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From Stoned Apes To Modern Psychonauts

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Table of Contents
Psychedelic Beginnings
The Next Step
Shamans Master Roots and Stems
The Reemergence
Prehistoric man – were psychedelics catalysts in the emergence of the human species?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties. Always practice good set and setting when exploring any psychedelic compounds. We have a fantastic article looking into this subject you can read here.


I spent over a decade experimenting with drugs – including psychedelics – with absolutely no internal notion that they could actually improve my life, beyond my hedonistic social shenanigans. Then I smoked n,n,dimethyltryptamine for the first time. I became fascinated by the compound and started spending hours reading trip reports and delving into the fascinating history of DMT. When I mastered the art of breaking through and experienced the feeling of egolessness and disembodiment, it flipped a switch in my consciousness. My perception of reality changed. Not instantly, but gradually as I integrated the wild dimensions I was exploring. Over time I felt my awareness of the world around me shifting for the better. My relationships improved, and I overcame addictions that had plagued me for years – mainly because I could no longer endlessly justify bad decisions – a nefarious and self-destructive skill I had mastered over years of recreational drug use.

There was a hard truth that came along with the positive changes occurring; loss of ego is not permanent. Once I experienced the sensation of existing without all the belief traps my ego had constructed over the years, I knew this mechanism existed. Awareness is everything and being aware of how my ego would endlessly strive to rebuild and maintain those aspects of myself that protected it, I could recognise this process in action and influence it. As I said, this was a hard truth as I had read so many trip reports where people spoke of breaking through and existing thereafter as an egoless being. In all honesty, I don’t believe this is how it works. In all my years, I’ve yet to meet anyone who exists without an ego, no matter how many trips they’ve had. My awareness had felt egoless, so I knew the experience was real and possible, but it was an ongoing battle to maintain any vestige of that feeling. Human consciousness developed an ego for a reason, and it serves a function, but modern society has inflated and twisted this function, often holding us back and restricting our ability to increase our self-awareness –  but we have the ability to get it in check, with the help of some incredible compounds. My research led me to learn that I was not the first person to feel these benefits. Far from it. 

Psychedelic Beginnings

Homo sapiens have roamed the earth for a long time, and like all organisms subject to evolution, development was slow. Then 2 million years ago, their brains apparently tripled in size without definitive explanation. History suggests this could also be around the same time that early society revolved around following large herds of cattle as a reliable source of both food and clothing. Interestingly, psilocybe mushrooms thrive in the dung of such animals. Terrence Mckenna postulated, in his well-known ‘stoned ape theory,’ that the likely availability of psychedelic mushrooms to these nomadic peoples began to open their minds to higher awareness and new ways of being. Rather than being subject to their environment, these societies began to shape their own world in small increments – bending nature to their advantage somewhat, where before they were purely at its mercy. Of course, this was not instantaneous, but homo sapiens were on a path to civilization as we know it today. There was a crucial development yet to come, though, one that would propel humanity forward at a dramatic rate.

The Next Step

Around 40,000 years ago, something occurred that was the catalyst that advanced human society exponentially. Dr Thomas Falk, a professor of Philosophy and Education at Dayton University, refers to it as the Creative Explosion. Before the mass migration from Africa to Europe, there was an apparent leap in cognitive ability. “For the first time ever, these humans lived in worlds of their own creation, materially and symbolically,” Falk says. “Like you and I, these humans were capable of creating worlds in their heads and then re-creating them in the external physical and social environments. Although other homo species may have efficiently exploited nature, they remained its passive subjects. The key to this major distinction between homo sapien sapiens and all other hominids appears to be language.” Anyone who has had a deep psychedelic experience knows the power of symbolism and the changes that can come about through integration.

There is much debate about timelines where this subject is concerned, but Mesopotamia is generally credited as being the first fully-fledged civilization – coming into existence a mere 6000 years ago. To put this in perspective, modern humans are theorised to have begun separating themselves from the wider category, homo sapiens,160,000 years ago. Psychedelics are just one potential catalyst for these unexplained jumps in human cognition – and even if they were a factor, there were likely many others involved in these advancements. Some well-known compounds definitely played a significant role in ancient society, however, as we have undeniable evidence of this. Many cultures, spread out over distant continents, had spiritual leaders, sometimes known as priests, witch doctors, or the most widely known term- shamans.

An Ancient Babylonia and Assyria sculpture painting from Mesopotamia.

Shamans Master Roots and Stems

The earliest evidence available for the use of the famous amazonian concoction known as ayahuasca, dates to 1000 years ago. It was discovered in a Bolivian cave system in 2010 and consisted of a pouch made from fox snouts which contained residues of the active ingredients from the drink we now know as ayahuasca.

N,N,dimethyltryptamine is the main psychoactive ingredient, but amazingly, DMT is not active when taken orally. The stomach acid destroys it before it enters the bloodstream to cross the blood-brain barrier. Another compound is required, an MAOI (mono oxidase inhibitor), which restricts a specific enzyme and allows the DMT in ayahuasca to become active. Anyone who has ever smoked DMT crystals knows how potent the compound is. When activated orally, the experience is much longer and more gentle in its activation – leading to extremely drawn-out and often profound experiences.

The most amazing thing about this in my mind is that there are hundreds of thousands of plants in the amazon jungle – and probably millions of combinations of these plants – and yet, shamans discovered ayahuasca , this magical combination, though, most likely, an unimaginable process of trial and error. As mentioned above, DMT is not orally active without an MAOI so it is astounding that these cultures, somehow established, that only through the unlikely combination did these profound experiences take place. Some folklore suggests that ancient shamans were guided by ‘the mushroom spirits’ through the use of psilocybin fungi to discover other psychedelic compounds in the forests, but this is just legend and obviously could never be confirmed. As unlikely as this might sound, though, discovering ayahuasca through trial and error in ancient times with no laboratory equipment and almost infinite potential combinations seems almost as unlikely in my mind.

The shamanistic use of ayahuasca surely advanced the cultures who were involved in its consumption – in ways we can scarcely imagine these days. They spoke of finding a deep connection to the forest that was their home and provider, healing themselves – emotionally and even physically – and also communing with distant friends and deceased relatives. 

In modern times, there has been a resurgence in ayahuasca use in people seeking the same spiritual advancement these ancient cultures were. Unfortunately, what is known as ayahuasca tourism has led to unscrupulous vendors, mainly in South America, selling all manner of potions labelled as the ancient drink. Crafty psychonauts have also figured out how to have the experience without travelling to far-off lands by ingesting DMT crystals with a pharmaceutical MAOI – aptly known as pharmahuasca. 

The Reemergence

For decades scientific research on psychedelics has been non-existent due to unjust laws, but those political shackles have been removed. Scientists and researchers from hallowed institutions are now working to understand the benefits that ancient cultures have long been aware of – and applying them to the issues of modern life. Depression, anxiety, PTSD and addiction are epidemics that our society is ill-equipped to deal with using contemporary treatment. There is growing interest and acceptance that psychedelic compounds, which have for millennia existed alongside humanity, may hold answers to these modern societal problems. This poses an interesting question. Beyond easing the suffering of long-standing illnesses, do psychedelics offer the chance for humanity to leap forward once again, be it cognitively or spiritually? Anecdotally, the answer appears obvious. Countless people, myself included, report miraculous progress in their lives due to the use of these compounds. However, the accounts of psychonauts experimenting in bedrooms all over the world – while fascinating and important – are not enough to establish the full potential of substances like psilocybin, LSD and DMT. Additionally, how many as-yet-undiscovered compounds are out there waiting to be discovered? Compounds that could offer even more significant benefits than those we already know about.

Ancient cultures showed us the way, and their hard-earned knowledge was almost lost, but psychonauts have quietly helped preserve the lessons they learned. Psychedelic advancement has endured, scattered and clandestine, but no more. With modern science getting behind this important research, mass progress is now possible. Of course, academic science as we know it is not what it could be. Money dictates research, and like so much else in our capitalistic society, some will seek to monetise these benefits. There is an important factor that stands in our favour, though – certain psychedelics are difficult to centralise. Anyone can grow psilocybin mushrooms or extract DMT so, unlike traditional pharmaceuticals, powerful entities cannot easily monopolise these drugs.

