you’re immersed in that different cultural context which can be useful but it’s not necessary really. I mean you can, I tell people if you wanna go to the Amazon, if you want a tourist adventure, and wanna go down, and take ayahuasca, that’s fine. Be aware that it’s the Wild West. You have to pay attention to the quality because ayahuasca tourism is so prevalent. If you go to the epicenter where this is happening, which has basically Iquitos, Peru, you kinda have to know the ropes a little bit, or you’re at risk for not having the best experience, or actually being mistakenly going someplace where they may not have your best interests at heart, right. I mean, there’s a lot of dodgy shaman, there’s a lot of poor-quality brew, sexual abuse is kinda rampant in some of these situations. So, it’s okay to go there, but you really have to, you should talk with someone who knows the ropes, who knows who not to go to and who to go to.
Ben: Is there a website or a resource, or would you say that the best thing to do is simply ask around at this point for something like that.
Dennis: Ask somebody that knows, that’s been there. There are a couple of websites. They are sort of like, there’s one called Aya Advisor, I think it’s dot org. They’re kind of like, what’s the tourist one?
Ben: Like a TripAdvisor for ayahuasca?
Dennis: Yeah, exactly. TripAdvisor for ayahuasca pilgrims. But the question is, can you trust that information too? But at least it gives you a handle on what’s out there. There’s a couple others as well. I can’t think of the other name. I think it was, I can’t remember. But, so there are a couple websites that rate them.
Dennis: And then in the States, people are bringing it up and there are, they tell me, in New York City on the any given weekend, there’s about a hundred ayahuasca ceremonies.
Ben: Yeah. I am personally invited to ceremonies all the time at different lofts and condos, and different people are bringing shamans in and that’s why I wanted to ask you, one of the world’s leading experts on this, what you would consider to be safe, and effective, and a good experience versus perhaps a risky experience.
Dennis: I think you do not have to go to South America to have a rich, rewarding experience, you know. But the same cautions apply, work through your trusted networks to find a good place to do it, and it can be a New York, it can be in [0:49:33] ______ . It doesn’t really matter because the important thing is that it’s good medicine, and that you’re able to take it in a safe place, and people are there to support you and not exploit you. That’s Common Sense 101, right?
Ben: Yep. Now Forbes, the magazine, they recently wrote an article and it was entitled “LSD Microdosing: The New Job Enhancer in Silicone Valley”. I’m curious. Can you educate us a little bit on why folks are beginning to utilize something like LSD microdosing as almost like a workplace smart drug?
Dennis: Well, that’s it. People are finding, I’m try to write down Jim Fadiman, he’s a psychopharmacologist and I think he’s with the [0:50:35] ______ Institute. He’s kind of the go-to guy on LSD micro dosing and people find that low levels of LSD taken daily, and I’m talking really sub-psychoactive levels, 10 to 20 micrograms, that’s well below the level where you would have any kind of hallucinogenic effect.
Ben: Right. That would be considered about one-tenth of what a standard dose would be considered, correct?
Dennis: Exactly. Standard dose, a very solid standard dose would be between 100 and 200 micrograms. A tenth of that, roughly? I haven’t done it myself, but I know people that do it and they say it does definitely give them a certain cognitive edge. They just think better, they’re more creative, and they think faster. It kind of loosens up their thought processes a little bit and in their subjective sense makes them able to think better and be more creative.
Ben: Now did you say that the molecular mechanism behind the way that LSD works is similar to psilocybin? Or were you saying that ayahuasca is what is similar to psilocybin?
Dennis: No. They’re all similar. They all work well with some exceptions. I mean this is science, right? So there’s always exceptions. But there is a class of drugs that I like to call, I like to lump them together and I call them the “true psychedelics.” And they’re true in the sense that they share a mechanism of action, and they work on one of the subtypes of serotonin receptors. And their serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain, also called 5-hydroxytryptamine, right.
