Those who subscribe to the theory of evolution have a small dilemma on their hands. How did our human brains evolve so fast? Normally, evolution occurs slowly over time by the almost random natural selection (and de-selection) of various traits.
But that’s not what got humanity to the point we’re at now. Science indicates that are brains evolved quickly, sometimes very quickly, en route to reaching their current beautifully complex state. Some scientists believe there may have been a plant-based accelerator thrown in somewhere along the way…
- The Neurochemistry of Magic Mushrooms
- A Jump Towards Higher Consciousness
- The “Stoned Ape” Hypothesis
- Where Do We Go From Here?
The Neurochemistry of Magic Mushrooms
It’s not hard to imagine the first time someone tripped on magic mushrooms. It was likely accidental, stimulated by a random curiosity to pick up a little mushroom or two…and try them! What happened next must have been pretty unprecedented, and word of the whole experience must’ve spread fast.
It’s easy to imagine ancient cultures using these naturally-growing mushrooms being used to reach transcendence, amplify rituals, maybe even to commune with their concept of God.
No wonder. Spurred on by special tryptamines called psilocybin and psilocin, magic mushrooms really do create a powerful impact on the brain. Some species contain other compounds, like baeocystin or norbaeocystin, that may confer an additional effect.
What’s more, the initial psychedelia of magic mushrooms seems to create a sort of ripple effect, within which many of our brain’s most important neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine, GABA — are balanced out.
A Jump Towards Higher Consciousness
Remember the rapid-brain-growth problem we mentioned earlier? According to ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna, it’s just not reconcilable with conventional evolutionary theories. “The great embarrassment to evolutionary theory is the human neocortex,” he’s explained. This neocortex has made many elements of being human possible, notably our ability to create and learn languages.
According to McKenna a little extra oomph was needed to speed up evolution — to light “the fire of intelligence,” as he liked to put it. And nature’s version of gasoline, in this case? It might just have been magic mushrooms. “We ate our way to higher consciousness,” he wrote in several works.
The “Stoned Ape” Hypothesis
This whole theory is known as the “stoned ape” hypothesis. Get it? According to the theory, entire genetic lineages of apes managed to evolve into pre-historic humans by staying stoned enough. Consistent use of psilocybin mushrooms and other natural psychedelics brought us “out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination,” McKenna asserted.
But when this theory was first introduced in the 90s…the scientific community laughed. McKenna was deemed overly speculative and his theories (he definitely had more than one!) just never gained traction.
In 2017, however, an expert mycologist named Paul Stamets brought McKenna’s stoned ape theory back into public attention. Speaking at the Psychedlic Science Summit, Stamets reiterated that there’s no other plausible way to explain how the pre-human brain evolved into the fully human brain so fast.
And he had a point — brain sizes suddenly doubled roughly 200,000 years ago. Between 500,000 and 100,000 BC, in fact, brain size actually tripled. No other theory out there has been able to satisfactorily explain this.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So, where do we go from here? Take the stoned ape theory to its logical conclusion and you might become convinced that continued use of psychedelics will help humanity reach its next level of conscious awareness.
That may be true. But even on a more microcosmic level, even in the here and now, psilocybin could help you reach the next stage of your journey faster.
Feel free to ask yourself: do you tend to look forward through time, to the future? Or do you feel stuck in the past? Your answer to that question probably speaks volumes about whether you’re evolving…or devolving.
And one of these routes if far preferable to the other. If you’re ready to embrace positive change, leave the past behind, and overcome anxiety and fear, congrats. Intention is the first step of the journey, after all, though the field of neuroscience is clear that you’ll have a lot of inner traction to overcome.
So consider the role that psychedelics might play in your own, personal evolution — if you haven’t already!