DMT is a fast-acting, naturally-occurring psychedelic compound with fascinating psychological properties, but how long does DMT last?
DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a naturally-occurring psychedelic compound found in many plants and animals, including the human body. Not to be confused with the increasingly popular and much more potent 5-MeO-DMT – a naturally-occurring psychedelic famously found in the Colorado River Toad – N, N- DMT constitutes the structural core of many serotonergic psychedelics.
First synthesized in a laboratory in 1931 by German-Canadian chemist Richard Manske, DMT started to gain considerable scientific attention after Hungarian chemist Stephen Szára discovered its psychedelic properties in 1956. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, when psychiatry professor Rick Strassman conducted a series of remarkable experiments on the compound’s subjective effects that DMT was popularized as a recreational drug.
Strassman would famously go on to dub DMT “the spirit molecule” in his 2000 psychedelic classic The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences.
Smoking DMT has achieved notoriety for its powerfully intense and unique subjective effects. Unlike with other classical psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin, users of DMT commonly report being transported to other “dimensions” and communicating with seemingly autonomous entities, famously described by psychedelic activist Terence Mckenna as “self-transforming elf machines."
Intravenously- and intramuscularly-administered DMT produce similarly visionary experiences. Though, in many cases, the sheer strangeness and nuanced nature of the DMT experience, with all of its elaborate, transdimensional imagery and interspecies dialogue, defies description.
DMT is also one of the main ingredients in ayahuasca – a psychedelic decoction native to Amazonia consisting of the Banisteriopsis caapi (B. caapi) vine and the DMT-containing perennial shrub, Psychotria viridis (P. viridis), also known as chacruna. Ayahuasca has a long history of ritual use among indigenous Amazonian tribes who drink the brew for a variety of medicinal and spiritual purposes.
While ayahuasca’s effects differ in important ways from those of smoked DMT – particularly its tempered intensity, significantly elongated duration of action, and emetic properties – it too produces psychedelic experiences that can be spiritually enriching, psychologically insightful, and profoundly therapeutic.
Other commonly reported subjective effects of DMT include:
Now that we’ve touched on some of its main effects, let’s turn our attention to how long a DMT experience lasts.
How long DMT lasts very much depends on its source, dose, and the method by which it is consumed.
Aside from smoking or vaporizing, DMT can also be insufflated (snuffs, nasal spray), injected, or orally ingested when combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). In ayahuasca, the presence of MAOI compounds in B. caapi prevents the rapid degradation of DMT by high concentrations of enzymes called monoamine oxidase (MAO) in the gut and liver, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to 5-HT2A serotonin receptors in the brain to exert its psychoactive effects.
Interestingly, snorting and rectally-administering freebase DMT (DMT in its pure alkaloidal form) does not produce psychoactive effects.
When a common dose of DMT (20 - 40 mg) is smoked, which is the most common and straightforward method of consumption, it can last between 5 and 30 minutes. Effects typically onset within just 20-40 seconds, which is followed by a 2-3 minute come-up period in which perception intensively distorts and normal waking consciousness is rapidly substituted for an alternate reality referred to by DMT psychonauts as “hyperspace.” The process of reaching this peak DMT state is also called “breaking through.”
DMT’s peak effects – often characterized by encounters with intelligent beings, the reality status of which, naturally, is subject to much debate – generally last around 10-15 minutes, but may feel like an eternity. Users are advised to remind themselves that they are having an intense but transient drug experience and to take deep breaths, pay attention, and be curious.
After a dwindling offset period of around 1-5 minutes in which hyperspace gradually recedes from view, normal waking consciousness resumes.
Generally speaking, smoked DMT experiences come to an end in just 20-30 minutes, but users should keep in mind that it can take up to an hour before feeling completely like themselves again. Setting aside ample time in the aftermath of the experience to process lingering after-effects is strongly encouraged.
There are many other methods of consuming DMT, all of which produce experiences of varying durations. Here is a brief breakdown…
While these are generally accepted durations of action for DMT and DMT-containing concoctions, everybody is different. Age, body weight, metabolism, diet, and drug interactions are all factors that can influence how long a DMT journey may last.
The purity of synthetically-produced DMT influences its potency and, as a result, the length and nature of a journey. The duration of a DMT experience can also be influenced by the particular plant or combinations of plants chosen for ayahuasca, changa, and yopo.
For example, many ayahuasqueros (ayahuasca shamans) make ayahuasca by combining B. caapi with different DMT-containing companion plants or “compañeros,” including Diplopterys cabrerana (chaliponga) and Psychotria carthagenensis (sameruca). Others add plants that are believed to modulate the effects of the brew such as tobacco or even toxic species of the genus Brugmansia (toé).
The list of admixture plants that may be added to ayahuasca is long and contains several that may cause harmful effects. This speaks to the importance of conducting a reputation check on shamans and making yourself aware of all constituents before ingesting any particular ayahuasca brew, yopo snuff, changa blend, or pharmahuasca capsule.
The half-life of DMT is thought to be approximately 5-15 minutes in vivo, but as stated above, this can be extended by co-ingestion of an MAOI.
How long DMT stays in your system may also depend on other factors including method of consumption, dose, how often DMT is used, and a person’s weight, age, metabolism, and other factors.
Detecting DMT in the blood, urine, hair, or saliva requires specific testing. Here is an approximate breakdown of how long DMT can be detected in the human body:
Yes, DMT can technically show up on a drug test but it is typically not included in standard drug tests used for legal, employment, or medical purposes.
The vast majority of employers that use drug tests choose standard urine tests, which do not test for or show DMT usage of any kind. However, if an employer suspects the use of a certain drug, they can order specific testing for that substance – DMT included.
DMT-contaminated hair samples belonging to a 29-year-old partner of a repetitive DMT smoker were recently presented in court during a family law case. Employing a very specific method, scientists successfully isolated DMT from the woman’s hair after it had become contaminated by her partner’s smoking.
In theory, blood, urine, and saliva swabs could also be used to confirm DMT use.
While there are still many mysteries surrounding the DMT experience and its production and function in the human body, we do know that relative to other recreational substances, DMT is exceptionally safe.
Extrapolation from rodent studies has determined the median lethal dose (LD50) of orally-administered DMT to be approximately 8 mg/kg – roughly 20 times the typical ceremonial dose of ayahuasca. Furthermore, DMT is not addictive and its use in therapeutic and religious contexts has been associated with a variety of health benefits including decreased psychological distress, impulsivity, suicidal thinking/planning, and suicide attempts, as well as improved psychological well-being, mood, and cognitive performance.
Importantly, however, DMT can and often does cause unpleasant physical side effects including nausea and vomiting, especially when consumed as a constituent of ayahuasca. Also, entering hyperspace too often can in very rare cases precipitate psychiatric issues, particularly in individuals that have a history of drug abuse or a personal or family history of psychotic disorders, though rates of such disorders are not higher among syncretic religious groups that regularly drink ayahuasca as compared to the general population. Also, conducting psychiatric screening before administration of DMT and other psychedelics in controlled settings seems to significantly reduce the possibility of adverse psychological reactions.
That said, the incredibly powerful effects of DMT deserve and should be treated with reverence and respect. To prevent or mitigate adverse psychological effects and encourage a positive, potentially transformative experience, DMT should, where possible, be consumed when the user is in good spirits and situated in a comfortable, controlled environment.
If you are consuming DMT for therapeutic reasons, it’s best to do so with the support of a psychedelic-friendly therapist, reputable and well-respected shaman, or trusted trip-sitter that can hold space, offer a reassuring word, or hold out a comforting hand.
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