N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT)

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT)

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N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT)

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT or N,N-DMT) is a substituted tryptamine that occurs in many plants and animals and which is both a derivative and a structural analog of tryptamine. It is used as a recreational psychedelic drug and prepared by various cultures for ritual purposes as an entheogen.

DMT has a rapid onset, intense effects, and a relatively short duration of action. For those reasons, DMT was known as the “business trip” during the 1960s in the United States, as a user could access the full depth of a psychedelic experience in considerably less time than with other substances such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms. DMT can be inhaled, ingested, or injected and its effects depend on the dose, as well as the mode of administration. When inhaled or injected, the effects last a short period of time: about five to 15 minutes. Effects can last three hours or more when orally ingested along with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), such as the ayahuasca brew of many native Amazonian tribes. DMT can produce vivid “projections” of mystical experiences involving euphoria and dynamic hallucinations of geometric forms.

DMT is a functional analog and structural analog of other psychedelic tryptamines such as O-acetylpsilocin (4-AcO-DMT), psilocybin (4-PO-DMT), psilocin (4-HO-DMT), O-methylbufotenin (5-MeO-DMT), and bufotenin (5-HO-DMT). The structure of DMT occurs within some important biomolecules like serotonin and melatonin, making them structural analogs of DMT.


Subjective psychedelic experiences

Induced DMT experiences can include profound time-dilation, visual, auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive distortions and hallucinations, and other experiences that, by most firsthand accounts, defy verbal or visual description. Examples include perceiving hyperbolic geometry or seeing Escher-like impossible objects.

Several scientific experimental studies have tried to measure subjective experiences of altered states of consciousness induced by drugs under highly controlled and safe conditions.

Rick Strassman and his colleagues conducted a five-year-long DMT study at the University of New Mexico in the 1990s. The results provided insight about the quality of subjective psychedelic experiences. In this study participants received the DMT dosage via intravenous injection and the findings suggested that different psychedelic experiences can occur, depending on the level of dosage. Lower doses (0.01 and 0.05 mg/kg) produced somaesthetic and emotional responses, but not hallucinogenic experiences (e.g., 0.05 mg/kg had mild mood elevating and calming properties). In contrast, responses produced by higher doses (0.2 and 0.4 mg/kg) researchers labeled as “hallucinogenic” that elicited “intensely colored, rapidly moving display of visual images, formed, abstract or both”. Comparing to other sensory modalities the most affected was the visual. Participants reported visual hallucinations, fewer auditory hallucinations and specific physical sensations progressing to a sense of bodily dissociation, as well as to experiences of euphoria, calm, fear, and anxiety. These dose-dependent effects match well with anonymously posted “trip reports” online, where users report “breakthroughs” above certain doses. These “breakthrough” experiences often result with the user becoming completely or almost completely detached from reality (especially visually and auditorily), and thrust into “DMT hyperspace”. It is here that most users report contact with entities, while even doses slightly under a breakthrough dose have far less extreme effects.

Strassman also stressed the importance of the context where the drug has been taken. He claimed that DMT has no beneficial effects of itself, rather the context when and where people take it plays an important role.

It appears that DMT can induce a state or feeling where the person believes to “communicate with other intelligent-life forms” (see “machine elves”). High doses of DMT produce a state that involves a sense of “another intelligence” that people sometimes describe as “super-intelligent”, but “emotionally detached”

A 1995 study by Adolf Dittrich and Daniel Lamparter found that the DMT-induced altered state of consciousness (ASC) is strongly influenced by habitual rather than situative factors. In the study, researchers used three dimensions of the APZ questionnaire to examine ASC. The first dimension, oceanic boundlessness (OB), refers to dissolution of ego boundaries and is mostly associated with positive emotions. The second dimension, anxious ego-dissolution (AED), represents a disordering of thoughts and decreases in autonomy and self-control. Last, visionary restructuralization (VR) refers to auditory/visual illusions and hallucinations Results showed strong effects within the first and third dimensions for all conditions, especially with DMT, and suggested strong intrastability of elicited reactions independently of the condition for the OB and VR scales.

