American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, and novelist Terence Kemp McKenna talked and wrote about a wide range of topics, including psychedelic substances like psilocybin from magic mushrooms and magic mushroom spores. He was regularly referred to as the “Timothy Leary of the 1990s.” But what did McKenna actually contribute to the world of magic mushrooms? How did his study, activism, research, books, and public speaking impact what we know about psilocybin? Let’s explore McKenna’s legacy.
Who Was Terence McKenna?
American ethnobotanist and mystic Terence Kemp McKenna, who was born on November 16, 1946, and passed away on April 3rd, 2000, promoted the wise use of naturally occurring hallucinogenic herbs. He discussed a wide range of topics in his writing and speaking, including entheogens derived from plants, shamanism, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, environmentalism, and theorized beginnings of human awareness. One of the foremost experts on the ontological underpinnings of shamanism and the intellectual voice of rave culture, he was dubbed the Timothy Leary of the 1990s.
McKenna developed what he termed novelty theory, a hypothesis about the nature of time based on fractal patterns he claimed to have seen in the I Ching, and proposed that this prophesied the end of time and a shift in consciousness in the year 2012. One of the causes contributing to the popular belief in 2012 eschatology is his support of novelty theory and its link to the Maya calendar. The novelty theory is regarded as false science.
Terence McKenna promoted the use of psychedelic drugs that are found in nature to explore altered states of consciousness. For instance, and more specifically, as made possible by taking large amounts of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which he thought represented the pinnacle of the psychedelic experience. He expressed less interest in synthetic pharmaceuticals, saying that one cannot foresee the long-term effects of a drug made in a laboratory and that medications should come from the natural world and be use-tested by shamanism-oriented civilizations.
McKenna’s Early Career in Ethnobotany
Terence McKenna promoted the use of psilocybin and other depressants as a means of transcending and eluding unrestrained rationality. When McKenna first became interested in psychedelics—or entheogens, because of their more spiritual connotations—the general public’s image of the drug that served as its poster child, LSD, was changing. Initially, the medication had been developed as a pharmaceutical product with a lot of promise, according to medical professionals. But by the middle of the 1960s, it had come to be linked to young discontent, antisocial conduct, and a lack of unity among US soldiers engaged in the Vietnam War.
McKenna began studying ethnobotany at the University of California Berkeley in 1965 while simultaneously experimenting with drugs like LSD and DMT (the main ingredient in ayahuasca). McKenna and his brother Dennis secretly released a manual for cultivating psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms in 1976. The book makes the case that entheogens would be the next stage in human evolution and that mushrooms were the origin of the first religious concepts in mankind.
According to McKenna, it was no accident that the powerful political forces rejected such a chemical, according to Monteith. He thought that early human cultures had been egalitarian and had accepted drugs that altered consciousness. Then patriarchal monotheism and dominant culture began to emerge. Entheogens were hated in these systems because they permitted individuals to transcend their own egos.
Unchecked rationality, masculine supremacy, and focus on the outward appearance of things, according to McKenna, had made civilization extremely ill. His answer, which included both a spiritual connection to the natural world and fresh, egalitarian social structures, was called “Anarchic Revival.”
Concerning plant remedies and human consciousness, McKenna mixed real science and fantasy. In defending his interpretation of human history, he quoted legitimate academic experts. But a lot of his concepts were inspired by situations he and other “Psychonauts” had gone through when abusing entheogens. According to his worldview, psilocybin mushrooms are sentient extraterrestrial beings that can converse with individuals who consume them. DMT, on the other hand, may allow humans to travel to a world where there are “machine elves” who can teach people new ways to communicate.
Terence McKenna’s Journey with Magic Mushrooms
Around 200 different species of mushrooms are known to contain psilocybin, a hallucinogenic tryptamine molecule. Terence McKenna referred to it as the phosphorylated form of DMT in a 1998 workshop titled “In The Valley of Novelty” and noted that both psilocybin and DMT appear to affect the language-forming regions of the brain, producing truly bizarre states of consciousness because it is the language-forming part of you that is explaining what is happening at any given time. Psilocybin offered McKenna the same encounter with an extraterrestrial intelligence and extraordinarily odd translinguistic information complexes as DMT.
