Summary: Recent research suggests that the use of consciousness-altering drugs by prehistoric humans may have played a crucial role in the development of complex, thriving societies. These prehistoric psychedelics, have been used for thousands of years, with evidence from prehistoric sites indicating their role in altering sensory perception and emotions.
How did the use of prehistoric psychedelics by ancient humans influence the development of complex social structures?
The use of drugs, substances that impact the brain and nervous system, dates back thousands of years, with humans using them to alter consciousness and sensory perception. This practice is not a modern invention; many findings from prehistoric sites suggest ancient humans used drugs for various purposes, potentially playing a key role in forming human society as we know it.
In the Càrritx caves on Menorca, Spain, a burial site from the late Bronze Age revealed human skeletons with traces of consciousness-altering substances in their hair. These prehistoric psychedelics, likely derived from plants, were consumed during ritual ceremonies. Compounds found included atropine and scopolamine, causing hallucinations and sensory perception changes, and ephedrine, which enhances emotional and physiological arousal.
Across the Atlantic, in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, mummified children sacrificed by the Inca civilization contained significant quantities of cocaine, cocaethylene, and mescaline in their hair and nails. These substances, derived from the coca and peyote cacti, cause vivid hallucinations and euphoria.
In southwestern Bolivia, ritual vessels from around 1000 CE contained harmine and DMT, substances found in the ayahuasca plant. Ayahuasca, still used in worship and healing rituals in South and Central America, induces visual hallucinations and a sense of euphoria.
In Israel, a temple from the First Temple Period in the Kingdom of Judah showed residues of organic material on the altar, containing active compounds from the cannabis plant.
Biologist and author Terrance McKenna hypothesized in “Food of the Gods” that hallucinogenic mushrooms might have catalyzed the development of human society. His “Stoned Ape Theory” suggests that early humans consumed psychoactive mushrooms, which at low doses could sharpen senses for hunting and at high doses induce sexual desire and mystical experiences.
Recent research by anthropologists Michel Winkelman and Jose Arce suggests that the consumption of prehistoric psychedelics provided evolutionary advantages, fostering empathy, reinforcing social connections, and contributing to complex social relationships and communication.
The revival of research and medical treatment using mind-altering substances shows potential benefits for certain populations. While most countries have strict regulations on these substances, their legal status has changed in the past and may evolve in the future based on accumulating research.
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