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What is DMT?

What Is DMT?

DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a psychedelic substance distilled into a powder, that is derived from sacred medicinal plants found in parts of Asia, Mexico, and South America. What is most noteworthy about DMT is its notorious effects, which have earned it the name ‘The Spirit Molecule’. 

The compound itself is so simple and ubiquitous that it has led researchers to ask deeply philosophical and ontological questions about why this might be the case. Animals, plants, and humans can all potentially synthesize DMT within themselves.

What Is the Difference Between DMT and Ayahuasca?

According to traditional customs, ayahuasca is a brewed preparation of two plants, Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi. And DMT is the main active ingredient of ayahuasca. Psychotria viridis contains DMT, and Banisteriopsis caapi contains MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which prevent the breakdown of DMT in your body. 

Pure DMT extract is not orally active because it lacks an MAOI. The ayahuasca preparation allows the trip to be extended and also permits the user to maneuver more comfortably and actively in the DMT state. 

We’ll cover the DMT trip in more detail later in this article. However, for the sake of distinguishing DMT from ayahuasca, the difference in trip is most note-worthy. While the ayahuasca ceremony is associated with an immersive, hours-long life-changing mystical vision quest, the DMT experience is better described by writer Erik Davis as more like “a psychedelic bungee jump” (Schultz, 2010).

Trippers report the sensation of being gently lifted into a mystical space and gently dropped down again. The presence of MAOIs in a DMT preparation makes the trip more navigable and longer lasting.

DMT History

There is plenty of archeological evidence establishing the use of plant hallucinogens by 1500-2000 B.C. in the Ecuadorian Amazon. However, when exactly ayahuasca came into use is something of a mystery. 

The compound was first synthesized 90 years ago by Richard Manske, a German-Canadian chemist. However, its hallucinogenic properties weren’t discovered scientifically for another 25 years. 

Hungarian psychiatrist and pharmacologist Stephen Szara (1957) undertook self-experimentation in a clinical setting. And yet indigenous populations around the Amazon had discovered how to experience DMT through ingestion of ayahuasca possibly 1000 years prior. 

It has been 86 years since DMT’s first synthesis by Manske and 61 years since Szara discovered its hallucinogenic properties. It has been 41 years since DMT was first characterized as a neurotransmitter. (Christian et al., 1976). 

In the USA, DMT found strong proponents, most notably the American ethnobotanist and mystic Terence McKenna. Unfortunately, political backlash against the wanton promotion of DMT by Timothy Leary in the 1970s resulted in an almost total cessation of research and documented experimentation. Luckily, recent attention to the benefits of psychedelics in treating rising depression and anxiety has shifted attitudes. 

The endogenous DMT compound is “possibly involved in psychosis, normal attributes, and experiences such as creativity, imagination and dream states, maintenance of waking reality, altered states of consciousness including religious and/or spiritual phenomena, and NDEs.” (Barker et al., 2018)

Chemistry & Structure of DMT

Everyone has heard of the ubiquitous amino acid tryptophan, particularly its mythical responsibility for the sleepy feeling you get after eating a lot of turkey flesh at Thanksgiving. What isn’t mythical about tryptophan is its connection to mood, with some researchers eyeing it as a possible treatment for depression (Neff, 2021). 

Tryptophan is relevant to DMT because it is bio-synthetically similar. Humans and all organisms contain tryptophan. Additionally, all organisms possess two ancient, ubiquitous enzymes required to synthesize DMT from tryptophan and other endogenous compounds. Consequently, most sentient life on earth can produce DMT (Barker et al., 2018).

Another structural fact about DMT is that it has only four sites to which other molecules can attach. The implications are far-reaching, as DMT can easily be turned into serotonin, tryptamine, diethyl, and even psilocin, the psilocybin mushroom’s key psychedelic molecule.

How Does DMT Work in the Brain and Body?

DMT’s endogenous occurrence allows it to break down in the body rapidly. And this affects the onset, making it equally rapid, penetrating the blood-brain barrier, where its structure allows it to bind to both adrenal and serotonin receptors. Blindfolded DMT test subjects show a “Spatio-temporal pattern of cortical activation (i.e. travelling waves) similar to that elicited by visual stimulation.” (Alamia et al., 2020).

Remember, the ayahuasca preparation contains MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) to lengthen the DMT trip by preventing its breakdown in the body. When DMT alone is consumed orally, endogenous MAOs break down DMT, rendering its hallucinogenic properties entirely ineffective. 

