Confessions of a Psychedelic Elder: Dennis McKenna
An interview with the famed ethnobotanical explorer on his lifetime of curiosity
The following post is an excerpt from my new book *Psychedelic Wisdom: The Astonishing Rewards of Mind-Altering Substances.* Founding members receive a copy of the book, along with exclusive videos and transcripts of all my interviews. Please subscribe and share to support independent broadcasting and unabashed coverage of censored topics – from Psychedelics to Sexuality.
The great Dennis McKenna is author of the classic book The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna. He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute and was a key investigator on the Hoasca Project, the first biomedical investigation of Ayahuasca—a potent rain forest concoction containing the active ingredient DMT. From 2000 to 2017, he taught courses on ethnopharmacology and plants in human affairs as an adjunct assistant professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. He is the managing editor of the historic fifty-year anniversary publication documenting the worldwide symposium Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD).
In the spring of 2019, in collaboration with colleagues in Canada and the U.S., he incorporated a new nonprofit, the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy. He emigrated to Canada in the spring of 2019 together with his wife Sheila, and he now resides in Abbotsford B.C.
For my previous book, Psychedelic Medicine, McKenna and I focused on the science of the plant medicine known as Ayahuasca. However, this interview focuses more on his own personal experiences in academia and industry as he gradually found his present niche as a writer, researcher, and advocate for the study of mind-altering plant medicines.
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RLM: Hello Dennis. Good to be with another psychedelic elder.
Dennis McKenna (DM): Sadly, we are. I guess that’s a mantle that we have to take now. People have said that I’m a psychedelic elder. People have said that I’m a legend. I think these are all preparatory to saying that I’m totally irrelevant. The world moves on and leaves us geezers in the dust. I don’t think either you or I ever thought we would witness the changes we’re seeing now in the public sphere of interest in psychedelics. It is a true renaissance.
RLM: Speaking of age, Dennis—I am eighty-two. How old are you?
DM: I am a youngster compared to you, Richard. I feel so much better. I just turned seventy last December.
RLM: You are a youngster to me. I can hardly remember back that far. By way of background, are you presently living with somebody?
DM: Yes. I live with my wife, Sheila. We’ve been together for forty years. We’re still talking to each other most of the time. We’ve been very lucky. She is my anchor in lots of ways. She is not this crazy psychedelic hippie chick or anything like that. She is a very grounded person. Conveniently enough for me, she happens to be Canadian. I met her in graduate school when I was doing my PhD at the University of British Columbia, back in the early ’80s. We have been together since then. Because she is Canadian, I got to move up to Canada. I have now officially been recognized as a permanent resident of Canada in good standing, more or less—at least until they catch up with who I really am.
RLM: Where in Canada are you, Dennis?
DM: We’re in Abbotsford, British Columbia, now—a little town of about one hundred thousand people—after being in Minnesota since 1992. You know the place?
RLM: No, but one hundred thousand is not little to me. I live in a town of seven thousand—Fort Bragg, California.
DM: It’s about an hour east of Vancouver. Compared to Vancouver, I guess it’s little. We’re happy to be here. It’s a nice quiet little town. Not a whole lot happens here, which is the way I like it.
RLM: What are three things that have contributed to the longevity of your marriage?
DM: Tolerance, basic respect for each other, and affection. We are soulmates in a certain way. It’s something that we’ve discovered over forty years of marriage. Even though we have diverse interests, we also have complementary interests. That helps. I think maybe the secret to a good marriage is that your partner needs to also be your best friend. I would say that she is my best friend. I trust her. I hope that she trusts me. She knows I’m a crazy guy and wacko and all that. She tolerates that. She doesn’t have to participate in it to appreciate it.
RLM: What can you tell us about the way your psychedelic experiences have affected your relationship with your wife of forty years?
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