Everything You Need to Know About DMT, the ‘Spirit Molecule’
DMT — or N, N-dimethyltryptamine in a medical talk — is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug. Sometimes referred to as Dimitri, this drug produces effects similar to those of psychedelics, like LSD and magic mushrooms.
Other names for it include:
- businessman’s trip
- businessman’s special
- 45-minute psychosis
- spiritual molecule
DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, which means it’s illegal to make, buy, possess, or distribute it. Some cities have recently decriminalized it, but it’s still illegal under state and federal law.
Where does it come from?
DMT naturally occurs in many plant species, which have been used in religious ceremonies in some South American countries for centuries.
It can also be made in a laboratory.
Is it the same thing as ayahuasca?
Kind of. DMT is the main active ingredient ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is traditionally prepared using two plants called Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. The latter contains DMT while the former contains MAOIs, which prevent certain enzymes in your body from breaking down DMT.
Does it really naturally exist in your brain?
No one knows for sure.
Some experts believe the pineal gland produces it in the brain and releases it when we dream.
Others believe it’s released during birth and death. Some go further to say this release of DMT at death may be responsible for those mystical near-death experiences you sometimes hear about.
What does it feel like?
As with most drugs, DMT can affect people in very different ways. Some truly enjoy the experience. Others find it overwhelming or frightening.
As far as its psychoactive effects, people have described feeling like they’re traveling at warp speed through a tunnel of bright lights and shapes. Others describe having an out-of-body experience and feeling like they’ve changed into something else.
There are also some who report visiting other worlds and communicating with elf-like beings.
Some people also report a pretty rough comedown from DMT that leaves them feeling unsettled.
How is it consumed?
Synthetic DMT usually comes in the form of a white, crystalline powder. It can be smoked in a pipe, vaporized, injected, or snorted.
When used in religious ceremonies, plants and vines are boiled to create a tea-like drink of varying strengths.
How long does it take to work?
Synthetic DMT kicks in pretty fast, producing effects within 5 to 10 minutes.
Plant-based brews tend to produce effects within 20 to 60 minutes.
How long does it last?
The intensity and duration of a DMT trip depend on several things, including:
- how much you use
- how you use it
- whether you’ve eaten
- whether you’ve taken other drugs
Generally, the effects of inhaled, snorted or injected DMT last for about 30 to 45 minutes.
Drinking it in a brew like ayahuasca can leave you tripping for anywhere from 2 to 6 hours.
Does it cause any side effects?
DMT is a powerful substance that can cause a number of mental and physical side effects. Some of these are desirable, but others not so much.
Possible mental effects of DMT include:
- vivid hallucinations
- altered sense of time
Keep in mind that some people experience lingering mental effects for days or weeks after use.
Physical effects of DMT can include:
- rapid heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- visual disturbances
- dilated pupils
- rapid rhythmic eye movements
- chest pain or tightness
- nausea or vomiting
Are there any risks?
Yes, some of them potentially serious.
DMT’s physical side effects of raising both heart rate and blood can be risky, especially if you have a heart condition or already have high blood pressure.
Using DMT may also cause:
- loss of muscle coordination, which increases the risk of falls and injury
It may also be associated with respiratory arrest and coma.
Like other hallucinogenic drugs, DMT may cause persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Both are rare and more likely to occur in people with preexisting mental health conditions.
Serotonin syndrome warning
DMT can result in high levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome disorder.
People who use DMT while taking antidepressants, especially monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), have a higher risk of developing this condition.
Seek immediate medical attention if you’ve used DMT and experience the following symptoms:
- muscle spasms
- muscle rigidity
- overactive reflexes
- dilated pupils
Any other interactions to know about?
DMT can interact with a range of other prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as other drugs.
If you’re using DMT, avoid mixing it with:
- muscle relaxants
- LSD, aka acid
- gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), aka liquid V and liquid G
Is it addictive?
The jury is still out on whether DMT is addictive, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What about tolerance?
Tolerance refers to needing to use more of a particular drug over time to achieve the same effects. Based on research from 2013, DMT doesn’t appear to induce tolerance.
Harm reduction tips
DMT is extremely powerful, even though it naturally occurs in several plant species. If you’re going to try it, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a bad reaction.
Keep these tips in mind when using DMT:
- Strength in numbers. Don’t use DMT alone. Do it in the company of people you trust.
- Find a buddy. Make sure you have at least one sober person around who can intervene if things take a turn.
- Consider your surroundings. Be sure to use it in a safe and comfortable place.
- Take a seat. Sit or lie down to reduce the risk of falling or injury while you’re tripping.
- Keep it simple. Don’t combine DMT with alcohol or other drugs.
- Pick the right time. The effects of DMT can be pretty intense. As a result, it’s best to use it when you’re already in a positive state of mind.
- Know when to skip it. Avoid using DMT if you’re taking antidepressants, have a heart condition, or already have high blood pressure.
The bottom line
DMT is a naturally occurring chemical that’s been used for centuries in religious ceremonies in several South American cultures. Today, its synthetic form is used for its powerful hallucinogenic effects.
If curious about trying DMT, it’s important to take certain steps to reduce your risk for serious effects. This includes making sure any prescription or over-the-counter medications you take won’t cause a bad reaction.
If you’re concerned about your drug use, get in touch with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for free and confidential help. You can also call their national helpline at 800-622-4357 (HELP).