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The Spirit Molecule
Di-Methyl-Tryptamine, commonly referred to as "DMT" is one of the most powerful psychoactive substances known to mankind, and interestingly is endogenously produced by the human body (along with many other forms of plant and animal life). This characteristic (biosynthesis by humans) is exceptional because it is not shared by any other psychedelic substance.
DMT is also the active hallucinogenic compound in ayahuasca, a tea brewed from the shrub Psychotria viridis used for ritual purposes by indigenous people in the Amazon. See our ayahuasca guide for more on this psychedelic brew.
People also ingest DMT in crystal form, smoking it in a pipe or bong, as well as vaporized. This form of ingestion produces a powerful but short-lasting hallucinogenic state, considered to be one of the most intense psychedelic experiences in existence.
However, while the body does naturally produce DMT (and perhaps produces it in much higher levels than previously thought), it also produces another compound called Monoamine Oxidase (MAO).
Monoamine oxidase effectively serves to nullify any psychoactive effects that perhaps would be felt due to the bodies naturally produced DMT, as it's role in the body is to "clean" neuroreceptors by deaminating several different monoamine neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are all monoamine neurotransmitters). N- N,Di-methyl-tryptamine is also a monoamine compound, so therefore is broken down by MAO before it has the chance to be transmitted through the brain from its point of synthesis in the cerebral cortex.
Although we can't consciously feel effects from the DMT that is being created in our brains right now, when exogenous DMT (not produced by the body) is introduced in large enough amounts it is able to overcome the inhibitory action of MAO and elicit a short but very intense psychedelic experience. Another method of consumption that will allow the user to experience psychoactive effects from DMT is by mixing DMT with a Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI). The Ayahuasca brew, which is typically a mixture of Mimosa Hostilis root bark or Psychotria viridis (both plants which contain high levels of DMT) and the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which is an MAOI. While these are the main ingredients in Ayahuasca, there are several other (also psychoactive) ingredients.
“It may be that DMT makes us able to perceive what the physicist call “dark matter” — the 95 per cent of the universe’s mass that is known to exist but that at present remains invisible to our senses and instruments.”
― Graham Hancock
Short but sweet
There’s something uncharacteristically ironic about DMT (scientifically regarded as the alkaloid N, N-Di-Methyl-Tryptamine): it’s naturally produced by the human brain.
So it’s a wonder that this, what is often referred to as the ‘Spirit Molecule’, provides such an other-worldly experience on the mind of its consumer.
What’s more is that this particular tryptamine is found commonly throughout nature — in the cells of animals and produced in many species of plants — and has been used reverently in religious ceremonies throughout numerous parts of the world for centuries.
Most notable amongst its characteristics is the rapidity of onset and the intensity of its effect, catapulting a user into vivid visual hallucinations and temporal distortions within moments of being consumed — often through smoking or vaporizing.
When inhaled, the effects of DMT last a curiously short amount of time — only between five to twenty minutes — though they’ll last much longer if orally ingested, usually in the form of a compounded ayahuasca brew.
When consumed, DMT initiates a physiological response as its combined with the serotonin receptors in the brain, sending a signaling function throughout the central nervous system and altering sensory perceptions; it’s theorized that this process is similar in effect to naturally produced DMT in the brain during, say, a psychosis event or a near death experience.
A lot remains unknown about DMT and its inherent effects on the physiological states of the body and mind, motivating researchers all the more to uncover the secrets associated with this powerful substance.
Out of this world
What’s perhaps most controversial about DMT, aside from the above-stated fact that it’s produced endogenously by the pineal gland of the human brain, is the particular set of insights that it may lead the consumer to experience. Aside from being extremely revelatory, such insights are often said to emanate from an external, extra-dimensional origin.
This, inherent in its own unique story, is why DMT seems to be one of the most trending, mysterious and highly sought-after psychedelics today.
The consumption of psychedelics is most often linked to the ambition of expanding perception— helping a user break through the confines of everyday perspective and transcend the limits of our routine cognitive capacity.
While substances like LSD and psilocybin can certainly achieve this to a considerable and varying degree, DMT seems to shatter the ends of the spectrum altogether, prompting the kind of temporal distortions and imaginative contemplations that would occur far outside the realm of anything we may consider routinely psychedelic.
It’s no wonder that it’s often associated with near death experiences, which are themselves theorized to instigate a neurological flooding of DMT into the sigma-1 receptors of the brain.
Moreover, there’s a perplexing level of consistency associated with one particularly strange quality reported amongst many users who try DMT, and that is the reported encounters with entities beyond our comprehension.
From angels to elves
Famed psychonaut and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna had coined the term ‘machine elves’ to describe the entities which he had reportedly encountered when consuming DMT, and McKenna hadn’t been the only one.
Numerous researchers detail these entities in an eerily similar manner, going as far as to correlate various biblical interpretations (encounters with angels, for instance) to DMT experiences and reinforcing such experiences with the accounts of participants in modern studies.
Regardless of whether such encounters emanate directly from benevolent external entities or from within the mind of a user, layers surrounding the nature of reality itself tend to peel away, offering profound insights that can culminate themselves into a life-changing experience.
It’s for this reason that DMT is situated atop the list of ‘must-try’ psychedelics, as its potency remains as unparalleled as the intrigue surrounding it.
Dosage & Experience
The most popular method of consuming DMT is through smoking, with vaporization currently being the top option as it prevents the DMT from being heated past the point of efficacy - DMT crystals are exceptionally heat-sensitive.
