DMT occurs naturally in many species of plants often in conjunction with its close chemical relatives 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin (5-OH-DMT). DMT-containing plants are commonly used in several South American shamanic practices. It is usually one of the main active constituents of the drink ayahuasca, however ayahuasca is sometimes brewed without plants that produce DMT. DMT occurs as the primary active alkaloid in several plants including such plants as Mimosa hostilis, Diplopterys cabrerana, and Psychotria viridis. DMT is found as a minor alkaloid in snuff made from Virola bark resin in which 5-MeO-DMT is the main active alkaloid. DMT is also found as a minor alkaloid in the beans of Anadenanthera peregrina and Anadenanthera colubrina used to make Yopo and Vilca snuff in which bufotenin is the main active alkaloid. Psilocybin, the active chemical in psilocybin mushrooms can also be considered a close chemical relative for the psilocybin molecule contains a DMT molecule at the end as with other close chemical relatives (4-Phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyl-tryptamine).
DMT is generally not active orally unless it is combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), such as harmaline. Without a MAOI, the body quickly metabolizes orally-administered DMT, and it therefore has no hallucinogenic effect unless the dose exceeds monoamine oxidase’s metabolic capacity (very rare). Other means of ingestion such as smoking or injecting the drug can produce powerful hallucinations and entheogenic activity for a short time (usually less than half an hour), as the DMT reaches the brain before it can be metabolised by the body’s natural monoamine oxidase. Taking a MAOI prior to smoking or injecting DMT will greatly prolong and potentiate the effects of DMT.
The psychotropic effects of DMT were first studied scientifically by the Hungarian chemist and psychologist Dr. Stephen Szára who performed research with volunteers in the mid-1950s. Szára, who later worked for the US National Institutes of Health, had turned his attention to DMT after his order for LSD from the Swiss company Sandoz Laboratories was rejected on the grounds that the powerful psychotropic could be dangerous in the hands of a communist country.
DMT is a powerful psychoactive substance. If DMT is smoked, injected, or orally ingested with an MAOI, it can produce powerful entheogenic experiences including intense visuals, euphoria, even true hallucinations (perceived extensions of reality).
Inhaled: If DMT is smoked, the maximal effects last for a short period of time (5 to 30 minutes, dose-dependent). The onset after inhalation is very fast (less than 45 seconds) and maximal effects are reached within about a minute. In the 1960s, some reportedly referred to DMT as “The businessman’s trip” due to the relatively short duration of vaporized, insufflated, or injected DMT.
Insufflation: When DMT is insufflated (snorted through the nostrils) the duration is markedly increased, and some users report diminished euphoria for increased “spiritual” qualities of effect.
Injection: Injected DMT produces an experience similar to inhalation in duration, intensity, and characteristics.
Oral ingestion: DMT, which is broken down by the digestive enzyme monoamine oxidase, is practically inactive if taken orally, unless combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The traditional South American ayahuasca, or yage, is a tea mixture containing DMT and a MAOI. There are a number of admixtures to this brew, but most commonly it is simply the leaves of Psychotria viridis (containing DMT), and the vine Banisteriopsis caapi (the source of MAOI). Other DMT containing plants, including Diplopterys cabrerana, are sometimes used in ayahuasca in different areas of South America. Two common sources in the western US are Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) and Harding grass (Phalaris aquatica). In addition, Mimosa hostilis or jurema shows evidence of DMT content: the pink layer in the bark of this vine contains a high concentration of N,N-DMT. These invasive grasses contain low levels of DMT and other alkaloids. Taken orally with an appropriate MAOI, DMT produces a long lasting (over 3 hour), slow, deep spiritual experience similar to that of psilocybin mushrooms, but more intense. MAOIs should be used with extreme caution as they can have lethal complications with some prescription drugs, such as SSRI antidepressants, some over-the-counter drugs, and many common foods.
Induced DMT experiences can include profound time-dilation, visual and audio illusions, and other experiences that, by most firsthand accounts, defy verbal or visual description. Some users report intense erotic imagery and sensations and utilize the drug in a ritual sexual context.
In a study conducted from 1990 through 1995, University of New Mexico psychiatrist Rick Strassman found that many volunteers injected with high doses of DMT had experiences with a perceived alien entity. Usually, the reported entities were experienced as the inhabitants of a perceived independent reality the subjects reported visiting on DMT.
|Systematic (IUPAC) name|
|Mol. mass||188.269 g/mol|
|Melt. point||47–49 °C (117–120 °F)|