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.
DMT is a psychedelic drug that is found in many plants and animals, including humans.
Recreationally DMT is usually smoked or injected.
In the 90s, a researcher asked people to take the drug and report back what they experienced.
Volunteers said they experienced something “more real than real,” and some were convinced of life after death.
Regular users of DMT report being taken to other realms, speaking to divine beings, and often come back with a new appreciation of life.
DMT has potential to be therapeutic in the future, but research is very much in its infancy.
“This state… cannot be described with words,” Sam*, a regular user of hallucinogenic drugs, wrote to me when he described one of his experiences with N,N-Dimethyltryptamine — known as DMT.
“It’s a state where you exist in your purest form, [a state] of deep peace and happiness,” he said. “This world is beyond cool to look at, and it just so seems that this is the place where we all came from, which is awesome. Spirals upon spirals began to appear and infinite spirals would emerge out of other spirals. I was happiness itself, this world is mine, and the happiness is emerging only from me.”
A trip on DMT is described by users like “breaking out of a simulation.” People report being able to access the true inner workings of their minds, and describe the feeling of being launched into other dimensions, where they experience their consciousness existing outside of their own bodies.
“One may experience coalescence with the very fabric of space-time, followed by the ‘blast-off’ into an alternate, alien realm, termed ‘hyperspace’ by some,” another user called Eli* told Business Insider. “The alternate realm defies all conceptions that we are accustomed to and typically presents as impossible geometric fractal patterns that possess eerie familiarity.”
Time and language are inconceivable, but you may experience telepathic conversations with the beings you encounter, he said. According to personal accounts, a DMT trip is different to hallucinating on other drugs, such as psilocybin (mushrooms) or LSD, because it takes you some place completely different to this world, as opposed to modifying your relationship with the one you already exist in.
In fact, the trip is so intense and abstract, some users have trouble explaining exactly what it’s like. One user told me that attempting to write it down is essentially pointless. But a common theme among users is the opinion that tripping on DMT feels “more real than real.”
Many of the users I spoke to mentioned their minds being “pulled” from their bodies, meeting alien entities or spiritual beings to guide them, in an environment of vivid circus-like colours and patterns. There are also forums on the internet dedicated to particular figures that seem to appear time and time again, such as a jester.
Research into DMT started in the 50s
DMT was first found to be psychedelic by the Hungarian chemist Stephen Szára in the 1950s. In the 60s it was discovered in the human body, with research suggesting it is synthesised in lungs and the pineal gland in the brain. It is now believed to be widespread throughout the natural kingdom, in thousands of plants, and in every mammal that has been investigated so far
A flurry of research throughout the 60s focused on DMT, including looking into whether it could help explain why some people have schizophrenia (it couldn’t). But then, in the 70s, DMT was placed into a restrictive legal category, and research was halted.
“I was interested in looking at DMT as a naturally occurring psychedelic for quite a few reasons,” he told Business Insider. “One of them was being interested in the biology of naturally occurring spiritual states. In other words, in whatever manner, some of the symptoms of a near death state, a mystical experience of enlightenment, or religious, unusual dreams. One could make an argument that naturally occurring DMT was also involved in those non-drug states.”
In the DMT study, Strassman recruited volunteers, all of whom were experienced hallucinogen users. He asked them to take DMT in a clinical environment, and then report their experience when the hallucinations ended. With a regular dose, the effects of a DMT trip are generally over within 30 to 40 minutes.
“There were no bells, no whistles, no Buddhist statues — it was just ‘here’s the drug, and tell me what happened after you come down.'” Strassman said. “So it was kind of like sending people off to explore a new world and telling them to come back and tell us what they encountered.”
Usually, DMT is smoked or injected, as it is broken down too quickly in the stomach to achieve any hallucinogenic effects if it’s swallowed.
When people come down from a DMT high, they often report having profound experiences, such as looking back on childhood memories. Some saw abstract images that told them to spend more time with family. One woman in the study, Strassman said, came back convinced of the persistence of consciousness after death.
“One of the volunteers had a classic near death experience, and that confirmed her beliefs, and made her feel good about the prospect of dying when it happened,” he said. “She said: ‘If everyone knew what was awaiting them after death, everyone would commit suicide,’ and I said, ‘Well, don’t spread the word.'”