Evolutionary Considerations on the Emerging Subculture of the E-psychonauts and the Novel Psychoactive Substances: A Comeback to the Shamanism?

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(5):731-737. doi: 10.2174/1570159X15666161111114838.


Background: Evolutionary research on drug abuse has hitherto been restricted to proximate studies, considering aetiology, mechanism, and ontogeny. However, in order to explain the recent emergency of a new behavioral pattern (e.g. 'the e-psychonaut style') of novel psychoactive substances' (NPS) intake, a complementary evolutionary model may be needed.

Objective: A range of evolutionary interpretations on the 'psychonaut style' and the recent emergency of NPS were here considered.

Method: The PubMed database was searched in order to elicit evolutionary theory-based documents commenting on NPS/NPS users/e-psychonauts.

Results: The traditional 'shamanic style' use of entheogens/plant-derived compounds may present with a range of similarities with the 'e-psychonauts' use of mostly of hallucinogen/psychedelic NPS. These users consider themselves as 'new/technological' shamans.

Conclusion: Indeed, a range of evolutionary mechanisms, such as: optimal foraging, costly signaling, and reproduction at the expense of health may all cooperate to explain the recent spread and diffusion of the NPS market, and this may represent a reason of concern.

Keywords: Evolutionary models; NPS; entheogens; evolution; novel psychoactive substances; psychiatry; psychonauts; shamanism.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cultural Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Psychotropic Drugs / analysis
  • Psychotropic Drugs / chemistry
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data
  • Shamanism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy*


  • Psychotropic Drugs