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DMT Tolerance: Is There a Chance of Addiction?

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DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic drug, commonly used in the Amazon region, that has been around for hundreds of years. It has regularly been used as part of religious and spiritual rituals and ceremonies, as it can cause vivid auditory and visual hallucinations. It has often been referred to as the “spirit molecule.” 

In the United States, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies DMT as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it is considered an illegal drug with no accepted medicinal use. Depersonalization, distorted body image and spatial awareness, and an altered sense of time are side effects of a DMT trip. Some people who have used it described experiencing an out-of-body sensation that feels like a near-death experience. The trip starts within a few minutes of taking the drug and lasts about 30 to 45 minutes.

DMT is a naturally occurring substance that is found in many different plants and even in the human body in small amounts. It also can be manufactured into a white powder. The drug is generally smoked, snorted, injected, or brewed with vines into a tea called ayahuasca. 

DMT is a powerful hallucinogenic drug; however, it is not considered to cause drug tolerance or physical dependence, according to information cited by NIDA. As a result, it is not considered to be an addictive drug, but regular use may lead to psychological dependence.

Addiction and the Brain

Addiction is considered to be a brain disease. Per the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), it creates a chemical imbalance in the brain, leading to compulsive drug use and a loss of control over that use. DMT interacts with serotonin receptors (5-HT) in the brain, which does alter brain chemistry; however, it does not seem to affect chemical levels on a long-term basis.

With many drugs, tolerance can form with regular use. This means that certain amounts of the drug no longer produce the same effects and that more of the drug will be needed to experience its effects. This is not the case with DMT. Similarly, when a drug is addictive, it typically interferes with the chemical messengers in the brain that are involved in regulating moods and processing reward, leading to dysfunction in this area. 

Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the drug doing the job of the neurotransmitter. The brain then stops working normally without the drug. This is called chemical, or physical, drug dependence. When a person struggles with physical drug dependence, cravings and withdrawal symptoms creep up when the drug wears off. This can lead to difficulties when the use of these substances stops.

DMTToleranceIMG

While DMT does interfere with serotonin, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters involved in feelings of pleasure, it does not seem to have lasting effects on the brain’s reward processing center after the drug wears off. Levels of serotonin appear to return to normal after DMT processes out. 

That being said, large amounts of DMT can cause serotonin syndrome. This dangerous syndrome can lead to coma, respiratory depression, mental confusion, agitation, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, headache, loss of muscle coordination, and seizures. Risks of developing serotonin syndrome while taking DMT increase if the drug is mixed with another drug or medication that affects serotonin levels in the brain, such as an antidepressant. 

NIDA warns that the long-term effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as DMT are not totally clear. There may be lasting issues related to mood, thinking, memory, and movement caused by regular use of a hallucinogen.

Psychological Dependence 

While DMT is not considered to be physically addictive, it may be psychologically so. The trip from DMT is short-lived and intense, and it can be extremely desirable. Business Insider likens a DMT trip to a spiritual experience that creates abstract and vivid hallucinations, which may produce intense happiness and joy. Individuals often want to recreate this experience and may struggle with psychological cravings for DMT. 

Despite its pleasant effects, a DMT trip can be unpredictable, and not all of them are good experiences. Physical side effects of DMT wear off quickly, but some of the mental effects can last for a few days or weeks after taking the drug.

Since DMT is different from other hallucinogenic drugs in that the trip doesn’t last as long, people may use it more often and take it more regularly. Signs that DMT use may be problematic include:

  • Escalating DMT use, which means it is used for longer than intended or in higher doses than initially considered
  • Giving up activities or recreational events to use DMT instead
  • Spending a lot of time deciding how, when, and where to get DMT
  • Spending significant time under the influence of the drug or coming down from a trip
  • Using the drug in places or situations that may be dangerous physically
  • Continuing to use it even with the knowledge that there will be negative consequences
  • Unfulfilled work and/or family obligations linked to drug use
  • Use of DMT interfering with personal relationships and peer interactions
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop using the drug
  • A decline in physical appearance and health-related to DMT abuse
  • Mood swings and changes in personality due to drug use

Addiction is a disease indicated by a lack of ability to control drug use. While tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms are all signs of addiction, they aren’t the only indicators that an addiction may be present. A person can struggle with compulsive DMT use, psychological dependence, and cravings for the drug, signifying that addiction to the drug is possible.

Sources

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). (November 2016). Drug Enforcement Administration. from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/dmt.pdf

Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs. (February 2015). National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/how-do-hallucinogens-lsd-psilocybin-peyote-dmt-ayahuasca-affect-brain-body

Definition of Addiction. (April 2011). American Society of Addiction Medicine. from https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction

What Are Hallucinogens? (January 2016). National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

A Little-Known Hallucinogenic Drug Called DMT Takes People to a Place That Feels 'More Real Than Real-' Here's What Researchers Know About It. (March 2018). Business Insider. from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-research-on-the-hallucinogenic-drug-dmt-2018-3

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