ABC Presents James A. Duke Botanical Literature Award to Historic Compilation of Psychoactive Research

AUSTIN, Texas (March 13, 2019) — The American Botanical Council (ABC) has presented its 2018 ABC James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research, Volumes I and II (ESPD50). This text, edited by Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., and published by Synergetic Press, compiles the proceedings from the first ESPD symposium in 1967 and the 50th-anniversary symposium in 2017 and contains papers from some of the most well-known and well-regarded experts in the field.

ABC gives the Duke Award annually to books that contribute significantly to the medicinal plant-related literature, and the fields of botany, taxonomy, ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, phytomedicine, and other related disciplines.

The Duke Award was created in 2006 to honor economic botanist and author James A. Duke, Ph.D., who died in December 2017. Duke’s prestigious career achievements in economic botany and ethnobotany included decades of work at the United States Department of Agriculture and the authorship of more than 30 reference and consumer books. Among his many other activities and positions, he was also a co-founding member of ABC’s Board of Trustees.

Public interest in the field of psychedelic and psychoactive substances is growing: Tourists travel in increasing numbers to the Amazon to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies, which involve a traditional psychoactive brew made of multiple Amazonian plants; more clinical studies are being conducted on the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin, a psychoactive compound from mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe and other fungal genera; and an attempt to restrict access to kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a botanical with pain-relieving properties, in the United States in 2016 caused such an outcry that the proposal was withdrawn.

All of the sessions at the 2017 symposium were live-streamed on Facebook to an audience of more than 100,000 people, and ESPD50 is currently in its third print run to meet consumer demand.

Dr. McKenna commented: “Many discoveries were made in the five decades between the 1967 symposium and the 2017 symposium. The topics covered were timely then, and are even more timely now, as the habitats and cultures that are the holders of the knowledge are disappearing rapidly…. Science has always looked to nature for psychoactive remedies that may be used to alleviate human suffering. It is my hope that these symposium volumes will inspire a new generation of young investigators to continue this quest.”

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC, praised McKenna and his colleagues for their accomplishment. “This two-volume set is a major contribution to the world’s literature on psychoactive plants and fungi,” he said. “The growing body of compelling clinical research on compounds from psychoactive plants and fungi to provide remedies for a variety of existential and medical conditions continues to underscore the need for more research in this vital area. It is clear that many psychoactive plants and fungi and their compounds will become welcome medicines of the future, and that future is not far off.

“Dr. McKenna and his colleagues are to be commended for their pioneering work in this area,” Blumenthal continued. “I am certain that Dr. Duke would strongly approve of ABC’s choice of these books to receive his eponymous award.”

Michael J. Balick, Ph.D., a respected ethnobotanist and vice president for botanical science and director and philecology curator at the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, agreed. As a member of the ABC Board of Trustees, Balick served on the selection committee for the Duke Award. “Dr. McKenna has compiled, in a single reference, a remarkable collection of scholarship relating to plants and fungi that indigenous cultures have used to ‘enter the other world,’” he noted, “and in doing so, he has created a resource that will serve a generation of scholars who are interested in this fascinating relationship among botanicals, phytochemicals, and people. This is especially interesting as he has included many papers of historical importance based on the first symposium 50 years prior. Bravo to Dennis and his colleagues for organizing the meeting that led to this publication and, as editor, for bringing it to fruition.”

Past Duke Award recipients include: Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes (2017; reference/technical category) and Joseph Banks’ Florilegium (2017; consumer/popular category);Handbook of Essential Oils, 2nd edition (2016); Clinical Aromatherapy, 3rd edition (2015); Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (2014); Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, 2nd edition (2013); Medicinal Plants and the Legacy of Richard E. Schultes (2012; reference/technical category) and Smoke Signals (2012; consumer/popular category); American Herbal Pharmacopoeia: Botanical Pharmacognosy (2011; reference/technical category) and Healing Spices (2011; consumer/popular category); Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health (2010); and An Oak Spring Herbaria (2009).

The ABC James A. Duke Award was presented at the annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 6, 2019, in Anaheim, California. The event for ABC Sponsor Members occurred during the Natural Products Expo West and Engredea trade shows and conferences. A video of Dr. McKenna’s acceptance of the award in absentia is available here. A review of ESPD50 published in HerbalGram #121 is available here.

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