You have likely heard of DMT – the so called spirit molecule. It is an illusive, highly illegal chemical – the components of which naturally occur in our bodies. It is a fascinating area to research, although digging into this subject brings up more questions than answers! I wanted to share some of the information with you here, and invite your own thoughts on the topic.
Before we get started, there is a popular documentary that you can watch below, which gives an insight based on the research by Dr Rick Strassman (which will be discussed below). The documentary is useful as it provides the insights of a various experts from scientific and spiritual fields. Strassman describes DMT as “the simplest psychedelic” which “exists in all of our bodies and occurs throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. It is a part of the normal makeup of humans and other mammals; marine animals; grasses and peas; toads and frogs; mushrooms and molds; and barks, flowers, and roots.”
What is DMT?
DMT, scientifically known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine is a kind of tryptamine – which means it is an amino acid based neurotransmitting, naturally occurring chemical compound. That is a bit of a mouthful! It is very similar in structure to seratonin, and actually increases the levels of seratonin in our brain. It is a pschyedelic compound and has been used as an Entheogen for centuries. Put in simpler terms, this means that DMT is found in nature, and has been used for generations as a psychoactive substance for shamanic and religious rituals.
I would like to eloborate on the fact that DMT is naturally occurring. It is found in many species of plants, some animals and even the human brain. We do not know why it is there. In the past it has been written off as useless ‘noise’ in our genetic makeup – but that is far too naive an assumption to make.
Strassman had the following to say in response to the suggestion that DMT is nothing more than a by-product. “Twenty-five years ago, Japanese scientists discovered that the brain actively transports DMT across the blood-brain barrier into its tissues. I know of no other psychedelic drug that the brain treats with such eagerness. This is a startling fact that we should keep in mind when we recall how readily biological psychiatrists dismissed a vital role for DMT in our lives. If DMT were only an insignificant, irrelevant by-product of our metabolism, why does the brain go out of its way to draw it into its confines?”
Scientists have hypothesised that DMT is produced in the pineal gland, deep in the centre of the brain, an area often linked to spiritual phenomena. There has been a study conducted on rats that suggests this could be the case, but so far any mention of the pineal gland as the production centre for DMT is unproven.
Why is DMT illegal?
DMT is classed as a schedule I illegal drug.
It is legal to increase the seratonin in the brain to alleviate the symptoms of depression with antidepressants, despite widely known negative side effects and often serious withdrawal once patients stop taking them. Shockingly, antidepressants have been linked as a cause to many psychotic episodes, including school shootings that have taken place in America.
DMT increases the seratonin in the brain, to allow hallucinogenic spiritual experiences. But it does not cause human addiction, as shown in this study, and has no withdrawal symptoms. It has been used for centuries by shamans, and there have been no reported deaths from using DMT alone. So the reason for it being classified as so highly illegal is not clear.
DMT is used in South America by two churches, Santo Daime and União do Vegetal. They make a tea, known as Ayahuasca, by boiling up specific plants. One of which contains DMT, the other contains an enzyme inhibitor, which makes the drug orally active (it is usually only active when smoked, snorted or injected). When taken orally, it starts to work within around 30 minutes of ingestation and the effect last around 3 hours. There is evidence that it has been used in South America as far back as 2130 BC. The indigenous people believe that they can contact spirits during the highs, and consulted with them for advice.
During the 60s many people experimented openly with psychedelic drugs, including DMT – on a ‘mass cultural voyage of initiation‘. The mood of the nation began to change as more and more people experienced reality bending, consciousness expanding, drug induced trips. The government quickly put a stop to the exploration of hallucinogens. The drugs were scandalised, regulations were put into place providing obstacles preventing further research. Funding was withdrawn, and scientists showing an interest in the area were discredited. The media suggested that psychedelics were dangerous and should be avoided – and so all clinical research into this area stopped in the early 1970s.
In a groundbreaking move, Rick Strassman was given a license to complete the first studies on DMT in the United States in 20 years. He used around 60 pre-screened volunteers, all experienced in using psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs. Strassman administered regular doses over the course of 5 years, documenting his observations, he felt it was “was important that other people knew how to wind their way through this maze.”
The first one can be found published here. He aimed to apply basic neuropharmacological hypotheses of hallucinogenic drug actions to humans, we generated dose-response data for intravenously administered dimethyltryptamine fumarate’s (DMT) neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, autonomic, and subjective effects in a group of experienced hallucinogen users.
Dimethyltryptamine dose dependently elevated blood pressure, heart rate, pupil diameter, and rectal temperature, in addition to elevating blood concentrations of beta-endorphin, corticotropin, cortisol, and prolactin. Growth hormone blood levels rose equally in response to all doses of DMT, and melatonin levels were unaffected.
He concluded that it can safely be administered “to experienced hallucinogen users and dose-response data generated for several measures hypothesized under serotonergic modulatory control. Additional studies characterizing the specific mechanisms mediating DMT’s biological effects may prove useful in psychopharmacological investigations of drug-induced and endogenous alterations in brain function.”
Strassman continued his research, and the study can be found here. It was found here that there is no tolerance built over time to the hallucinogen.
We generated dose-response data for the endogenous and ultra-short-acting hallucinogen, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), in a cohort of experienced hallucinogen users, measuring multiple biological and psychological outcome measures. Subjective responses demonstrated no tolerance, while biological measures were inconsistently reduced over the course of the sessions. Thus, DMT remains unique among classic hallucinogens in its inability to induce tolerance to its psychological effects. To assess the role of the 5-HT1A site in mediating DMT’s effects, a pindolol pre-treatment study was performed. These data are opposite to those described in lower animal models of hallucinogens’ mechanisms of action.
The DMT Psychedelic Trip
Once the drug is administered, it was surprising to Strassman how quickly it was utilised by the body. “Once the body produces or takes in DMT, certain enzymes break it down within seconds. These enzymes, called monoamine oxidases (MAO), occur in high concentrations in the blood, liver, stomach, brain, and intestines. The widespread presence of MAO is why DMT effects are so short-lived. Whenever and wherever it appears, the body makes sure it is used up quickly.”
There are many documented individual experiences of ‘trips’ that occur when individuals take DMT. Interestingly many of the stories report similar occurrences, with a feeling of being transported to another dimension, a parallel dimension, with a kaleidoscope of colours, images and sounds. People have frequently reported meeting intelligent non-human lifeforms, with which they can converse. The sensation is often said to be similar to what is experienced in dreams. Strassman wrote that the entities were “freestanding, independent levels of existence.” He states that he was “neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences. Neither, it seemed, were many of the volunteers, even those who had smoked DMT previously.”
DMT causes extremely powerful hallucinations, so believable, that it can feel real to the individual. In fact many people are adamant that DMT in fact provides a portal to the Universe, and that the experiences are not hallucinations at all.
Terence McKenna, one of the best known early promoters of DMT described in the following words: You Cannot Imagine a Stranger Drug or a Stranger Experience.
It seems then, that we still have much to learn about this strange compound. What are your thoughts? Is there any benefit to be gained from ‘playing around’ with hallucinatory drugs? Or are we wasting an opportunity to connect with the Universe by keeping DMT highly illegal?
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