Is DMT Safe? DMT Side Effects

Learn about the safety, side effects, and risks of DMT, a powerful psychedelic compound known as the "spirit molecule."

Overview: N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a psychedelic drug found in plants and the human body. Discovered in 1931, its effects were studied in the 1990s, leading to a resurgence in psychedelic research. DMT, often inhaled, induces intense experiences lasting 2-20 minutes. Ayahuasca, containing DMT, is used in healing ceremonies. Research explores DMT's impact on mental health, with potential benefits for depression. DMT has a generally safe profile, but users should be cautious of physical and psychological side effects. Safety considerations include set, setting, and dose management, emphasizing responsible use and the presence of a knowledgeable trip-sitter.

Introduction to DMT

N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a psychedelic drug with a long history of use among Indigenous communities in South America and the Caribbean. DMT can be found in many, many plants and also exists inside the human body. The function of DMT in the human body is unknown, but current research is working to unravel this mystery.

DMT was first synthesized in 1931 by Canadian chemist Richard Manske, and its profound psychological effects were discovered in 1956 by Hungarian psychiatrist Stephen Szara. In 1970, it was classified as a schedule 1 substance which put a stop to all DMT research.

However, DMT research was revived in the 1990s by psychiatrist Dr. Rick Strassman's, who conducted a series of experiments investigating the physical and psychological effects of this psychedelic substance. Strassman’s research, which culminated in his landmark book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, is thought by many to have kick-started the current wave of psychedelic research.

Inhaling DMT either by vaporizing it has become popular in more recent times, though it is typically administered via injection in research settings. DMT rapidly induces extremely strange and immersive experiences into what feels like other worlds lasting anywhere from 2-20 minutes, with peak effects lasting 5-10 minutes. The experience can often include encounters with seemingly intelligent beings or entities commonly referred to as “machine elves.”

DMT Research and Potential Benefits 

For some people, the DMT experience holds great significance, serving as a catalyst for self-discovery and spiritual exploration, whether used in ceremonial or recreational contexts.

Many people travel to the Amazon and other regions where ayahuasca ceremonies are conducted for healing and spiritual exploration. Ayahuasca is a plant-based psychedelic brew that contains DMT, and it has been traditionally used by indigenous communities in the Amazon for centuries as a sacrament in religious and healing ceremonies. In recent years, there has been a growing interest among individuals from various parts of the world in experiencing ayahuasca for its potential therapeutic and spiritual benefits.

Current research is investigating the effects of DMT on the brain and whether DMT and ayahuasca may be useful treatments for certain mental health conditions such as depression. These studies typically involve therapeutic support within a safe and controlled environment.

By exploring the brain's response to DMT, researchers hope to gain insight into the potential mechanisms underlying its therapeutic effects and its impact on the functioning of the brain. 

Researchers have also figured out a way to safely prolong the DMT experience so that they can better explore the profound state of consciousness that it produces.

How Long Does DMT Last? 

The duration of DMT can vary based on several factors, including the method of administration.

The most common method of consuming DMT is through inhalation vaporized DMT, resulting in rapid and intense effects typically taking effect within a matter of seconds and lasting 5-20 minutes. The time course of intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly (IM) injected DMT is comparable to inhaled DMT, with effects usually being fully resolved within 30 minutes. 

DMT is not orally active because it is very quickly metabolized by an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO). In ayahuasca, plants containing DMT are combined with a vine that contains comoints that inhibit the MAO enzyme. This allows the DMT to enter the bloodstream and the brain, inducing an experience that typically lasts 4 to 6 hours. “Pharmahuasca” is a synthetic version of ayahuasca that can also be orally consumed. 

Each method of consuming DMT, whether through inhaling or consuming ayahuasca or pharmahuasca, comes with its own risks and benefits. However, all forms of DMT can produce powerful and intense effects on consciousness. 

Is DMT Safe? DMT Safety Profile 

Despite its very powerful effects, DMT is considered to have a relatively good safety profile.

Some estimations of the LD50, or the dose at which 50% of individuals would experience a lethal outcome, are reported to be 40-50 times the standard dose (10 - 40 milligrams). The LD50 of DMT has never been reached or exceeded in humans in any known setting.

Research indicates that the physical risks associated with DMT are generally low. Furthermore, DMT is considered to have a low abuse potential and is physically non-addictive. This means that the likelihood of developing a dependence on DMT is minimal, further contributing to its relatively safe profile.

However, it is still very important to be aware of several potential risks and side effects when considering its use.

Physical Risks and Side Effects of DMT

As mentioned above, DMT is considered safe for most people. However, it is known to produce various physical effects. It's important for users to be aware of these potential physiological responses when considering DMT use.

For example, DMT is known to increase moderately heart rate and blood pressure during its effects. These effects are typically mild and not an issue for physically healthy people. However, if you have existing heart concerns, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using DMT. 

Users should also be aware of possible contraindicated medications and drug interactions. Contraindicated medications are those that should not be used in combination with DMT due to potential harmful effects. Drug interactions occur when the effects of one substance are altered by the presence of another substance.

