What is DMT?
What is DMT? The hallucinogenic drug DMT, sometimes called Dimitri, has gained attention in recent months. A shortened form of the full chemical name N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, DMT is a psychedelic substance that can be found in the wild in many forms. It’s most often derived from processed plants through various methods that turn it into a white or yellow powder. It can also be extracted via dried frog venom. The biggest cheerleader for DMT’s use these days is none other than the biggest podcast host in the world, Joe Rogan, whose often hilarious and good-natured querying about drug use has produced the meme where he asks random guests if they’ve “ever done DMT.” But what exactly is DMT, though?
Where does DMT come from?
The Drug Enforcement Agency lists DMT as a Schedule I substance, and it’s been banned by the Food and Drug Administration for recreational or layman use unless a special research license is sought. Aside from a few noticeable studies by clandestine chemists and psychonauts there hasn’t been much research about DMT or it’s impact on the body and brain. It was first synthesized in 1931 by the German chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske.
In 1946, the Brazilian chemist Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima discovered that DMT is naturally occurring in the plant Mimosa tenuiflora, which grows throughout Brazil and other parts of South and Central America. American scientists in 1959 confirmed a pure form of the substance can be found in the plant. When his application to research LSD was rejected in 1959, Stephen Szára began studying DMT and discovered the hallucinogenic properties from a scientific viewpoint.
DMT has been in use for hundreds of years in various forms and cultural contexts throughout Central and South America. Traditionally, it’s been brewed as part of the drink ayahuasca, which is used in some religious ceremonies and is legal in some countries for this purpose.
There’s evidence that DMT can be found endogenously, which means it’s naturally produced in the body to some degree. Scientists still aren’t sure why or by what means the drug might show up in the body, but one leading theory is that DMT could be secreted in the brain during sleep. Comically, there’s a high rate of correlation between DMT users and UFO sightings or alien encounters, with users reporting on external figures appearing in sight.
Like many drugs, DMT can be swallowed, inhaled or injected. Typically, DMT is heated in a pipe or container, allowing the user to inhale the vapors in as few breaths as possible. You can also smoke DMT in a bong with marijuana, which is how many users try to achieve a desired high. Inhaling DMT has lead to some not-so-glamorous trips where users unknowingly smoked leftover residue and “blasted off.”
Effects only last around 30 minutes, which feels dilated at some doses, and for this reason it’s sometimes known as the “Business Trip” of drugs. One of the more popular smoked forms of DMT is called Changa, which became popular in Australia during the 2000s and even inspired the name of a Pnau album.
It’s possible to inject DMT intravenously and intramuscularly, but the effects of injection aren’t documented very positively by users. Well-known biochemist Alexander Shulgin’s accounts of using DMT via injection at several different dosage levels.
When DMT is ingested orally, effects can last longer than two hours if ingested with an MOAI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor), such as when an individual drinks ayahuasca. DMT ingestion is usually accompanied by nasty gastrointestinal side effects, which some traditional cultures consider to be part of the spiritual experience. Combining orally ingested DMT with certain types of MOAIs while on SSRIs can cause lethal interactions between the MOAIs and the SSRIs.
DMT is used for religious purposes, in an effort to reach a more spiritual consciousness. Indigenous people of South America have used it for centuries. Spanish and Portuguese Christian missionaries in the 1500s were introduced to a drink containing DMT by natives of the Cunam of Venezuela and the Popay of Colombia. They experienced the psychedelic effects firsthand, which lead to a fear surrounding the origins of their visual distortions as possibly coming from another world, or planet. This helped associate DMT with aliens, ghosts or spirits.
We don’t know exactly what in DMT causes psychedelic, hallucinogenic experiences from a biochemical perspective, or why they assist to some degree in therapeutic or creative processes. Substances like DMT are still broadly untested for consumer use and are therefore banned by both the FDA and the DEA.
Using DMT could create several health risks, including a serotonin overdose, increased heart rate, loss of muscle control, dizziness, nausea, and pain or tightness in the chest.
The risks of using a strong psychedelic like DMT are very high and it’s discouraged. Joe Rogan is a bit more informed on recreational mind-altering substances than a lot of his detractors like to admit and certainly a great evangelizer for the use of psychedelics that have shown clinical promise within controlled research environments. But despite Rogan’s righteous enthusiasm for new therapeutically psychedelic experiences, he’s forgotten to slap a warning label on his psychotropic endorsements.
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