The Stoned Ape Theory

Let’s talk about the Stoned Ape Theory.

In case you’re not familiar, let me explain.

The stoned ape theory is a theory of human evolution that has nothing to do with cannabis, and everything to do with psychedelic mushrooms. First presented in the 1990s by ethnobotanist and psychedelics advocate Terence McKenna, he posited the theory in his book Food of the Gods.

In his opinion, the evolution of human consciousness happened in our ancestors Homo erectus when they came across “magic” mushrooms growing in the dung piles of domesticated cattle. Eating the mushrooms caused a change and reorganization (upgrade) in the brain’s information processing abilities that was crucial to the development of early language, art, and technologies.

McKenna’s theory was never taken seriously in his lifetime and was ridiculed as speculative and baseless well into the 21st century. It wasn’t until 2017 at a conference for Psychedelic Sciences that the theory was brought back into mainstream science’s cognition. Only now that we are taking research and education about psychedelics seriously can we start to see there was merit in McKenna’s theory

While chalking up the entirety of the complex process of consciousness to magic mushrooms is decidedly simplistic, there is no way to say for sure it isn’t what happened. While it may not have been the only cause or catalyst to the developing human consciousness, who’s to say it wasn’t one of several?

Scientists are stumped on how consciousness came into being, and while most would not say it stemmed from a single source, more and more respected scientists are coming out in favor of the Stoned Ape theory.

In his talk at the Psychedelic Science conference in 2017, psilocybin mycologist Paul Stamets, D.Sc., said “What is really important for you to understand is that there was a sudden doubling of the human brain 200,000 years ago. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s an extraordinary expansion. And there is no explanation for this sudden increase in the human brain.”

And therein lies the kicker. We have no idea why our brains got bigger, not once, but twice. The brain size of Homo erectus doubled 2 million and 700,000 years ago and the brain size in Homo sapiens tripled between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago.

The Stoned Ape theory is ultimately unprovable, but all theories regarding our brain’s evolution are. So what’s to say it’s not true?

The development of human consciousness is also linked with the evolution of language, which Dennis McKenna, brother of Terrance, also linked to mushrooms saying, “It was like a software to program this neurologically modern hardware to think, to have cognition, to have language—because language is essentially synesthesia. Language is the association with apparently meaningless sound except that it’s associated with the complex of meaning.”

Critics say the Stoned Ape theory is too simplistic; that a complex and barely understood process such as consciousness wouldn’t have stemmed from a singular source. But as science has recently proven, Psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) does alter consciousness and triggers physical changes in the brain. Ask any user of magic mushrooms, and you’ll be regaled with stories of how their world changed after a trip. Additionally, psilocybin has been proven to be an effective treatment against depressions, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD. In many ways, they’re considered to be the future of psychiatric treatments.

So it’s not to say that all of human consciousness comes down to a trip our ancestors took after eating a funny poop mushroom. But it is to say that McKenna was on to something, mushrooms can have a profound effect on altering our consciousness and helping us heal from trauma and as always, the War of Drugs was a racist waste of money.

Personally, I love the Stoned Ape theory. What’s not to like about the idea that our early ancestors stumbled across strange fungi growing in dung, decided to take a chance on them, and found their world forever altered because of it?

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