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History of Psychedelics – From Primate Chimpanzees eating Shrooms to Modern Research in the 21st Century
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In this blog item When were psychedelics first taken? Magic Mushrooms Theory according to Terrence McKennaSynesthesia and Magic MushroomsWhen did humans first try psychedelics? How were psychedelics introduced to modern times?Why are psychedelics illegal?Psychedelic Research in the 21st Century     
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History of Psychedelics – From Primate Chimpanzees eating Shrooms to Modern Research in the 21st Century

The History of Psychedelics – A story that starts before the first Homo Sapiens wandered the earth, a story that includes ancient indigenous civilizations, hippies, US presidents and scientists, a story that never seems to end, with tosses and turns all along the timeline.

When were psychedelics first taken? 

The first thing I want to talk about is the “Stoned-Ape Hypothesis” put forward by Terence McKenna in the 1970s. Even though this theory was created in the 20st century, it deals with our primal ancestors that lived more than 100.000 years ago!

If you know anything about the human species, then you know that our brain is what makes us distinct. Because of our large cortex, we are able to communicate, think critically, and do an incredible number of tasks at the same time. 

When you examine the evolution of the brain, then you see that in a relatively short time (remember: for evolution, 100.000 years are very short) our brain nearly tripled in size! In terms of nature, this just doesn’t happen by accident. Scientists have been wondering for a very long time if there was a causal factor for this dramatic increase in brain size over the last years of evolution. 

One theory that bridges the sciences of evolution and psychedelics is the “Stoned-Ape Hypothesis” put forward by Terence McKenna, the author of the book “Food of the gods” and a researcher of shamanism. 

Magic Mushrooms Theory according to Terrence McKenna

The theory goes as followed: Our ancestors (primate chimpanzees) ate almost everything they could find that seemed to look like food. Additionally, a common strategy to “hunt” food was to track feces (yes, shit!) of animals. Now it becomes interesting: The type of fungi that is most common to grow on feces in the area our ancestors lived in is the Psilocybe Cubensis, a psilocybin containing mushroom, also known as magic mushrooms. 

Terence McKenna imagined that over long periods of time, chimpanzees consumed these magic mushrooms and went on hallucinogenic trips. This could have caused significant changes to their perception and cognition, and hypothetically could have induced the drastic development of the brain.

Synesthesia and Magic Mushrooms

Think about language for a second. This feature of our intelligence, which has its own brain areas that specifically monitor our language capabilities, could basically be defined as a Synesthesia. Synesthesias are the crossing over of sensations: You hear sounds, and your brain transforms these auditory signals into images or thoughts that are of completely different sensory properties. Synesthesias are one very common symptom of psychedelic trips! Do you start seeing the connection now? It could be that our ancestors interacted with these psychedelics in such a way that they fundamentally changed the way they behaved, thought, and ultimately communicated. 

It’s important to not think that these primates ate magic mushrooms and suddenly their brain mutated, but to regard continuous psilocybin ingestion over thousands, if not hundred thousand of years as a causal factor in the evolutionary development of the human brain. 

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Although there is no, and probably there never will be any proof for this magic mushroom theory, it is very interesting to think about and it makes, at least on a hypothetical level, a lot of sense.

If you want to feel connected to your primal ancestors, Sirius offers a variety of Psilocybin containing Magic Truffles! Have a nice trip!

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When did humans first try psychedelics? 

The next point in the timeline still lays quite a bit in the past, but this time, humans (homo sapiens) are actually involved. The first time that humans intentionally ingested psychedelics will probably remain unknown forever, but there is a lot of evidence that indigenous cultures all around the world interacted with psychedelic drugs. Since these hallucinogenic plants can grow virtually everywhere, it was only a question of time until humans ingested them, whether they knew about their cognition altering properties or not. Ancient evidence of this are for example ‘Fly Agaric’ Creatures that have shrooms as their head, which were found in the upper yensi basin area in Mongolia. There exist also visual representations like a shaman with mushrooms on his body, found in Algeria. 

