N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT or N,N-DMT) is a hallucinogenic chemical substance. Occurring naturally in many plants and animals, DMT is both a structural analog and a derivative of tryptamine.
Sometimes called the “spirit molecule” or Dimitri, DMT is known for producing intense and sometimes spiritual psychedelic experiences. Similar to other psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and LSD—although less well-known than these hallucinogenic drugs—DMT is used both as an entheogen for ritual purposes by various cultures and as a recreational psychedelic drug.
DMT stimulates serotonin production in the brain. Sudden floods of serotonin generate feelings of well-being and joy, allowing DMT to trigger feelings of intense euphoria, new takes on reality, and strange, life-changing hallucinations in users. Users report that DMT produces dynamic hallucinations of geometric forms and vivid, euphoric mystical experiences.
DMT has intense effects, a rapid onset, and a comparatively short-lived duration. This is why users coined the phrase the “business trip” for DMT in the 1960s, since they could access a full psychedelic experience in far less time than compounds such as psilocybin or LSD required. Inhaled or injected DMT in particular produce extremely short-lived effects: only about five to 15 minutes. Even ingested versions last just a few hours, typically.
Other names for DMT include:
- 45-minute psychosis
- businessman’s special
- businessman’s trip
- spiritual molecule
Structurally and functionally, DMT is an analog of other psychedelic tryptamines, a group that includes:
- O-acetylpsilocin (4-AcO-DMT)
- bufotenin (5-HO-DMT)
- psilocin (4-HO-DMT)
- psilocybin (4-PO-DMT)
The DMT structure occurs inside several critical biomolecules such as melatonin and serotonin—DMT’s structural analogs.
In the United States, DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance. This means under state and federal law it’s illegal to make, possess, buy, or distribute DMT, even though some cities have recently decriminalized it.
This categorization also means that DMT has a high potential for abuse, that accepted safety parameters for the use of DMT are lacking, and that there is no recognized medical use for DMT.
Although DMT has no approved medical use in the United States, researchers may qualify to use the substance in their research if they gain approval from both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under a Schedule I research registration.
Disclaimer: Some people use DMT to obtain deep spiritual insight or in religious ceremonies. Others use DMT recreationally. Although we recognize the safest approach is always abstaining from illegal substances and we do not endorse the use of any such compounds, we believe in harm reduction.
In that spirit, we offer this accurate, accessible information to reduce any potential harm that might arise from using DMT. We always recommend speaking with a healthcare provider before trying any new substance, especially one that might impact brain function.
Is DMT the Same as Ayahuasca?
Yes and no. Ayahuasca is a brewed beverage consumed for spiritual and medical purposes in parts of Central and South America. DMT is ayahuasca’s main active ingredient. However, ayahuasca is more than just DMT.
Traditionally, ayahuasca is prepared using two plants native to South American rainforests: Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi. This combination is important to how ayahuasca works and distinguishes DMT and ayahuasca.
Psychotria viridis contains DMT. Banisteriopsis caapi contains MAOIs, which stop the body from breaking down DMT by preventing certain enzymes from releasing. This is why the effects from ayahuasca persist so much longer than those of pure DMT.
What Is the Connection Between DMT and the Pineal Gland?
A source of mystery and cultural tales for centuries, the pineal gland regulates circadian rhythm and releases melatonin. But it’s also known as the “third eye” or the “seat of the soul” in some cultures, and some people have speculated that the gland produces DMT at certain times—such as during near death experiences.
In any case, although conclusions about the work are controversial, some research suggests that small amounts of endogenous DMT occur naturally in the human brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this has led some to hypothesize that DMT in the brain might be behind any number of mystical experiences and seemingly hallucinogenic effects.
See this video from researcher David Nichols for why much of the speculation on DMT and the pineal gland may be unfounded.
What Does DMT Look Like?
Pure DMT is a white solid or crystalline powder. More commonly, when DMT is less pure, it appears to be an orange, yellow, or pink solid or powder.
When herbs are mixed with DMT to make changa, the result is a brownish/greenish herbal potpourri. When DMT is part of a brew of ayahuasca, the result is a liquid that ranges from red to brown.
