Stoned Ape Theory
Stoned Ape Theory
The Stoned Ape Theory was originally proposed by Terence McKenna—an ethnobotanist and extremely influential figure in the world of psychedelics. The life of Terence deserves an entire book in and of itself, however, his theory on early human evolution and its entheogenic influences has been an intriguing subject of debate for decades now. The theory, in short, suggests that humans’ development can be attributed to the use of psilocybin mushrooms. Terence supports his claim with a few key points: environmental changes, animal husbandry, religious symbols, and the evolutionarily beneficial effects of psychedelics.
This theory begins with an observation of the changing climatic conditions that early Homo sapiens faced. The rise in global temperature caused a receding of the rainforests that they occupied, forcing them into more grassland-type biomes. This would have brought about a search for new food sources, which
The theory, in short, suggests that human development can be attributed to the use of psilocybin mushrooms.
would bring humans in contact with the animals of that biome, primarily ungulates. While various hoofed mammals were likely hunted for meat, the most notable animal humans had a relationship with was the cow.
Archaeological evidence suggests that The Pre-Pottery Neolithic people of Jericho domesticated cows approximately 10,500 years ago, but there is evidence around the world of humans’ long-standing relationship with this animal. From Neolithic cave paintings to wide religious significance, cows are arguably one of the most revered animals by humans. While their uses for meat, milk, and as beasts of burden are obvious, their manure would have also been valuable for not only crop cultivation but also mushrooms; specifically, Psilocybe cubensis.
Terence McKenna by Jon Hanna
This is where McKenna’s theory begins to take form. Tribes of people during this era would have been routinely in the presence of cows, and in the face of food scarcity from the changing climate, they would have been searching for new food sources. Mushrooms popping up on the piles of cow manure all around them would have most certainly drawn the eyes of hungry people. So, they did what any of our survival-adapted ancestors would have done with a potential new food source: try a little bit and see what happens. They were essentially microdosing by eating small bits of psychedelic mushrooms, which would have brought about some unique effects.
Contrary to the modern stigmatization of psychedelics, our ancestors did not stare into the sun until their eyes burned out or descend into mania. Instead, a small bit of psilocybin would have caused some evolutionarily beneficial effects. Increased visual acuity, thought-connectivity, sexual arousal, and increased auditory awareness; all of these effects would have given the Homo sapiens eating the mushroom a leg-up in the survival game. Visual and auditory acuity
A small bit of psilocybin would have caused some evolutionarily beneficial effects.
would have been boons for hunting, while sexual arousal would have led to more offspring and a stronger tribe. This would explain why the “psychedelically inclined” apes would have thrived and out-populated the ones who were not eating the mushrooms.
The implications of this theory are far-reaching, but one could assume that the positive effects of psilocybin were likely realized by our ancestors, and thus, higher doses were taken. The resulting extra-human experiences and ultimately psychedelic experiences would have caused an interesting mix of effects. The rapid increase in neural connectivity could have arguably amplified brain growth, along with bringing an increased awareness and deeper philosophical insights. Particularly for early man, an experience of this gravity would be most fascinating, with its consequences a major subject for debate. Depending on how deep you go, psychedelic influence on humans can be seen in many areas, most notably religion. The image of cows returns here, serving as a motif in many religious texts, but also the descriptions of intense spiritual experiences seem not so different from those of psychedelic substances. The advent of religion as a whole is hypothesized by some to be a result of humans’ encounters with psychedelics, and while the notion may be refuted by some as “heresy,” the idea is too profound to remain unexplored.
A combination of archaeological evidence, ethnobotanical data, cultural trends, and religious study is required to make a solid case for a specific religion being influenced by psychedelics. That said, there are some examples of hallucinogenic influence in religious texts that become quite glaring when put against The Stoned Ape Theory, like the fruit in the Garden of Eden sharing some striking resemblances to psilocybin. I’m not here to convince you one way
There are some examples of hallucinogenic influence in religious texts that become quite glaring when put against The Stoned Ape Theory,
or the other, but the more you look, the more plausible the theory becomes, particularly with religious artwork having some incredible parallels to psychedelic visuals. Islamic mosques are a stunning example of this.
Humans’ sense of a greater happening has evolved over millennia, with hundreds of religious sects and billions of followers. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on psychedelics’ role in this, but this begs the bigger question: are hallucinogens worth exploring? These substances have been studied primarily in the context of treating mental disorders recently, but what is the next step? What can we learn about the great minds that have been influenced by psychedelics, such as Francis Crick’s discovery of the DNA helix following an LSD trip? Are psychedelics the next frontier, or do they bring about a completely out-of-touch experience that has nothing to do with learning about the nature of the universe? Most people who have taken them tend to lean towards the idea of something more; can they all really just be delusional druggies?
Related: The Tree of Knowledge