N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function

This report provides a historical overview of research concerning the endogenous hallucinogen N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), focusing on data regarding its biosynthesis and metabolism in the brain and peripheral tissues, methods and results for DMT detection in body fluids and brain, new sites of action for DMT, and new data regarding its possible physiological and therapeutic roles. Research that further elaborates its consideration as a putative neurotransmitter is also addressed. Taking these studies together, the report proposes several new directions and experiments to ascertain the role of DMT in the brain, including brain mapping of enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of DMT, further studies to elaborate its presence and role in the pineal gland, a reconsideration of binding site data, and new administration and imaging studies. The need to resolve the “natural” role of an endogenous hallucinogen from the effects observed from peripheral administration are also emphasized.

DMT Models the Near-Death Experience

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are complex subjective experiences, which have been previously associated with the psychedelic experience and more specifically with the experience induced by the potent serotonergic, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Potential similarities between both subjective states have been noted previously, including the subjective feeling of transcending one’s body and entering an alternative realm, perceiving and communicating with sentient ‘entities’ and themes related to death and dying. In this within-subjects placebo-controled study we aimed to test the similarities between the DMT state and NDEs, by administering DMT and placebo to 13 healthy participants, who then completed a validated and widely used measure of NDEs. Results revealed significant increases in phenomenological features associated with the NDE, following DMT administration compared to placebo. Also, we found significant relationships between the NDE scores and DMT-induced ego-dissolution and mystical-type experiences, as well as a significant association between NDE scores and baseline trait ‘absorption’ and delusional ideation measured at baseline. Furthermore, we found a significant overlap in nearly all of the NDE phenomenological features when comparing DMT-induced NDEs with a matched group of ‘actual’ NDE experiencers. These results reveal a striking similarity between these states that warrants further investigation. “I’d be scared”. “Scared of what?” “Scared of dying, I guess. Of falling into the void”. “They say you fly when you die”. (Feature film: ‘Enter the Void’).

Neuropharmacology of N,N-dimethyltryptamine

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is an indole alkaloid widely found in plants and animals. It is best known for producing brief and intense psychedelic effects when ingested. Increasing evidence suggests that endogenous DMT plays important roles for a number of processes in the periphery and central nervous system, and may act as a neurotransmitter. This paper reviews the current literature of both the recreational use of DMT and its potential roles as an endogenous neurotransmitter. Pharmacokinetics, mechanisms of action in the periphery and central nervous system, clinical uses and adverse effects are also reviewed. DMT appears to have limited neurotoxicity and other adverse effects except for intense cardiovascular effects when administered intravenously in large doses. Because of its role in nervous system signaling, DMT may be a useful experimental tool in exploring how the brain works, and may also be a useful clinical tool for treatment of anxiety and psychosis.

Neural correlates of the DMT experience assessed with multivariate EEG

Studying transitions in and out of the altered state of consciousness caused by intravenous (IV) N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT – a fast-acting tryptamine psychedelic) offers a safe and powerful means of advancing knowledge on the neurobiology of conscious states. Here we sought to investigate the effects of IV DMT on the power spectrum and signal diversity of human brain activity (6 female, 7 male) recorded via multivariate EEG, and plot relationships between subjective experience, brain activity and drug plasma concentrations across time. Compared with placebo, DMT markedly reduced oscillatory power in the alpha and beta bands and robustly increased spontaneous signal diversity. Time-referenced and neurophenomenological analyses revealed close relationships between changes in various aspects of subjective experience and changes in brain activity. Importantly, the emergence of oscillatory activity within the delta and theta frequency bands was found to correlate with the peak of the experience – particularly its eyes-closed visual component. These findings highlight marked changes in oscillatory activity and signal diversity with DMT that parallel broad and specific components of the subjective experience, thus advancing our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of immersive states of consciousness.

DMT: The spirit molecule

From 1990 to 1995 Dr. Rick Strassman conducted U.S. Government-approved and funded clinical research at the University of New Mexico in which he injected sixty volunteers with DMT, one of the most powerful psychedelics known. His detailed account of those sessions is an extraordinarily riveting inquiry into the nature of the human mind and the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. DMT, a plant-derived chemical found in the psychedelic Amazon brew, ayahuasca, is also manufactured by the human brain. In Strassman’s volunteers, it consistently produced near-death and mystical experiences. Many reported convincing encounters with intelligent nonhuman presences, aliens, angels, and spirits. Nearly all felt that the sessions were among the most profound experiences of their lives. Strassman’s research connects DMT with the pineal gland, considered by Hindus to be the site of the seventh chakra and by Rene Descartes to be the seat of the soul. DMT: The Spirit Molecule makes the bold case that DMT, naturally released by the pineal gland, facilitates the soul’s movement in and out of the body and is an integral part of the birth and death experiences, as well as the highest states of meditation and even sexual transcendence. Strassman also believes that “alien abduction experiences” are brought on by accidental releases of DMT. If used wisely, DMT could trigger a period of remarkable progress in the scientific exploration of the most mystical regions of the human mind and soul.