DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Delve into the unique effects of DMT, the classic psychedelic compound known as the spirit molecule.

Overview: DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound used for spiritual and medicinal purposes by indigenous cultures in South America. Known as the “spirit molecule”, DMT produces intense and profound effects on the human mind that often include complex visual patterns and the presence of seemingly intelligent entities known as “machine elves.” DMT is also endogenously produced in the human body, however, its exact role in the body is not fully understood. Scientists are currently investigating a new technology called extended-state DMT (DMTx), which involves administering a continuous flow of DMT to participants and regulating blood serum levels, allowing the DMT experience to last for hours or even days.

What is the DMT? 

N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound used for thousands of years by indigenous cultures in Central and South America for spiritual and medicinal purposes. In recent years, there has been growing interest in DMT's scientific, therapeutic, spiritual, and philosophical implications, leading to a resurgence of research on the substance. 

DMT has a similar structure and acts similarly to other well-known “classic psychedelics” such as LSD, psilocybin, and 5-MeO-DMT. DMT is primarily a serotonergic psychedelic, meaning it interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain to produce its effects. In addition to its primary receptor binding, DMT also interacts with several other receptors in the brain, which may play a role in its overall effects.

As a recreational substance, DMT is often consumed by smoking or vaporization, typically with a swift onset of effects of just 20-40 seconds, and a short duration of 5-20 minutes. This rapid onset and short duration of action make DMT a unique substance in the class of psychedelics.

In clinical contexts, DMT is typically administered through intravenous (IV) injection. In the case of IV administration, the effects of DMT can be felt almost immediately, with peak effects occurring within seconds and lasting for approximately 15-30 minutes. 

Many users of DMT report that their use has been therapeutic, helping them gain new insights into their lives and make positive changes, leading some to describe it as a personal growth and transformation tool.

Indeed, initial research suggests that it may have promising potential as a therapeutic tool for conditions such as depression and addiction, but further research is necessary to determine its safety and effectiveness in clinical contexts.

As with any powerful psychedelic substance, DMT can pose potential risks and contraindications. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking DMT or any other psychedelic substance, particularly if concerned about underlying health issues and potential health complications. 

Why is DMT Called the Spirit Molecule?

Rick Strassman, a clinical psychiatrist, conducted groundbreaking studies on DMT in the 1990s. His research, detailed in the book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule,” explores the effects of DMT.

Strassman administered DMT to volunteers in a clinical setting, documenting their experiences, which often included vivid and profound spiritual or otherworldly encounters. Many report having mystical experiences, with most describing a feeling of being transported to other worlds that are rapidly shifting and highly complex and strange interactions with what seem like intelligent inter-dimensional “beings” (discussed further below). 

The term “The Spirit Molecule” reflects Strassman's observations of participants reporting experiences of encountering entities or spiritual beings during the DMT-induced altered states of consciousness.

The book delves into the potential role of DMT in naturally occurring mystical and spiritual experiences and has sparked both scientific and popular interest in the now colloquially known “spirit molecule.”

Brief History of DMT

The spirit molecule has played a crucial role in traditional religious ceremonies and ritual medicinal practices of indigenous communities in Central and South America.

One of the most popular preparations of DMT is ayahuasca. Ayahuasca, which is a Quechua word meaning “vine of the soul,” is a brew most commonly made from boiling the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis plant.

B. caapi contains beta-carboline alkaloids, a type of chemical compound that are found in certain plants and are known to have psychoactive effects, while P. viridis contains substantial amounts of DMT. The beta-carbolines in B. caapi inhibit the activity of an  enzyme that breaks down DMT called monoamine oxidase (MAO), allowing DMT to be active when consumed orally. 

Oral administration of DMT in the form of ayahuasca typically results in a slower onset of effects and longer duration, lasting for several hours.

Indigenous shamanic healers, known as curanderos (men) and curanderas (women), play a significant role in facilitating ceremonial ayahuasca rituals. In shamanic rituals, ayahuasca is believed to facilitate communication with plant and animal spirits, spiritual warfare, spiritual growth, the acquiring of songs and designs for pottery and textiles, and more. 

