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ABC News and Hallucinogens


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The writer Terrence McKenna speculated that hallucinogenic mushrooms may have a history that dates back as far as 1 million years ago, originating in East Africa. He suggests that early hominids such as Homo africanus, Homo boisei, and the omnivorous Homo habilis expanded their original diets of fruit and small animals to include underground roots, tubers, and corns.[3] McKenna claims that at this particular time, early hominids gathered Psilocybin mushrooms off the African grasslands and ate them as part of their diet. He suggests that the Psilocybin-containing mushrooms that were thought to have grown on the grasslands at that time were the Panaeolus species and Stropharia cubensis, also called Psilocybe cubensis, which is the famous "Magic Mushroom" widely distributed today.[4]

There is abundant archaeolgical evidence for their use in ancient times. Several mesolithic rock paintings from Tassili n'Ajjer (a prehistoric North African site identified with the Capsian culture) have been identified by author Giorgio Samorini as depicting the shamanic use of mushrooms, possibly Psilocybe.[5] . Hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times up to the present day. Mushroom-shaped statuettes found at archaeological sites seem to indicate that ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is quite ancient. Mushroom stones and motifs have been found in Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala,[6] though there is considerable controversy as to whether these objects indicate the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms or whether they had some other significance with the mushroom shape being simply a coincidence.[citation needed] More concretely, a statuette dating from ca. 200 AD and depicting a mushroom strongly resembling Psilocybe mexicana was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb in the state of Colima . Hallucinogenic Psilocybe were known to the Aztecs as teonanácatl (literally "god's mushroom" or, more properly, "flesh of the gods" - agglutinative form of teó (god) and nanácatl (mushroom) in Náhuatl) and were reportedly served at the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in 1502. Aztecs and Mazatecs referred to psilocybin mushrooms as genius mushrooms, divinatory mushrooms, and wondrous mushrooms, when translated into English.[7] Bernardino de Sahagún reported ritualistic use of teonanácatl by the Aztecs, when he traveled to Central America after the expedition of Hernán Cortés.

After the Spanish conquest, Catholic missionaries campaigned against the "pagan idolatry," and as a result, the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms, like other pre-Christian traditions, was quickly suppressed.[6] The Spanish believed the mushroom allowed the Aztecs and others to communicate with "devils". In converting people to Catholicism, the Spanish pushed for a switch from teonanácatl to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. Despite this history, in some remote areas the use of teonanácatl has remained.[citation needed]

The first mentioning of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Western medicinal literature appeared in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1799: a man had served Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms that he had picked for breakfast in London's Green Park to his family. The doctor who treated them later described how the youngest child "was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter, nor could the threats of his father or mother refrain.



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