The impact of funky fungi on people, society and the 7th dimension
The psilocybin mushroom is one of the most fascinating plants known to humanity. Roughly 200 subspecies of this strange mushroom exist, all known to create bizarre hallucinations and altered states of consciousness. Archaeological research shows that humans have taken them for at least 6,000 years, but they were not commonly known in the western world until the cultural revolutions of the 1960s. Since then, they have become a staple in the diet of adventurous and experimental students.
For many years, psychedelic mushrooms were viewed as a plaything for rockstars and hippies, and largely ignored by the scientific community. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, some researchers began to ask questions about the fungal frenzy. How could a small plant have such a major effect on the human psyche? What could explain the unique hallucinations it produces? Could it be used for the good of civilisation, yearning therapeutic benefits? One of the most notable figures in this period was the psychologist R.D. Laing, a University of Glasgow graduate, who studied how the mushrooms could produce states of consciousness similar to those experienced by advanced practitioners of meditation.
"How could a small plant have such a major effect on the human psyche? What could explain the unique hallucinations it produces? Could it be used for the good of civilisation...?"
Perhaps the most revolutionary idea to come from this movement was the "stoned ape" theory, first proposed by Terrence and Dennis McKenna in the 1990s. The McKenna brothers noticed how psilocybin mushrooms were prevalent in the areas of Africa essential to modern human evolution, and how they affect the parts of the brain where the development of language occurs. They hypothesised that the evolution of human consciousness and the unlocking of language were caused, at least partially, by our ancestors’ experiments with psychedelic mushrooms.
When it was first proposed, this theory was dismissed as baseless nonsense, but it has gained more traction among scientists in recent years. Researcher Paul Stamets proposes that it could explain a crucial but unexplained moment in homo sapiens’ evolution: the point, roughly 200,000 years ago, when the power of our ancestors’ brains doubled. While Stamets does not claim to have any direct evidence, he believes that the link between this ‘epigenetic neurogenesis’ and the psilocybin mushroom is worthy of study.
"Researcher Paul Stamets proposes that it could explain a crucial but unexplained moment in homo sapiens’ evolution: the point, roughly 200,000 years ago, when the power of our ancestors’ brains doubled..."
However, the theory is still somewhat dubious. There are alternative explanations for this sudden advancement in brainpower – most notably, that the discovery of fire led to cooked foods allowing the brain to gain more nutrients. Additionally, research by archaeologists such as Elisa Guerra-Doce has failed to provide any evidence that humans used psychedelic mushrooms that long ago.
Psilocybin mushrooms are a relatively non-toxic drug – significantly less toxic than tobacco, cannabis, or alcohol – and do not appear to cause physical addiction. However, those interested should still be cautious. They do occur naturally in Scotland, but are relatively uncommon, and mushroom-hunters risk confusing them for highly poisonous species. "Bad trips", when those who take the mushrooms have frightening and distressing experiences, are also a serious issue. Experts believe that these experiences are most common when the mushrooms are taken in a crowded situation like a party, rather than in safe, relaxed surroundings.
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