By Lauren Smith
Last updated: 01 December 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small
DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogen that occurs naturally in certain shrubs and fauna found in South America. DMT has been used as part of religious practices for thousands of years and has gained prevalence as a illegal recreational drug in recent times.
Used both recreationally and in religious ceremonies among South American peoples, either on its own or in a brewed drink called ayahuasca, DMT produces intense but short-lived psychedelic experiences, sometimes associated with spiritual awakenings and compared to near-death experiences.
In religious rites, DMT is typically ingested. However, when DMT is orally ingested, a digestive enzyme in the stomach, monoamine oxidase, breaks it down and makes it inactive.
DMT is distinguished from other hallucinogens by its intense, immersive, but short-lived highs.
Table of contentsToggle table of contents ↑ ↓
- What is DMT? →
- Where does DMT come from? →
- How is DMT taken? →
- DMT vs other hallucinogens →
- What does DMT feel like? →
- How long do you feel the effects of DMT? →
- Side effects of DMT →
- Is DMT addictive? →
- How to stay safe if taking DMT →
- DMT faqs →
Table of contents:
- What is DMT?
- Where does DMT come from?
- How is DMT taken?
- DMT vs other hallucinogens
- What does DMT feel like?
- How long do you feel the effects of DMT?
- Side effects of DMT
- Is DMT addictive?
- How to stay safe if taking DMT
- DMT faqs
What is DMT?
The compound N, N-dimethyltryptamine, popularly known as DMT, is a fast-acting hallucinogenic drug derived from several plants. Used both recreationally and in religious ceremonies among South American peoples, either on its own or in a brewed drink called ayahuasca, DMT produces intense but short-lived psychedelic experiences, sometimes associated with spiritual awakenings and compared to near-death experiences.
What does DMT look like?
The pure form of DMT is a white crystalline powder or solid, but impure forms, featuring yellow, orange, or pink powder, are more common.
Ayahuasca is a brown-reddish drink brewed from plants. DMT is also consumed as changa, a brown or green herb mixture. It is also commonly consumed as a vape liquid, where the DMT concentrate looks like a yellow liquid.
What else is DMT known as?
DMT is also known as Dimitri, fantasia, and the spirit molecule. The brief nature of its psychedelic experiences (up to 45 minutes when smoked) also earned it the names businessman’s trip, businessman’s special, and 45-minute psychosis.
DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, a drink consumed by cultures throughout South and Central America. It’s also known as la purge, caapi, yajé, yagé, and dozens of other names in indigenous languages.
Where does DMT come from?
The N, N-dimethyltryptamine compound naturally occurs in dozens of plant species in Mexico, South America, and parts of Asia, similar to the peyote which mescaline is derived from.
Most DMT available for recreational use is extracted from plants, particularly:
the root bark of the jurema (Mimosa tenuiflora), a bushy tree in Central and South America
the leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis), a flowering shrub in the coffee family
acacia plants, especially the root bark of the tree Acacia confusa
DMT can also be synthesized in a laboratory.
It’s also thought that the human body produces its own DMT in the pineal gland of the brain. This theory was popularised by psychiatry professor Rick Strassman, whose research and book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, popularised the use of DMT outside of indigenous religious practices. Strassman believes the release of this endogenous DMT may be behind people’s accounts of alien abduction, near-death experiences, and spontaneous mystical experiences.
Dr. Philip Gold, one of the world’s leading researchers of depressive illness, Senior Investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health, and author of Breaking Through Depression: A Guide to the Next Generation of Promising Research and Revolutionary New Treatments had this to say about DMT's effect on the brain;
How is DMT taken?
DMT in a powdered form can be smoked in a pipe, bong, or joint. It can also be vaped when combined with an e-liquid base.
In religious rites, DMT is typically ingested. However, when DMT is orally ingested, a digestive enzyme in the stomach, monoamine oxidase, breaks it down and makes it inactive. An enzyme inhibitor can block this process. When ayahuasca is made, the leaves of the Psychotria viridis, a source of DMT, are brewed with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which contains a type of monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).
Sometimes smokable herbs such as the caapi vine or even parsley are spiked with isolated DMT and smoked in a joint, a form called changa. How DMT is taken can affect how long the drug remains in the system.
DMT vs other hallucinogens
DMT is a psychedelic hallucinogen. Like most others in its class, it acts by binding to serotonin 5-HT2A receptors and modulating the activity of brain circuits involved in sensory perception and thought. This leads to visual and auditory hallucinations, altered states of consciousness, and sometimes ego death, a loss of subjective self-identity.
DMT is distinguished from other hallucinogens by its intense, immersive, but short-lived highs.
DMT vs ayahuasca
DMT is the active ingredient behind ayahuasca’s intense psychedelic, entheogenic (meaning it inspires spiritual awakenings) experiences. To make ayahuasca, plants containing DMT are brewed with the caapi vine, which contains MAOI and prevents the DMT from being broken down by stomach enzymes.
DMT vs peyote
Similar to DMT, peyote is a plant with psychoactive properties used in religious ceremonies. Peyote is a small cactus native to Mexico and the southwest US. The cactus is chewed or brewed into a tea to access a psychoactive compound, mescaline.
Peyote has been used as medicine and in entheogenic rituals by indigenous North Americans for thousands of years. Peyote's psychedelic effects are more long-lasting than DMT, usually ten to 12 hours, and more similar to those produced by LSD, featuring visual or auditory effects and philosophical insights.
DMT vs psilocybin
Psilocybin is the active ingredient in 200 species of mushrooms, colloquially called magic mushrooms. Psilocybin and DMT are both in the tryptamine family of psychedelics and have similar chemical structures. Plants containing psilocybin and DMT are also both used in religious ceremonies in indigenous American cultures. However, psilocybin experiences last longer, usually four to eight hours. Mushrooms can also be orally ingested without the need to pair them with an enzyme inhibitor.
DMT vs LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is an entirely synthetic psychedelic, but it acts much like plant-derived psychedelics. It’s characterized by the length of its “trips”: up to 20 hours and usually six to 12.
Additionally, while LSD distorts perception, boosts mood, and dials up senses, DMT is more associated with immersive hallucinations, feelings of spirituality, and near-death experiences.
The modes of administration also differ. LSD is an odorless, colorless liquid, small amounts of which are dripped onto absorbent squares of paper called blotter papers. These tabs are then placed on or under your tongue.
What does DMT feel like?
DMT is known for inducing powerful transcendent experiences that feel like profound spiritual awakenings or near-death experiences. While most other psychedelics distort the senses and warp perception, DMT catapults users into entirely simulated alternate realities, interpreted by many as a new realm they’ve entered after death.
If DMT makes you feel like you’ve died or entered a new plane of existence, it’s no coincidence. Research by neuroscientist Christopher Timmermann has shown that DMT produces brain waves similar to those seen when someone’s eyes are open and they’re interacting with the world, even though research participants' eyes were closed, or when they’re dreaming in REM sleep. He also found that DMT experiences conformed to what we know about near-death experiences, with subjects reporting ego dissolution and mystical feelings. These "breakthrough experiences” are behind DMT’s potential for treating mental health conditions, including addiction and depression.
How long do you feel the effects of DMT?
DMT is rapidly metabolized by the body, so its effects are transitory. When smoked, inhaled, or injected, DMT takes effect nearly instantly: people report that hallucinations start within 45 seconds. But they don’t last long: as little as five minutes and 45 minutes at most. In one study, injected DMT reached peak concentration in the blood within 10 to 15 minutes and was below detectible levels after an hour.
However, the exact length of someone's DMT experience depends on the dosage and their body weight.
Ingesting DMT alongside an appropriate MAOI such as in ayahuasca will induce a longer experience: up to four hours. The effects kick in about 30 to 45 minutes after you drink the ayahuasca, depending on whether you have food in your stomach.
Side effects of DMT
In addition to the desired psychedelic experience, DMT has side effects, some negative.
Short-term effects of DMT
elevated heart rate
elevated blood pressure
chest pain or tightness
rapid rhythmic movements of the eye
*When ingested orally DMT can cause
Long-term effects of DMT
For some people, the hallucinations induced by DMT can be deeply unsettling or traumatizing, especially when they mimic near-death experiences. In the days and weeks after taking DMT, they may experience anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.
People who have previously experienced psychosis should avoid taking DMT as it may make their symptoms return or worsen.
As with other hallucinogens, some people may experience flashbacks of their DMT experience days, weeks, or even years later. These flashbacks may feature visual disturbances such as halos around objects, bright lights, difficulty distinguishing between colors, illusions of movement, and visual snow. In a small number of people, these flashbacks may be persistent and cause significant distress, leading to the diagnosis of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
Is DMT addictive?
There’s no evidence to suggest that DMT causes physical dependence. It doesn’t produce tolerance in users, therefore doesn’t cause withdrawal effects. In fact, DMT has been researched alongside other hallucinogens, as a treatment for addiction.
Initial studies have been positive: hallucinogens are thought to reverse the depressed serotonin levels that accompany addiction. They can also help people break out of entrenched thought patterns. DMT has such a short period of action it’s preferred over the more long-lasting LSD for therapeutic use.
How to stay safe if taking DMT
DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the US, making it illegal for recreational use. However, Supreme Court, citing religious freedom, has made it legal for members of some churches to consume ayahuasca during religious ceremonies.
If you do decide to take DMT, you should do so in a safe environment. While under the influence of DMT, people can act irrationally, sometimes even causing harm to themselves, such as by jumping out of windows. You should therefore only take DMT under the supervision of someone sober.
DMT shouldn’t be taken alongside other drugs that increase serotonin levels, such as antidepressants. The combination can cause serotonin syndrome, which is potentially fatal and requires emergency medical treatment.
DMT overdoses are rare because the drug is cleared so rapidly from the body and doesn’t affect critical bodily functions as much as some other hallucinogens. However, at very high doses DMT can cause seizures, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and death.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about DMT.
Are DMT and 5-MeO DMT the same thing?
No, not technically speaking. While both share a similar chemical composition, 5-MeO DMT, also known as toad venom or Bufo, bonds to different receptors in the brain, causing a different psychedelic reaction.
Is DMT legal?
Yes, though many medical experts and addiction specialists have called for lighter restrictions on DMT and other psychedelic substances owing to their potential for treating mental health disorders and other conditions, DMT is illegal in most states in the US, though it is now legal in some.
How long does DMT stay in your system?
As with all drugs, The length of time DMT is in the system for depends on a myriad of factors; such as how the drug has been taken, the type of drug test used, and the specific BMI of the user.
Is DMT used in therapy treatments?
Yes, though DMT-assisted therapy is still not an officially licensed form of treatment. DMT, as well as other psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, are the base for ground-breaking forms of treatment for mental health disorders such as depression and PTSD.
What does DMT smell like?
Most anecdotal evidence suggests DMT smells and tastes like a combination of burnt plastic, mothballs, burnt coffee, and slightly yeasty like old Guinness.
Does DMT show up in drug tests?
Most standard panel drug tests such as a 10-panel drug test won't screen for DMT or other psychedelics. However, if an employer or similar requests a specific drug test screening for certain metabolites, then DMT may show up on a drug test.