Freebasing, whereby DMT is simply smoked out of a pipe, is also a popular method that has persisted long before vaporization technology became affordable and is the most cost-friendly.
A starter dose for those wanting to simply try to feel the initial onset of effects - dipping their toes into the water of this enigmatic experience - hovers around the 10-20mg range. While such a low dosage isn't enough to cause hallucinations or the kind of euphoric revelations that are typically associated with DMT, it can cause a distortion of some sensory experience, lasting only a few minutes at most.
In the higher range, from 25-40mg, one can expect the often-sought breakthroughs to happen, along with visualizations and changes to auditory perceptions as well as a shift in temporal perception. A dose of 40mg or higher is certain to provoke a revelatory experience, lasting anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes at the most.
The experience brought on by a breakthrough DMT dose is potent to say the least, facilitating a different interfacing with reality that many people would have a hard time explaining. From conversations with ephemeral beings to observations of geometric harmony, those who have tried DMT will be afforded a glimpse of the world from such a radically different perspective unlike any they've experienced before.
The after-glow - a term associated with the subtly euphoric and calm feeling after a trip - will typically last up to an hour, during which point all cognitive faculties are back to normal.
Widely found in plants and animals, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine is an alkaloid renowned for its intensely potent psychoactive effect, lasting an extremely short duration in comparison to most other psychedelics.
While it remains to be fully understood in terms of its pharmacological scope, evidence suggests that DMT plays a crucial role in a number of innate processes of the periphery and central nervous systems, acting as an endogenous neurotransmitter with numerous mechanisms of action relating to serotonin regulation.
Monoamine Oxidase, a digestive enzyme, breaks down DMT that is consumed orally, necessitating the combination of an inhibitor of this enzyme (an MAOI) - like the famous ayahuasca vine. Together, they prolong the duration of the effect while also increasing its intensity.
Upon its consumption, DMT will bind to several types of serotonin receptors, the stimulation of which causes hallucinogenic effects and sensory distortion, also effecting mood, emotion, and cognitive function.
One of the most intriguing questions surrounding the pharmacological dimension of DMT is whether our brains produce DMT naturally, as mounting evidence suggests that it is produced while we dream and in the death process itself.
Despite being synthesized almost a century ago, DMT has only become more of a mainstream hallucinogenic in the last several years as a number of factors have come together to popularize this peculiar hallucinogenic.
Most iconic could be the documentary published in 2010 entitled "DMT: The Spirit Molecule", which explored the origins and applications of this substance, detailing the fact that its popularity sprouted from an inherent association with Ayahuasca.
A collective and surging interest in Ayahuasca itself, throughout the last decade, has also proliferated a lot of focus on DMT, exacerbated by references from popular media productions like The Joe Rogan Experience and Rick and Morty.
Survey of subjective "God encounter experiences": Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT.
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Roland R. Griffiths et. al.
About: This had been the first study providing a detailed comparison of naturally occurring (non-psychedelic) and psychedelic-occasioned experiences that participants interpreted as an encounter with, what the researches refer to as, a 'God' or an 'Ultimate Reality'. The authors note that the similarities amongst those who experienced such an encounter are striking, whether through using psilocybin, LSD, or DMT.
Excerpt: "Participants reported vivid memories of these encounter experiences which frequently involved communication with something most often described as God or Ultimate Reality and having the attributes of being conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal, and all-knowing. The encounter experience fulfilled a priori criteria for being a complete mystical experience in about half of the participants."
Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity
Published August 8th, 2018 by Calvin Ly et. al.
About: The authors of this study demonstrate that psychedelic compounds, like DMT and LSD, have the potential to promote neuroplasticity, specifically in the way that they increase dendritic arbor complexity, promote dendritic spine growth and stimulate synapse formation.
Excerpt: "Because atrophy of cortical neurons is believed to be a contributing factor to the development of mood and anxiety disorders... we first treated cultured cortical neurons with psychedelics from a variety of structural classes... and measured the resulting changes in various morphological features... our results suggest that psychedelics may be used as lead structures to identify next-generation neurotherapeutics with improved efficacy and safety profiles."
Chronic, Intermittent Microdoses of the Psychedelic N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Produce Positive Effects on Mood and Anxiety in Rodents
Published March 4th, 2019 by Lindsay P. Cameron et. al.
About: This study had sought to determine whether acute, hallucinogenic doses of psychedelic compounds can produce long-lasting changes in mood and behaviour in humans. The study builds off recent data that suggests that a single hallucinogenic dose of DMT can change rodent brain structure and behaviour even long after the drug has been cleared from the body. The authors hypothesize that administering DMT on a chronic, intermittent, low-dose regiment (microdosing) might alter behaviour.
Excerpt: "A single hallucinogenic dose of several psychedelic compounds has been shown to increase gene expression of several genes related to neural plasticity... Chronic, intermittent low doses of DMT appear to accomplish this [repairing of damaged circuits relevant to mood and anxiety] without any obvious changes in the expression of BDNF [brain-derived neurotrophic factor] or other genes known to be differentially regulated following administration of a single high dose of a psychedelic."
Research & Footnotes
Risk Assessment of Ritual Use of Oral Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT): Subjective effects and patterns of use among Australian recreational users
Neural correlates of the DMT experience assessed with multivariate EEG
Neuropharmacology of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine