How did humans evolve to be so smart?

We did drugs.

And how are we going to counteract the problems we’ve created for ourselves as byproducts of our evolution?

We’ll do drugs.

This is basic gist of the Stoned Ape Theory, a controversial idea from famed psychonaut Terence McKenna, which states that our advanced human evolution came as a result of ingesting magic mushrooms.

Its foundational story goes like this:

We were once apes in Africa, living in trees. Then climate change turned some jungle into grassland, and so we climbed down from trees to forage on the ground. There were dung patties left by ungulates, wherein grew magic mushrooms, which we then ate. The apes, now properly hallucinating, had a better vision to see more food, found more creativity to invent tools, and got more erections to reproduce. From there, the stoned apes flourished and invented agriculture, Chinese checkers and mechanical dildos.

Basically, as Terence's brother Dennis McKenna says over email, "Psychedelics are the catalysts that nudge us along in the evolutionary process."

It's an insane theory, but an increasingly important one to consider as we struggle to fill the unexplained holes in the story of human evolution. But, the theory doesn’t stop there.

According to the Stoned Ape Theory, psychedelic drugs will not only continue to expand human consciousness and ability in the future, but they’ll be the very key to humanity’s survival at all. Eventually, the McKennas say, if we trip enough, the drugs will help us reverse climate change, perfect nuclear fusion and, eventually, realize the sun is exploding so we can build the spaceships that get life off this planet and on to a more habitable one.

Listen to this nuttiness: "It's almost as though the world soul is the thing that wants to live and, sensing instability, it is trying to build a lifeboat out of the clumsy material of protoplasm," Terence wrote in his book Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness. "The world soul may actually sense the finite life of the sun, and it may be trying to build a lifeboat for itself to cross to another star."

In fact, in the most awesomely frazzled version of this theory, an eventual human evacuation is actually what Mother Earth wanted all along. Instead of humans themselves deciding to take psychedelics on their own accord, it’s all the doing of the earth, which is sick of our polluting — making the decision for us by sprouting tantalizing magic mushrooms all over the place. It’s her way of getting us to pay attention.

As Dennis McKenna puts it, the earth is trying to say, "You monkeys only think you're running things." This is why he's is traveling the world, from Britain to Boulder, giving a talk called "Waking Up the Monkeys: Plant Teachers and the Rediscovery of Nature."

Daniel McQueen, a Boulder "cannabis facilitator" who leads trippy cannabis circles, helped organize the talk happening in Boulder

McQueen also thinks Mother Earth has some kind of brain, and that psychedelics are her way of talking to us.

"I agree with Dennis that [psychedelics are] some sort of immune response from a collective, planetary intelligence," he says by email. "If we don't wake up soon as a global community, it might get pretty bad around here."

Yet while the global community isn't quite woke to the humanity-saving power of shrooms, certain people definitely are.

One of them is Marc Marcel, a poet and philosopher in Baltimore who, Mckenna says, understands the Stoned Ape Theory as well as anyone. In fact, he developed his own theories and poetry through the use of mushrooms.

"Actually I took a whole lot more than mushrooms," Marcel says by phone. "I don't know if you ever heard of DMT." We have.

Constant drug-taking is one path, Marcel says, toward a future with more opposable thumbs. 

"We see apes, and see that their intelligence level isn't where humans is. So we ask, What could we become if humans really embraced [psychedelics] and really started going down this road hard core?" His answer: we drop our humanness, just like we dropped our monkeyness, and go full Darwin.

On its face, the Stoned Ape theory has holes. A lot of them. First, the concrete evidence is thin to zilch. Although there's evidence that we've eaten mushrooms for eons, including hallucinogenic ones for 10,000 years, there's no hard evidence that it was because of this that we tripped our way to the top of the food chain. Also, the known trippers like Native American peyote eaters and Amazonian ayahuasca drinkers — what do they have to show for those hundreds of years when they were freely tripping their groins off? Europeans, Arabs and Chinese tripped almost no balls and surpassed them, mathematically, mechanically, and linguistically to the point of absurdity.

We wouldn’t be so quick to write all this off, though.

While Darwin’s theory of evolution is irrefutable hard scientific fact, there are unexplained aspects to how we came to be the people we are today. For example, there are several human ancestors — most notably the Denisovans — with no traceable lineage. And, more relevantly, just how our species achieved this level of super-intelligence and higher consciousness when no other animals seem to have done the same remains a total mystery. McKenna’s Stoned Ape Theory is just one of many which attempt to explain it. Sure, it sounds a little whacked out on the surface, but given the historical prevalence and importance of psilocybin, or DMT-based concoctions like ayahuasca among ancient shamanic cultures, the Stoned Ape Theory doesn’t seem so easily dismissable.

Reasonable people may debate all this. For instance, when they're talking about the future spaceships that'll germinate our life throughout the cosmos, some people say psilocybin mushrooms will be in the spaceship's salad bar, some people say psilocybin will be sold in vending machines, but Dennis McKenna emails me that he's confident the spaceships will have magic mushrooms somewhere on them.

It's "a big idea," Dennis McKenna says. "Eventually we have to leave the cradle" and "find our destiny among the stars." Better living through mycelium.

What a big thought for our tiny monkey brains.