What is DMT? Effects, Therapy & Research Insights

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October 26, 2022

Nue Life

Nue Life
15 MIN READ

N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT): History, Effects, Scientific Research

There might be a new wave of people seeking out psychedelics to experience their effects, but psychoactive drugs like DMT are anything but new. What do we know about this drug and the possible positive effects it may offer?

Since DMT has been around for thousands of years for recreational and ritual purposes, there’s a rich history we can evaluate surrounding this substance. Even more than that, looking at recent scientific research can help us understand the possible benefits of taking DMT and other mind-altering drugs.

If you live with a mental disorder that affects your life, you might be here because you’re looking for alternative options that can help you feel better again. Psychedelic treatment is a new horizon that may become a more widespread standard of care in the future. 

Learning about the effects of drugs like DMT can help you understand the potential mental health benefits of psychedelic treatment. 

What Is DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine)?

DMT stands for N, N-Dimethyltryptamine and is a hallucinogenic tryptamine substance. Unlike synthetic drugs, this substance occurs throughout nature in animals and plants alike. DMT isn’t the most widespread choice regarding psychedelic drugs, but that’s primarily due to the vast popularity of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), magic mushrooms, and ketamine

This substance is a Schedule I drug, meaning the government doesn’t regard it as having any safe medical or recreational use. Still, people seek out the DMT experience for its intense mind-altering effects and the psychoactive experiences it produces. Recreational users aren’t the only people to take notice of the drug, as those in the psychiatry field also find this substance’s effects on the human brain fascinating.

What Does DMT Look Like?

In its purest state, DMT looks white and crystalline in appearance. It can exist in a powder or solid form. When DMT is not pure, you might find it in an orange or pink powder or solid. 

Some people take DMT as an herbal mixture that’s greenish-brown in color. When MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are added to the concoction, the resulting substance is called changa. People may also add DMT to an ayahuasca brew, in which case it typically appears as a brownish-red liquid.

If you’re trying to identify this drug without seeing it, knowing its street name can help. Here are a few common terms that refer to DMT:

  • Dimitri
  • Forty-five-minute psychosis
  • Businessman’s special
  • The Rogan
  • The Spirit molecule
  • Fantasia

Is DMT the Same Thing as Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic blend of two separate plants. One of these plants naturally contains DMT, and the ayahuasca vine contains harmala alkaloids or MAOIs. In short, Ayahuasca contains large concentrations of DMT, but DMT can also exist by itself. 

Ayahuasca translated means “spirit vine,” referring to its hallucinogenic effects. Traditionally, this leaf brew has been appreciated by ancient cultures in religious settings, and there are still populations in Brazil and North America who use this substance ritualistically.

When people take DMT by itself, the resulting psychoactive experience can tend to be short-lived compared to Ayahuasca. Those who take it alone will usually experience a DMT trip that lasts 10 or 20 minutes. On the other hand, taking Ayahuasca can result in a lengthier psychedelic trip. 

The reason for this difference lies in the effect of MAOIs on DMT. This ingredient can help the body absorb the substance more fully, causing a 4-6 hour trip rather than a brief 20-minute experience.

What Is the History of DMT?

Learning about DMT’s use throughout history can allow you to appreciate its connection to different cultures and time periods. Like many naturally-occurring psychedelic drugs, the use of DMT goes back hundreds of years. Not only have people used this drug to experience its hallucinogenic effects recreationally, but many people have enjoyed its psychoactive properties in connection with religious and spiritual rituals. 

It makes sense that so many people would use this substance within their religious practices. One of the most commonly reported effects of DMT is increased spiritual insight, which people report can be powerful and life-changing.

Before getting deeper into the effects of this drug, let’s examine its use throughout history.

A man named José Capriles, an anthropologist at Penn State University, made one discovery about DMT’s history that dates its use back 1,000 years. His research discovered a shamanic pouch that may contain the oldest known archaeological evidence for ayahuasca use. This finding leads researchers to believe that ancient shamans knew about the hallucinogenic effects of Ayahuasca, which contains DMT.

Regarding more recent history, it wasn’t until 1931 that DMT was first artificially produced in a lab setting. Dr. Richard Manske was the German scientist responsible for this chemical synthesis, but he didn’t look into this drug’s effects on humans. 

More than twenty years later, in 1956, a Hungarian chemist and clinical psychiatrist named Dr. Stephen Szára was the first to give artificially produced DMT to twenty healthy volunteers through an injection into the muscle tissue. This method of administration is still being evaluated for future clinical trials testing DMT.

The Recent History of DMT

Fast-forwarding to more recent events concerning this substance, it’s important to note the shift that happened in 1971. During this year, multiple countries internationally agreed to sign a UN treaty to control the use of psychoactive drugs. 

As a result of this ruling, many psychedelic substances with evidence supporting mental and physical health benefits were effectively shut down, and authorities scheduled them to have no such benefits. Progress halted in the scientific understanding of DMT and other psychedelic drugs. 