By contrast, orally ingesting magic mushrooms is effective because our digestive system does not efficiently break down psilocybin. By bypassing processing by the liver, psilocybin can exercise its effects on the brain. Our article’ Magic Mushrooms and Mental Health’ delves into these effects. 

Preparing for the DMT Trip: Set and Setting

The environment you trip in, as well as your mood, should be optimal. Many ayahuasca shamans will insist that setting is even more important than the substance itself, preferring controlled group settings in nature. 

If you are feeling anxious, uncomfortable, sad, angry, or any overwhelmingly negative emotions, do not use medium or high doses of DMT (see later in this article for dosing). This is referred to as ‘set and setting’, the tone of your psyche and psychology, in combination with the environment you choose to trip in. 

If these elements are beyond your control, do not use DMT under any circumstances. For instance, even if you are safely ensconced in your apartment, you might be on a noisy road with traffic sounds that could cause distress. Soundproof your environment as much as possible. If this is your first time, it is strongly advised that you appoint a spotter who will be entirely present and sober for you during your trip. While a trained shaman is ideal, an individual you trust and can work out a trip plan with is also safe. 

When tripping on medium to high doses of DMT your eyes should be closed or blindfolded, as the hallucinations are entirely internal. This facilitates the feeling of an externalized trip, where you have the sensation of going to another place. 

If you’re looking to help encourage your trip you can use audio and visual stimulation. For audio, it’s best to minimize vocals as they could distract from the trip. Binaural Beats are great, house music or instrumental music is also good. While the best trips come from having your eyes closed, having some sort of visuals in the background can also help even if they’re only looked at off and on. For visuals, I’d suggest looking searching Youtube for ‘Fractals’, these are videos that show infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. These videos will often have some sort of background music or audio included.

What Is It Like to Trip on DMT?

In general, the immediate onset (seconds to minutes) of the DMT trip can make the first 2-10 minutes an adjustment period. Depending on the dose and type of administration, the entire trip lasts from 15–60 minutes (Barker et al 2018).

You are likely to find yourself wondering what is going on and how to relate to the visual experiences you are having. You can expect to feel fine and good, perhaps the urge to smile or laugh. Many trippers are observed laughing and smiling. A sense of logic remains, despite the amazing visual experience and intensity. People report feeling lighter, emotionally and physically. 

As is the case with all psychedelics, the trip beyond the onset can differ by individual. With masses of new information to process, the experience can feel fast, rather than relaxed and contemplative like a psilocybin mushroom trip. 

In the film ‘The Spirit Molecule,’ DMT research volunteer and family physician Christian Meuli described complex, fast-moving experiences of geometric spaces assembling as a city in the distance. He sensed a presence, manifesting as a woman, controlling aspects of the environment, like the lights of the city. While he wasn’t afraid, he was fully immersed, feeling intensely close to the visual hallucination, as though he could touch it. He noted that the controlling, sentient entity is not only aware of you but interacts with you (Schultz, 2010).

Similarities Between the DMT Trip and NDEs (Near Death Experiences)

The sensation of this presence is a defining aspect of the DMT trip, as it has been described as being close to a near-death experience (NDE). There is a great deal of interesting research into this specific anomaly. Considering that DMT is ubiquitous and endogenous, having the capacity to synthesize NDEs from within is a profound revelation compounding the mystery of sentient life. 

Since you are essentially preparing for an NDE-type trip, your mindset has to be calm and prepared. Many experienced trippers describe the onset as being predictable and running like clockwork, including the physical sensations. 

Time loses meaning in these states. This experience and the anticipation of the NDE have some trippers wondering if they are re-experiencing their birth or death. This can feel quite terrifying and disorienting, as layers of your humanity seem to disappear. If you find rollercoasters scary, you are more likely to experience this disorientation. Others describe this sensation of melting into everything and the loss of separation and boundaries as sheer bliss. 

Overall, most people say that DMT is transformative, a profound, life-changing experience. Many feel more at peace with their mortality, giving them a sense that they have an understanding of the sensations related to death. This sense of knowing decreases fear and impending doom. 

NDEs are notoriously soothing experiences that are similar to DMT trips. Ego dissolution, the feeling of being ‘one’ with everything, and communicating with sentient, controlling beings in another realm, are shared aspects of NDEs and DMT trips (Timmerman et al., 2018).

How to Vape DMT

To feel the effects of DMT, it needs to be administered via pathways that can avoid first-pass metabolism by the liver. Otherwise, orally administered DMT needs to be paired with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) to be pharmacologically active.

