Other Names: Dimitri, businessman’s special, spirit molecule, fantasia, businessman’s trip, 45-minute psychosis
DMT is short for N,N-dimethyltryptamine. It is a psychedelic substance that naturally occurs in several different plants native to Mexico, South America, and some parts of Asia. Like other hallucinogens, DMT causes its users to have visual and auditory hallucinations. The main difference is that the effects of DMT are almost immediate and last significantly shorter compared to other psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms.
In the United States, DMT is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. It means that the drug has a high risk of abuse and serves no accepted medicinal purposes. The possession, use, manufacturing, and distribution of DMT is illegal and punishable with heavy fines and jail time.
Compared to LSD and heroin, DMT is one of the lesser commonly-used drugs in the country. A 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that less than 1% of Americans (aged 12 and older) reported using DMT at one point in their life.
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Like several other drugs, there is not a lot of research done on DMT. While some users promote DMT’s potential benefits, more studies are needed to verify these claims. As such, DMT is still illegal and risky to use. Those afflicted with DMT use disorder are recommended to find treatment at an accredited rehabilitation facility.
A Brief History of DMT
DMT is widely known as the main active ingredient in a bitter, brown brew called ayahuasca tea. The South American brew is made from a variety of plants that contain DMT, such as the Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis. For centuries, people from different cultures have been using the ayahuasca brew for medicinal and religious purposes. They believe that drinking the tea helps them gain “spiritual insight.”
Upon its discovery in the west, researchers wanted to explore DMT’s potential use for medicinal treatment and synthesized it in laboratories. The process resulted in a white, crystalline powder that can be smoked or vaped to achieve the same yet shorter effects. The synthesized DMT became a popular drug of abuse in the 1960s.
However, some indigenous groups still consider DMT as a sacred part of their culture’s religious ceremonies. Out of respect for these communities, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the federal government cannot prevent these groups of people from using DMT in their rituals.
Nonetheless, DMT remains illegal for most of the American population. Aside from a few highly-monitored and specially registered studies, the use of DMT is prohibited within US borders.
How Does DMT Work in the Human Body?
The main target of DMT is in the brain, specifically its serotonin receptors. They are neurotransmitters that play a part in regulating a person’s mood, sleep, hunger, perception, muscle control, and body temperature. DMT stimulates their production, which significantly alters how a user feels and what a person feels.
How long the effects last varies on how the drug is taken. When smoked or vaped, DMT acts very quickly compared to other hallucinogens. Within seconds to a few minutes, the user can start hallucinating. The peak is usually felt in five minutes. The average time a DMT trip lasts is around 30 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, DMT consumed through ayahuasca tea lasts significantly longer. The effects take place 30 minutes after ingestion and can last up to six hours after ingesting it. Some users claim that they can still feel lingering effects days after they took DMT.
Standard drug tests used for employment, law enforcement, and treatment purposes do not usually screen for DMT. To test for DMT, people can use specific tests or look for the compound in the user’s urine and hair follicles.
How is DMT Taken or Administered?
Users usually take DMT in its synthetic, powdered form. They can snort it or smoke it by rolling the powder with cannabis, tobacco, and other herbs. A vaporizer is also another well-used option. In rare cases, users can also inject the drug into their system.
DMT is not effective when orally ingested. In this method, enzymes in the digestive tract called monoamine oxidase quickly break down DMT before the effects could take place. Hence, users need to take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) to achieve the desired effects. Ayahuasca tea, for example, includes plants that contain MAOI to achieve its desired effects.
What are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of DMT Abuse?
The effect DMT produces is primarily psychological. Users associate the drug with the intense and vivid hallucinations they have within a shorter period of time.
Users reported seeing fantastical beings and settings, including other worlds and alien entities. They described seeing vibrant, swirling masses of colors where time, space, and reality is difficult to grasp. One of the distinguishing effects that several curious people sought is the profound, life-changing experiences users described in DMT use.
However, like any other substance of abuse, DMT usage comes with risks—some of which are lethal. For a better idea of the physiological effects of DMT use, consider the following.
Individuals who have ingested DMT may physically experience some, if not all, of the symptoms below:
- Increased heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Raising body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid eye movement
- Loss of muscle control
- Pain or tightness in the chest
Meanwhile, the psychological effects of DMT depend on what kind of trip a user has, which ranges from interestingly positive to terrifyingly traumatic. As there is no way to tell what kind of trip a person will have, users run the risk of having a frightening and distressing experience. Depending on the kind of trip, users may experience a mix of the symptoms below:
- Vivid hallucinations
- Altered sense of space and time
- Distorted bodily and spatial perceptions
- Feelings of panic
- Exaggerated strength
- Feelings of floating
Individuals in the middle of a DMT trip are vulnerable to the elements and their surroundings. It is also possible that they may act in unexpected—and even potentially dangerous—ways.
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Long Term Effects
Similar to other hallucinogens, users who habitually take DMT run the risk of long-term and even lethal effects. People who have a history of mental health issues like schizophrenia, in particular, have an increased risk of experiencing lasting problems from using psychedelic substances.
Some of the serious issues habitual users may experience include:
- Persistent psychosis — characterized by paranoia, mood swings, and disorganized thoughts
- Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder — recurring flashbacks long after the user has taken DMT
- Serotonin syndrome disorder — a life-threatening health condition where serotonin levels have dangerously increased
Aside from individuals with mental health problems, people who use DMT alongside other substances also are at increased risk. Using it with alcohol and other depressants, for example, may result in respiratory distress or arrest. In extreme cases, it may even lead to death.
Signs of DMT Use Disorder
Technically speaking, DMT is not physically addictive. It means that a user will not necessarily have withdrawal symptoms after quitting DMT use.
However, a person can develop a psychological dependence on DMT. In this case, the user depends on the drug to function normally. For example, the person may repeatedly take DMT to make themselves feel better or experience psychological distress if they stop.
Based on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some of the symptoms of DMT use disorder are:
- Failing to stop using DMT despite desires to quite
- Using DMT in larger amounts than originally intended
- Having cravings or urges to use DMT
- Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering from DMT use
- Continuing to use DMT despite causing problems in relationships and failing to fulfill obligations
- Letting go of previously important recreational activities due to DMT use
- Continued use despite negative and dangerous consequences
Psychological addiction to DMT is a serious condition that warrants medical attention. Affected individuals need the help of trained professionals to efficiently recover and achieve sustained sobriety.
Rehab and Treatment for DMT Use Disorder
Before anything else, a user first needs to be physically well before the healing process from DMT can truly begin. Users will go through a detox program to make sure that the drug is removed from their systems.
Afterward, patients will enroll in a rehab program to receive counseling and guidance from trained professionals. This process will help the patients get to the root causes of their addiction. After finding out these causes, patients can attend educational lectures to learn healthier coping mechanisms and strategies to avoid relapses.
There are several rehab options to choose from, including inpatient and outpatient treatments. Depending on the patient’s condition, the most suitable rehab approach can differ substantially.
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