1990 was another noteworthy year in the history of DMT. This was when clinical psychologist Dr. Rick Straussman was granted approval to continue studying psychedelics, including DMT. It was the first federally-approved study on psychedelics since the ban on controlled substances in 1971, and it helped introduce this drug back into the minds of the scientific community. 

Today, this drug is still being evaluated along with other psychedelics to see what kind of benefits and positive effects it could potentially offer people in the future.

What Does DMT Do in the Body?

Different substances and drugs can impact your body similarly, but many of these substances do so through distinct chemical processes. DMT has a serotonergic effect on the brain, which induces intense visual hallucinogenic experiences. 

The DMT molecule is structurally similar to psychedelic tryptamines like psilocybin, which is found in magic mushrooms. This structure allows it to bind to your brain’s serotonin receptors, causing psychedelic experiences to begin.

In the body, DMT primarily influences your perception. Visual and auditory hallucinations can feel convincingly real, and some users describe them as coming from an alternate reality or near-death experience. 

Other side effects of this substance may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Dizziness

Does DMT Naturally Occur in the Body?

There is a significant debate over whether DMT may occur naturally in the brain. The fact that this chemical is structurally similar to serotonin has led researchers to believe the human body may produce it naturally, and we just don’t know it yet.

Those who believe this theory suggest that DMT may exist in the pineal gland, producing melatonin and regulating sleep patterns. Historically speaking, some cultures have linked the pineal gland to higher consciousness. In ancient Egypt, many believed this to be the “third eye.” 

This association and the scientific hypothesis that DMT may exist in the pineal gland are worth mentioning since DMT is linked to intense experiences facilitating a sense of higher consciousness.

How Do You Use DMT?

People who use DMT do so in a few different ways. One of the most important things to note about this substance is that it has no effect when taken orally. Because of this, people smoke DMT in its powder form or snort it. In some cases, people also inject DMT.

You can also drink DMT as part of an ayahuasca brew. Remember that although DMT doesn’t do anything when taken through ingestion, Ayahuasca triggers your body to absorb it and experience its effects for longer. 

When taken alone, DMT users will begin experiencing its properties quickly and embark on their 20-minute trip. When taken with Ayahuasca, users will be under DMT’s influence for several hours, having a lengthier experience.

Are There Risks to Taking DMT?

As is the case with many legal and illegal drugs, there are almost always potential risks associated. For the most part, many of DMT’s risks are physical side effects you may experience while under its influence. 

Still, it’s worth noting that DMT is a substance that stimulates serotonin production, which is always risky. In some cases, high doses of DMT can trigger a serotonin overdose, which can lead to some unpleasant and harmful reactions in the body.

When taking psychoactive substances, it’s a good idea to have someone who cares about you nearby to ensure everything is okay while you’re under the drug’s impact. It’s also wise not to mix substances since doing so could increase certain risks.

What Happens When You Take DMT?

DMT is well-known for its intense trips, but it’s also famous for its short duration. So how does this chemical process play out after you take it and how long does dmt last?

When inhaled, DMT acts almost instantly. You’ll begin seeing vivid colors and hear auditory hallucinations, among other psychedelic properties. After two minutes, you’ll experience the peak effects of the trip, and after 10-20 minutes, all the perceptions you experience as a result of DMT will begin to fade.

Sometimes, people take higher doses of DMT to induce extreme trips known as “breakthrough experiences.” During these trips, you may sense that you exist in another dimensional plane entirely. Some accounts of breakthrough experiences include speaking with alien-like figures known as “machine elves” or “DMT elves.”

Many who have breakthrough experiences recall similar interactions with other-dimensional beings greeting them and imparting goodwill to them. Although science still has a long way to go before fully understanding DMT, these shared experiences cause some to wonder whether psychedelics cause the impression of breaking through some dimensional barrier or if there is some reality to the occurrence. 

The psychedelic effects of DMT are similar to others in its drug class, such as mescaline, LSD, and ecstasy. Still, looking at the differences in these drugs can help you distinguish them from each other.

Here’s a list of common psychedelic effects from other hallucinogens:

  • An altered sense of time: This effect can cause people to feel that time is moving much more slowly or fluctuating throughout their trip. Sometimes, people may think that their trip lasted weeks or months when it only lasted a few hours.
  • A sense of euphoria and mystical peace: The euphoria induced by some psychedelic drugs can be pleasant for many people.
  • A distorted sense of reality: DMT alters your brain, but it tends to be more intense, causing people to feel far removed from their physical existence. On the other hand, people taking other psychedelic drugs might experience their physical reality with distortions.

Why Is DMT Nicknamed “The Spirit Molecule?”

In 2012, Dr. Rick Straussman released a book called “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.” In this book, he details his research conducted over five years, administering DMT nearly 400 times to 60 patients.

The nickname “spirit molecule” comes from Straussman himself. Throughout his research with DMT, nearly half his patients noted some form of interaction with beings from another dimension. That data, mixed with the spiritual reputation of DMT, prompted Straussman to nickname it “the Spirit Molecule.”

Straussman is one proponent of the idea that DMT may be produced in the pineal gland. Regardless of Straussman’s analysis of his research or other research done on psychedelics, spirituality tends to be a subjective experience, making it challenging to determine concrete realities about spiritual substances.