Findings from hair samples of Azapa Valley mummies who were buried with snuffing devices suggest that the use of B. caapi dates back to 600-1000 AD. Though, some anthropologists have suggested Amazonian tribes may have been using ayahuasca for up to 5000 years, highlighting the historical significance of these shamanic practices. 

In the past few decades, the potential therapeutic benefits of Ayahuasca have garnered attention from the medical community, with research showcasing potential anti-addictive, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety effects in humans. There is also some evidence to suggest that regular consumption of ayahuasca in religious contexts may improve overall health and interpersonal and family relationships.

As a result, there has been a noticeable rise in Western people traveling to the Amazon to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies in recent years. While existing studies have shown positive outcomes and anecdotal reports highlight a variety of potential benefits associated with ayahuasca, additional research will be important to firmly establish its safety and effectiveness.

Discovery of DMT’s Psychedelic Effects 

Initially synthesized in the 1930s by chemist Richard Manske, DMT was not originally thought to be of significant interest to science or consciousness studies. That was until Hungarian chemist and psychopharmacologist Dr. Stephen Szára injected DMT into himself, having become intrigued after learning of its presence in a South American psychoactive snuff called “cohoba,” also called “yopo.”

Dr. Szára and his colleagues discovered the psychedelic properties of DMT in 1956, three years after the discovery of serotonin in the brain. His self-injection of DMT in his laboratory led to a reported experience of vivid, moving, and brilliantly colored hallucinations. These perceptions of “oriental motifs” filled his consciousness.

Szára went on to administer the substance to several medical colleagues and students, who described their experiences as being filled with “spirits”, feeling as if they were “flying”, and observing “quiet, sunlit gods”. These subjective reports provide insight into the range of perceptual alterations that DMT can produce.

Navigating the DMT Space: Exploring Its Subjective Effects 

The effects of DMT have captivated the attention of many researchers and scientists over the years, including influential psychiatrist Dr. Rick Strassman. As mentioned above, Dr. Strassman delves into the nature of the DMT experience in his classic book, presenting his findings from a series of studies he conducted in the 90s on the effects of DMT on human consciousness.

Volunteers in Strassman’s studies noted that the colors of DMT-induced geometrical patterns appeared more vivid and intense than those perceived in normal everyday awareness or even dreams. At high doses in particular, DMT can produce patterns that go beyond typical perceptual dimensions that are often described as "beyond dimensionality."

The "DMT space" or "hyperspace," to which it is colloquially referred, is a term used to describe the often otherworldly experiences reported by those who take DMT. As touched on above, the DMT space may be characterized by highly complex, rapidly changing visuals, brightly colored geometric patterns, spirals and fractals, as well as more abstract shapes, structures and other extra-perceptual phenomena. 

Dr. Strassman's DMT research has played a crucial role in the resurgence of interest in psychedelics, both in popular culture and in the scientific community. His studies have been widely credited with reviving the field of psychedelic research and are considered seminal work in the area.

What are DMT Elves? 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the DMT experience is the presence of discarnate entities, christened "machine elves" by American author, lecturer, and advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants, Terence McKenna (1946-2000).

Often, these entities are described as highly intelligent and as existing in other dimensions, and are believed to communicate with users in a way that goes beyond human understanding.

Despite their alien-like nature, individuals report feeling a strong sense of connection and understanding with these entities. They have been reported to impart insightful information about themselves and their universe, similar to the beings reportedly encountered in near-death experiences. 

Interestingly, those who have no prior knowledge of DMT folklore also report encountering such entities. This has led many to question the true nature of these experiences, given their perceived "realness" and the consistency of reports across different users.

Some argue that the DMT space and the entities that seem to reside there may be purely a creation of the user's mind, while others believe it may represent contact with other planes of existence. 