So serotonin itself is a tryptamine. It’s called 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT, and there are about 14 subtypes of 5-HT receptors all through the body, not just in the brain. There’s actually more serotonin in your gut than there is in the brain. But these 5-HT2A receptors are the target for what I call the classical psychedelics, or the true psychedelics, and that would be DMT, psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, actually, which is not an indole, a whole other chemical class, but it essentially hits the 5-HT2A receptors. So those are kind of the DMT. So DMT orally or vaped is still DMT in terms of their receptors it’s targeting.
Ben: Okay. So in the case of something like LSD, what we’re talking about is essentially mimicking serotonin in the brain. Meaning that you would technically prevent serotonin from binding to its receptors if you had something that was like serotonin hanging around in the synoptic cleft between nerves, right?
Dennis: That’s exactly right.
Ben: Okay. So, basically, we’re getting a lot of those same like dopaminergic, and feel-good type of effects that we’d get from our own endogenous production of serotonin. We’re just basically inducing those in micro doses when we use something like small, small amounts of this LSD?
Dennis: Yes, yes. But I have to slightly correct you here because you’re not getting dopaminergic effects. You’re getting serotonergic effects, right. Dopamine is a different neurotransmitter, and it’s the one that amphetamines, and cocaine, and your stimulants kind of hit. And MDMA also hits dopamine as well as serotonin. It’s kind of a bifacial kind of effect.
So that’s partly the reason that MDMA and some of these Shulgin-type compounds have this stimulative effect. They’re like hallucinogens that on one side they have a serotonin effect and an amphetamine-like effect.
Ben: What do you know about the safety of something like LSD, especially when used in micro dosing amounts?
Dennis: It’s not an issue, really. I mean the safety of LSD, especially LSD, and some of these others, these are not toxic compounds. They resemble our own neurotransmitters and so, one of the consequences of that is, like I say, we’ve got enzymes like monoamineoxidases, other types of enzymes that are quite capable of handling these compounds. So from a toxicology level, there is no issue. The issue, as far as safety is not toxicology, it’s psychology. They can be, I mean they can, in a small number of people, if you have like a genetic proclivity to schizophrenia or something, they can cause what’s called persistent hallucinogen perceptual disorder. In other words, people don’t quite make it back from some of these trips. But most people do. Most people, even from very high-dose, difficult trips, they may be terrifying, they may be very uncomfortable, but they’re not going to drive you crazy as a rule if you’re basically stable.
Dennis: Yeah. So that’s where the hazard comes in, and that’s where set and setting comes in, right. These two important variables to use psychedelics are setting, it’s got to be an appropriate setting. Like somebody’s looking after you and probably not in the stadium during the Twins game. Maybe that’s not the most optimal setting. And then set. Set is what you bring to it, your whole mindset, your preparation, your experience, what you intend to get out of it. So if you approach it respectfully, and thoughtfully, and in a good setting, it can be a very rich experience and beneficial.
Ben: Yeah. I have a few other questions for you about some compounds I know that you’ve studied. Psilocybin, for example. And I’ve personally used psilocybin in both microdoses as well as larger doses, and one of the effects that I’ve found with it is an intense connection with nature. Like a stronger interest in everything from hiking, to gardening, to gathering wild plant extracts, to cooking, et cetera. Do you know what it is about psilocybin that causes one to have like a deeper interest in nature? Or have you experienced this yourself?