What Does DMT Taste/Smell Like?
The smell of DMT is very unusual and strong. Some people compare it to synthetic materials, like new shoes, new car smell, or even burned plastic. The taste of DMT is similar.
What Is DMT Like Compared to Other Psychoactive Drugs?
DMT users describe experiencing a state of deep happiness and peace, where they exist in their purest form. This is a visually appealing world, where an alternate realm presents itself in the form of impossible spirals and geometric fractal patterns.
Many users describe a DMT trip as experiencing their consciousness outside of their own bodies; being similar to breaking out of a simulation; feeling like being launched into other dimensions; or gaining access to their own minds’ true inner workings. Many users feel that the fabric of space-time is changed for them during their DMT trip, which many refer to as “hyperspace”. Most users lose some or all capacity for language or tracking time, but many report telepathic conversations while tripping.
Many DMT users report that their trips are different than when using other psychedelic drugs, even other serotonergic psychedelics such as LSD or psilocybin (mushrooms), to hallucinate. This is mainly because rather than modifying the user’s relationship with their surroundings, DMT transports the user to a completely different world. In fact, many users have trouble describing their trip since it is generally so abstract and intense.
One common theme among DMT users is the idea that DMT feels more real than real. Many users on a DMT trip report the sensation of being guided by spiritual beings or aliens, and their minds being “pulled” from their bodies, all within an wildly vivid environment of patterns and carnival colors.
Some repeat DMT users believe the substance has potential to raise human consciousness, to be used in mental health treatment and psychiatry, and to open people’s minds generally despite our currently polarized culture. Many users—and some in mental health—believe DMT might be used to treat stress, anxiety, and depression.
However, like any drug, use DMT with caution. Some users have trouble readjusting after a DMT trip, especially because it can cause a sense of detachment from reality, unpleasant psychological effects, and vivid, intense feelings.
Psychedelic research is a very new area, and many scientists believe natural DMT concentrations in the human brain are too low to mean that the drug has major therapeutic potential. However, even if concentrations of DMT in the brain as a whole are low, there may be specific regions of the brain in which concentrations of DMT are higher, and this could be significant.
All psychoactive substances come with risks, and DMT is no exception. A bad trip on DMT or any psychedelic drug, technically, can worsen existing mental health issues or trigger a mental health crisis. It can also threaten anyone with a pre-existing heart condition, since a DMT trip can raise heart rate and blood pressure—especially a bad trip.
Specific Subjective Effects of DMT
DMT is best known for producing subjective psychedelic experiences, including encounters with external entities.
Subjective Psychedelic Experiences with DMT
DMT can produce psychedelic subjective effects which may include: tactile, auditory, visual, and proprioceptive hallucinations and distortions; profound time-dilation or time-stretch; and other experiences such as seeing Escher-like impossible objects or perceiving hyperbolic geometry that defy visual and verbal description.
In the 1990s at the University of New Mexico, Rick Strassman and his colleagues studied DMT and its effects for five years. Their results suggested that the level of dosage impacted the different psychedelic experiences that occur.
Lower doses between 0.01 and 0.05 mg/kg produced emotional and somaesthetic responses, including mild calming and mood elevating properties, but did not trigger hallucinogenic experiences. In contrast, higher doses between 0.2 and 0.4 mg/kg produced hallucinogenic responses. Hallucinations were mostly visual and intensely colored, with fewer auditory hallucinations.
Users also reported a range of specific physical responses, ranging from physical sensations to bodily dissociation, and emotional responses ranging from calm to euphoria to anxiety and fear.
The research illustrates similar dose-dependent effects to those described online in “trip reports,” where users report “breakthrough” experiences, generally above certain doses, and often with the user becoming detached to some extent if not totally from reality as they experience “DMT hyperspace.” These extreme effects are what produce the reports of contact with aliens, machine elves, and other entities, although lower doses of DMT produce effects that are far less extreme.
Strassman in this research stressed that the context where DMT is taken plays a critical role in how beneficial its effects can be.
