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Talking With the Timothy Leary of the '90s

Drugs: Terence McKenna is taking the torch from the psychedelics guru of the '60s and running with it. While his message isn't as attention-getting as his predecessor's, some say it's much more balanced.

May 03, 1996|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"To the extent that he veers too far from fact . . . people will use that to discredit psychedelics," says Rick Doblin who, as president of the Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies, is the leader of a movement to increase legitimate science about psychedelics. But, to be fair, Doblin added: "His message is much more balanced than Leary's was."

McKenna's younger brother, Dennis, is a doctorate-holding ethnopharmacologist who is a prominent figure in the fight to persuade the scientific establishment and the government to accept psychedelic drugs for medical uses.

"You could make the argument that Timothy Leary probably did more than any other person in the '60s to shut down psychedelic research . . . that is only now beginning to open up," Dennis said in an earlier interview. "I would feel bad if my brother were responsible for a similar shutdown in the '90s."

"My brother always had a talent for throwing things in people's faces," he explained. "Growing up, he always figured out just the thing to make my father furious."

The brothers McKenna grew up in rural western Colorado, where their dad, a traveling salesman, encouraged them to appreciate nature (but not to smoke it). That they did, so much so that by 1975, they worked on an underground classic, "The Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide" (And/Or Press).

It's four books later for the elder McKenna, and he's relishing kudos from the greats of his, er, field. For instance, before his death, Jerry Garcia said McKenna was "the only person who has made a serious effort to objectify the psychedelic experience--and done a good job of it."

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