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  • What is DMT and Why Does Joe Rogan Keep Talking About It?

What is DMT ?


DMT, a shortened form of the full chemical name N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a psychedelic substance that can be found in the wild via processed plants and is most often created through various methods that turn it into a white powder. 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?

Currently DMT is listed by the DEA as a Schedule I substance, and it’s been banned by the FDA for layman use unless a special research license is sought. Little research has been done on the drug and its effects, aside from a few noticeable studies by clandestine chemists and psychonauts. It was first synthesized in a lab in 1931 by the German chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske.

In 1946, the Brazilian chemist Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima discovered that it was naturally occurring in the plant Mimosa tenuiflora, which grows throughout Brazil and other parts of South and Central America, with American scientists confirming a pure form of the substance was found in the plant in 1959. In 1956, Stephen Szára, when his application for research LSD was rejected, began studying DMT and discovered the hallucinogenic properties from a scientific viewpoint.

DMT has been in use for hundred 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 various 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 mechanic the drug appears endogenously, but one leading theory is that it was secreted during sleep in the brain. 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.

Using DMT

DMT can be inhaled and injected by recreational users. DMT is heated in a pipe or container, and the goal when smoking is to inhale the vapors in as few breaths as possible. You can smoke DMT in a bong with marijuana, and is often how many users achieve their high; this has led 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, such as 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 2 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 can be used for religious purposes as an entheogen, as indigenous people of South America have used it for centuries. Spanish and Portuguese Christian missionaries in the 1500s encountered the drink via natives of the Cunam of Venezuela and the Popay of Colombia. Remember the DMT-alien correlation? They experienced the psychedelic effects firsthand, which lead to great fear surrounding the origins of their visual distortions: “His guest, the demon, throws him to the ground…[They are] great drunkards and sorcerers, who conjure the devil and speak to him.”

The risks of DMT

While we don’t know exactly what causes psychedelic, hallucinogenic experiences from a biochemical perspective, nor why they assist to some degree in therapeutic or creative processes, substances like DMT are still broadly untested for consumer use in any way and are therefore banned by both the FDA and the DEA. 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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