Reported encounters with external entities

Entities perceived during DMT inebriation have been represented in diverse forms of psychedelic art. The term machine elf was coined by ethnobotanist Terence McKenna for the entities he encountered in DMT “hyperspace”, also using terms like fractal elves, or self-transforming machine elves. McKenna first encountered the “machine elves” after smoking DMT in Berkeley in 1965. His subsequent speculations regarding the hyperdimensional space in which they were encountered have inspired a great many artists and musicians, and the meaning of DMT entities has been a subject of considerable debate among participants in a networked cultural underground, enthused by McKenna’s effusive accounts of DMT hyperspace. Cliff Pickover has also written about the “machine elf” experience, in the book Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves, while Rick Strassman notes many similarities between self-reports of his DMT study participants’ encounters with these “entities”, and mythological descriptions of figures such as Chayot Ha Kodesh in ancient religions, including both angels and demons. Strassman also argues for a similarity in his study participants’ descriptions of mechanized wheels, gears and machinery in these encounters, with those described in visions of encounters with the Living Creatures and Ophanim of the Hebrew Bible, noting they may stem from a common neuropsychopharmacological experience.

Strassman argues that the more positive of the “external entities” encountered in DMT experiences should be understood as analogous to certain forms of angels:

The medieval Jewish philosophers whom I rely upon for understanding the Hebrew Bible text and its concept of prophecy portray angels as God’s intermediaries. That is, they perform a certain function for God. Within the context of my DMT research, I believe that the beings that volunteers see could be conceived of as angelic – that is, previously invisible, incorporeal spiritual forces that are engarbed or enclothed in a particular form – determined by the psychological and spiritual development of the volunteers – bringing a particular message or experience to that volunteer.

However, Strassman’s experimental participants also note that some other entities can subjectively resemble creatures more like insects and aliens. As a result, Strassman writes these experiences among his experimental participants “also left me feeling confused and concerned about where the spirit molecule was leading us. It was at this point that I began to wonder if I was getting in over my head with this research.

Hallucinations of strange creatures had been reported by Stephen Szara in a 1958 study in psychotic patients, in which he described how one of his subjects under the influence of DMT had experienced “strange creatures, dwarves or something” at the beginning of a DMT trip.

Other researchers of the entities seemingly encountered by DMT users describe them as “entities” or “beings” in humanoid as well as animal form, with descriptions of “little people” being common (non-human gnomes, elves, imps, etc.). Strassman and others have speculated that this form of hallucination may be the cause of alien abduction and extraterrestrial encounter experiences, which may occur through endogenously-occurring DMT.

Likening them to descriptions of rattling and chattering auditory phenomenon described in encounters with the Hayyoth in the Book of Ezekiel, Rick Strassman notes that participants in his studies, when reporting encounters with the alleged entities, have also described loud auditory hallucinations, such as one subject reporting typically “the elves laughing or talking at high volume, chattering, twittering”.

Near-death experience

A 2018 study found significant relationships between a DMT experience and a near-death experience.A 2019 large-scale study found that ketamine, Salvia divinorum, and DMT (and other classical psychedelic substances) are linked to near-death experiences.

Physiological response

According to a dose-response study in human subjects, dimethyltryptamine administered intravenously slightly elevated blood pressure, heart rate, pupil diameter, and rectal temperature, in addition to elevating blood concentrations of beta-endorphin, corticotropin, cortisol, and prolactin; growth hormone blood levels rise equally in response to all doses of DMT, and melatonin levels were unaffected.”

Dependence liability

The dependence potential of DMT and the risk of sustained psychological disturbance may be minimal when used infrequently, as in religious ceremonies; however, the physiological dependence potential of DMT and ayahuasca has not yet been documented convincingly.

Conjecture regarding endogenous effects

In the 1950s, the endogenous production of psychoactive agents was considered to be a potential explanation for the hallucinatory symptoms of some psychiatric diseases; this is known as the transmethylation hypothesis. Several speculative and yet untested hypotheses suggest that endogenous DMT is produced in the human brain and is involved in certain psychological and neurological states. DMT is naturally occurring in small amounts in rat brain, human cerebrospinal fluid, and other tissues of humans and other mammals. Further, mRNA for the enzyme necessary for the production of DMT, INMT, are expressed in the human cerebral cortex, choroid plexus, and pineal gland, suggesting an endogenous role in the human brain. In 2011, Nicholas V. Cozzi, of the Unversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, concluded that INMT, an enzyme that is associated with the biosynthesis of DMT and endogenous hallucinogens, is present in the primate (rhesus macaque) pineal gland, retinal ganglion neurons, and spinal cord. Neurobiologist Andrew Gallimore (2013) suggested that while DMT might not have a modern neural function, it may have been an ancestral neuromodulator once secreted in psychedelic concentrations during REM sleep, a function now lost

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