In a time long before recorded history — perhaps as far back as 100,000 years ago — early hominids, the ancestors of today’s humans, may have evolved smarter, faster brains because they regularly tripped balls.

I’m not making this up. This is an actual hypothesis by Terrence McKenna, one of America’s most influential psychonauts.

McKenna studied ecology, conservation, and shamanism at the University of California-Berkeley’s Tussman Experimental College. Some of the West’s first exposure to the psychedelics DMT and ayahuasca came from his early writings.

A Crash Course on the Stoned Ape Theory

McKenna’s 1992 book, Food of the Gods, first proposed what’s referred to as “the stoned ape theory.” One of our early ancestors, Homo erectus, began eating Psilocybe cubensis — a psychedelic mushroom — as part of their diet. Psilocybe cubensis is often found growing under cow poo, so the theory suggests that hunter-gatherer groups would follow herds, then stumble on the shrooms left in the herds’ wake. Easy pickins, right?

What’s the Point of the Stoned Ape Theory, Then?

McKenna wove a fascinating story, but he had a political agenda, too. As a psychedelics guru, McKenna believed that the War on Drugs was wholly unjust, and that when governments outlaw psychedelics, they’re not trying to protect us from potentially harmful substances. They’re trying to control our consciousness.

To get the public to lighten up on liberalizing drug laws, McKenna anticipated his stoned ape theory would cause a paradigm shift, to get voters and lawmakers to see psychedelics as inherently beneficial instead of as dangerous molecules. That get’s him an A for effort in our book.

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