The most popular and safest method of consumption is vaporizing. We highly recommend using Portal DMT carts, they’re very well made and a perfect method of consumption. 

When Vaping DMT it’s important that you use a good medium temperature range, you don’t want the temperature too low or too high. The secret to Vaping DMT is to take long not overly powerful pulls so that you slowly fill up your lungs with Vapour. When your lungs are full of Vapour then it’s best to hold the Vapour in for as long as possible to get the most effect out of the DMT. Depending on your tolerance levels and how intense you want to experience the effects you may need to do this process a few times until you really feel the effects.

Medium to High Doses of DMT and Their Effects

Barker and colleagues reviewed the history of scientifically monitored dosing of DMT, compiling and citing the results from over 10 studies. 

A medium dose of DMT is considered to be around 0.7 mg/kg (of body weight). The onset of a DMT trip on 0.2–1 mg/kg (Szára, 2007) is 2-5 minutes, lasting 30-60 minutes. 

The experiences produced at medium to medium-high doses are similar to the effects of LSD or mescaline, inducing some visual hallucinations, distortion of body image, speech disturbances, and mood changes depending on the individual’s set and setting. 

Vaporized DMT was found to be intensely psychoactive. Commonly used doses for vaporized DMT are 40–50 mg, although a dose may be as much as 100 mg (Barker et al., 2018).

Microdosing DMT: Dosage and Benefits

A study from 1994 conducted by Strassman et al., cited by Barker and colleagues, administered doses of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, and 0.4 mg/kg to 11 experienced hallucinogen users. After 30 minutes the effects were negligible, with the maximum blood levels and effects achieved within 2 minutes or less. 

At chronic, intermittent low doses, DMT helps to treat anxiety and depression. Studies hypothesize that the tendency of low doses of psychedelics to excite neurons in the basolateral amygdala and dorsal raphe nucleus is responsible for decreasing conditioned fear responses (Cameron et al., 2019). 

In Barker’s exhaustive study of all scientific literature on DMT, it was shown that chronic (long-term), intermittent micro-dosing produced marked mental health benefits. A reduction in mania, hypomania, depressive symptoms, and hopelessness is noted across several studies of long-term ayahuasca users. 

The Spirit Molecule: 1000 Years and Counting

How a simple, ubiquitous compound came to deliver such a life-changing and intense array of experiences and benefits is a tantalizing puzzle. As science continues to study the effects of DMT, its uses will continue to be elucidated. While this article has outlined the history, dosage recommendations, trip, and benefits, side effects are extensively outlined on our DMT product page


Alamia, A., Timmermann, C., Nutt, D. J., VanRullen, R. and Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2020) “DMT alters cortical travelling waves,” eLife, eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd, [online] Available from: https://elifesciences.org/articles/59784 (Accessed 24 December 2021). 

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, Frontiers Media S.A., [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088236/ (Accessed 8 January 2022). 

Bryant, B. (2018) “A DMT Trip ‘feels like dying’ – and scientists now agree – BBC three,” BBC News, BBC, [online] Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/dd52796e-5935-414e-af0c-de9686d02afa (Accessed 27 December 2021). 

Cameron, L. P., Benson, C. J. and DeFelice, B. C. (2019) “Chronic, Intermittent Microdoses of the Psychedelic N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) Produce Positive Effects on Mood and Anxiety in Rodents,” ACS chemical neuroscience, American Chemical Society, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6639775/ (Accessed 28 December 2021). 

Cavanna, F., Pallavicini, C. and Zamberlan, F. (2021) “Neural and subjective effects of inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine in natural settings,” SAGE Journals, Journal of Psychopharmacology, [online] Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881120981384 (Accessed 27 December 2021). 

Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, E., Heekeren, K. and Neukirch, A. (2005) “Psychological effects of (s)-ketamine and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT): A double-blind, cross-over study in Healthy Volunteers,” Pharmacopsychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16342002/ (Accessed 28 December 2021). 

Neff, A. (2021) “Think Turkey tryptophan makes you sleepy? think again,” CNN, Cable News Network, [online] Available from: https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/25/health/turkey-tryptophan-effects-wellness-partner/index.html (Accessed 10 September 2022). 

Schultz, M. (Director). (2010). DMT: The Spirit Molecule [Film]. Synthetic Pictures.

Timmermann, C., Roseman, L. and Williams, L. (2018) “DMT models the near-death experience,” Frontiers, Frontiers, [online] Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424/full?curator=MediaREDEF (Accessed 27 December 2021). 

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