How Long Does DMT Take To Work?

When you take DMT by smoking or injecting it, you’ll notice your reality being altered immediately. The hallucinogenic experiences will begin and will be over a few minutes later.  

During your trip, you might feel detached from your body. Some users feel so separated from the reality they know during their sober hours that they feel like they are dying. This separation from self is sometimes called “ego death,” and many people find it deeply meaningful and life-changing. 

Other psychedelic drugs tend to leave users in a comedown state that lasts for a while. DMT is milder in this regard, and most people feel an abrupt comedown following their trip. Still, the encounters and experiences had while under this substance’s effects can cause you to feel many different ways in the days following. 

You may ponder the meaning of your trip or feel sad that it’s over, but there are rare lasting effects other than a preoccupation with your experience.

Can You Develop a Tolerance to DMT?

When taking some psychedelic substances recreationally, your body can adapt to the dosage, causing you to need more each time you take it to feel the same effects. This build-up tolerance can cause drug usage to become more expensive over time. 

With drugs like LSD, people who use the drug repeatedly may notice a tolerance forming within the same week they began using or after multiple consecutive uses. 

DMT appears to be unique in this regard. While you risk developing a tolerance to other mind-altering drugs, you may not experience the same for DMT. Most people generally don’t grow tolerant of its intense psychoactive properties.

In addition, DMT is also not recorded as an addictive drug. Although one’s subjective experiences may cause them to want to use the drug again, the chemical itself isn’t habit-forming.

Who Shouldn’t Take DMT?

Most medications carry increased risks for specific populations, and DMT is no different. If you’re considering trying DMT or another psychedelic, understanding its interactions can help you remain safe. 

If you live with a mental condition like schizophrenia, taking hallucinogenic drugs is not wise. This condition can cause reality to feel distorted already. Under the effects of DMT, it may be even more challenging to discern truth, especially when taken with Ayahuasca, which can make the trip last for a long time.

Additionally, you should be cautious about taking DMT if you’re already under the influence of opioids, stimulants, antidepressants, or other hallucinogens.

Although you shouldn’t take DMT with antidepressants, some research suggests DMT may have therapeutic effects on those living with certain mental health disorders. It’s still in the beginning phases of testing, but this drug has already entered phase II clinical trials to test its efficacy in reducing symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).

Are There Legal Alternatives?

If you’ve been looking into psychedelic-assisted treatment for mental health, unfortunately, DMT is not an option that is currently legal to take recreationally or medically. In the future, DMT-assisted treatment may be a standard of care, but we still have a lot to find out before that could become a reality. 

Though DMT is still not yet legal, there are perfectly legal options available to help you treat mental health conditions alternatively. In some states, psilocybin therapy is becoming legal, and ketamine treatment is another legal psychedelic option that can positively impact mental health.

What Is Ketamine Therapy?

Suppose you’ve never looked into alternative treatments for depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder. In that case, you might be surprised to know that ketamine is a psychoactive drug that is 100% legal, with evidence to support its effectiveness. 

The truth is that antidepressant medications won’t work for everyone. SSRIs don’t work for 40% of the people who try them. Additionally, these medications can take weeks to set in, sometimes leaving you with unpleasant side effects and no results. 

Ketamine treatment for mental health disorders is an innovative, evidence-based approach to treating the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. It tends to have fewer side effects than some antidepressants, and you can potentially feel the impact soon after your first ketamine experience.

If you were to take ketamine treatments with us at Nue Life, you’d do so under the care of a trained clinician who can monitor your progress and ensure you’re safe while taking this psychoactive substance. Each ketamine experience lasts around 90 minutes to two hours, but the powerful insights you may encounter while under the drug’s influence can last much longer. 

Many people who try ketamine feel relief from their depression symptoms within the first day. This type of care might be new to you, but ketamine treatment could be the alternative that helps you understand the root of your mental health symptoms to find healing. 

If you’re ready to find out more, we can talk with you about your story and experiences to see if ketamine treatment is a good match for your journey.

The Bottom Line

DMT is an intense, mind-altering substance that has been well-known for its psychedelic properties for hundreds of years. Before researchers began studying the effects of psychedelics, people groups knew how powerful this substance could be, especially related to spirituality.

Although it’s still illegal to take this drug recreationally, that doesn’t mean therapeutic use of DMT won’t be on the table someday. Researchers are discovering more and more how these once-banned substances may be able to provide relief for mental health symptoms to change lives for the better. 

Treatment at Nue Life

Nue Life believes in holistic treatment, which means that what happens before and after your ketamine experience is equally as important as the experience itself. We want to ensure you have meaningful takeaways from your experiences and help you establish positive new neural pathways.

That’s why we provide one-on-one health coaching and integration group sessions with each of our programs. We’re here to help map out the mind and body connections in your brain and help you discover the insights that lead to true healing.

Sources:

Ayahuasca vs DMT – What’s the Difference? | Psychable

Strassman, Rick, M.D. DMT: The Spirit Molecule | Boston University

DMT Microdosing Produces Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Effects | Chemistry | UC Davis

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