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DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic compound. It is present in a variety of plant species. The human brain, along with many animal species, produces DMT internally as well. DMT is the primary component in ayahuasca, which is a tea-like brew consumed orally. However, it can also be synthesized into a crystalline powder which is smoked, or more rarely, injected, or snorted.
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When consumed, DMT produces powerful psychedelic effects. Like other psychoactive drugs, including shrooms, LSD, and peyote DMT acts on serotonin receptors in the brain, causing visual distortions and powerful hallucinogenic effects.
It has been used in religious and spiritual contexts throughout Central and South America for hundreds of years. It gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1960s, when it earned the nicknames the “business trip” and the "spirit molecule" among psychedelic users.
DMT is a schedule I controlled substance in the United States. This means that the drug is considered unsafe, has a high potential for abuse, and there are no currently accepted medical uses. It is illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess the substance.
Street names for DMT include:
When inhaled or ingested, the psychedelic effects of DMT are considerably more short-lived when compared with other hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms.)
Many DMT users have reported experiences that were very similar to people who had near-death experiences (NDEs). This has spiked interest in both the scientific and recreational drug communities in recent years.
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Multiple approved scientific experiments have administered DMT to subjects to gather insights. The results have shown several consistencies in DMT experiences and near-death experiences, including a feeling of transcending one’s body, entering an alternative realm, and perceiving and communicating with sentient “entities.” Subjects reported that they gained new insights into the processes of birth, life, and death during both NDEs and DMT trips.
DMT has a rapid onset. Its effects are felt almost immediately after ingestion. The short-term effects are very vivid, but only last for 30 to 45 minutes. DMT trips may induce:
Many recreational users, along with some doctors and scientists, believe that there are potential health benefits of using DMT. They argue that it has the potential to improve cognitive function and aid in psychotherapy.
However, all professionals strongly advise against using the drug in an uncontrolled environment due to the multiple high-risk factors involved in illicit use. These include the inability to test the purity of the drug and control dosages. Moreover, reactions to DMT vary significantly between individuals, and direct, professional monitoring is necessary to make sure that the subject does not harm themselves or others during a "bad trip."
Short term physiological side effects of DMT include:
There is no evidence that DMT is addictive or indications that DMT use creates tolerance or physical dependence in users. However, there is very little research on this subject. Further, more research needs to be done in order to fully understand the addictive properties and addiction symptoms of DMT abuse.
While DMT may not be addictive, abuse may lead to patterns of problematic hallucinogen use. This is known as Hallucinogen Use Disorder. The symptoms are similar to those of addiction:
DMT abuse may also lead to adverse long term effects.
Persistent psychosis may develop after prolonged exposure to DMT. This may cause the person to experience disordered moods or rapid mood swings, the inability to think straight or reason, persistent paranoia, and visual disturbances.
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is the occurrence of repeated “flashbacks.” People suffering from HPPD may experience sudden and unexpected visual disturbances or hallucinations. More severe cases have been reported where the subject experiences symptoms that are consistent with neurological problems such as tumors or stroke.
There are several risk factors of DMT. High doses may cause seizures, block breathing, induce a coma, or even result in death. Also, recreational users obtain DMT from illicit and untrustworthy sources. There may be a variety of other drugs and substances in the DMT purchased.
DMT boosts the body’s production of serotonin. Too much serotonin may cause:
Further, tourism based around ayahuasca, a sacred tea containing DMT, is growing every year. Many people seeking a spiritual experience travel to Central or South America to take the drug under the supervision of a shaman. These shamans often create their own mixture of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, Psychotria viridis shrub, and a number of other ingredients only known to the shaman. These trips have resulted in approximately eight reported deaths in the last decade.
At this time, there are no FDA-approved medicinal treatments for DMT addiction. However, there are many effective behavioral therapies available to anyone suffering from DMT abuse or Hallucinogen Use Disorder, including:
If you or a loved one is suffering from psychedelic drug abuse, don’t ignore it. Contact a specialist at a treatment center and review your professional treatment options.
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Timmermann, Christopher, et al. “DMT Models the Near-Death Experience.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, 2018, p. 1424., https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424
Barker, Steven A. “N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function.” Frontiers in Neuroscience, vol. 12, June 2018, https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnins.2018.00536
Griffiths, Roland R., et al. “Survey of Subjective ‘God Encounter Experiences’: Comparisons among Naturally Occurring Experiences and Those Occasioned by the Classic Psychedelics Psilocybin, LSD, Ayahuasca, or DMT.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 23 Apr. 2019, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0214377
NIDA. "Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 Feb. 2015, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs
“N,N-DIMETHYLTRYPTAMINE (DMT).” Drug and Chemical Information, U.S. Department of Justice - Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - Diversion Control Division, July 2019, https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/dmt.pdf
Shen, Hong-Wu et al. “Psychedelic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine: metabolism, pharmacokinetics, drug interactions, and pharmacological actions.” Current drug metabolism vol. 11,8 (2010): 659-66