Dennis: Yes. Yes, I have. And you also get that with ayahuasca, and some of these other things. But ayahuasca and psilocybin both seem to have this effect. And people, you know, it’s interesting, people go to South America to take ayahuasca, they might be going because they have personal issues that they’re working on, there are various personal things. They can address those, but so often they come away and they say, “Oh, it was all about nature. It was all about rediscovering nature and how important our relationship is to nature.” And, you know, Ben, you’ve actually touched on one of my major shticks here. It’s how these plants are co-evolutionary catalysts, and they are these molecules that these plants make, our messenger molecules. And they’re messenger molecules directed primarily at us, at our species. And the message that they’re trying to get us to hear is, wake up and basically re-understand that you’re not in control of nature, and it’s not there for you to exploit. It’s there for, if anything, for you to co-evolve with and work with, and people come away with this sort of renewed commitment to really respect nature. And I think that’s the shift in consciousness that we have to have. I mean the plants, this is why they’re moving into this global stage because they’re getting a little bit hysterical. They want us to listen. If you go on YouTube and put my name in, this’ll come up so I don’t need to…
Ben: Yeah. Is there a molecular mechanism though that in terms of enhancement of things like noticing browns and greens more intensively, or smelling things a little bit more sensitively, do you know if when it comes to psilocybin, there’s something happening on a molecular basis? And the reason I’m asking is similar to the reason that we were touching on like the pineal gland and DMT. I’m just curious about what might be getting activated that we could potentially tap into via other mechanisms.
Dennis: Well, yeah. Yeah, there is exactly that and we understand this pretty well now. And it has to do with what the neural physiologist, the neural scientists call the sensory gating. And sensory gating is essentially the threshold for what gets in to what makes it into your perceptions from the outside world, right. There are gates, a lot of what the brain does as far as processing information from out there, from the external reality out there, is to filter almost everything out. Because of it all came in, it would just be confusing and you wouldn’t be able to make sense of it. So these very elegant sensory gating mechanisms that you can train, essentially this is sort of, there’s no conscious training, but in terms of adapting to your environment, these gating levels can be set high or they can be set low. And what psychedelics do is they temporarily lower the gating threshold. So many more things come into your perception that would normally be in the background or they would be filtered out.
Ben: I see.
Dennis: I think that in a sense you could say they bring the background forward in a certain way.
Ben: It’s interesting. It’s also acting the opposite way that something like valium would work. For example, valium kinda shuts down activity in the frontal cortex to where you become less aware of sensations, less aware of your environment, and it’s almost like taking a sledgehammer to your head to fall asleep. You don’t go into a good sleep cycle, but you lose a lot of that sensory perception. What you’re saying is that psilocybin actually specifically causes this sensory gating to where you become more tuned in to your environment. And is there like a molecular mechanism behind that? Do you know if it’s working on a specific gland or anything like that?
Dennis: Well, no. It’s this overall activation of these 5-HT2A receptors, which are all over the brain. I mean, they’re in the cortex in the limbic system. I mean, it’s basically through that, but it affects the signaling indirectly. Through activating those receptors, it affects this gating mechanism. Now interestingly, there’s interesting work going on here with respect to schizophrenia because leaving psychedelics aside for a minute, you know, we adapt to our environment, right. And we learn to ignore stimuli that are not relevant to our immediate survival, and so we raise the gates for that in other words, I don’t really need to know this, raise the gate, keep it out of my attention ’cause it’s not relevant to what I’m doing right now. Schizophrenics don’t enjoy that luxury, right. They can have a stimulant, and usually the way it works in non-schizophrenics is you keep hitting those buttons, pretty soon the buttons don’t work anymore. You just don’t respond.
But one of the aspects of the pathology of schizophrenia is they are unable to raise these threshold levels. So their world is much more confusing. They can’t turn off the noise is one way to put it, you know. For us, it’s background noise. They cannot do that. So they’re perpetually in a state of stimulation and they’re trying to cope with all the stimuli. And they get confused and disoriented. So there was back in the 50’s, there was a thought that maybe schizophrenia was due to something like the DMT, some endogenous psychedelic compound like DMT. Interesting theory, and there is some merit to it, but it’s not that simple, right. Nothing in biology is ever that simple, but you can’t look at the cerebral spinal fluid of schizophrenics, for example, if they have higher levels of DMT than normal people. I mean, some do, some don’t. Normal people have high levels. There’s no correlation, you know. So it’s hard to work it out.
Ben: You know the interesting thing when it comes to what you’re talking about with regards to sensory gating and activation of the prefrontal cortex with something like psilocybin is I listened to a fascinating radio interview, and I’ll link to it in the show notes for people listening in. And it goes into this concept of tapping and how there’s been research since the 90’s, when it comes to activation of the frontal cortex through repetitive tapping movements, and there are entire books on how to tap.
And literally, I mean actually tapping with your fingers on, for example, from the eyebrows, side of the ears, below the chin. There’s a specific sequence of tapping movements that supposedly induce a sensory gating effect, somewhat similar to psilocybin. I’ve got a couple books on tapping actually in my bookshelf that I need to delve into after this podcast ’cause it’s reminded me about that, but kinda similar I suppose, to somehow activating the pineal gland and endogenous DMT production via stimulating the third eye chakra with breathing, or with light, or frequencies. Actual repetitive tapping movements with the fingers seem to cause some type of frontal cortex activity.
Dennis: Yeah. Very possibly. I mean this circles around to what we were talking about before about sound, right. Sound is another one of these technologies and tapping is, I assume it, I’m relating it to sound because it’s about rhythm, it’s about frequencies. There’s a wonderful colleague of mine that you may know, may have heard of, his name’s Alexandre Tannous, and he’s an ethnomusicologist and a brilliant guy. He’s a scholar of sound in all its aspects. So he’s got a website called soundmeditation.com, I put it up there in the list. He would be a great person for you to interview actually. (chuckles)
Dennis: He is a very kind of a renaissance understanding of sound. He knows the physics, the neurophysiology, the history, and of course the music and all that.
Ben: Yeah. I see that he has a video on YouTube called “Sound Meditation”. I’ll link to that, for those of you listening in, in the show notes. And then, I also, actually just yesterday, finished a fascinating interview with a guy who wrote a book I mentioned a little bit earlier called “The Sound of Healing” that goes into how specific sound frequencies affect different glands, different organs, and different areas of the brain. And this particular fellow actually produces these CDs called Wholetones CDs that you play, whether in your car, I’ve actually been playing them while getting a massage, and while meditating, and while sitting in my sauna, and they actually activate specific organ functions. It’s fascinating how sounds and frequencies, whether from music or elsewhere, can affect the body.
Dennis, we’ve only scratched the surface of some of things that I wanted to ask you about. I know that you’ve done a ton of additional research on a variety of other compounds, including things like ibogaine and psilocybin, but one other question that I have for you, because I get this a lot from people. People hear about micro dosing with LSD, and they hear about psilocybin, and MDMA, and some of these things, and at the risk of having you sound like a drug dealer…
Ben: I know that some people think, “Where the heck to even start like sourcing this type of thing in my community?” Like if I wanna use LSD and I don’t wanna go stand out in front of a local high school and get arrested, or show up at a rave or something hunting down ecstasy, are there reputable places where people can actually find and experiment with these type of compounds? Or is it just the Wild Wild West?
Dennis: It’s pretty much unfortunately at this point, it’s pretty much the Wild Wild West because most of these things are still illegal, I mean they shouldn’t be, but that’s the reality. And not only are they illegal, but they’re quite, and they’re under the strictest classification being the Schedule I. So they’re right up there with heroin, the most dangerous drugs. And the legal, the cost of getting caught is quite high. And, I mean, that’s all changing. There are places on the web where you can order these designer drugs. You can order ingredients to make things like ayahuasca…
Ben: Preferably using a browser blocker so that your IP address can be traced, right?
Dennis: Preferably with that. Yeah. And then you don’t know if the quality of these things are real…
Ben: Right. It’s like ordering Viagra from India.
Dennis: Yeah. If you order it, you don’t know if what they say is in the bottle actually is what’s in the bottle. I do want to plug another wonderful organization here, erowid.org. If you know, have you ever used that or have you heard of that?
