A hallucinogenic drug that has been used for many hundreds of years, DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is commonly found in plants in South America and the Amazonian region. It also can be synthesized into a white powder form in a lab.
DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic that may even be produced in the human body in small amounts. It is commonly smoked, snorted, or injected. It also can be loaded into vape pens.
The drug generally is not ingested or swallowed because it is broken down too quickly in the stomach and therefore doesn’t have much effect when taken that way. One major exception is when it is brewed into a special South American tea called ayahuasca. In ayahuasca, an additional plant containing a certain inhibitor is added, so the psychoactive properties of DMT can be felt.
DMT is commonly referred to as the “spirit molecule,” and it has traditionally been used in religious and spiritual ceremonies and rituals. It reared its head as a recreational drug in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. It was even briefly studied for its potential therapeutic properties until it was classified as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the early 1970s, making the drug illegal, Business Insider reports.
Today, DMT has no accepted medical uses in the U.S. It is considered a recreational drug of abuse and therefore illegal to possess and use.
Use and Abuse
Hallucinogenic drugs like DMT are some of the least used recreational drugs of abuse in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that around 1.5 million Americans were classified as current users of a hallucinogenic drug at the time of the 2016 survey. The largest demographic of people who abuse hallucinogens are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, as close to 2 percent of this age group abused one of these drugs (DMT, LSD, peyote, PCP, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, ecstasy, ketamine, and salvia divinorum) in the month before the 2016 NSDUH.
DMT may be preferred over some other hallucinogenic drugs because the psychedelic trip is a lot shorter than other drugs like LSD. A DMT trip only lasts about 30 to 45 minutes on average with effects coming on rapidly—in the first three to five minutes after taking it—and wearing off quickly, the DEA publishes. According to the 2016 Global Drug Survey, about 2.5 percent of the world’s population reported past-year use of DMT.
On the streets, DMT is referred to by various names, including:
- Businessman’s trip
- 45-minute psychosis
- Businessman’s special
DMT is a tryptamine drug that acts on serotonin receptors (5-HT) in the brain. Serotonin is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters that are involved in feelings of pleasure and happiness.
A DMT trip is reported to cause an almost out-of-body or spiritual experience. People often say they feel like they have been taken out of their own heads and into a different realm altogether. Reports of meeting aliens, being transported back to childhood, and undergoing a near-death experience have all been cited from a DMT trip. Some people claim to have seen what lies on the other side of death while under the influence of DMT.
When someone takes the drug, it rapidly takes effect, producing vivid auditory and visual hallucinations. Depersonalization, changes in the way people view themselves (body image), and altered senses of time and spatial orientations are side effects of DMT intoxication. A DMT trip has been classified as being abstract and intense. It is also very short-lived and different from any other hallucinogenic drug experience.
Hazards of Use
As a hallucinogenic drug, DMT is unpredictable, and the experience of taking it may not always be pleasant. It can be impossible to know exactly what the experience will be like before taking it, and there is no way to come down off it until DMT processes out of the body on its own. The changes to body image and spatial awareness can lead to an increased rate of accidents and potential injuries.
Since DMT so greatly affects the brain and thinking abilities, rational and logical thought and decision-making functions are significantly impaired while under the influence of DMT. A person may then easily get into a situation that could be dangerous or have hazardous consequences.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that DMT raises heart rate and can cause agitation. The DEA reports the following as additional health risks and side effects of DMT use:
- Nystagmus (involuntary and rapid eye movement)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Ataxia (uncoordinated body and muscle movements)
- Dilated pupils
Chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also side effects of DMT use. In the 1990s, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the DEA approved Dr. Rick Strassman to conduct university studies on DMT use and its interactions in the brain, ABC News reports. The findings of the study showed that a DMT trip can be very vivid and intense, and may also be unsettling and startling. Even prepared users may experience what can amount to a dangerous trip.
