Among animals, humans stand out in their consummate propensity to self-induce altered states of mind. Archaeology, history and ethnography show these activities have taken place since the beginnings of civilization, yet their role in the emergence and evolution of the human mind itself remains debatable. The means through which modern humans actively alter their experience of self and reality frequently depend on psychoactive substances, but it is uncertain whether psychedelics or other drugs were part of the ecology or culture of pre-human ancestors. Moreover, (nonhuman) great apes in captivity are currently being retired from medical research, rendering comparative approaches thus far impracticable. Here, we circumvent this limitation by harnessing the breadth of publicly available YouTube data to show that apes engage in rope spinning during solitary play. When spinning, the apes achieved speeds sufficient to alter self-perception and situational awareness that were comparable to those tapped for transcendent experiences in humans (e.g. Sufi whirling), and the number of revolutions spun predicted behavioural evidence for dizziness. Thus, spinning serves as a self-sufficient means of changing body-mind responsiveness in hominids. A proclivity for such experiences is shared between humans and great apes, and provides an entry point for the comparative study of the mechanisms, functions, and adaptive value of altered states of mind in human evolution.