DMT and Encounters with External Entities
DMT is famous for producing the effect of connecting with external entities or a higher intelligence. DMT trips have led to many reports of encounters with these kinds of entities such as aliens, machine elves, and others—and their reproduction in many works of psychedelic art.
Berkeley entheobotanist Terence McKenna coined the terms machine elf, self-transforming machine elves, and fractal elves in 1965 to describe the entities he encountered traveling in DMT “hyperspace.” Other creatives have attempted to describe these phenomena, linking these entity encounters to mythological descriptions of important figures such as gods, angels, and demons in ancient religions. The idea behind a common human experience of these encounters is a common neuropsychopharmacological experience that may have helped shape various aspects of human culture.
Physiological Responses to DMT
There are a host of things to understand about how DMT works in the body and the physiological responses the body has to DMT.
How Long Does DMT Take to Work?
Synthetic DMT produces effects rapidly, within 5 to 10 minutes. Plant-based brews that contain DMT tend to produce effects more slowly, but still within 20 to 60 minutes.
How Long Does DMT Last?
The duration and intensity of a DMT trip varies, but it depends on several factors, including:
- the size of the dose
- how you take the DMT which impacts its psychopharmacology
- whether you eat before or with the DMT
- if you use other substances with DMT, including alcohol
Typically, the effects of snorted, inhaled, or injected DMT last for around 30 to 45 minutes. If you ingest DMT in a brew such as ayahuasca, the effects last longer, for in the range of 2 to 6 hours.
How To Use DMT
Research from the 2019 Global Drug Survey reported 8.2 percent of people used DMT in their lifetimes, with 4.2% using DMT in the last 12 months. It was among the lesser-used drugs, but had grown in popularity since the 2016 GDS when it was more popular than only modafinil and kratom.
Inhalation of DMT
A standard vaporized dose of DMT is 20 to 60 milligrams. The right dose is highly dependent on personal variation, body weight, and efficiency of vaporization.
The effects are dose-dependent and usually last for 5 to 15 minutes, or a similarly short period of time. The onset of DMT after inhalation is less than 45 seconds, and users experience peak effects rapidly, typically within one minute. This rapid onset of action and relatively short duration are what earned the inhaled DMT trip the moniker, the “business trip” in the 1960s.
Users can inhale DMT using a specially designed pipe, sandwiched between layers of plant matter using a bong, or dissolved in vegetable glycerin (VG) or propylene glycol (PG) and heated by an e-cigarette. Some DMT users also use wax pens meant for cannabis extracts to vaporize DMT crystals and better control the temperature. Changa, a smoking blend infused with DMT, is typically used in standard utensils such as pipes meant for smoking cannabis, tobacco, or other dried plant matter.
Injection of DMT
Injection is a particularly intense way to experience DMT, with such users more often reporting visiting separate realities or interacting with perceived alien entities.
Oral Ingestion of DMT
This also includes ingesting ayahuasca and/or pharmahuasca, which typically include DMT among their active ingredients.
Once ingested, the deamination process breaks down DMT with the enzyme monoamine oxidase. In fact, unless combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), DMT is quickly inactivated orally. Most traditional brews contain both DMT and some form of MAOI.
Ingested orally with an MAOI, DMT produces effects similar to but more intense than those from psilocybin mushrooms, including a slow, long-lasting, deep metaphysical experience. Various substances may have dangerous or even fatal interactions with MAOIs, so use these forms of DMT or DMT-containing substances with caution. Certain over-the-counter cough medicines, prescription drugs such as SSRI antidepressants, and even some herbal remedies can be dangerous when taken with ingested forms of DMT.
The Side Effects and Risks of DMT
DMT stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which causes users to experience feelings of intense euphoria and happiness. DMT also produces new perceptions of reality and hallucinations, both of which users often find to be life-changing.
DMT can take effect almost instantly. The effects of smoked DMT typically last less than an hour, but when ingested as a drink, DMT can produce hallucinations after about thirty minutes that last for four to six hours. Some DMT users report mild side effects that linger for several days.
