What Is DMT?

DMT, or the spirit molecule, has a profound effect on human consciousness.

DMT, or its chemical name N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a psychedelic drug found throughout nature.

With similar effects as psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin (aka magic mushrooms), people who take DMT can experience hallucinations, seeing or sensing things that aren’t real.

Known for its extremely intense but relatively short trip, people who use DMT report it catapults them into another dimension. Indigenous cultures have used DMT in ceremonies for thousands of years.

Though DMT has received increasing media attention, the compound is currently illegal in the U.S. The first comprehensive analysis of the DMT experience is now available, and a clinical trial for its therapeutic benefits is underway.

 
What is DMT?

N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a fast-acting psychedelic drug that produces a brief but fully immersive hallucinogenic experience. People who take DMT often say it transports them to an alternate reality.

Depending on how much of the drug you take, the effects of pure DMT typically last anywhere from 5-20 minutes. The intensity and length of a trip also depend on:

  • weight
  • sex
  • whether you’ve recently eaten or not
  • whether you’ve taken other drugs
  • how much you use
  • how you take it

Synthetic DMT usually kicks in after a few minutes. When it’s taken in a plant-based brew like ayahuasca, DMT can take up to an hour to have an effect and leaves you tripping for anywhere from 2 to 6 hours.

Street names for DMT include:

  • Dimitri
  • businessman’s trip
  • businessman’s special
  • Rogan
  • Fantasia
  • 45-minute psychosis
  • spirit molecule

Chemical composition of DMT

DMT belongs to a class of chemical compounds called tryptaminesTrusted Source, which primarily alter serotonin levels in the central nervous system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, and memory.

DMT is found in trace amounts throughout natureTrusted Source, including the human body. Evidence shows that a key enzyme for DMT synthesis, called indole-ethylamine-methyltransferase (INMT), has been detected in the human cerebral cortex and pineal gland.

Pure DMT that’s been extracted in a controlled environment is a white, crystalline powder or solid. It can also have a yellow, pink, or orange hue when not in its purest form.

What is DMT used for?

People take DMT to alter their consciousness for therapeutic, spiritual, or recreational purposes.

DMT is typically smoked, vaporized, snorted, or injected. The pure compound is not active when taken orally, because a digestive enzyme in the gastrointestinal (GI) system called monoamine oxidase breaks it down before it can affect the brain.

Modern scientific research has primarily focused on intravenously injected DMT, though most people smoke or vaporize it when using it recreationally.

DMT has a long history of ceremonial use, particularly as the active ingredient in ayahuasca, a plant-medicine drink used by indigenous populations in South America, such as Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, and Brazil.

Ayahuasca is typically prepared from the DMT-concentrated Psychotria viridis and the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi, which contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) that inhibit DMT breakdown in the GI system, allowing it to be active when taken orally.

DMT is currently a DEA Schedule I controlled substance and federally illegal, though some cities have recently decriminalized it.

Research on DMT’s effects is gaining traction. The first phase of the first clinical trial of DMT is complete, and it hasn’t seen any significant negative effects on well-being so far.

Are ayahuasca and DMT the same?

Not quite, but they’re related. DMT is the main hallucinogenic component in ayahuasca, a plant-based brew often used in cultural ceremonies. Differences between ayahuasca and DMT include:

  • DMT is typically taken in a pure form, while ayahuasca contains plants and other ingredients
  • DMT seems to be more potent and lead to more intense trips than ayahuasca
 
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A common myth is that DMT mirrors the human experience during death. In a 2000 book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule,” Rick Strassman, a clinical psychologist, proposed that the pineal gland excretes large amounts of DMT during birth and death, and for a few hours after death. There’s no evidence that his hypothesis is true.

 
What does DMT feel like?

People’s experiences on DMT range from blissful to downright terrifying. Many report an all-consuming hallucinogenic experience, as well as communicating with alien-like beings.

Possible mental effects of DMT include:

  • vivid hallucinations
  • euphoria
  • floating
  • altered sense of time
  • depersonalization, or an out-of-body experience

A recent study delivered the first in-depth analysis of DMT, revealing the intensity of a DMT trip. The analysis asked 39 mentally healthy participants to share their experience of what their DMT trip was like.

Of the participants, 94% reported encountering sentient entities.

While most of the entities (81%) had a visual form, some participants described a “sensed presence,” either defined as a specific entity without form or as an “omnipresence.”

These entities, often described as intelligent and benevolent, are referred to as “machine elves” in DMT circles. Of the participants, 33% said they’d received a message while on DMT.

It’s common for mental side effects to last for several days after taking DMT, due to its strength.

Risks for DMT

Experiences on DMT vary widely. It’s difficult to know who will have a “good” trip and who will have a “bad” — or upsetting — trip.

Moderate or serious complications can occur if DMT is taken in conjunction with:

  • SSRIs or mood stabilizers. Taking DMT with these drugs increases the risk for serotonin syndrome disorder, a life-threatening condition where the body accumulates too much serotonin.
  • serious mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Like other hallucinogens, DMT can trigger psychosis or mania in vulnerable people.
  • a history of a bad experience with other types of hallucinogens
  • a heart, liver, or kidney condition or high blood pressure

Using DMT may also cause:

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