DMT is a powerful hallucinogen, capable of giving users an intense experience. As with other psychedelics, most people probably think it’s a DMT drug with negative side effects. But is DMT dangerous? What people may not know is that there are also benefits that can be found in DMT when taken in the right circumstances.
DMT is officially known as N, N-dimethyltryptamine. A synthetic version of DMT was created in 1931, but in the late 1940s it was discovered to also be naturally occurring in plants. Its hallucinogenic properties were explored in the 1950s by Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist Stephen Szara. However, DMT’s history as a psychedelic compound goes back much further—it can be found in Psychotria viridis, which is one of the major components of ayahuasca.
DMT and Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has a rich history of being incorporated into spiritual and cultural rituals in certain parts of the world (the plants can be found in Mexico, South America, and Asia). By using ayahuasca in these ceremonial rituals, users could have a transformative, more profound encounter that elevated their consciousness to a higher plane. Even today, people embark on pilgrimages to have an ayahuasca-fueled out-of-body experience. Traditionally, ayahuasca is either inhaled or steeped in a brew and then consumed. While ayahuasca may be the most well-known substance containing DMT, there are other brews that feature it as well, mainly in South America.
The synthesized version of DMT comes in powder or crystal form, usually yellow, pink, or orange in color. DMT use has become more widespread in recent years, with a 53 percent increase in American users from 2006 to 2012. But is DMT legal? In 1971, the Controlled Substances Act came into effect, and DMT was classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it poses a high risk for abuse and is not used medically, but it is still sold illegally. However, researchers can get approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use the substance in studies. This is a positive step, as the field is ripe for research so we can better understand the ways DMT works and how it can be incorporated into treatment plans for specific conditions. It is also interesting to note that DMT is naturally occurring in the human body and has been found in places such as the lungs and the brain’s pineal gland.
On its own, the high from DMT is a quick one. For instance, if DMT is intravenously injected, the onset of effects occurs within five minutes before tapering off after about 30 to 45 minutes. That’s because DMT is quickly metabolized and cleared from the body. The high can last longer if DMT is combined with another substance. One reason why ayahuasca is so potent is that the other main component, Banisteriopsis caapi, has a compound that blocks stomach enzymes from rapidly eliminating DMT from the body.
DMT acts similarly to other psychedelics such as LSD, mescaline, or mushrooms that trigger the serotonin receptors in the brain. The hallmark DMT effects are hallucinations that are incredibly vivid, skewing the user’s perception of time, color, space, and sound. Sometimes these hallucinations can be frightening, but other times they can be deeply meaningful, giving the user a sense of euphoria they’ve never experienced before.
Using DMT without proper guidance, or using a manufactured version that comes from an illegal, unregulated lab, can lead to problems. DMT side effects can include pupil dilation, high heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, dizziness, lack of coordination, and feelings of anxiety or paranoia. Higher concentrations of DMT can give users migraines, chills and fever, diarrhea, muscle stiffness, or feelings of agitation; in the worst case, they may suffer seizures or arrhythmia, lose consciousness, or die. DMT use over the long term can cause flashbacks or psychosis that alters thoughts and mood.
What is DMT’s Potential?
In the right circumstances and at a carefully managed dosage, DMT may have great potential for therapeutic uses. In just a short period of time, it can give users the opportunity to deeply connect with themselves, access their emotions, and develop a greater self-awareness. This period of introspection and heightened consciousness may be beneficial for people dealing with certain issues such as substance abuse or addiction, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We are at a moment in history where there is growing interest in exploring the possibility of using psychedelics such as DMT in therapeutic treatment plans. As one example, studies have shown that people who use ayahuasca over a prolonged period of time report feeling more hopeful, with a decrease in symptoms of depression. DMT research is not as advanced as the studies focused on the benefits of other hallucinogens, such as the use of MDMA to help people with posttraumatic stress disorder, so much more research is needed on the subject. But there has been interest in how DMT could be used to complement psychiatric treatment, so we could see further developments in that area in the future. If we open our minds to the possibilities of how psychedelics such as DMT can open our minds, it could have a lasting impact.
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