Bitter Brews and Other Abominations: A Pharmacognostic Survey of Mind-Altering Natural Substances — A Talk with Dennis McKenna (San Francisco, CA)

May 19, 2016

Psychedelic researcher Dennis McKenna will speak at Bitter Brews and Other Abominations: A Pharmacognostic Survey of Mind-Altering Natural Substances, an event taking place at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, Calif., on May 19, 2016.

From the event website:

Psychoactive substances with vast chemical diversity are widely distributed throughout the Earth’s biosphere and are surprisingly common in plants, animals, and fungi. This is a reflection of the common evolutionary origins of all life, and is the result of billions of years of biochemical coevolution, cooperation, and competition.

Because nervous systems were not complex enough to support consciousness for most of evolutionary time, most of these compounds served an ecological function as ‘messenger molecules’ by mediating ecosystemic relationships. As neural evolution continued, many of these molecules became functionally adapted and internalized to fulfill signal transduction functions in neural systems such as neurotransmission, hormonal processes, second messenger cascades, and other semiotic processes.

This lecture will give you a better appreciation of the common occurrence and wide distribution of naturally occurring psychoactive molecules throughout the Biosphere and their chemical and pharmacological diversity.

A broad overview of the distribution of natural psychoactive substances as well as their origins and distribution in the biosphere will be provided. The phylogeny of psychoactive chemistries in addition to the naturally occurring psychedelics, defined as those substances that are 5HT2a agonists will be discussed. Many of these substances are well known within shamanic practices, while others are lesser known.

The substance classes that can’t be considered psychedelics, but are nonetheless psychoactive, will also be discussed. Finally, we will range far afield and consider some psychoactive compounds found in unexpected and surprising sources: insects, marine organisms, venomous animals, and bacteria.

Dennis McKenna, Ph.D., is interested professionally and personally in the interdisciplinary study of ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. He received his doctorate in 1984 from the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral research focused on ethnopharmacological investigations of the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-hé, two orally-active tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon. Dr. McKenna 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. He joined Shaman Pharmaceuticals as Director of Ethnopharmacology in 1990, and relocated to Minnesota in 1993 to join the Aveda Corporation as Senior Research Pharmacognosist. He joined the faculty of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota in 2001. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute and serves on the advisory board of non-profit organizations in the fields of ethnobotany and botanical medicines. He was a key organizer and participant in the Hoasca Project, an international biomedical study of ayahuasca used by indigenous people and syncretic religious groups in Brasil. He recently completed a project funded by the Stanley Medical Research Institute, to investigate Amazonian ethnomedicines for the treatment of schizophrenia and cognitive deficits. At the Heffter Research Institute, he continues his focus on the therapeutic uses of psychoactive medicines derived from nature and used in indigenous ethnomedical practices.

For more information, visit the event website.