For example, with psychedelics that act on the serotonin system like DMT, contraindicated medications may include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and certain psychiatric medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (e.g. Prozac, Zoloft, or Lexapro). Combining these with DMT or ayahuasca, particularly MAOIs, can lead to dangerous increases in serotonin levels or other adverse effects.

These combinations can trigger serotonin syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when there is an excessive accumulation of serotonin in the body. Poisonings or deaths related to ayahuasca are typically associated with interactions with other contraindicated substances.

Other physical side effects of DMT may include:

  • Pupil dilation 
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Body high 
  • Euphoria 
  • Nausea/vomiting (more common with ayahuasca)

Psychological Risks and Side Effects of DMT

DMT is generally considered psychologically safe. However, it has the potential to induce incredibly intense experiences that can be confusing, scary, and even destabilizing, particularly if experienced in a sub-optimal context and not properly integrated into one's life.

The altered state of consciousness induced by DMT can be remarkably intense and profound, posing potential risks for individuals vulnerable to specific mental health conditions. Those with a personal or family history of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, mania, bipolar, and personality disorders, face an increased risk of adverse psychological reactions when exposed to DMT. Consequently, it is strongly advised for individuals with such histories to avoid any form of DMT.

While very rare, there have been reported cases of individuals experiencing psychotic episodes in connection with DMT use. It is important to note that while DMT itself is not considered addictive, cases of psychosis have been associated with chronic and excessive consumption of the substance. In situations where such adverse reactions occur, seeking immediate medical assistance is crucial.

While DMT can be used safely and responsibly, it should be approached with care and caution, and users are encouraged to be mindful of their dosage and overall consumption patterns.

Safety Considerations for DMT Use

If one is considering using DMT, careful planning and preparation can help ensure a safe and positive experience. It is important to take certain precautions into account. Here are a some key considerations to keep in mind:

Set, Setting, and Dose 

Set and setting” is a term commonly used in the context of psychedelic experiences to describe the importance of both internal and external factors in influencing the overall experience. These factors play a crucial role in shaping the nature of the psychedelic journey. Here's a breakdown of each:

  • Set: This refers to the mindset and emotional state of the individual. The “set” includes factors such as expectations, mood, and overall psychological well-being. One’s state of mind leading up to and during the experience can significantly influence the nature of the trip. Approaching the experience with a positive and open mindset is generally recommended.
  • Setting: Setting, on the other hand, refers to the physical environment in which the trip takes place. Feeling safe, comfortable, and having readily available support is important. Creating a calming and aesthetically pleasing space can enhance the overall experience. The people you are with, if any, can also impact the experience. Being with trusted friends or a supportive trip-sitter can contribute to a positive atmosphere. 

DMT is renowned for inducing intense and immersive experiences, often described as otherworldly or spiritual. The common dosage range of 20-40 milligrams is carefully considered to balance the desire for a profound experience with the need for safety.

Too low a dose may not evoke the desired effects, while too high a dose can lead to overwhelming, disorienting, or even frightening experiences. Individual sensitivity and metabolism varies, emphasizing the necessity for users to start with lower doses to gauge their reaction and gradually increase if comfortable.

Proper dose management is important for achieving a meaningful experience while minimizing the risk of adverse reactions, often referred to as a “bad trip.”

The Importance of a Tripsitter

A trip sitter is a trusted friend or psychedelic-friendly therapist who remains sober and acts as a guide or supportive presence. The primary role of a trip sitter is to provide assistance, reassurance, and a sense of safety to the person experiencing the psychedelic effects.

Here are some key aspects of a trip sitter's role:

  • Experience and Knowledge: Ideally, a trip sitter should have experience with DMT or other psychedelics. Knowledge of the substance's effects, duration, and potential challenges can be valuable.
  • Creating a Safe Environment: Trip sitters can ensure that the physical environment is safe, comfortable, and free of potential hazards. This may include removing sharp objects, securing the space, and creating a calming atmosphere.
  • Providing Emotional Support: Trip sitters may offer emotional support and reassurance, especially if the user undergoing the experience is feeling anxious or overwhelmed by the intensity of DMT’s effects. Simple gestures like verbal reassurance or physical contact (if welcomed) can be helpful.

Trusted and experienced trip sitters can help mitigate potential risks associated with DMT use. 

Summarizing DMT Side Effects and Safe Use

In summary, DMT is considered to have a very good safety profile when used responsibly. While DMT, like any psychedelic substance, carries inherent risks, thorough research and preparation can help ensure a safe experience with the “spirit molecule.”

To prevent the possibility of experiencing negative physical health effects, it is important for individuals with underlying health conditions to undergo health screening prior to use to ensure safety. Similarly, Individuals with a personal or family history of psychosis or other serious mental health issues are strongly advised to consult with an informed medical professional before consuming DMT. 

Additionally, factors like set (mindset), setting (physical environment), dose, and the presence of an experienced facilitator or trip-sitter can play crucial roles in enhancing the safety and potential meaning of the DMT experience. By considering these aspects, users can create a safer and more intentional environment for their DMT journey.

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