In an essay titled “Seeking the Magic Fungus” published in a 1957 issue of LIFE magazine, ten-year-old McKenna first encountered the psilocybin-containing mushroom Stropharia cubensis, which was eventually reclassified as the Psilocybe cubensis we know and love today. Dennis, Terence’s younger brother, who was six years old at the time, recalled seeing their elder brother pursuing their mother as she completed household chores while brandishing a magazine in a questioning manner. McKenna was in the Colombian Amazon with Dennis and three others fourteen years later looking for an enigmatic DMT plant preparation. Instead, they discovered and consumed Stropharia cubensis, also known as “the starborn miracle mushroom,” near La Chorrera. Prior to then, McKenna had never used psilocybin and was astounded by how different it was from LSD. He saw that magic mushrooms carried a more visionary hallucinogenic experience and were full of jovial energy. McKenna learned that psilocybin made it possible for him to communicate with a mysterious being that he dubbed The Logos among other titles. In a workshop in 1998, McKenna described how psilocybin directly affects the language centers, making the internal discourse a key part of the experience. When one learns this information regarding psilocybin and tryptamines in general, one must choose whether or not to engage in conversation and attempt to interpret the incoming signal.
In addition to teaching his brother how to produce the fungus, McKenna carried mushroom spores to America. From the spring of 1975 on, McKenna had access to psilocybin on a regular basis. He used heavy amounts of psilocybin once every two weeks or so over the spring and summer. “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide,” a little book the size of a modern poetry collection, was released in 1976 by the McKenna brothers and contained detailed, foolproof directions for cultivating and storing the magic mushroom. Later, McKenna published a number of more books on psychedelic drugs, including one on magic mushrooms.
The Stoned Ape theory, which was one of the ideas put out in McKenna’s 1992 book Food of the Gods, expanded the timeline of psilocybin from the 6,000 years mentioned above to at least 100,000 years for Stropharia and probably more than a million years for psilocybin mushrooms as a whole. The hypothesis delicately, slightly thickly, and eloquently proposed that naturally occurring hallucinogenic compounds—specifically psilocybin—played a key part in the creation of our fundamental humanity, of the human quality of self-reflection.
According to the notion, psilocybin boosts visual acuity, especially edge detection, at low dosages. There is CNS activation, and as a result, sexual arousal, at greater dosages. At further higher levels, there can also be a form of glossolalia as well as boundary dissolving that can result in orgies. According to McKenna’s idea, our ability to build languages may have developed as a result of hallucinogens’ direct mutagenesis effects on organelles involved in signal processing and production.
McKenna, Magic Mushrooms, and Outer Space
Early in his career, in the foreword to “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide,” McKenna put up the hypothesis that Stropharia did not develop on Earth, but he continued to make this argument throughout his life, both jokingly and seriously. He once claimed that one of the reasons he enjoyed bringing up the mushroom and alien dispute was to demonstrate to people how diverse perspectives may be held.
McKenna expanded the history of psilocybin from a million years to at least a billion years, a thousand-fold increase, by continuing to think, talk, and write about the mushroom and the extraterrestrial—a multidisciplinary topic involving, among other things, evolution, nanotechnology, biology, botany, chemistry, psychology, language, narrative, the self, the other, the other inside the self, world history, science fiction, and space science. We thought it was plausible that some of these substances may have been introduced as “seeded genes” into the planetary ecosystem by an unmanned space probe that arrived from a civilization elsewhere in the galaxy millennia ago.
McKenna addressed his views with science at the forefront, even though they could have sounded a little extreme and “out there”. In “Archaic Revival” he noted that he was interested in discovering extraterrestrial life through magic mushrooms:
The main problem with searching for extraterrestrials is to recognize them. Time is so vast and evolutionary strategies and environments so varied that the trick is to know that contact is being made at all. The Stropharia cubensis mushroom, if one can believe what it says in one of its moods, is a symbiote, and it desires ever deeper symbiosis with the human species. It achieved symbiosis with human society early by associating itself with domesticated cattle and through them human nomads. Like the plants men and women grew and the animals they husbanded, the mushroom was able to inculcate itself into the human family, so that where human genes went these other genes would be carried.
Terrence McKenna’s Impact
Terence McKenna created a novel method for growing psilocybin mushrooms with the assistance of his brother Dennis McKenna, who is still employed as an ethnopharmacologist. Using spores that they had brought back from their journey to the Amazon, the two brothers became the first to develop a trustworthy technique for growing this particular variety of mushrooms.
This procedure, which was a ground-breaking one, made it possible to grow psilocybin mushrooms at home. Terence and Denis’ work and advocacy for the use of magic mushrooms have frequently faced criticism in the media, yet more than 100,000 copies of their book have been sold.
Many others viewed McKenna’s notion as an attempt to romanticize drug usage. Terence sought to demonstrate that hallucinogenic mushrooms were the final step in human evolution. The New York Times made public his tapes in which he explained his idea that our monkey ancestors didn’t start developing human characteristics until they started using hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms.
The individual who has probably done the most to increase public understanding of psychedelics, and notably psilocybin, is Terence McKenna. In fact, McKenna was one of the staunch proponents of making psilocybin and DMT available to the general public. Psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and DMT McKenna, in McKenna’s opinion, were the pinnacle of existence’s deification. His study and cultural impact on the world of magic mushrooms is still felt today.