The primary effects of DMT are profound psychological, life-changing or near-death experiences with euphoria, intense auditory and visual hallucinations, and an altered perception of body, space, and time. Many DMT users describe total shifts in how they perceive reality and their own identity and recall talking with “machine elves,” “DMT elves,” or other alien entities.
Although DMT users feel it has a lower side effect profile compared to other psychedelic drugs such as ketamine, LSD, and magic mushrooms, DMT can still cause adverse side-effects on the physiological level.
The possible physical side-effects of DMT include:
- chest pain or tightness
- dilated pupils
- elevated body temperature
- elevated heart rate
- loss of muscle control
- rapid rhythmic eye movement
- visual disturbances
Possible mental effects of DMT include:
- altered sense of space, body, and time
- hallucinations which can be vivid
Some DMT users experience mental effects that linger for days or even weeks, so keep this in mind.
Because DMT triggers the release of serotonin in the brain, high doses of it can cause serotonin syndrome, the accumulation of excessive serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin syndrome is often caused by polydrug use, or combining multiple drugs.
Excessive levels of serotonin in the body can cause multiple symptoms, which is why in some rare cases, using DMT may also cause:
- high blood pressure
- loss of muscle coordination, which increases the risk of falls and injury
- respiratory arrest/coma
Particularly for those with high blood pressure or a heart condition, DMT’s physical side effects can be risky.
DMT, much like other hallucinogenic compounds, might be linked to hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) and persistent psychosis. Both conditions are more likely to develop in people with existing mental health issues, and both are rare.
Because not all DMT users have positive psychological experiences, and some DMT trips can be terrifying and confusing, DMT can have potentially traumatizing effects, especially for people coping with illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Are There Any Drug Interactions With DMT to Know About?
Avoid mixing DMT with other substances, because it can interact with various other drugs, over-the-counter medications, and prescriptions, including:
- gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), also called liquid G
- LSD, aka acid
- muscle relaxants
DMT Dependence and Addiction
The potential for dependence on DMT or its dependence liability along with the risk of lasting psychological disturbance after using it is likely minimal for infrequent users, such as those participating in religious ceremonies. However, there remains little solid evidence on the physiological dependence potential of ayahuasca and DMT.
Researchers generally do not believe that DMT is addictive, because there is little evidence that DMT causes physical withdrawal symptoms or tolerance. There is also no evidence that long-term DMT use significantly damages or alters the brain.
However, repeated use of DMT to escape reality may cause psychological dependence. Therapeutic users of DMT who take the drug regularly to improve their mood might have issues feeling better without using DMT in this way. Limited research into DMT dependence indicates that DMT users may experience psychological distress or develop cravings for DMT when they cannot use it. Signs of DMT dependence include taking higher doses of DMT more often, spending more money on it, and stockpiling doses.
DMT Harm Reduction Tips
Although it occurs naturally in several species of plant, remember that DMT is extremely powerful. There are several steps to take to reduce the risk of a bad DMT trip if you’re going to try it.
When using DMT, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t use DMT alone. Use it together with people you trust.
- Use a responsible sitter. At least one sober person should be present to intervene if it goes poorly.
- Setting matters. Use DMT only in a comfortable, safe place.
- Sit down. Reduce your risk of injury by sitting or lying down.
- Stay single. Don’t mix DMT with other drugs, including alcohol.
- Timing and mindset. DMT produces intense effects, so choose the right timing so your mindset is positive.
- Don’t do it when it’s not a good situation. Avoid using DMT if you have a heart condition, you’re taking antidepressants, or you have high blood pressure.
DMT has been used in South America since pre-Columbian times.
Chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske first synthesized DMT in 1931. However, microbiologist and chemist Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima discovered DMT in nature in 1946 when he isolated nigerina (nigerine), an alkaloid from the bark on the roots of Mimosa tenuiflora or jurema preta.
Since 1955, researchers have found DMT in at least fifty species of plants and at least four species of animals, including three mammals (with humans being one of those). However, it was not until 1956 that Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist Stephen Szara developed a scientific understanding of the hallucinogenic properties of DMT. In his research, Szara described the effects of synthetic DMT on volunteers, along with its chemical structure.
