DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug that occurs naturally in many plants and animals. Some people call it the “spirit molecule” due to the intense psychedelic experience.
Although lesser familiar than other psychedelics such as LSD or magic mushrooms, DMT produces a brief but intense visual and auditory hallucinogenic experience.
DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. This means that it is illegal to manufacture, buy, possess, or distribute the drug. The substance has a high potential for abuse, no government-recognized medical use, and a lack of accepted safety parameters for the use of the drug.
Researchers can use DMT under a Schedule I research registration that requires approval from both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Despite its illegal status, people sometimes use DMT in religious ceremonies and various settings for an “awakening” or to obtain deep spiritual insight.
Fast facts on DMT
Here are some key points about DMT. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- People have used DMT, often in religious rituals, for thousands of years.
- Use of the drug as part of shamanic ritual is common in South America.
- Side effects include powerful hallucinations.
- Due to the nature of the drug, some people call DMT the “spirit molecule.”
DMT is a white crystalline powder derived from certain plants found in Mexico, South America, and parts of Asia, such as Psychotria viridis. It is present in cohoba, a hallucinogenic drug derived from the seeds of Piptadenia peregrina.
People typically consume it in the following ways:
- vaporized or smoked in a pipe
- consumed orally in brews like ayahuasca
- snorted or injected on rare occasions
The chemical root structure of DMT is similar to the anti-migraine drug sumatriptan, and it acts as a non-selective agonist at most or all of the serotonin receptors, particularly at the serotonin 5-HT2a receptor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a large effect on the majority of our brain cells.
When consumed as a brew in the form of ayahuasca, the dose is between
DMT street names
A number of slang terms exist for DMT:
- businessman’s trip
- businessman’s special
- forty-five-minute psychosis
DMT has a long history dating back thousands of years. Indigenous cultures have often used it as part of religious rituals. For example, there is evidence of its use in Trinidad at the time of Spanish colonists’ arrival. The drug is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, a traditional South American brewed tea.
People illicitly use DMT for its psychoactive, hallucinogenic effects. Anecdotally, many users report taking the drug to attain spiritual insight. Scientific data suggests its effects on the brain might mimic those of a near-death experience.
Research from the 2021 Global Drug Survey found that 7.4% of respondents reported every microdosing with DMT. Microdosing is the practice of taking small doses of a drug to promote insight and creative thinking. Participants reported a lifetime use of 8.9%, with 4.3% reporting use during the last year. Data from this survey indicates use has increased over time, with usage rates similar to methamphetamine.
Some important differences between the two substances include:
- DMT typically contains no other ingredients, while ayahuasca contains plants and other compounds.
- DMT may be more potent than ayahuasca.
- Ayahuasca may contain other ingredients that alter the high of DMT.
- Toxicity and side effects may be more likely with DMT than with ayahuasca.
The main effect of DMT is psychological, with intense visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria, and an altered sense of space, body, and time.
Many users describe profound, life-changing experiences such as visiting other worlds, talking with alien entities known as “DMT elves” or “machine elves,” and total shifts in the perception of identity and reality.
When smoked, DMT produces brief yet intense visual and auditory hallucinations that some users describe as an alternate reality, otherworldly, or a near-death experience.
DMT users frequently claim that it has fewer side effects than other psychedelic drugs, but this is a difficult claim to measure and quantify.
Possible side effects of DMT include:
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- chest pain or tightness
- dilated pupils
- rapid rhythmic movements of the eye
When taken orally, DMT can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Depending on the individual user, the DMT experience can range from intensely exciting to overwhelmingly frightening. The experience can be so powerful that users may have difficulty processing and integrating the “trip” into their real life. Because DMT can mimic a near-death experience, some people may find using the drug traumatic and upsetting.
Mental side effects may linger for many days or weeks after ingestion of the drug.
DMT is structurally related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Heavy use, or use along with other drugs that contain serotonin, can cause life-threatening serotonin syndrome. Individuals taking antidepressants are at highest risk for this complication.
Serotonin syndrome occurs when the body accumulates an excessive amount of serotonin. The condition is is more likely in people taking a combination of different drugs.
Too much serotonin in the body can lead to a range of symptoms, such as:
At higher doses, DMT can cause seizures, respiratory arrest, and coma.
DMT could have serious adverse consequences for users with pre-existing psychological problems or a mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
Research does not suggest DMT causes physical dependence or addiction, although frequent recreational users may develop psychological cravings for the drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that, unlike other hallucinogens, DMT use does not seem to induce tolerance of the drug. More research is necessary to test the potential for addiction.
DMT has several health risks, can produce terrifying hallucinations, and might lead to psychological dependency.
DMT’s most well-documented and harmful interaction is its potential to cause serotonin syndrome. This is more likely in people taking antidepressants, or other drugs that increase serotonin levels. Clinical studies have not generally tested its interactions with other drugs.
DMT may increase the intensity of the effects of other psychedelics, such as LSD. Because it can change heart rate, perceptions, and emotional states, it may also change the way drugs that affect these functions work.
Because DMT is illegal, it can be difficult to get reliable information about its use and safety. Doctors will likely discourage using it, and may not know much about mitigating the risk. Some harm reduction strategies include:
- using DMT under the guidance of an experienced user or practitioner
- starting with a very small dose, and only increasing the dose based on response
- not using DMT with any other drugs or medication
- not using DMT if a person has a history of serious mental health issues, especially psychosis or dissociation
DMT is a potent hallucinogenic drug that can dramatically alter a person’s perspective, consciousness, and sensory experiences. Some people find it transformative and life-affirming to have this experience. Others find it traumatic.
People who wish to try DMT should learn as much as possible, and practice harm reduction strategies. Using DMT with other drugs or without support can be dangerous. While it may offer some mental health benefits, these benefits remain prospective and experimental, not scientifically proven.