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DMT: A History

The psychedelic N-Dimethyltryptamine (commonly known as DMT) has a long history in world culture.

It’s been around since ancient times and has been the subject of numerous studies and experiments going back as far as the 1930s.

Yet still this substance remains mysterious. Despite all that we’ve learned, society has yet to comprehend the full potential of DMT.

Here are some of the fascinating historical facts about this unique psychedelic, as well as the surprising impact it’s having on our world today.

First things first.

What Is DMT?

DMT is a chemical substance which occurs naturally in many plants and even in some animals. In fact, it’s produced endogenously within the human brain where it activates serotonin receptors. Of course, serotonin is widely known to boost feelings of happiness; it’s often called “the happiness hormone.” This knowledge of the human brain offers a clue as to how DMT can work to bring about feelings of euphoria. Some researchers believe that DMT gets released into the brain during death, which might explain the euphoric sensations which occur during near-death experiences. DMT is sometimes referred to as the “spirit molecule” because of these unique effects.

DMT is similar in form and function to more commonly-known psychedelics such as mushrooms or LSD. However, its effects are much more rapid and intense.

Like most hallucinogenic drugs, the use of DMT is restricted or even illegal in many (if not all) countries. In the United States, it is a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it is illegal to buy, sell, manufacture or distribute it.

But these restrictions have done little to discourage the use of DMT worldwide, especially (and this may surprise you) as an element of religious ritual and ceremony. This is mostly due to its ability to produce a deep sense of insight and spiritual awakening (more on that later).

Commonly, practitioners will derive DMT in powdered form from certain plants native to Mexico and South America.


Indigenous cultures have used DMT for thousands of years, dating back to pre-Columbian times. The earliest Spanish colonists discovered the natives of Trinidad enjoying the benefits of DMT way back in the fifteenth century. Since that time, natives of South America continue to use it, traditionally partaking through a special kind of tea called ayahuasca, brewed with DMT along with other ingredients which enhance the effects.

A German chemist named Richard Manske was the first person to synthesize this drug in a lab back in 1931. Since then, a number of studies and experiments have sought to learn more about DMT and its effects. In 1956, Hungarian chemist Stephen Szara published the results of an experiment in which he injected 20 volunteers to gain a scientific understanding of how the drug works.

In the 1990s, a psychiatry professor named Rick Strassman completed a five-year study which gave us new understandings of the experiences described by people under the influence of DMT. This is when we first began to understand the spiritual awakening that many experience when using it.

In the U.S., a landmark Supreme Court case established the right of churches to use DMT in their religious services as part of their protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Like other hallucinogens, DMT is often taken recreationally. Although not as widely used as other drugs like LSD, the use of DMT has been creeping upward in recent years. The 2021 Global Drug Study found that DMT use rose from about 4% to close to 9% just within one year.

Physiological Effects

DMT can induce a wide range of visual and auditory effects. In some cases, these effects are so intense that they defy verbal description.

The intensity of these effects depends, in large part, on the dosage. Low doses can boost overall mood. Higher doses typically result in visual hallucinations, which are colorful and fast-moving. Another common type of hallucination with DMT is bodily dissociation. In general, most users report a complete change in their sense of space, time, and body. These types of hallucinations are so intense that users often feel like they have visited an alternate reality or another world. Their reports are similar in many ways to reports of the hallucinations experienced during near-death experiences.

When administered intravenously, DMT also causes a number of physical effects including elevated blood pressure and heart rate, enlarged pupils, and increased body temperature.

When DMT is smoked or inhaled, these effects occur rapidly, usually with an onset after less than 45 seconds, peaking at about one minute. The whole experience generally lasts between five and fifteen minutes.

When taken in ayahuasca tea, the experience is a bit slower, beginning within an hour and peaking at about 90 minutes.

Spiritual Effects

And now we come to one of the most intriguing aspects of DMT’s potential in modern life: its unusual impact on the user’s spiritual life.

Researchers have known since the 1990s (or even earlier) that taking DMT commonly results in an apparent encounter with alternate spiritual realities. But recently, they have been looking at this effect more carefully.

A study published by the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2020 found that this spiritual event was so impactful, it even caused atheists to express a newfound belief in a benevolent, intelligent entity.

This was a spiritual awakening which went far beyond a brief trip, dramatically transforming the lives of participants.

In more than one survey in the last few years, participants reported encountering a being they described as conscious, benevolent, intelligent and sacred. The feelings surrounding this encounter were uniformly positive, evoking impressions of love, joy, trust and kindness.

80% of participants reported that their entire perception of reality had been altered, and 72% said that even after the experience was over, they continued to live on an entirely different plane of reality.

In fact, many researchers believe that the mystical spiritual awakening and ego death which occurs while using DMT might hold the key to answering existential questions about our purpose here.

Clearly, DMT is more than just a hallucinogenic drug. There is still a lot to learn, and many intriguing mysteries about DMT remain to be unlocked.