Thank you to Dr Mark Elliot for his article outlining the potential benefits of psychedelic compounds now being studied in certain disciplines of medicine and cognitive therapy [BCMJ 2019;61:390-391]. While our colleagues in cardiovascular medicine, oncology, and surgery seem to have enjoyed significant advances in their respective fields, the same cannot be said of those involved in treating depression, addiction, and PTSD, and those working in palliative care.
We share Dr Elliot’s enthusiasm for the potential benefits of these therapies, but also wish to issue a reminder that as we proceed with an open mind we should also remain highly critical. The medical community must not legitimize unfounded theories, and must ensure that any future studies of these compounds abide by the scientific method and prioritize the safety of our patients.
These promising therapies are sure to come under scrutiny by many, both inside and outside the medical community. With this being said, we question Dr Elliot’s mention of the Stoned Ape Theory first postulated by Terence McKenna and more recently propagated by Paul Stamets on the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Mr Stamets, a mushroom enthusiast, seems to have one foot in the field of mycology as a science and the other in the realm of unfounded and seemingly far-fetched theories. The Stoned Ape Theory postulates that during human evolution our primitive ancestors consumed mind-altering mushrooms, the effects acting as an evolutionary catalyst, supposedly responsible for the higher-level development of language, religion, and music. We, the authors of this letter, have no formal training in mycology or anthropology, but from our brief reading, this theory appears to have no credible evidence to support it and has actually been heavily criticized by the scientific community.
The long-running stigma associated with these psychotropic compounds is in part a reaction to the ardent promotion of pseudoscience by advocates such as Timothy Leary. If these compounds are to be incorporated into mainstream medicine, we owe it to our colleagues and especially our patients to present accurate findings and reject unsubstantiated claims. It is critical that we separate the potential medicinal benefits of these compounds from the cultural and societal biases with which they are often associated.
—Chris Little, MD, FRCPC
—Edward Brooks, MD, FRCPC
This letter was submitted in response to “The age of mushrooms is upon us in medicine.”
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