Psychedelic Mushrooms and the Evolution to Homo sapiens
In the video below, renowned mycologist Paul Stamets explains the “stoned ape hypothesis” to Joe Rogan. The hypothesis was developed by Terence McKenna and documented in his 1993 book Food of the Gods. McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Hypothesis” offers one explanation for how humans doubled their brain capacity and became Homo sapiens over the short evolutionary time of about 200,000 years. The Stoned Ape Hypothesis centers around the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis.
Scientists have developed other explanations for our leap in cranial capacity over that time period including climate change, social competition, and the demands of ecological systems. McKenna’s theory has received less attention over the years and has been criticized for lack of evidence. However, it should be noted there is scant, if any, evidence to support the other theories.
Dung Paves the Way for Advancement
McKenna explains that as Africa began to undergo desertification, our human ancestors were forced out of the forests and onto the savannas to find food. These groups would follow footprints and dung on the ground to find animals to hunt and eat. It just so happens the hallucinogenic mushroom Psilocybe cubensis is a dung-lover, often found growing in the manure of animals that live on the savanna.
According to the stoned ape hypothesis, human ancestors ate these mushrooms and experienced their extraordinary hallucinogenic effects. The effects are often described as “mind-opening,” feeling empathy and increased courage, and seeing fractal patterns even with the eyes closed. After consuming the mushrooms, leaders emerged within groups as those who were brave and kind to others. These leaders became trusted as looking out for the best interests of the group.
McKenna’s theory goes on to propose that “magic mushrooms,” containing psilocybin derivatives improved visual acuity, making individuals better hunters. More food meant a higher rate of reproductive success. Although there is no scientific proof, McKenna also thought higher doses of psilocybin would increase sexual arousal, resulting in more mating attempts. He also proposed that higher doses would increase activity in the language-forming regions of the brain, causing visions and music. Further, McKenna said the strange effects of psilocybin dissolved the ego and contributed to the development of religion. Therefore, the theory argues access to hallucinogenic mushrooms was an evolutionary advantage for humans. McKenna called it the ‘evolutionary catalyst.’
The Cumulative Effect
Cultural evolution led early humans to domesticate cattle, causing them to live even more in the presence of manure, and therefore, more P. cubensis. From the times of our earliest human ancestors, eating P. cubensis wasn’t just happening here and there, but millions of times over millions of years causing what Stamets calls ‘epigenetic neurogenesis.’
Check out the video below and feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.