Although lesser known than other psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, DMT produces a brief but intense visual and auditory hallucinogenic experience.
DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States; this means that it is illegal to manufacture, buy, possess, or distribute the drug. The substance has a high potential for abuse, no recognized medical use, and a lack of accepted safety parameters for the use of the drug.
DMT has no approved medical use in the United States. but can be used by researchers under a Schedule I research registration that requires approval from both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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 has been used as a drug for thousands of years.
Use of the drug as part of shamanic ritual is common in South America.
Side effects include powerful hallucinations.
Due to the nature of the drug, DMT is known as the “spirit molecule
DMT is a white crystalline powder that is derived from certain plants found in Mexico, South America, and parts of Asia, such as Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi.
It is typically consumed in the following ways:
vaporized or smoked in a pipe
consumed orally in brews like ayahuasca
snorted or injected on rare occasions
The chemical root structure of DMT is similar to the anti-migraine drug sumatriptan, and it acts as a non-selective agonist at most or all of the serotonin receptors, particularly at the serotonin 5-ht2a receptor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a large effect on the majority of our brain cells.
There is some evidence that DMT is also produced endogenously, in other words, it is produced naturally in the body, specifically in the pineal gland in the brain.
When smoked, the average dose of DMT is believed to be somewhere between 30 to 150 milligrams (mg), and the onset of action can be felt almost instantly. The effects peak and plateau for 3 to 5 minutes, and gradually drop off with the duration of effect totaling 30 to 45 minutes.
When consumed as a brew, the dose is between 35 to 75 mg. Effects begin after 30 to 45 minutes, peak after 2 to 3 hours and are resolved in 4 to 6 hours.
DMT street names
DMT is referred to by a number of slang terms:
The 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 used illicitly for its psychoactive, hallucinogenic effects. “Spiritual insight” is one of the most commonly reported positive side 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 often obtain the drug through the Internet.
Research from the Global Drug Survey carried out in 2016 reported 2.24 percent of people used DMT in the last 12 months. It was among the least used drugs overall, with only kratom and modafinil used less.
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 known as “DMT elves” or “machine elves,” and total shifts in the perception of identity and reality.
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.
In comparison to other psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, ketamine, and magic mushrooms, recreational users of DMT consider it to have the lowest side effect profile.
Possible side effects of DMT include:
increased heart rate
increased blood pressure
chest pain or tightness
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 range from intensely exciting to 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.
DMT is structurally related to the neurotransmitter serotonin and, because of this, a condition called serotonin syndrome is a potentially lethal health risk 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 a range of symptoms, such as:
high blood pressure
loss of muscle coordination
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) suggests that, unlike other hallucinogens, DMT use does not seem to induce tolerance of the drug.
Although it is not considered an addictive substance, DMT has several health risks, can produce terrifying hallucinations, and might lead to psychological dependency.
Last medically reviewed on March 24, 2017
Alcohol / Addiction / Illegal DrugsNeurology / NeurosciencePharmacy / PharmacistPsychology / Psychiatry
Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP — Written by Kathleen Davis, FNP on March 24, 2017
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