What Is DMT?
Dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT, is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic substance. Unlike the vast majority of other drugs, such as opioids, nicotine, THC and methamphetamine, DMT is already naturally present in most mammal brains and nervous systems, including ours. It’s thought to have a huge influence on dreaming and REM sleep and is also believed to be responsible for the unique visual experiences of individuals going through a near-death experience.
Nicknamed the “spirit molecule” by a popular Netflix documentary, this substance has become increasingly popular among teens and young people looking for a meaningful spiritual experience, or just the chance to go on a hallucinogenic “trip.” Despite its popularity and natural occurrence, DMT as a drug is not without its fair share of risks.
How DMT Is Used And It’s Effects
DMT exists in a number of different forms. It is usually smoked, but can also be injected or ingested.
In general, DMT is considered to be a powerful hallucinogen, producing a much more intense effect than other popular hallucinogens, such as mushrooms or LSD. Generally, the “trip” only lasts from a few minutes to just over an hour, though lingering effects can last for some time afterwards.
Some of the most common effects include:
- Increased heart rate
- Respiratory irritation
- Upset stomach/vomiting
- Increased body temperature
- Intense visuals/altered perception
- Panic attacks/hysteria
- Loss of consciousness
Dangers Of DMT
To date, it is very unclear whether high doses of DMT are toxic to the human system, and most deaths that are associated with this substance are due to existing health conditions or from mixing DMT with other drugs.
The dangers of DMT include:
Cardiac arrest in individuals with preexisting heart conditions
Mental or psychological episodes in users with mental health problems, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
- Heart failure, coma or death in users taking medication, especially antidepressants and opioid painkillers
- Fatal asphyxiation from vomiting while unconscious
- Nerve damage, coma or death from combining DMT with other drugs
DMT – A Shamanic Drug
Like peyote and mescaline, DMT is a traditional medicinal substance of spiritual value in some cultures in its tea form, which is most commonly known as “ayahuasca” (ai-ah-was-ka). In some South American cultures, it is brewed and ingested under the watchful eye of an experienced shaman, or spiritual leader. Recently, however, it has taken on more of an experimental and recreational purpose for many who attend ayahuasca retreats or even attempt to brew it on their own. It’s important to note that while this is a sacred drink for some cultures, it was traditionally taken by those who would have undergone years of preparation and meditation first, and who would have been under the supervision of a respected and well-known community spiritual leader.
One troubling trend seen in modern ayahuasca use is mixing it with other powerful, and more dangerous hallucinogens such as the plant called “toé.” This plant, a member of the poisonous nightshade family, is known by many names, including Brugmansia, Datura, Angel’s Trumpet and “loco weed.” It is becoming more popular, especially in places like Peru, to spike an ayahuasca brew with this potent and very dangerous substance. Many experts are blaming this practice for the deaths of tourists who participate in ayahuasca ceremonies.
Kyle’s Personal DMT-Ayahuasca Story
One such casualty was a teen named Kyle Joseph Nolan, 18, who had died during an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru. Kyle was an upstanding teen from central California who had just graduated from high school in 2011. After learning about ayahuasca ceremonies in Peru, he saved up his money and took a trip to the country as one of thousands of “drug tourists” seeking an enlightening hallucinogenic experience.
Sometime after drinking the ceremonial drug, however, something went terribly wrong. Kyle was found dead the next morning and his body was buried at the edge of the retreat’s property by the same “shaman” who was supposed to be watching him. It wasn’t until days later that Kyle’s devastated family, with the help of local law enforcement, found his body. The shaman who had lied and tried to cover the teen’s death has since been charged. While the cause of Kyle’s death remains unclear, his father strongly suspects the use of datura, which is often responsible for the deaths associated with ayahuasca.
“Shamanic” Hallucinogens Risks
Kyle’s story is a sobering reminder that even traditional medicines used by other cultures for hundreds of years come with risks. Poorly qualified individuals posing as “shamans” can take advantage of tourists unfamiliar with the culture who are rendered extremely vulnerable during their ayahuasca trip, while the drug’s potency and contents may vary considerably. For some unfortunate users, this has resulted in sexual assault, poisoning, and even death. Interestingly, the very man who was featured in the ayahuasca documentary that inspired Kyle is no longer supportive of the ayahuasca ceremony for tourists, especially with the guidance of a shaman that the user doesn’t personally know beforehand, saying “I don’t know if anyone should trust a stranger with their soul.”
While the therapeutic applications of DMT and even ayahuasca are promising for certain medical conditions and have been traditionally used by certain cultures, experts—both shamans and Western doctors—agree that it is not a risk free drug, and like other “shamanic” hallucinogens, is nothing to be trifled with.