Co-founder, Director of Ethnopharmacology, Treasurer

Dennis McKenna’s professional and personal interests are focused on 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-he, 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.


McKenna, DJ, Ruiz, JM, Hoye TR, Roth BR, Shoemaker AP (2010) Application of ethnopharmacology and in vitro receptor screening technologies to the evaluation of Amazonian ethnomedicines with potential therapeutic applications to cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Submitted.

McKenna, DJ (2007) The Healing Vine: Ayahuasca as Medicine in the 21st Century IN: Winkleman. MJ, Roberts TB Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogenic Substances as Treatments. Praeger Publishers ISBN: 0-275-99023-0

Donelson, R., Ostroff, G., McKenna, D., Slaton, J., (2006) Quantitative Determination of Beta-Glucan Constituents in Trametes Versicolor (L.:Fries)Pilát. Poster presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Pharmacognosy Crystal City, VA, Aug 5-9 2006.

Callaway, JC., Grob, C.A., Nichols, D.E., Shulgin, A., McKenna, D. J. (2006) A demand for clarity regarding a case report on the ingestion of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5MeO-DMT) in an ayahuasca preparation. Letter to Editor. Journal of Analytical Toxicology 30:406-407.

McKenna, Dennis J., Kingston, R., Harris, I. (2006) Introduction to Botanical Medicines. Peer-reviewed online learning module offered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). URL: Link, Alternate Link

McKenna, Dennis J. (2005) Ayahuasca and Human Destiny. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37:231-234. Special issue of JPD devoted to Ayahuasca Use in Cross-cultural Perspective

McKenna, Dennis J. (2004) Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca: Rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 102:111-129.

McKenna, Dennis J. (2003) Kava in the treatment of anxiety. Natural Pharmacy 7:16-17

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Kenneth Jones (2002) Astragalus Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 8(6):34-43.

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Kenneth Jones (2002) Co-enzyme Q-10: Efficacy, Safety, and Use Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 8(3):42-55.

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Kenneth Jones (coauthors & editors) Botanical Medicines: The Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements. Haworth Herbal Press. 2002. ISBN# 0-7890-1265-0

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Kenneth Jones (2001) Efficacy, safety, and use of Ginkgo biloba in clinical and preclinical applications. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 7(5):70-86, 88-90

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Sheila Humphrey, Kenneth Jones (2001) Black Cohosh: Efficacy, safety, and use in clinical and preclinical applications. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 7(3):93-100

McKenna Dennis J., Kerry Hughes, Kenneth Jones (2000) Green Tea Monograph. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 6(3):61-84.

Lebot, Vincent, Ed Johnston, Qun Yi Zheng, Doug McKern, and Dennis J. McKenna (1999) Morphological, Phytochemical, and Genetic Variation in Hawaiian Cultivars of ‘Awa (Kava, Piper methysticum Forster F., Piperaceae). Economic Botany 53:407-418

Dennis J. McKenna (1999) Ayahuasca: an ethnopharmacologic history. In: R. Metzner, (ed) Ayahuasca: Hallucinogens, Consciousness, and the Spirit of Nature. Thunder's Mouth Press, New York.

Callaway, J. C., D. J. McKenna, C. S. Grob, G. S. Brito, L. P. Raymon, R.E. Poland, E. N. Andrade, E. O. Andrade, D. C. Mash (1999) Pharmacokinetics of Hoasca alkaloids in Healthy Humans. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 65:243-256.

McKenna, DJ, JC Callaway, CS Grob (1999). The scientific investigation of ayahuasca: A review of past and current research. Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research 1:65-76

Callaway, J. C, D. J. McKenna (1998) Neurochemistry of psychedelic drugs. In Koch, S. (ed.) Handbook of Drug Abuse, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

McKenna, DJ (Editor in chief) (1998) Natural Dietary Supplements Desktop Reference. © 1998, Institute for Natural Products Research.

Callaway, J. C., L. P. Raymon, W. L. Hearn, D. J. McKenna, C. S. Grob, G. S. Brito, D. C. Mash (1996) Quantitation of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids in human plasma after oral dosing with Ayahuasca. Journal of Analytical Toxicology 20: 492-497

McKenna, DJ (1996) Plant hallucinogens: Springboards for psychotherapeutic drug discovery. Behavioural Brain Research 73:109-116

C. S. Grob, D. J. McKenna, J. C. Callaway, G. S. Brito, E. S. Neves, G. Oberlender, O. L. Saide, E. Labigalini, C. Tacla, C. T. Miranda, R. J. Strassman, K. B. Boone (1996) Human pharmacology of hoasca, a plant hallucinogen used in ritual context in Brasil: Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease. 184:86-94. McKenna, DJ (1996)

James C. Callaway, M. M. Airaksinen, Dennis J. McKenna, Glacus S. Brito, & Charles S. Grob (1994) Platelet serotonin uptake sites increased in drinkers of ayahuasca. Psychopharmacology 116: 385-387

Dennis J. McKenna, L. E. Luna, & G. H. N. Towers, (1995) Biodynamic constituents in Ayahuasca admixture plants: an uninvestigated folk pharmacopoeia. In: von Reis, S., and R. E. Schultes (eds). Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline. Dioscorides Press, Portland

Dennis J. McKenna (1995) Bitter brews and other abominations: The uses and abuses of some little-known hallucinogenic plants. Integration, Journal of Mind-moving Plants and Culture 5:99-104.

Constantino M. Torres, David B. Repke, Kelvin Chan, Dennis McKenna, Augustin Llagostera, and Richard E. Schultes (1992) Botanical, chemical, and contextual analysis of archaeological snuff powders from San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile. Current Anthropology. 32:640-649.

Chester A. Mathis, John M. Gerdes, Joel D. Enas, John M. Whitney, Scott E. Taylor, Yi Zhang, Dennis J. McKenna, Sona Havlik, and Stephen J. Peroutka (1992) Binding potency of paroxetine analogues for the serotonin uptake complex. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 44:801-805.

Dennis J. McKenna, X.-M. Guan, and A. T. Shulgin (1991) 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) analogues exhibit differential effects on synaptosomal release of 3H-dopamine and 3H-5-hydroxytryptamine. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior. 38:505-512.

David E. Nichols, Robert Oberlender, and Dennis J. McKenna (1991) Stereochemical Aspects of Hallucinogenesis. Chapter 1, pp. 1-39 in R. R. Watson (ed.) Biochemistry and Physiology of Substance Abuse, Vol. III. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

Dennis J. McKenna and Stephen J. Peroutka (1990) Serotonin neurotoxins: Focus on MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, "Ecstasy") In S. J. Peroutka, (ed.) Serotonin Receptor Subtypes: Basic and Clinical Aspects, Alan R. Liss Publishers, New York. pp. 127-148.

Dennis J. McKenna, David B. Repke, Leland Lo, and Stephen J. Peroutka (1990) Differential interactions of indolealkylamines with 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor subtypes. Neuropharmacology. 29:193-198.

Dennis J. McKenna and Stephen J. Peroutka (1990) The neurochemistry and neurotoxicity of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy"). J. Neurochemistry. 54:14-22.

Cameron R. Hekmatpanah, Dennis J. McKenna, and Stephen J. Peroutka (1989) Reserpine does not prevent 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity. Neuroscience Letters. 104:178-182.

Dennis J. McKenna, David B. Repke, and Stephen J. Peroutka (1989) Hallucinogenic indolealkylamines are selective for 5HT2A binding sites. Neuroscience Abstracts. 15:485.

Dennis J. McKenna & Stephen J. Peroutka (1989) Differentiation of 5-hydroxytryptamine2 receptor subtypes using 125I-R-(-)2,5,-dimethoxyphenylisopropylamine (125I-R(‑)DOI) and 3H-ketanserin. J. of Neuroscience. 9:3482-3490.

Dennis J. McKenna, Adil J. Nazarali, Andrew J. Hoffman, David E. Nichols, C. A. Mathis, & Juan M. Saavedra (1989) Common receptors for hallucinogens in rat brain: a comparative autoradiographic study using [125I]LSD and [125I]-DOI, a new psychotomimetic radioligand. Brain Research. 476:45-56.

Dennis J. McKenna, Adil J. Nazarali, Akihiko Himeno, & Juan M. Saavedra (1989) Chronic treatment with (±)DOI, a psychotomimetic 5HT2 agonist, downregulates 5HT2 receptors in rat brain. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2:81-87.

Adil J. Nazarali, Dennis J. McKenna, & Juan M. Saavedra (1989) Autoradiographic localization of 5HT2 receptors in rat brain using [125I]-DOI, a selective psychotomimetic radioligand. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol. and Biol. Psychiatry, 13:573-581

Dennis J. McKenna, C. A. Mathis, & Stephen J. Peroutka (1988) Characterization of 125I-DOI binding sites in rat brain. Neuroscience Abstracts 14:No. 247.12

Akihiko Himeno, Dennis J. McKenna, Adil J. Nazarali, & Juan M. Saavedra (1988) (±)DOI, a hallucinogenic phenylalkylamine, downregulates 5HT2 receptors in rat brain. Neuroscience Abstracts 14:No. 229.2
Dennis J. McKenna & J. M. Saavedra (1987) Autoradiography of LSD and 2,5-dimethoxyphenylisopropylamine psychotomimetics demonstrates regional, specific cross-displacement in the rat brain. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 142:313-315.

Dennis J. McKenna, C. A. Mathis, A. T. Shulgin, & J. M. Saavedra (1987) Hallucinogens bind to common receptors in the rat forebrain: a comparative study using 125I-LSD and 125I-DOI, a new psychotomimetic radioligand. Neuroscience Abstracts, 13:No. 311.14

Dennis J. McKenna, C. A. Mathis, A. T. Shulgin, Thornton Sargent III, & J. M. Saavedra (1987) Autoradiographic localization of binding sites for 125I-(-)DOI, a new psychotomimetic radioligand, in the rat brain. Eur J. Pharmacol., 137:289-290.

Dennis J. McKenna, L. E. Luna, & G. H. N. Towers, (1986) Ingredientes biodinamicos en las plantas que se meszclan al ayahausca. Una farmacopea tradicional no investigada. America Indigena, 46:73-101. (Spanish with English abstract)

Dennis J. McKenna, & G. H. N. Towers, (1985) On the comparative ethnopharmacology of the Malpighiaceous and Myristicaceous hallucinogens. J. Psychoactive Drugs, 17:35-39.

Dennis J. McKenna, & G. H. N. Towers, (1984), Biochemistry and pharmacology of tryptamine and ß-carboline derivatives: A minireview. J. Psychoactive Drugs, 16:347-358.

Dennis J. McKenna, G. H. N. Towers, & F. S. Abbott (1984) Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants: Tryptamine and ß-carboline constituents of Ayahuasca. J. of Ethnopharmacology 10:195-223.

Dennis J. McKenna, G. H. N. Towers, & F. S. Abbott (1984) Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants Pt. II: Constituents of orally active Myristicaceous hallucinogens. J. of Ethnopharmacology 12:179-211.

Dennis J. McKenna & G. H. N. Towers (1981) Ultra-violet mediated cytotoxic activity of ß-carboline alkaloids. Phytochemistry 20:1001-1004
Dennis J. McKenna & T. K. McKenna (1975) The Invisible Landscape. Seabury Press, New York.

Book Reviews & Popular Articles:

Dennis J. McKenna (1989) Its a Jungle Out There: Biochemical Conflict and Co-operation in the Ecosphere. Whole Earth Review, 64:40-47. (popular article on chemical ecology)

Dennis J. McKenna (1989) Plant Wisdom Resources. Whole Earth Review, 64:48-49.

Dennis J. McKenna (1992) DMT: Nature's Ubiquitous Hallucinogen. Interdependances Fall issue 1992.

Dennis J. McKenna (1992) Tryptamine Hallucinogens of the New World: An Ethnopharmacological Survey. Interdependances, Fall issue 1992.

Review: The Healing Forest: Medicinal & Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia by R. E. Schultes & R.F. Raffauf. Reviewed in Shaman's Drum, Spring, 1991 and Whole Earth Review, Spring, 1991

Review: The Sacred Mushroom Seeker: Essays for R. Gordon Wasson Thomas J. Reidlinger, Editor. Reviewed in Shaman's Drum, Winter 1990-91 and Whole Earth Review, Spring, 1991

Review: Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman, by Luis Eduardo Luna & Pablo Amaringo. Reviewed in Shaman's Drum, Spring, 1992

Review: PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, by Alexander T. Shulgin & Ann Shulgin. Reviewed in Gnosis, Spring, 1992

Dennis J. McKenna (2006) Mescaline: A Molecular History. Fate Magazine, January 2006 issue.