Around this time in 1957, American chemists Anita Paradies and Francis Hochstein identified DMT in ayahuasca and similar mixtures. By 1965 French pharmacologist Jacques Poisson confirmed the presence of the alkaloid DMT in various plants used in common ayahuasca additives. Other confirmations followed.
Legal Status of DMT
The legal status of DMT and preparations that contain it such as ayahuasca varies by region.
DMT and International Law
Under Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, nations may exempt certain substances with traditional uses from prohibition. According to the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB):
Member states where plants containing psychotropic substances on Schedule I such as DMT grow wild and where small, clearly determined groups use those plants traditionally in religious or magical rites may take exception to the UN provisions and keep these plants legal, except for the regulations covering international trade.
This exemption applies only to substances on the Schedules of the Psychotropic Convention. Currently, no plants such as Psilocybe mushrooms, the Peyote cactus, or plants containing DMT are subject to international control as the Convention applies only to chemicals. The convention does cover psilocin, mescaline, and DMT. Plant-based preparations are not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
India: It is completely illegal to produce, possess, trade in, or transport DMT.
Israel: DMT is an illegal substance. In Israel authorities prosecute trade, production, and possession of DMT as crimes.
France: DMT and most plant sources of it are classified as a narcotic.
Germany: DMT is a class I prohibited drug.
Republic of Ireland: DMT is illegal under Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts. In 2014, a member of the Santo Daime church asked for a religious exemption to import the drug which was denied.
Latvia: DMT is a prohibited Schedule I drug.
Netherlands: List 1 of the Opium Law bans the production, trade, and possession of DMT.
Russia: DMT and its derivatives sumatriptan and zolmitriptan are all classified as Schedule I narcotics.
Serbia: The Act on Control of Psychoactive Substances classifies DMT, along with salts and stereoisomers, as psychotropic substances on List 4.
Sweden: DMT is a Schedule 1 drug here, but the Swedish supreme court has ruled that possession of unprocessed plant material containing a significant amount of DMT is legal.
United Kingdom: DMT is banned as a Class A drug.
Belgium: It is illegal to possess, sell, purchase, or import DMT, which implies a practical ban on usage.
Canada: The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act classifies DMT as a Schedule III drug, but is legal for religious groups to use. Montréal’s Santo Daime Church Céu received a religious exemption in 2017 to use DMT-containing ayahuasca in their rituals as a sacrament.
United States: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies DMT as a Schedule I drug. However, there have been a number of exceptions for religious and ritual use. In February 2006 the Supreme Court ruled in the UDV church case that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows for the use of tea containing DMT in religious ceremonies.
Similarly, a 2009 ruling allowed members of three Santo Daime churches to import, distribute, brew, and use DMT-containing ayahuasca tea. The case explained this use is protected as a form of the free exercise of religion.
New Zealand: The 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act classifies DMT as a Class A drug.
Australia: The October 2015 Poisons Standard lists DMT as a Schedule 9 prohibited substance in Australia. In the Poisons Act, schedule 9 drugs are substances subject to abuse or misuse, and are prohibited by law to manufacture, possess, sell, or use except for research or training purposes.
Chemistry of DMT
Because other DMT acid salts will not readily crystallize and are extremely hygroscopic, DMT is typically handled and stored as a fumarate. Although its freebase form is less stable than DMT fumarate, its lower boiling point is favored by recreational users who often vaporize the compound.
Biosynthesis of DMT
Derived from the shikimate pathway, dimethyltryptamine is an indole alkaloid with a relatively simple biosynthesis. Plants produce the parent amino acid L-tryptophan endogenously, in contrast to animals, which must take L-tryptophan in from diet as an essential amino acid.
However the organism sources the L-tryptophan, decarboxylation begins the biosynthesis via an aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AADC) enzyme. This produces tryptamine, the decarboxylated tryptophan analog.
In step 2 of the biosynthesis process for DMT, tryptamine undergoes a transmethylation. Specifically, a methyl group is transferred via nucleophilic attack from cofactor S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM) to tryptamine in a reaction catalyzed by the enzyme indolethylamine-N-methyltransferase (INMT). This reaction produces S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) from SAM, and creates N-methyltryptamine (NMT), the intermediate product.
