N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a molecule that is found naturally in many different plants and animals—including humans, although in minimal amounts.1 When this molecule is extracted from certain plants or produced synthetically in a lab, users can take it for an intense hallucinogenic effect.2
DMT is considered a Schedule I substance with no recognized medical uses and a high potential for abuse. However, with approval of both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it may be used in research.2
Read on to learn more about this powerful hallucinogen.
How is DMT Abused?
DMT use is a part of many rituals and practices that likely date back many hundreds of years. The process of making and consuming ayahuasca—a tea that contains DMT—is still common, predominantly in South America.2
Most illicitly manufactured DMT is either derived from a plant or chemically synthesized in laboratories. It’s usually found in the form of a fine crystalline powder that can be:2
- Dissolved in water and injected intravenously.3
DMT is metabolized quickly, making it a popular drug among people that desire the intense psychoactive effects of other hallucinogens for a shorter period of time. Swallowing DMT by itself does not allow much of the substance to enter the bloodstream, and therefore produces little effect.2
For this reason, many people choose to smoke or snort the powder, which causes intense effects to be felt rapidly, and lasts between 15-60 minutes.2
However, when DMT is combined with certain alkaloids and consumed orally—as it is in ayahuasca—the experience sets in around 1 hour, peaks at 90 minutes, and subsides around 4 hours after consumption.1
DMT administered through intravenous injection (shooting up) is felt instantly and lasts 30-45 minutes.2
Physical and Psychological Effects of DMT
DMT produces effects comparable to other classic hallucinogens, including alterations in sensation, perception, emotion, sense of self, and attribution of meaning.4 Besides the hallucinogenic effects, there are also uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects that may accompany DMT use.
DMT side effects may include:2
- Dilated pupils.
- Involuntary eye movement.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Auditory and spatial distortions.
- Distorted perception of time and body image.
- Depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself).
- Vomiting (as a result of the ayahuasca tea).5
- Loss of muscle coordination.
Reports of overdose on DMT or ayahuasca are rare. However, there have been hundreds of hospital visits associated with ayahuasca use. Most people who visited the hospital as a result of ayahuasca exposure experience one or more of the following acute symptoms:6
- Excessive vomiting.
- Injuries as a result of hallucinations where awareness of physical environment and body are extremely pronounced.
- Mydriasis (dilated pupils that do not respond to changes in light).
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
The following rare but exceedingly dangerous side effects have also been observed in several patients following ayahuasca exposure:6
- Respiratory arrest.
Acute exposure to ayahuasca is often treated by administering benzodiazepines. In rare cases, doctors have had to perform endotracheal intubation (using a tube to expand the windpipe) on patients.6
How Long Does DMT Stay in Your System?
DMT is metabolized so quickly that it is difficult to detect through blood or urine. Even when DMT is injected, researchers suspect that only 1.8% of the dose is actually present in the bloodstream at once.7
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-5 drug test does not detect DMT, nor do most expanded versions of drug tests.8
Is DMT Addictive?
It’s currently unknown whether DMT is addictive or whether long-term problems can arise from repeated abuse. Interestingly, people do not seem to develop a tolerance to DMT the way they would with most hallucinogens or other drugs.5
Currently, there is a debate on whether DMT and other psychedelic substances should be researched as a means of treating psychological problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and even substance use disorder. So far, there is not enough data collected to confirm that DMT has clinical therapeutic uses.1
As with all illicitly manufactured or distributed substances, people who choose to use them face the risk of contamination with unknown and potentially fatal chemicals.
- Barker S. A. (2018). N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an endogenous hallucinogen: past, present, and future research to determine its role and function. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 536.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019). N,N-Dimethyltryptamine. Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section.
- Gallimore, A. R., & Strassman, R. J. (2016). A model for the application of target-controlled intravenous infusion for a prolonged immersive DMT psychedelic experience. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 7, 211.
- Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). How do hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin, peyote, DMT, and ayahuasca) affect the brain and body?
- Brooks D.E., Heise C.W. (2017). Ayahuasca exposure: descriptive analysis of calls to U.S. poison control centers from 2005 to 2015. Journal of Medical Toxicology 13(3), 245-248.
- Carbonaro, T. M., & Gatch, M. B. (2016). Neuropharmacology of N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Brain Research Bulletin, 126(1), 74–88.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (n.d.). Drug testing.