MDMA and DMT are both psychoactive chemicals substances with psychedelic effects. One is popular in party scenes, and in rave culture, the other is sought out for spiritual experiences. However, both can be dangerous when they’re abused. How are these two powerful chemicals similar, and how are they different? Learn more about MDMA, DMT, and their effects on the human brain and body.
What Is MDMA?
MDMA is an abbreviation for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, which is a popular recreational drug that’s often used in party settings. MDMA, also called Molly, is a drug in a category called entactogens, which are marked by powerful effects on emotion, sociability, and empathy. They are often described as having a mix of psychedelic and stimulant effects, with an emphasis on emotional enhancement.
MDMA is a synthetic drug that was originally created in 1912 by the Merck pharmaceutical company in Germany. It was created as a byproduct while trying to create a medication to get around a patent that was held by Bayer. MDMA was later studied by chemist Alexander Shulgin as a potential therapy aid. The drug’s effect on mood, openness, and sociability was thought to be potentially useful in helping patients open up to therapists and unlock repressed memories.
MDMA currently has no accepted medical or clinical uses in the United States, and it’s considered a Schedule I drug. However, it’s a popular illicit drug, especially in party settings in the U.S. and Europe. As a mood and empathy enhancer, it’s often used to make social encounters more rewarding. It’s also used in quiet settings with a small number of people around. The drug is sometimes used by people seeking psychedelic experiences.
MDMA works by affecting a few neurochemicals in the brain and body, especially serotonin. Serotonin is an important chemical messenger that has several functions in the body. It’s closely tied to reward, mood, learning, and memory. When it’s released in large quantities, it can cause euphoria, enhanced empathy, and a general feeling of well-being and happiness.
However, it depletes serotonin resources in the body, which causes an uncomfortable comedown marked by depression and lethargy. MDMA has some other side effects, including dry mouth, sweating, insomnia, impaired balance, and dehydration. High doses can be dangerous and could lead to hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
What Is DMT?
DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a naturally occurring psychoactive chemical that has powerful psychedelic effects. The chemical is most commonly found in plants, but it may also be found in animals, including humans. Research suggests that DMT may actually be produced in human brains, particularly in the pineal gland, and may have a role in dreaming.
The drug has historically been taken by Amazonian tribes as part of religious ceremonies. In those tribes, it’s taken in the form of ayahuasca, a tea that’s brewed with DMT producing plants and plants that are used to activate the drug.
DMT has been studied by a number of researchers over the 20th and 21st centuries, including ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna, who took the drug himself and documented the experiences. He described visiting other dimensions and encountering entities he called “machine elves.”
Later, the drug was studied by Dr. Rick Strassman, a psychopharmacologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico. Strassman administered the chemical to human participants, and he documented their experiences, which were often similar to McKenna’s, including the involvement of elf-like entities.
Today, the drug has gained popularity in the United States as a means to seek out psychedelic experiences. In some cases, tourists from all over the world travel to the Amazon to take part in rituals that include ayahuasca.
Some take these pilgrimages to help treat things like depression and addiction because DMT is reported to decrease activity in the part of the brain called the default mode network. This part of the brain is associated with depression and anxiety, and DMT users often leave their experiences with a sense of peace and acceptance about the issues they’ve been having.
The use of ayahuasca has also been linked to the deaths of some tourists. However, the exact causes of these deaths are unknown. In some cases, ayahuasca rituals also include powerful tobacco tea, which is used to purge the body through vomiting. In some cases, this tea has led to tobacco overdoses that are associated with ayahuasca rituals.
In the U.S., some have begun using synthesized DMT on its own by snorting or injecting the drug, causing powerful hallucinations, closed and open eye visuals, spiritual experiences, and euphoria. The drug can also cause increased heart rates and blood pressure. It can also produce fear, anxiety, and paranoia, especially during bad trips. In fact, Dr. Strassman described some participants having traumatic experiences on the drug in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule. However, the lethal dose of DMT is unknown and likely multiple times higher than a standard dose.
How Are They Similar?