Since DMT interacts on serotonin levels in the brain, it may also induce serotonin syndrome, which is indicated by a headache, confusion, loss of muscle control, high blood pressure, and agitation. Serotonin syndrome can lead to respiratory arrest, coma, and seizures. Combining DMT with other drugs, especially antidepressants or other substances that interact with serotonin levels in the brain, can increase the risk for this dangerous syndrome, which may even become life-threatening.
Lasting Effects of Use
It is unclear whether or not DMT is addictive. The drug is not believed to cause tolerance or physical dependence; however, regular use may lead to psychological drug cravings and dependence. Drug tolerance occurs when the brain gets used to certain levels of the drug being present, and physical and chemical changes take place. DMT is not thought to elicit this kind of chemical imbalance in the brain, even with regular use. However, if a person takes DMT repeatedly over time, they may begin to crave the feelings the drug can produce, and may, therefore, develop a psychological compulsion to keep taking it.
Overall, hallucinogenic drugs are not well understood, but it is believed that chronic use may have lasting effects on the brain and body. NIDA warns that the long-term side effects of hallucinogenic drugs may include flashbacks and changes to moods, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, memory issues, and cognitive decline. Some of these deficits may not be entirely reversible either.
A DMT trip is described as extremely powerful. Some of the mental effects may linger for several hours, days, or even weeks after the drug has worn off and processed out of the body.
Getting a Handle on DMT Abuse
Since DMT is considered a recreational drug with no real medical use in the United States, any use of it is considered to be problematic and a cause for concern. Recognizing DMT abuse can be the first step toward getting help. There are specific signs that a person may be abusing DMT. Some of them are:
- Suspicious mail packages, as the drug may be ordered online and sent through the mail
- Excessive amounts of time spent online in drug-related websites and chat rooms
- Erratic and unpredictable behavior
- Intense mood swings
- Potential shift in personality
- Changes in physical appearance, including weight fluctuations
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Heightened secrecy
- Intentional social isolation and withdrawal from family and friends
- More and more time spent using DMT, figuring out how and where to get it, and coming down from trips
- Continuing to use the drug despite knowing it will have a negative impact
- Inability to stop taking it even when a desire to do so exists
- Taking it in situations that can be physically hazardous
- Inability to continually fulfill regular obligations as a result of drug use
- A decline in work or school production and attendance
- Sleeping at strange times
- Changes in peer circles to include mainly others involved in drug use
DMT is a potentially hazardous and volatile drug that can have dangerous side effects from even one use. It is not entirely clear exactly what kind of damage long-term use of the drug can do; therefore, no use of DMT is considered safe, especially not repeated use.
When seeking help for substance abuse, there are several different options to explore. Since DMT does not cause physical dependence, a medical detox program is generally not necessary, although it can be helpful to provide a person with a safe place to come down from a trip. The drug processes out of the body quickly, and further physical stabilization through detox is usually not needed.
Drug abuse and addiction treatment programs are offered in a variety of settings, ranging from outpatient care to inpatient or residential treatment programs. The optimal level of care for each person should be determined by detailed assessments and evaluations by trained professionals before admission.
Outpatient programs may be ideal for individuals who need to remain at home during treatment to continue to attend to family, work, and/or school obligations. An inpatient treatment program provides around-the-clock treatment in a highly structured environment that is optimal for individuals looking for the highest level of care.
Treatment programs for DMT abuse will likely include group workshops and life skills trainings that focus on teaching coping mechanisms, stress management techniques, and tools for minimizing relapse, or a return to drug use. Programs also provide individual counseling and therapies, often using behavioral therapy to modify thoughts that can lead to self-destructive actions such as drug abuse.
Support groups can be an integral part of a drug abuse treatment program, as they can provide positive peer interactions and encouragement for recovery. There are many different forms of support groups, including ones that focus on specialty populations to ensure that each person is comfortable and feels supported and understood.
NIDA reports that throughout the United States, there are more than 14,500 different and specialized programs focused on drug abuse and addiction. A complete drug abuse treatment program can help identify the root cause that may have encouraged a person to look to drugs like DMT, and teach new and improved methods for managing and improving overall well-being.