Terence McKenna: Psychonaut, Father Of The Stoned Ape Theory Of Evolution

By | September 14, 2020

test article image
Did prehistoric man used psychedelic drugs? (Paul Zinken/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Back in our pre-history, several species of humans marched to the slow and steady beat of evolution, but when homo sapiens hit the scene, they demonstrated a giant leap forward in cognitive functions. This has puzzled anthropologists. Just how did homo sapiens acquire their superior brain functions in such a short amount of time? A fish-based diet? Alien DNA? One off-the-wall pseudoscientist, amateur botanist, psychonaut, and hallucinogenic drug advocate named Terence McKenna developed his own idea: the "stoned ape" theory of evolution. 

test article image
Terence McKenna during a panel discussion at the 1999 AllChemical Arts Conference, held at Kona, Hawaii. (Jon Hanna/Wikimedia Commons)

Who Was Terence McKenna?

Even as a child, Terence McKenna, who was born in 1946, had a keen eye for scientific processes in nature. As a teen, he read several books and articles about natural psychedelics and eventually enrolled in the Tussman Experimental College at Berkeley, where he was introduced to Tibetan folk beliefs, mysticism, and shamanism. His quest for knowledge led him to Tibet, where he studied the use of psychedelic plants used by shamans in ritual practices.

McKenna earned his living by smuggling hashish into the United States from Tibet and India until one of his shipments was confiscated at the border. He then spent his time wandering through parts of southeast Asia working as a professional butterfly collector. His mother's death from cancer prompted him to travel to the rain forests of Colombia in search of medicinal plants, but what he found instead were large mushrooms that were used by the indigenous people to induce hallucinogenic visions.