A Quick History on Psychedelic Compounds

Renowned psychonaut Terrance Mckenna, and his brother Denis, developers of the “Stoned Ape Theory” argue that our early human ancestors experienced a rapid jump in cognitive abilities and overall brain size due to eating psychedelic mushrooms that were privy to grow in dung piles, particularly those of elephants. Observing how the cradles of humanity were closely intertwined with the range of elephants at the time and the subsequent close bond between our species give the theory more legs to stand on. This should all be taken with a grain of salt though as there is no hard evidence to support the theory yet, making it more of a hypothesis. 

Yet, taking a look at classical cultures rich in spiritual practices, it becomes clear that psychedelic substances such as mushrooms, cactuses, and even animals such as toads, have long been used as a way to experience euphoric phenomena that can only be described as a greater subconscious communication. The Native American shamans with their peyote buttons and mushrooms, the Sami people with the agaric mushrooms and yuletide rituals, and even the Ancient Greeks drank a psychedelic elixir called Kykeon, thought to contain ergot fungi that contain LSD like substances, all partook in the ancient traditions.

For many cultures it is respected as a ritualistic sacrament meant to cleanse, heal, or as a means to a right of passage into adulthood or one’s “true” path. This trend continued for much of history as elders and medicine shamans would generally brew, serve, and guide psychedelic experiences. Never were these substances meant to be treated lightly or eaten for pure enjoyment, but as sacred communions with spirits and the greater powers at play. 

It wasn’t until the last few hundred years, as industrialization of the globe took hold, that psychedelics became left behind by the masses only to be used by pockets of people or individuals who still practiced ancient rituals. Then the 20th century rolled around and scientists and chemists began further studying nature and its compounds all while synthesizing and creating new compounds. Albert Hoffman, considered the forefather of psychedelics, was the first man to synthesize LSD while searching for stimulants to treat cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Hoffman was also the first to isolate the psychedelic compounds from magic mushrooms.

Their powerful effects were not lost to the powers that be and the CIA and U.S. Army conducted tests on LSD to determine if it could be used as a sort of psychological weapon to discredit and disempower world leaders under its influence. In the 1960’s the counterculture at the time adapted LSD as its effects were in line with their ethos. Centered in the San Francisco Bay area (Ironic right?) individuals like Ken Kessey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who participated in the governmental studies of the 60’s began hosting individuals at events called “Acid Tests”. The in-house band for these acid tests was none other than the Grateful Dead, whose sound man Owsley Stanley took particular interest in LSD and is now known as the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD. 

By the late 1960’s psychedelics and recreational drugs alike were experiencing a mass crackdown from the government in response to their close association with the new wave of counterculture. Although the counterculture was one focused on peace and love, the rampant unsupervised use of drugs was bound to evolve into physiological and psychological problems for many of the individuals who were excessively imbibed. There were no elders or shamans to look to in the communities that were ingesting these substances, so they had to learn and develop their own rituals themselves, with an occasional major fuck up or two along the way.

Many modern technological developments and companies can be linked to the psychedelic use of this period and it is no wonder that Silicon valley, the hub of microdosing, is now at the center of the psychedelic world again. Today we see shamans, guides, and licensed psychologists all doing the work of guiding healing experiences, mediated through psychedelic substances, as a way to process trauma and step into a so-called new life. 

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