Were Cavemen Getting High on Psychedelics?

By Victoria Kim 07/15/13

Researchers suggest prehistoric cave paintings were painted under the influence of drugs.

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Painted while high. Photo via

Some cave paintings may be reflections of prehistoric cavemen's drug-induced hallucinations, according to Japanese researchers. After examining pictures of cave paintings across continents dating back 40,000 years, researchers in Tokyo noticed certain prevalent geometric patterns in cave art spanning different continents. They believe these parallels may be explained by the artists' use of hallucinogens (possibly taken as part of shamanic rituals), which caused the prehistoric painters to see—and then paint—specific patterns and shapes. Some of these patterns are similar to designs created by those who have taken psychoactive substances in recent times, the researchers say. "The prevalence of certain geometric patterns in the symbolic material culture of many prehistoric cultures, starting shortly after the emergence of our biological species and continuing in some indigenous cultures until today, is explained in terms of the characteristic contents of biologically determined hallucinatory experience," they write. Certain motifs emerged as more common, though the researchers don't know why these shapes and patterns would have taken on more significance than others across the globe. "When these visual patterns are seen during altered states of consciousness they are directly experienced as highly charged with significance," they write. "In other words, the patterns are directly perceived as somehow meaningful and thereby offer themselves as salient motifs for use in rituals." It is believed that the cavemen may have actively sought out these drugs for spiritual reasons, rather than taking them accidentally, or for pleasure.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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