DMT and MDMA are both substances that have powerful psychoactive properties that include psychedelic experiences. They have both been studied as potential therapeutic substances, but research is ongoing, and there are no approved uses yet. They may both have potentially dangerous effects when they are used in very high doses, particularly in people that have weak hearts or cardiovascular disease. They might also cause negative psychological symptoms during bad trips.
How Are They Different?
DMT has much more potent psychedelic effects than MDMA, and MDMA may have more physical effects, like raising
blood pressure and body temperature. MDMA has been linked to deadly instances of overdose, directly due to its negative side effects. DMT has been associated with a few deaths, but the exact causes might be indirect.
The overall safety of DMT is still being determined. They are also different in their intended purposes. People that seek out MDMA are typically looking for a recreational experience that includes euphoria and an increase in sociability. People that seek out DMT are often looking for self-discovery, spiritual experiences, or some other kind of transcendent experience.
Is DMT Safe?
As a hallucinogenic drug that packs a powerful trip, you might wonder – is DMT safe? However, despite its potent effects, DMT has the lowest side effect profile when compared to other psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD. With that being said, DMT does carry risks. It’s challenging to predict how you’ll react to the drug because it depends on several factors, including your body composition, your weight, the state of your mental and physical health, the amount you take, and how you take it.
Those who use DMT and other psychedelic drugs do so to experience euphoria, spiritual insight, and increased creativity. It’s referred to as the “spirit molecule.” However, not everyone who uses the drug enjoys the effects. Many people report feeling as though they have a near-death experience. Others say they’ve traveled to another dimension, which isn’t pleasant. It’s pretty intense.
Although DMT isn’t necessarily safe, is DMT dangerous? Let’s take a look at some adverse side effects below:
- Hallucinations that involve alien beings or elf-life creatures
- Distorted sense of time and body
- Dilated pupils
- Visual disturbances
- Rapid rhythmic eye movements
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
Ayahuasca vs. DMT
Ayahuasca vs. DMT – one is a psychedelic drink typically consumed with a shaman in the jungle of South America that makes you vomit before dealing with hours of psychedelic introspection. The other is a chemical found in nature that’s smoked and transports you to another reality. Both have very different effects, but they’re similar in nature.
MDA vs MDMA
Despite having similar names, the chemical makeup of these two drugs are very different – so are the effects. Both substances are part of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of drugs, meaning they’re both psychedelics and stimulants. When you wonder, MDA vs. MDMA, what’s the difference? Well, MDA causes more visuals than MDMA. It’s more psychedelic than a stimulant, even though it represents qualities of both. It’s also associated with a heavier body high and energy that lasts hours, depending on the dose.
MDMA is considered the love drug – even though it doesn’t last as long as MDA, it’s an intense high that causes you to feel a close connection with those around you. The drug is commonly referred to as “molly,” but is there a difference between molly and MDMA? No. The active ingredient in molly is MDMA. However, the difference is that molly comes in powder form, which is rarely pure, whereas ecstasy or MDMA comes in a pressed pill.
Because you can’t know what’s in your drugs, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms of an overdose. When you get a prescription pill from a doctor, you know exactly what the dosage is in that pill. However, when you purchase illicit drugs from the street, you can never be certain that what you’re taking is pure, nor the correct dosage. It’s a dangerous game of Russian roulette. Signs that someone is experiencing a dangerous reaction to MDA or MDMA include the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Feelings of faintness
- Panic attacks
- Extreme sweating
- High blood pressure
The psychological and physical dangers of MDMA and MDA are real. There has been debate whether these drugs are physically addictive and if they lead to tolerance. Repeated abuse can lead to a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Long-term use can also cause functional or structural changes in the brain. If you’ve continued to use drugs like the ones we’ve mentioned above, seeking addiction treatment might be your best option and could save you from a potentially fatal overdose.
Why Seek Addiction Treatment?
Illicit drug use and the use of substances that have not been adequately studied is inherently dangerous. It can be difficult to determine how your mind and body will react to the drug, or if what you are getting is a pure version of the drug without harmful additives. DMT and MDMA aren’t known to have high risks for chemical dependence, but euphoric experiences can cause psychological dependence and abuse. Substance use disorders are often progressive and can get worse if they are left untreated. Learn more about addiction and how it can be treated today.