Researcher Peter Meyer has proposed three main interpretations of this entity encounter phenomenon: 

  1. Hallucination. The first interpretation, which suggests that the entities are simply subjective hallucinations, is typically favored by those who take a purely neuropsychological approach. 
  2. Psychological/transpersonal. This interpretation suggests that the beings are actually unfamiliar aspects of ourselves (e.g. our reptilian brain, our cells, molecules, or subatomic particles). 
  3. Other worlds. The third interpretation suggests that DMT provides access to an alternate dimension inhabited by independently existing intelligent entities.

The Role of Endogenous DMT 

DMT is not only present in various plants, but it also occurs naturally within the human body. Specifically, DMT has been detected in human brain tissue, blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid

The presence of DMT in the human body has long been a topic of interest and speculation among researchers in the field of psychedelics. Despite its presence in the human body, the role that DMT plays in the body remains unclear.

Some, such as Rick Strassman, have suggested that DMT might act similarly to serotonin, possibly serving as a neurotransmitter that sends signals in areas of the central nervous system responsible for sensory perception. However, to establish that DMT has a specific purpose as a neurotransmitter rather than merely being a byproduct of other biologically active substances, it is essential to demonstrate its synthesis, storage, and release mechanisms within the body.

DMT researchers have also speculated about the potential role of the spirit molecule in naturally occurring altered states of consciousness, such as psychosis, dreams, creativity, imagination, religious and spiritual experiences, and near-death experiences.

Early studies on DMT suggested that it may be a schizotoxin, leading some researchers to hypothesize that DMT was a contributing factor in the development of schizophrenia. However, this hypothesis is no longer accepted, although DMT's potential role in psychotic symptoms is still under investigation.

Recent research suggests that DMT may actually be neuroprotective, meaning that it may protect nerve cells (neurons) in the brain from damage, degeneration, or injury. This contradicts a previous notion that DMT was neurotoxic. Some researchers have suggested that endogenous DMT might have a calming effect based on the reports of people feeling less anxious after taking low doses of DMT. 

Although DMT researchers are continually developing questions about its biological function, it's unclear if the spirit molecule has any biological function at all.

Extended State DMT 

Scientists are exploring novel frontiers in the field of psychedelic research by investigating a new technology called extended-state DMT (DMTx). By administering a continuous flow of DMT to participants and regulating blood serum levels, researchers can make the DMT experience last for hours or even days.

The concept of DMTx is based on a 2016 paper by Andrew Gallimore and Rick Strassman published in Frontiers in Physiology, which details a method to maintain a stable concentration of DMT in the brain through intravenous infusion.

According to these scientists, an extended-state DMT experience may offer a more relaxed approach to studying the effects of the spirit molecule and could provide study participants with sufficient time to deliver detailed reports of their experiences. Proponents of extended-state programs hope to explore whether these experiences reveal new aspects of the mind, possibly even another dimension, or if users are merely experiencing a very strange and intense drug-induced high.

Studies on extended-state DMT are currently being conducted by teams at Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland, and several universities in the US.

Summing Up DMT: A Journey Through Spirituality, Research, and Extended Experiences

In conclusion, the spirit molecule stands as a fascinating compound with a rich history deeply intertwined with spiritual practices and medicinal traditions of indigenous cultures. Its resurgence in scientific interest has paved the way for exploration into its therapeutic potential, particularly in treating conditions like depression and addiction.

The unique characteristics of DMT, such as its rapid onset and short duration, set it apart in the realm of psychedelics. Rick Strassman's seminal work, notably his book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule,” sheds light on the profound and mystical experiences reported by users, often involving encounters with entities dubbed “machine elves.”

As research continues to delve into DMT's effects and its potential role in altered states of consciousness, including its presence in the human body, questions persist about its biological function. The emergence of extended-state DMT (DMTx) adds a new dimension to psychedelic research, offering the possibility of prolonged and controlled experiences.

While promising, the ongoing journey of understanding DMT requires further exploration, emphasizing the importance of responsible use and continued scientific inquiry.

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