José Ml. Rodríguez has spent 13 years studying the cognitive and cultural impact of psychedelics in the hominization process. His work incorporates a transdisciplinary perspective as well as cross-cultural research methods. With an academic background in Biology and Anthropology, he was also trained extensively in the field of Neuropsychopharmacology, taking part in pre-clinical research of the therapeutic effects of psilocybin mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis) in the treatment of stress and stress-related diseases. These investigations took place at the Faculty of Pharmacy and the School of Psychology, in the University of Costa Rica (UCR). Currently, he is an independent researcher and collaborator at the Costa Rican Association for Drug Study and Intervention (ACEID), where he helps promote harm reduction strategies in people who use drugs. He is also the founder and president of Sociis Plantae, a biological control and mycorestoration company that supports medical cannabis growers.
“Psychedelic instruments and human evolution: a view from niche construction”
Is there a link between psychedelics and human evolution? Did these substances improve the adaptability and fitness of our ancestors, and ultimately influenced their evolutionary trajectory? The aim of this lecture is to re-examine, further develop, and test this hypothesis. The selective advantages potentially conferred by psychedelics are clarified, and a proper rebuttal to a seemingly valid objection to the stoned-ape scenario of human emergence—that it is Lamarckian—is offered. A model of the adaptive use of psychedelics is elaborated by integrating current anthropological and experimental knowledge on these substances with fundamental insights from the drugs-as-instruments paradigm and niche construction theory. This explanation is evaluated against the conditions under which early humans lived during the Pleistocene (i.e. as egalitarian nomadic hunter-gatherers), and predictions of the model are being tested with cross-cultural research methods. It is proposed that psychedelics were instrumentalized to amplify cognition, cooperation, communication, and social learning. Moreover, the “Lamarckian problem” is solved by acknowledging organisms co-direct their own evolution through niche construction, which means the recurring utilization of psychedelics could have gradually transformed the social environment—and therefore the selection pressures—for ancestral hominins in ways that favored the emergence of intelligence, ultrasociality, cumulative culture, and language.