For this reason, humanity stands a chance of obtaining the medicines we need outside of the stranglehold of the pharmaceutical industry – all provided by nature itself. There is no doubt in my mind that psychedelics represent a pandora’s box of possibilities that we have cracked open, but have yet to liberate and understand fully. Psychonauts will continue experimenting, and scientists unburdened by past legal constraints will make progress, however slow, to uncover the secrets behind psychedelics and their astounding effects on human consciousness. Where will it lead, though? The tripper in me wants to believe that humanity could again leap forward with a new understanding of ourselves and the world around us, equipped with new tools to treat the ailments that hold us down and restrain our awareness, but there are barriers in our way. Our society remains in an uneasy stasis, paralysed by corporate greed and sedated by endless distractions like social media, Netflix and our obsession with self-image. Even after years of psychedelic use, I am as guilty as the next person of falling victim to these indulgences. So what will it take to change things?

The answer is not a simple one, and is no doubt far beyond my ability to conceive of, but I truly believe that psychedelics could have an important role in aiding our society to heal and grow. Much like with our early ancestors, the key to our own advancement will be complex and multi-faceted. Based on my own experiences, as well as those of my fellow psychonauts, and the teachings that we’ve inherited from those ancient cultures that found ways to dive into the rabbit hole of human consciousness, I have to believe that psychedelics will play a part in the story of how humanity once again found a way to evolve. Not in a physical sense but in a way that is just as vital and profound. 

Dev | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective

Dev is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at matt@chemical-collective.com


  1. This is a very interesting article. As an explanation for how human evolution advanced so rapidly, I think the stoned ape theory makes a lot of sense.
    My hope is that the study of psychedelics will kick-start a new era for humanity and help us break free from our present rut.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Darren! Stoned Ape Theory seems as plausible as any explanation for the rapid development of humanity when you dig in to it.
      This is my hope as well. There’s no other catalyst I can think of with more potential to change the current paradigm. Time will tell!

  2. Such an interesting read. Definitely makes me want to explore and experience feeling egoless. Even if it’s not permanent, there must be massive takeaways from the experience alone. Going to share this with a few friends I think will love the article and look forward to your next one!

    1. Thanks Jo. I’d encourage anyone who feels ready and can safely explore to do so 😉 I’ve personally felt some huge benefits and I don’t doubt you could as well. Feeling egoless might not be permanent, but you’re right, there are takeaways from the experience that have far reaching potential. Cheers for reading, and sharing!

  3. Really interesting read! If psychedelics did have a major role in shaping our early society then surely they could draw it back on course. Let’s hope they do! Hopefully further research and trials will showcase their true power.

    1. Let’s hope so my friend. Imagine a world where psychedelic therapy is a real and widely available option when it comes to treating mental health. Thanks for reading!

  4. Positive change is happening! And with psychedelic research being taken more seriously now, who knows what the future holds. Thanks for reading, Sai. Happy trails!

  5. So much info fantastically compressed in this article. I very much stand with you that these lost gates, overgrown and hidden by time are being cleared back for an evolutionary and spiritual opening that we collectively and desperately need.

    1. Thanks so much. Let’s hope you’re right.
      I agree, the world is in desperate need of change. Maybe the answers will indeed lie in the secrets of the past being looked at through a modern lense

      1. An interesting article. Imagine, if it were possible to dissolve many egos . Also the possibility of helping with mental health illnesses would be a huge step for humanity. This is exciting research.

  6. Brilliant article. I’ve vaguely heard about the stoned ape theory before, it was interesting to read a little more about it. Love the fact that scientists are starting to research psychedelics more now, but you’re right, money does dictate research and so many will favour research that’s paid well. I like to think there are some really cool psychonaut scientists who are staying true to themselves and dedicated to the cause though!

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