In the final step, the same process transmethylates NMT to form the end product: DMT or N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Two products of the reaction, SAH and DMT, regulate tryptamine transmethylation.
Laboratory Synthesis of DMT
It is possible to synthesize DMT in a laboratory using different starting materials and several possible pathways. The two routes to synthetic DMT most commonly encountered are:
- oxalyl chloride and indole reaction followed by reaction with dimethylamine and lithium aluminum hydride reduction of carbonyl functionalities to form DMT;
- the formaldehyde n,n-dimethylation of tryptamine followed by sodium triacetoxyborohydride or sodium cyanoborohydride reduction.
Less common synthesis processes include:
- a lower temperature process using sodium borohydride and a larger excess of reagents
- processes using sodium triacetoxyborohydride and sodium cyanoborohydride, but these may also create by-products of beta-carboline and cyanated tryptamine
- synthesis using plant extract bufotenine
- creation of a quaternary ammonium salt from methyl iodide which is then transformed into a tertiary amine
Clandestine Manufacture of DMT
DMT is not typically synthesized in a clandestine setting because the starting materials, oxalyl chloride and tryptamine, are not widely available. It is more common to use naphtha, heptane, or some other non-polar hydrocarbon solvent, and sodium hydroxide or some other base, to extract DMT from plant sources. Acid-base extraction is an alternative method.
Although specific plants with higher DMT concentrations such as Acacia confusa and Mimosa tenuiflora are most frequently used to synthesize or extract the compound, a variety of plants are viable sources and contain DMT at sufficient levels for the process to work. Although the specific plant matter may be illegal from country to country, the extraction chemicals themselves are commonly available.
Detection of DMT in Body Fluids
It is possible to detect and measure DMT in plasma, blood, or urine, either to investigate suspicious deaths or in clinical poisoning situations, using chromatographic techniques. Typically in recreational users, levels of DMT in blood or plasma are in the range of 10–30 μg/L for the first few hours after ingestion. In 24 hours, humans eliminate less than 0.1% of an oral dose unchanged via the urine.
Psychopharmacology of DMT: Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics
Pharmacokinetics of DMT
Peak concentration levels of DMT (Cmax) of fully psychedelic doses vary for whole blood and plasma. After intramuscular (IM) injection (0.7 mg/kg, n = 11) measured in whole blood, levels range from 14 to 154 μg/L, for a corresponding molar concentration of DMT of 0.074–0.818 μM. After intravenous (IV) administration (0.4 mg/kg, n = 10) measured in plasma, levels range from 32 to 204 μg/L.
Mean time to achieve peak concentrations (Tmax) is 10 to 15 minutes in whole blood after IM injection, and 2 minutes in plasma after IV administration. Oral ingestion as part of an ayahuasca or pharmahuasca decoction delays DMT Tmax considerably: by 90 to 120 minutes, or 107.59 ± 32.5 minutes, respectively. Vaped DMT pharmacokinetics have been neither studied nor reported.
Pharmacodynamics of DMT
DMT binds non-selectively to the serotonin receptors 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A, 5-HT1B, 5-HT2B, 5-HT2C, 5-HT6, 5-HT1D, and 5-HT7.
DMT acts as an agonist at 5-HT1A, 5-HT2A and 5-HT2C. The efficacies of DMT at other serotonin receptors are undetermined.
Much of the psychedelic effects produced by DMT, similar to other classic hallucinogenic compounds, is attributable to the functionally selective activation of the 5-HT2A receptor. 5-HT2C is also probably implicated in the overall effects of DMT since the compound is slightly more efficacious at the 2C receptor for human serotonin than at the 2A receptor. Other receptors, including σ1 and 5-HT1A, may play a part as well.
Final Thoughts on DMT
DMT appears to have a powerful effect on brain activity and the subjective experience of users. Someday researchers may better understand the neurobiological foundation of psychedelic experiences and immersive states of consciousness. But until then, it appears we are advancing only slowly towards acceptance, through the lens of mental health.