What are the potential therapeutic uses of DMT?
Ancient cultures worldwide have used psychedelic plant medicines as a part of their spiritual practices for centuries. Many consider plant medicines like ayahuasca, psilocybin (the form of DMT found in magic mushrooms), iboga, and cannabis to be sacred, and instrumental in helping to support a human being’s spiritual journey.
Now, scientific research is catching up to what the ancients have known for thousands of years: these plant medicines can dramatically help people who are suffering.
Clinical research and cutting-edge studies conducted and forwarded by organizations like Johns Hopkins’ Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) are helping advance the exciting reality of using DMT in therapeutic contexts.
Plus, when used properly, many argue that these psychedelics provide a safer, faster, and frequently more effective way to treat mental health issues than prescription medications that so often come with unhealthy side effects (and, in some cases, make things worse). This is important, given the significant limitations of modern psychiatry and in its strong links to large-scale pharmaceutical companies, the ethics of which are hazy at best.
Some of the most serious and crippling psychological conditions humanity faces can be calmed tremendously with these plant medicines, and the applications are both thrilling and uplifting to contemplate.
What can DMT realistically “treat”?
In a landmark 2006 research study, participants took psilocybin (the active component in magic mushrooms) in a controlled setting, with an experienced guide and a nurse on standby.
Over 70% of participants rated the experience as “one of the five most important in their lives.” A full 30% rated it “the single most important experience of their lives.”
The fact is, a mystical experience that gives you a real, nourishing, and felt sense of the interconnectedness of life, can be profoundly transformative. Many, many people struggle to feel safe in life, in their bodies, and in their relationships. Conditions like anxiety and depression prompt coping mechanisms like addiction to drugs, alcohol, or behaviors like compulsive gambling, etc.
Thus the treatment range for DMT is vast.
The link between psilocybin and depression treatment is a promising one, for example. Depression is complex, and while its exact “causes” is still unknown, one common experience of those struggling with it is the unrelenting cycle of negative thoughts, known as “rumination.”
These are unproductive thought loops that are negative in nature — things like, “I can never get anything right,” or, “I’m such a loser,” or, “Nothing ever works out for me.” Such thoughts are tied to the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is activated when we think about ourselves (versus thinking about others, or the wider collective of humanity, or the earth).
In order to treat depression successfully, one must calm this area of the brain — and psilocybin does exactly that. A psychedelic experience mutes the obsessive self-critical thoughts, leaving you open to appreciate the wider world (without judging yourself within it).
Depression can also be triggered in people who’ve gotten a terminal cancer diagnosis. A particularly inspirational study out of UCLA showed that in a test group of people who’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness, taking psilocybin substantially reduced psychological distress. It also helped prompt feelings of gratitude for the moment, for the life these individuals still had to live. They felt more uplifted and ready to connect with their loved ones and appreciate what life still had to offer.
Psychedelics repeatedly appear to prompt an awareness in human beings that helps us to know and feel that we’re not alone in life, which calms the mind, body, and spirit.
DMT and relief for PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the most distressing and debilitating mental health challenges there is — and one of the most notoriously difficult to treat with things like psychotherapy (talk therapy).
Psilocybin and MDMA are currently both being used to treat treatment-resistant PTSD — that is, people with PTSD for whom other forms of treatment haven’t worked. Some of these people have suffered for decades with debilitating PTSD, the symptoms of which can include nightmares (which compromises your sleep quality, which affects everything else); persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame; trouble focusing; reckless or self-destructive behavior; hypervigilance; and more.
Those suffering from PTSD include sexual abuse survivors; domestic violence survivors; military veterans; and others with serious trauma in their background.
People with PTSD frequently turn to substances like alcohol, drugs, and other self-medication techniques to numb themselves of the horror of everyday life. Thus many addicts, either alcoholics or those addicted to heroin, prescription opioids, marijuana, and other substances, are really attempting to “treat” their own PTSD.
One 54-year-old man described his experience using psilocybin to help his PTSD and treatment-resistant depression. The pain of his reality left him suicidal and plagued with violent nightmares, despite trying to use things like Xanax and Valium (neither of which worked):
“My mental condition was deteriorating rapidly, and I was on [antidepressant] medication No. 14 and it wasn’t working,” said Todd (name changed to protect identity). “My psychiatrist said, ‘I honestly think you’re a big candidate for psychedelics.’”
Todd started taking psilocybin — and reported that he hasn’t had a single PTSD episode since. His depression has also dissipated. He says the psilocybin has even eased immense physical pain (he suffers from tumors in both his spine and skill). “It’s knocked that [pain] out, it’s wiped that slate clean,” he said.
Psychedelics are safer, too
One of the many advantages to using medicines like psilocybin is the lack of long-term side effects. Whereas prescription antidepressant, antianxiety, and antipsychotic medications often prompt side effects that range from nausea to weight gain, loss of libido, fatigue, sleep issues, dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision (as well as the difficulty of getting off of such drugs — they have to be tapered in order to avoid side effects like excruciating headaches and insomnia).
Psilocybin, by contrast, has zero long-term physical side effects. It also lacks the addictive properties of other substances — you don’t get addicted to psychedelics like psilocybin the same way you do to opioids, for example.
Another study showed that psilocybin is also not connected to any adverse mental health outcomes. While bad reactions (also known as “bad trips”) are absolutely a reality when psychedelics are taken by those who aren’t prepared and without an experienced guide, when taken responsibly, you’re far more likely to have a good experience than a bad one.
Experts in the field cannot stress enough the importance of having a trained “sitter” (someone to sit with you) when you’re exploring psychedelic experiences.
The future of psychedelic therapy
In May of 2018, the Right to Try Act was passed by the U.S. government, giving terminally ill people the right to try solutions that have yet to be approved by the FDA — including certain psychedelic treatments.
The co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, has come out in favor of medically-supervised LSD therapy as a way to achieve the spiritual awareness that forms the basis of the 12-step addiction recovery program.
After completing a pilot study on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, Dr. Michael P. Bogenschutz, professor and vice-chair for Addiction Psychiatry and Clinical Research at the University of New Mexico, had this to say: “The stronger the person’s subjective response to psilocybin and the more they reported dimensions of mystical quality to the experience, the greater their clinical improvement in terms of both their drinking and their psychological status.”
In other words, the mystical quality of the experience on psychedelics had a definitive impact on a participant’s ability to stop an addictive behavior and feel better about life overall.
More and more, psychedelics including DMT are entering the mainstream as an appropriate and much-needed solution to some of the most difficult and persistent challenges faced by humanity. The fields of psychiatry and psychology have a number of strong advocates for and proponents of using these powerful medicines to help those who need it most.
We are not alone in the universe; we are deeply and inherently connected — to one another, and to everything. Interconnectedness is reality; it’s physics. We belong here — and psychedelics can help us grasp this on every level of our being.