Additionally mushroom-shaped stones were found in Chucuito, Peru. These are just a few examples of evidence that shows psychedelic use in a ritualistic or shamanistic setting in different places at different times all around the globe. The fact many indigenous cultures are still using psychedelics like psilocybin or ayahuasca supports the idea that these practices are deeply rooted in their culture. 

If you want to know more about this indigenous use, and like scientific sources, you should check the articles by A. Ens, M. Winkelman, and G. Samorini.

The article by Andrea Ens critically examines how in the western world, the history of psychedelics is often associated with white, college educated men, while the actual “discoverers” of psychedelics, the indigenous cultures, are left out. The reasons for this lay primarily in the dominance of western research, the sources used, and biased approach of scientists. It is very important that when dealing with psychedelics in general and the history of psychedelics in particular, one knows that these substances have been a part of certain cultures for thousands of years and are not just some hippie drugs synthesized by white men.

How were psychedelics introduced to modern times?

Now, we arrive at the late 19th and the early 20th Century, where a lot of (psychedelic) substances were first isolated and/or synthesized. Listing and describing all discoveries of that time would probably be enough to write a whole blog about, so I created the following table to give a brief overview:

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One story I want to elaborate on is LSD. Did you know that although Albert Hofmann first synthesized Lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938, it wasn’t until 1943 when he accidently got in contact with it and discovered it’s psychedelic effects. He felt the incredible perception and cognition changing effects while riding his bike, which is the reason the picture of old LSD blotters shows a man riding his bike and the number 1943: This is a reference to Albert Hofmann’s first LSD trip, which probably was the first LSD trip in the history of humanity. 

Wanna have an experience similar to LSD? Try the LSA containing plants Morning Glory and Hawaiian Baby Woodrose

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Why are psychedelics illegal?

20 Years later, we arrive at the time point that is most commonly associated with Psychedelics: The Hippie era. During this time, psychedelics were a major component in the anti-war,anti-establishment and anti-mainstream movement. A lot of influential people openly talked about how psychedelics allow you to free your mind and experience “the other side” of reality, in the hope of spreading love and peace. 

Unfortunately, the upcoming U.S. President Richard Nixon didn’t really appreciate that. In the hope of winning the votes of conservative Americans, he promised to tackle the “US Drug Problem” as soon as he would get elected. This is what led to the so-called “War on Drugs” that resulted in the scheduling, criminalization, and stigmatization of Psychedelic Drugs. And it still goes on until today! LSD and Magic Mushrooms are still Schedule I (the same category Cocaine and Heroin are in!), which officially means that they have no medical benefits. Modern research however shows that there are a lot of potential medical benefits of psychedelic drugs!

Psychedelic Research in the 21st Century     

Finally, we arrive at psychedelics in the modern time. Luckily, there has been increased interest in research on understanding psychedelics to eventually make them therapeutically applicable. Some conditions where either psilocybin, LSD or other psychedelics are hypothesized to help with include depression, anxiety and OCD (These diseases are serious life worsening conditions, for some of which there is no effective treatment yet!). 

A man that you will read a lot about if you are interested in this is Prof. Dr. Carhart Harris. In articles of him, he describes interesting new findings on psychedelic action such as layer 5 pyramidal neurons, disintegration and disintegration, Entropic brain hypothesis and psychedelic therapies. 

There is also an article by leading Psychedelic Researcher Kim Kuypers from Maastricht University examining the practice of Microdosing, which is a whole different story for itself. If you are interested in Microdosing yourself, you should check our Microdosing Sortiment!

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I hope that you liked my little history lesson, and maybe you learned something new, whether you are a fan of psychedelics or not. If you plan on buying Magic Truffles or Mushroom Growkits from Sirius, I wish you a very nice trip!

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