DMT occurs naturally in many plants and is also produced in small amounts in the brains of mammals. Classified as a tryptamine, DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) causes powerful and short-lived hallucinations for users, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Federally scheduled in the U.S. since 1971, DMT has attracted a new generation of experimentalists and psychiatrists due to the increasing popularity of the South American hallucinogenic brew, ayahuasca. However, if it is ingested, DMT can cause immediate and possibly life-changing psychological side effects for which the user may not have bargained.
Like other tryptamine-containing substances like psilopcybe mushrooms, DMT causes changes to how users self-identify. DMT metabolizes quickly, often peaking within 90 seconds, instigating intense psychological changes that the DEA has nicknamed “the businessman’s trip.” Complete loss of self, and identification with inanimate objects can occur, leading to profound existential anxiety for some users.
While many experience relaxation under the influence of DMT, most users also feel fear and apprehension, especially if they are uncomfortable with the loss of control during the most powerful stage of the experience. A 1994 study published in the “Archives of General Psychiatry,” and co-authored by Rick Strassman, M.D. reports that even with subjects who are experienced takers of psychedelic drugs, euphoria was alternated, or coexisted, with anxiety. DMT is not associated with addiction, like all other tryptamines.
When taking most psychedelics, users know that the hallucinations are, in fact, unreal as they blend with the user’s sense impressions. This certainty does not necessarily exist with DMT-related hallucinations. In conjunction with the dissociative effect of DMT, users may feel that they are in a different world, or in a reality that is more vivid and compelling than dreams or waking awareness, as reported by researcher Rick Strassman. Other users report extremely realistic auditory hallucinations and altered body image, according to the U.S. Office of Diversion Control.
The psychological effects of psychoactive drugs can be profoundly unsettling. These experiences can result in changes about the nature of reality that bring about panic and anxiety, according to psychiatrist David Lukoff. A sudden loss or change in meaning is called a spiritual or religious problem, or a spiritual emergence, as reported in Lukoff’s 1998 article published in the “Journal of Humanistic Psychology.” Ayahuasca ceremonies, in particular, can facilitate these sometimes painful ordeals in a shamanic cultural setting by combining the use of the DMT-containing substance with chanting and other rituals. The burgeoning ayahuasca tourism industry often does not assist people who may experience profound psychological destabilization beyond the confines of the ceremony.