Ben: I have not. erowid.org, no.
Dennis: E-R-O-W-I-D, best online source of information on drugs that there is. These guys, it’s actually a man and wife, Earth and Fire Erowid, they do this as a labor of love. I mean, they need support and they do get it. If I wanna know about a new drug or just something about how to use something. I mean, it’s the first place I look online. They devote a lot of effort to making sure that they’re accurate and they’re not pro or anti-drug, it’s just they’re pro-information. And then it’s like, “Here’s the information. We’ve done our best to verify. It’s accurate. It’s up to you to use it in however you think is appropriate.” So it’s a great resource. And actually, if people are interested in, they don’t sell drugs, well, they don’t actually sell anything. It’s completely open access. But they do have interesting sections on their website about these designer drugs and some of the problems of ensuring purity and all that. They gave a talk, I was at a conference recently in Northern California where they talked, and man, I mean, the synthetic psychotropics market, it’s totally out of control.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah. It seems to be the Wild Wild West. And if you’re listening in and you want to pipe in with your own comments, your own questions, your own feedback based off of everything that Dennis and I have discussed, just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna. Not only there can you dive into the discussion in the comments section, and the discussions are always quite interesting after these podcast episodes, if you never get a chance to go read the comments, they’re typically just as good as the podcast when it comes to the talk that ensues afterwards. But I’ll also link to everything from ayaadvisors.org, to this erowid, the prefrontal cortex tapping, and LSD micro dosing, and links to everything that Dennis and I have discussed over there in the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna.
Dennis, I wanna thank you for giving your time and for coming on the show today.
Dennis: Aww. I’m happy to do it. Thank you. You’re a great interviewer and we’ve barely touched the surface.
Ben: I know.
Dennis: That’s right. I mean we can go on all afternoon, but I think we’d lose our audience.
Ben: We probably could, but it’s a beautiful day outside. And I have a bow and arrow I need to go shoot.
Dennis: (laughs) Okay. Alright. Let me know when you’re posted, so I can put on the Facebook page and if people send in comments that you want me to respond to, then pass those along and I’ll do my best.
Ben: I will be sure to do that. And again folks, you can leave your comments at bengreenfieldfitness.com/mckenna. Until next time, I’m Ben Greenfield along with Denis McKenna signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Be safe, be responsible, and have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast. Go to bengreenfitness.com for even more cutting edge fitness and performance advice.
When it comes to plant based medicine, my guest on today’s podcast is widely considered to be a groudbreaking pioneer.
His name is Dennis McKenna.
Dennis’s research – spanning back to the 1970’s – has focused on the interdisciplinary study of Amazonian ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. During the early 1970’s, he developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with his brother Terence McKenna and they later published what they had learned in a book entitledPsilocybin – Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.
Dennis has conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brasilian Amazon. His doctoral research (University of British Columbia, 1984) focused on the ethnopharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute, and was a key organizer and participant in the Hoasca Project, the first biomedical investigation of ayahuasca used by the UDV, a Brazilian religious group. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-The strange magazine, still published, that Dennis’s father used to read – a magazine that first got Dennis interested in the “paranormal” and psychedelics…
-How DMT works, and ways that you can induce the same psychedelic sensation that DMT induces without actually using something like ayahuasca…
-Ways that you can induce deep sleep without relying upon compounds such as valium or ambien…
-Why one common spice that you can find on the counter at Starbucks can send you on a hallucinogenic trip…
-The difference between an ayahuasca experience in rural South America vs. an urban New York loft…
-Why Silicone Valley is obsessed with LSD microdosing as a creativity-enhancing “smart drug”…
-How psilocybin works to enhance your connection with nature and how you may be able to activate this via other mechanisms…
-How one can safely “source” these kind of plant-based medicines in their local community…
-And much more…
Resources from this episode: