Science Meets Tradition


28/11/2018 20:00 – 23:00
Faculty of Philosophy
nám. Jana Palacha 1/2, Prague



29/11/2018 18:00 – 21:00
TBA, Ostrava



“Science Meets Tradition” is a series of presentations about the scientific, anthropological, and traditional perspectives on the traditional South American psychoactive brew called Ayahuasca. Tomáš Páleníček, the lead neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Prague, will speak about the preparations for an expedition to the Amazon jungle in order to study the neurobiology of Ayahuasca used in traditional ceremonies. This event will also include a talk by neurologist Eduardo Schenberg, who is engaged in psychedelic research and psychedelic psychotherapy in Brazil. Another speaker, Ninawa Inu Huni Kui is a representative of traditional communities Huni Kui, and was recently elected president of FPEHAC, an organisation that brings together all of the Huni Kui residents living in the extensive Acre area deep in the Brazilian Amazon. The event will conclude with a talk by the well-known anthropologist Jeremy Narby, author of several book including the popular book “The Cosmic Serpent.” Narby spent several years living with indiginous people in the Amazon where he learned the traditional ways of using the rainforest resources as medicines.

The event serves to raise up awareness of current research and to support the forthcoming expedition. Those who would like to support the expedition can do so by purchasing more expensive tickets or by direct donation to the Psychedelic Research Foundation’s 115-7402030247 / 0100 endowment fund.



“Psychedelic Plant Teachers”

An anthropologist tries to reconcile science and Amazonian plant knowledge, drawing concepts from both sides. Plants like ayahuasca and tobacco can act both as “psychedelics” meaning mind-revealing, and as “teachers”, in that they allow knowledge to be gained. But working with plant teachers is tricky, and has its ups and downs. Because they are mind-revealing, the experience one can have after ingesting them depends on who one is. Ultimately, when working with plant teachers, going back and forth between systems of knowledge is a slow process, that can be rewarding, but that also have its perils.


Anthropologist and writer, Jeremy Narby grew up in Canada and Switzerland, studied history at the University of Canterbury, receiving a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. Jeremy spent several years living with the Ashaninka people in the Peruvian Amazon, cataloguing indigenous uses of rainforest resources.

Experiences with ayahuasca during his research inspired his book “The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge”. In this book, Jeremy proposes that indigenous people have developed a deep understanding of medicinal plants and even DNA itself, through ritualized use of ayahuasca, a theory deemed heretical by mainstream science.

Jeremy has since written two other books: “Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge”, and “Intelligence in Nature” He was featured in the documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Since 1989, Jeremy has been working as the Amazonian projects director for the Swiss NGO Nouvelle Planète.



“Bringing the Research Laboratory to Ayahuasca”

The scientific study of Ayahuasca began almost 30 years ago, and has evolved over time into a multiplicity of studies (Pubmed currently records 250 results for “Ayahuasca”). This recent era was preceded by at least five decades of anthropological studies of the plants, songs, people and rituals surrounding the Amazonian beverage, which has dozens of names in indigenous languages, such as Nixi Pae, Uni, Heu, and also Hoasca and Daime in the Brazilian churches. Even before these anthropological studies, indigenous people in the Amazon studied ayahuasca for hundreds of years and developed its uses. In this centuries-long process, not only has knowledge about ayahuasca evolved, but so too have the modes of knowing it. In this talk, Brazilian neuroscientist Eduardo Schenberg, who has used the brew for almost 20 years on a personal basis and who has also studied its effects in a neuroscience laboratory, will cover the potentials, challenges and limitations of the scientific study of ayahuasca, as well as its effects on the human brain and mind. Special focus will be given to difficulties between objective versus subjective approaches and how many important elements of indigenous practices were simply left out of scientific enquiry based on a priori assumptions. Can ayahuasca fit the basic western psychopharmacological mode of knowing or is it necessary to adapt methods and approaches to better understand ayahuasca’s physiological effects, therapeutic potentials and influences on consciousness?


Neuroscientist specialised in the development of novel psychiatric therapies assisted by psychedelic substances. Has experience in basic and clinical studies. Has work experience in the public and non-profit sector as well as private businesses. Has large experience in project managing with multiple collaborators and partners. Is a member of the Brazilian society for Neuroscience and Behavior (SBNeC), one of the founding members of the International Society for Research on Psychedelics (ISRP) and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Psychedelic Studies. Founder of Instituto Plantando Consciência, a non-profit dedicated to scientific research, and Phaneros, a biotech startup focused on improving psychiatric health services.



“Expedition Neuron: Why should we travel to Amazonas to understand the healing potential of Ayahuasca”

Science has always been driven by curiosity. My curiosity has been focused on psychedelic medicines since my early studies at high school and has led me to explore and study these compounds throughout most of my professional career. Since the very beginning, I have also had a deep conviction and desire to visit the Amazon. When I became a scientist, this dream became a reality and in connection with my interest in psychedelic medicines I wanted to explore the effects of the hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca on human brains. However, I did not want to study it in a laboratory setting, other substances are usually explored these days, but by bringing the laboratory to the jungle. The intention is to describe the unique healing potential of this brew in its traditional context and learn how this traditional ritual use might be beneficial for current society and medicine, especially focusing on stress, anxiety and depressive mood. Thanks to several of my colleagues here in Prague we have successfully applied for a project “Expedition Neuron” and through this project the dream is moving ever closer to reality. My journey led me to various places in the Latin American and Amazonian jungle, where I met many interesting people. Some of them were scientists, others were musicians or anthropologists, and I also met many knowledgeable ordinary people. Of course, one of the most important events was meeting indigenous people in the Amazon jungle and especially the Huni Kui community.


Tomas Palenicek, MD, PhD. began his career in 2001 at the former Prague Psychiatric Centre in preclinical research, focusing on the neurobiology of psychedelics such as LSD, psilocin, mescaline, 2C-B and MDMA and on the neurobiology of psychosis. At the same time, he trained in clinical psychiatry and in clinical electroencephalography (EEG) and started to contribute to human clinical research with ketamine. Within the last five years he has been the principle investigator of the first projects in the Czech Republic to study the acute effects of cannabis and psilocybin in healthy volunteers and he was involved in studies with ketamine in depressed patients. His research expertise is mainly in behavioural pharmacology and in electrophysiology and brain connectivity. Currently, he is a leader of a translational team of young scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health in the Czech Republic, investigating the neurobiology of how psychedelics and cannabinoids affect brain processing, emotionality, cognitive functions and music. He is also actively involved in projects focussed on studying the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and MDMA in the Czech Republic.



Ninawa Inu Huni Kui is the recently elected president of FPEHAC (Federação do Povo Huni Kui do Acre), an organization connecting all Huni Kui people living in the huge area of the state of Acre, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. He and his wife will be ready to discuss their communities, origins and traditions as well as their relationship with western culture and society. Of course, they will also focus on the traditional use of Nixi Pae (Ayahuasca) by Huni Kui people both in the past and today.

Event will be held in English