DMT Basics

What exactly is DMT?

DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a chemical found naturally in certain plants. It is also found naturally in the human body, though the circumstances surrounding that remain somewhat mysterious.

When consumed, DMT is a very powerful psychedelic — arguably the most powerful on earth. DMT is the active hallucinogenic component of ayahuasca, a brew that has been used in rituals by indigenous people in South America for centuries. Ayahuasca is frequently consumed in ceremonies held by shamans who brew the tea from the root of a vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis). 

DMT can also be taken in crystal form, usually by smoking or vaping it. Rather than an ayahuasca trip, which can take 6-8+ hours to fully move through, smoking DMT prompts an extremely potent but relatively short hallucinogenic state that’s considered one of the most intense in existence.

DMT can also be found in other forms, including psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms (4-PO-HO-DMT).

Is DMT safe?

Similar to answering, “Is alcohol safe?” the short answer is that it depends.

DMT is an extremely powerful psychedelic. Its physiological effects frequently include elevated blood pressure and heart rate (anyone with a heart condition should be very careful if smoking DMT); shivering; dizziness and/or lack of coordination (feeling disoriented); nausea (especially if taken in ayahuasca); and sometimes the loss of consciousness.

Because of the physical effects, when taking DMT you should make sure you’re in a safe and comfortable environment. It’s best to be able to sit or lie down, and not need to walk around or get anywhere. 

The psychological effects of DMT include hallucinations, which can be fascinating, illuminating, beautiful, and thought-provoking. However, as the visualizations can also be disorienting and overwhelming, they can also provoke feelings of panic or anxiety. In some cases, this can prompt psychological trauma, particularly since DMT can generate both open- and closed-eyed visualizations (meaning you see things both when your eyes and open and closed). 

Perhaps one of the most consistent and striking parts of a DMT experience is the way many people report a form of “ego death,” meaning they lose the feeling of separation between mind and soul (and/or mind and body). This can be one of the most profoundly meaningful sensations of a person’s life, and it can also be depersonalizing to a terrifying extent.

For safety, experts and mystics alike strongly recommend having a sober guide present with you if you’re going to experiment with DMT. Having someone there to hold space as you are launched into intense, mind-altering experiences is both practical and wise. 

The cutting-edge DMT experiments currently being conducted at institutions like Johns Hopkins University always include sober guides (frequently trained psychologists) to help people move through their experience in as smooth and safe a way as possible. 

What do you experience on DMT?

One of the most groundbreaking books on DMT was published in 2000, by Dr. Rick Strassman, a leader in the field of psychedelic research. Entitled, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, the book outlines the results of Strassman’s research on people who took DMT in a clinical context.

Whether taken in a clinical setting or not, many of those who take DMT have the following in common: profound and deeply healing mystical experiences

A large percentage of those who take DMT report deep, meaningful, and sometimes shocking experiences. It has been likened to “100 hours of therapy in one moment.”

Ayahuasca in particular often provokes those who take it to come face-to-face with their demons — their deepest fears and insecurities. It’s not a “fun” experience for a lot of people, but it’s consistently reported as hugely helpful in getting an outside perspective on your own life. 

In the words of one user

“It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life. Imagine cramming like 50 years of therapy into 5 nights, going down to the core of your being and being forced to confront and release all the emotions and negative thought habits you’ve been holding on to and repressing.

Not only did it cure my depression, but also several physical ailments which I learned were physical manifestations of mental problems (eczema, heart palpitations, and digestive issues). If you are at the end of your rope (or even if you’re not) I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

For many, the experience involves seeing flashbacks from their past (childhood, etc.), but with a new, clear-eyed understanding of how they can be interpreted in a more holistic way. For example, you might see how you were neglected by your father, and be able to link that directly to your current need to drink (alcoholism). But you may also be infused with an incredible amount of compassion, not only for yourself in that circumstance but everyone else who has gone through something similar. Perhaps you’re able to let go of that sense of abandonment and move forward into a sense of belonging. 

In addition, during a DMT experience some people talk about meeting intelligent life from other planes of existence. Others see or “meet” their own ancestors, who have messages from them. Many report the grounded, peaceful sense of the oneness of not only humanity, but the whole field of consciousness.

According to an Australian study in 2010, the most commonly-reported positive impact of a DMT experience (whether smoked or on ayahuasca) was “an increase in psychospiritual insight.” In other words, it is a substance that can consistently prompt mystical experiences in human beings. 

What are the risks associated with DMT?

The serious risks associated with DMT are when it interacts with other drugs or substances. DMT affects the serotonin system in the body and should absolutely not be taken in conjunction with any of the following medications

  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and more)
  • High blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensives)
  • Diet pills (appetite suppressants)
  • Cold medicines, antihistamines and asthma medications (basically any drug with dextromethorphan/DXM in it, or with DM, DX or Tuss in its name)
  • Central nervous system depressants like Xanax, Ativan, etc.
  • Vasodilators
  • Antipsychotics
  • Barbiturates
  • Alcohol

The illegal or recreational drugs that are also dangerous to combine with DMT are:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines (including methamphetamine and dexamphetamine), ephedrine, MDMA (aka molly, ecstasy, X), MDA, MDEA, PMA
  • Opiates (opium, heroin, morphine, codeine, etc.)
  • dextromethorphan (DXM)

Is DMT legal?

DMT is illegal in most countries, though the enforcement of laws banning it vary. If used in the U.S. as an ingredient in the tea containing ayahuasca, for example, there are certain exceptions made for groups who utilize it for religious purposes. (The actual plants that contain DMT, such as those used to brew ayahuasca, are not illegal, but once the DMT is extracted, it becomes an illegal substance.)