DMT Drug Abuse
DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogen capable of inducing a psychedelic “trip,” which typically ranges from 30 to 45 minutes in duration 1. DMT is a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act and has no recognized medical use in the United States.
DMT can be extracted from a variety of plant sources. The drug can also be synthesized in a lab. DMT first became popular as a drug of abuse in the 1960s and has regained popularity among drug users within the last decade 1,2.
The history of human consumption of DMT dates back hundreds of years. Brews containing DMT have long been associated with sacred rituals and religious practices 1,2.
Synthetic DMT occurs in white crystalline powder form. When taken on its own, DMT is typically consumed by snorting, smoking, or injecting the substance. It does not take much of the substance to exert its psychedelic effects, since DMT is fully hallucinogenic at dosages as low as 0.2 mg/kg 1,3.
DMT produces psychoactive effects by acting on certain serotonin receptors in the brain. DMT has a rapid onset, with effects beginning almost immediately after consumption (when smoked, snorted or injected). Effects are short-lived, however, lasting only approximately 30 to 45 minutes 1. For this reason, DMT is a popular drug of choice for those who want to experience psychedelic effects similar to that of LSD or psilocybin without a long intoxication period.
DMT does not usually produce psychoactive effects on its own when taken orally, as it is quickly rendered inactive by a metabolic enzyme known as monoamine oxidase. However, when taken orally in combination with other plants that prevent its metabolization, it can produce psychoactive effects, such is the case with ayahuasca, a mind-altering plant brew that has long been used by shamanic tribes in the Amazon. The brew is made with chacruna leaves, which contain the DMT compound, in combination with other plant matter containing harmala alkaloids that prevent metabolization of DMT (via inhibition of the monoamine oxidase enzyme) so that the drug is sufficiently absorbed in the body to produce a high. Ayahuasca produces different effects than synthetic DMT, with the trip lasting much longer, with some users claiming the trip can last up to 10 hours. Because it is taken orally, ayahuasca is associated with a number of characteristic physical effects unseen with its often-smoked synthetic DMT counterpart, such as nausea and vomiting
Ayahuasca produces different effects than synthetic DMT, with the trip lasting much longer, with some users claiming the trip can last up to 10 hours. Because it is taken orally, ayahuasca is associated with a number of characteristic physical effects unseen with its often-smoked synthetic DMT counterpart, such as nausea and vomiting 1,2,3.
Signs and Symptoms
- Altered sense of time and space.
- Altered sense of one's physical body.
- Depersonalization/out-of-body experience.
- Profound and intense visual hallucinations.
- Auditory hallucinations or distortions.
- Perception of otherworldly images.
- Altered visual perception.
- Altered auditory perception.
Many people who use DMT describe the trip as life changing, often returning to sobriety filled with insights they believe to have been from God, aliens, or other majestic or magical beings. Scientific research has illustrated that small quantities of DMT occur naturally in the human brain. This has led to hypotheses of endogenous DMT playing a role in spontaneous mystical experiences, alien encounters, and near-death experiences. Even though the compound occurs naturally within the human brain, it is still a Schedule 1 drug for which possession can lead to incarceration, fines, and other legal consequences 2.
The risk of addiction to DMT is still not known and more research needs to be conducted to fully determine the long-term effects of use. Unlike other hallucinogens, DMT does not appear to produce physical tolerance in the body, making it relatively less likely to lead to addiction. Although it is rarely reported, some users may develop a psychological addiction to the drug and, as a result begin to use DMT more often. Frequent use of any hallucinogenic drug has the potential to lead to psychosis and other mental health problems.
Some signs that a person may be abusing DMT include 3,4,5:
- Financial problems due to spending money obtaining DMT.
- Using DMT on a regular basis and having trouble maintaining personal and professional commitments as a result of drug use.
- Experiencing flashbacks/feeling psychoactive effects similar to the DMT trip when not using the drug.
- Feeling out of touch with reality.
- Lying about drug use to friends and family.
- Extreme preoccupation with using DMT.
- Using DMT with other drugs.
Effects of DMT Abuse
The major psychological risk of DMT use in the short-term is having what users refer to as a “bad trip.” A bad trip may be frightening, unpleasant, disturbing confusing or distorting.
Users have reported seeing violent imagery, hearing disturbing sounds, and experiencing a wide range of negative emotions from extreme anxiety to paranoia to despair 2,3.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Dilated pupils.
- Involuntary rapid eye movements.
- Ataxia (lack of muscle coordination).
High doses of synthetic DMT have also produced the following in some people 1:
- Respiratory arrest.
The short-term physiological effects of ayahuasca include 4:
- Elevated blood pressure.
Long-term effects of DMT use are not widely known or studied. More research needs to be done to indicate whether there are serious long-term consequences. There is currently no indication that DMT in any amount produces tolerance. Similarly, ayahuasca (which contains DMT) has not been shown to produce any lasting negative physiological effects, especially in those who drink the brew in a ritualistic or religious setting 1,2.
Persistent psychosis and hallucination persisting perception disorder (HPPD) are associated with the use of classic hallucinogens such as DMT, although onset of either is quite rare. Some symptoms of HPPD and/or persistent psychosis include 2:
- Mood swings.
- Visual disturbances.
- Disorganized thoughts.
- Flashbacks (recurrence of drug-induced experiences, i.e., hallucinations, altered perception, etc.).
According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 6,7:
- Less than 1% of Americans age 12 and older reported using DMT at least once in their lifetime.
- The greatest percentage of users was between the ages of 18 and 25.
- While DMT abuse is generally rare, its prevalence may be on the rise—with a relatively large proportion of DMT users reported as new users. At 24%, this proportion of new users was more than the other hallucinogenic drugs surveyed.
Teen DMT Abuse
While hallucinogen use is not nearly as common among teens as alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug abuse, DMT is a still a drug that may be abused by youth. The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey reported that 4.2% of high school seniors reported having used a hallucinogenic drug within the past year 8.
Parents can help prevent teen drug abuse by talking with their children about drugs and encouraging extracurricular activities to keep youth active and busy outside of school hours.
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (January 2013). N,N-DIMETHYLTRYPTAMINE (DMT).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (February 2015). How Do Hallucinogens (LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, and Ayahuasca) Affect the Brain and Body?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (January 2016). DrugFacts: Hallucinogens.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (March 2015). Common Drugs of Abuse.
- Berger, F. (February 24, 2014). Substance Use Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
- SAMHSA. (2013). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.
- Winstock, A., Kaar, S., & Borschmann, R. (January 2014). Journal of Psychopharmacology. Dimethyltryptamine (DMT): prevalence, user characteristics and abuse liability in a large global sample.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (June 2016). Drug Facts: High School & Youth Trends.