DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug that occurs naturally in many plants and animals.
Although lesser known than other psychedelics such as LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT produces a brief but intense visual and auditory hallucinogenic experience.
Use of DMT can be traced back hundreds of years and is often associated with religious practices or rituals. The drug is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, a traditional South American brewed tea.
DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the US, meaning that it is illegal to manufacture, buy, possess or distribute without a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) license.
Despite its illegal status, DMT is used in some religious ceremonies and various settings for an “awakening” or to obtain deep spiritual insight.
Fast facts on DMT
Here are some key points about DMT. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic substance, found in thousands of plants species, with trace amounts being found in mammals’ brains
- DMT is the strongest of the psychedelic drugs and is sometimes referred to as an entheogen, a word meaning “god-generated-within”
- Psychedelic drug experiences may leave the user with a feeling that what they hallucinated was real
- DMT is present in South American snuffs and the brewed tea drink known as ayahuasca, or “vine of the soul”
- Users often report seeing spirit guides, entities, aliens or other mystical beings
- DMT is not active orally unless combined with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- DMT can be synthetically produced in illicit laboratories
- The drug first came to the attention of Western scientists in 1851 and was first synthesized in a laboratory in 1931
- DMT became illegal in the early 1970s
- From a drug user’s perspective, DMT is viewed as pleasurable with minimal negative effects, suggesting that DMT could have a high abuse potential.
What is DMT?
N,N-Dimethyltryptamine has a similar chemical root structure to an anti-migraine drug called sumatriptan.
DMT is a white crystalline powder that is derived from certain plants found in Mexico, South America and parts of Asia.
It is typically vaporized or smoked in a pipe, or consumed orally in brews like ayahuasca. Occasionally, DMT is snorted or injected.
DMT’s chemical root structure is similar to the anti-migraine drug sumatriptan, and it acts as a non-selective agonist at most or all of the serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that hugely influences the majority of our body’s brain cells.
When smoked, the average dose of DMT is 30-150 mg, and the onset of action can be felt almost instantly. The effects peak and plateau for 3-5 minutes, and gradually drop off with the duration of effect totaling 30-45 minutes.
When consumed as a brew, the dose is between 35-75 mg. Effects begin after 30-45 minutes, peak at 2-3 hours and are resolved in 4-6 hours.
- Businessman’s trip
- Businessman’s special
- Forty-five-minute psychosis.
Extent of DMT use
DMT has no approved medical use in the US but can be used by researchers under a Schedule I research registration that requires approval from both the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
DMT is used illicitly for its psychoactive, hallucinogenic effects. Users report “spiritual insight” as one of the most commonly reported positive effects of the drug.
The vast majority of new DMT users are already experienced with using psychedelic drugs, and as is the case with other illegal hallucinogens, users obtain the drug through the Internet.
Use of DMT has increased in recent years, indicating that the drug may be gaining in popularity. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that the number of people in the US who reported using some form of DMT had increased from 688,000 people in 2006 to 1,475,000 in 2012.
Side effects of DMT
The primary effect of DMT is the experience of intense hallucinations that alter the individual’s perception of the world around them.
The main effect of DMT is psychological, with intense visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria and an altered sense of space, body and time. Many users describe profound, life-changing experiences such as visiting other worlds, talking with alien entities and complete shifts in the perception of identity and reality.
In comparison to other psychedelic drugs (LSD, ketamine, magic mushrooms), recreational users of DMT consider it to have the lowest side effect profile.
Possible side effects of DMT may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Chest pain or tightness
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid rhythmic movements of the eye
When taken orally, DMT can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Depending on the individual user, the DMT experience can be either intensely exciting or overwhelmingly frightening. The experience can be so powerful that users may have difficulty processing and integrating the “trip” into their real life. Mental side effects may linger for many days or weeks after ingestion of the drug.
Health risks of DMT
Because DMT is structurally related to the neurotransmitter serotonin, a condition called serotonin syndrome is a potentially lethal health risk that can be associated with its use. Individuals taking antidepressants are at highest risk for this complication.
Serotonin syndrome occurs when the body accumulates an excessive amount of serotonin. The condition is often caused by taking a combination of different drugs. Too much serotonin in the body can lead to symptoms such as:
At higher doses, DMT can cause seizures, respiratory arrest and coma.
DMT could have serious adverse consequences for users with pre-existing psychological problems or a mental illness such as schizophrenia.
Due to limited research data, DMT is not known to cause physical dependence or addiction, although frequent recreational users may develop psychological cravings for the drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggest that, unlike other hallucinogens, DMT use does not seem to induce tolerance of the drug.
DMT is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that occurs naturally but can also be synthesized in an illicit laboratory. It is a Schedule I controlled substance in the US and is illegal for recreational use. When smoked, DMT produces brief yet intense visual and auditory hallucinations that have been described by users as an alternate reality, otherworldly or a near death experience.
Although it is not considered an addictive substance, DMT has several health risks, can produce terrifying hallucinations and can lead to psychological dependency.