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Were Cavemen ‘Tripping’? New Research Suggests Cavemen took Psychedelic Drugs

Tens of thousands of years ago, prehistoric humans painted cave walls during spiritual or ritualistic experiences. In various parts of the globe, the geometric patterns that appear in these paintings are strikingly similar. However, there was no way these isolated primitive societies could have communicated with or influenced each other. Scientists are now suggesting that these similarities are no accident – the geometric patterns mimic common neural patterns that people visualize when they take hallucinogenic or psychedelic substances.

Were our early ancestors ‘tripping’?

A new study, led by Tokyo’s Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward, and Takashi Ikegami, says this is a distinct possibility. The study had researchers look at cave paintings, some approximately 40,000 years old, to attempt to explain the similarities of paintings half a world apart from each other (Clark). Researchers used the “Turing Instability” model to measure and predict how a substance changes and reacts in certain situations and chemical reactions. Their findings suggest that these cavemen were likely using psychedelic drugs when they painted these patterns (Woollaston). In this case, the control was the human brain, and the chemical reaction occurs with the ingestion of hallucinogens, resulting in the experience of hallucinations or visions. These visions often cause the visualization of geometric patterns that mimic brain structure and neural patterns (Woollaston).

Although researchers obviously can’t scan the brain of a caveman, their findings were still rooted in neurophenomenology; the study between brain functioning and the human experience (Clark). They also found that these cave paintings show similarities with modern psychedelic art; where it is known the artist had been taking hallucinogens. (Main).

This research isn’t the first foray scientists have made into the potential link between cavemen and psychedelics. Our ape ancestors may have even been getting drunk millions of years ago. A few years ago, a 6,000 year old cave painting in Spain stirred up controversy because scientists thought it depicted a painting of a type of mushrooms that are now recognized as a hallucinogen (Clark). However benign this type of research may seem, it actually could hold great historical importance. These paintings provide important insight into prehistoric cultures, which helped shape early civilizations. If these paintings were created under a psychedelic influence, they would have been “directly experienced as highly charged with significance…somehow meaningful and thereby offer themselves as salient motifs for use in rituals,” (Associated Press). These inexplicable experiences, which we now recognize as a state of altered consciousness, likely led cavemen to believe that these specific paintings held spiritual importance, and thus hallucinogens were likely used often in important rituals.

Over the years, these paintings have generated great interest and mystified both archeologists and scientists. This new theory suggests the similarities in the geometric patterns are the result of a psychedelic experience, and cavemen were painting the neural patterns they visualized. Of course, these primitive people wouldn’t have known what they were taking.

For these cavemen a plant was simply a plant, not a “drug” like we classify it today in modern society and was therefore edible so long as it wasn’t poisonous. However, they likely continued to ingest these plants to have spiritual experiences. These cave paintings offer a rare glimpse into the culture and daily life of some of our earliest ancestors.  Perhaps more remarkable, they may be some of the first evidence of humans ingesting a substance for an altered state of consciousness rather than for nourishment.

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A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

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