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The mystery of the DMT: The ‘Spirit Molecule’ that purportedly transports humans to another realm

If psychedelic drugs can lead people to heaven, it can also send them to hell.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

First things first, the author does not endorse the consumption of any psychedelic drug in any form. The author himself has never consumed such drugs at any point and believes such drugs can be dangerous if not consumed in a proper set or setting. They are certainly not for everyone.

Now that we are done with formalities, we can delve into the mystery of ‘The Spirit Molecule’ that purportedly transports people to another dimension. The chemical name of the molecule is N,N-dimethyltryptamine, commonly known as DMT. The molecule is derived by adding two N-methyl substituents to the structure of a tryptamine.

Source: The Spirit Molecule by Dr. Rick Strassman

The most intriguing thing about DMT is that fact that it is produced by our body endogenously, that is, the body produces it on its own. Interestingly, however, it is never produced in enough quantities to transport us to a psychedelic state under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, a person has to smoke it to experience a psychedelic state. During scientific experiments, it is injected intravenously.

No one yet knows why our body produces it. Scientists have been left dumbfounded by its widespread occurrence in nature. In the initial years of its discovery, it was all the rage in the psychiatric fraternity as scientists tried frantically to unlock its secrets. However, the substance was banned by the US government and regulated heavily following which research into its effects died out almost instantly. That DMT is produced in our body endogenously remains a great mystery to this day.

DMT caused a great divide within the scientific community as well. It became undeniable that the experience held deep spiritual meaning for the participants involved. Scientists were not sure how to interpret the phenomenon they were witnessing. Consequently, a division emerged within the scientific fraternity itself. There were some who found religion through it, others of a more rationalist disposition dismissed them entirely. It inevitably led to friction between the two camps.

Dr. Rick Strassman, who conducted research into DMT on human subjects in the 1990s, wrote in his book The Spirit Molecule that “at least some psychedelic researchers may have been quietly relieved that they no longer had to face many of the complex, contradictory, and confusing effects these drugs produced in their patients, themselves, and their colleagues.”

The DMT Experience

Subjective Experience

There is no appropriate way to describe the DMT experience without coming across as completely bewildering. People report seeing aliens and angels and Gods under the influence of DMT. It might have been easier to dismiss it all as mere hallucinations caused by a potent drug if it didn’t have a significant long term impact on individuals who consume it. Moreover, individuals claim that the experience is more ‘real’ than anything ‘real’ they have ever experienced under ordinary circumstances.

People across the world have reported experiencing the presence of external intelligence during the ‘trip’. They often offer them guidance or teach them lessons that they ought to have learned long ago. The intelligence often manifests itself as elves or imps or a Mother Goddess and occasionally as lions and other animals.

There are also individuals who believe they are transported into another dimension or another plane of existence after consuming the substance. There is no way to either reject these claims or embrace them entirely but people who have consumed the drug are nearly unanimous in their conclusions. There is also the underlying sentiment that they do not have adequate words to describe what they experience, essentially, that human language has not evolved enough to capture the essence of the experience.

Furthermore, there is a unifying feature of these subjective experiences. People report feeling a sense of timelessness, a phenomenon that’s termed ‘ego-death’ which means the ‘I’ ceases to exist and a deep sense of oneness with the entirety of existence.

“My body just didn’t seem relevant anymore,” said the participant of one research. “And I felt like I arrived in some consciousness soup which seemed like a different realm to the one I ordinarily inhabit – even in dreams. It just seemed like everything was rotating and swirling and spiralling. It didn’t seem like there were normal space-time proportions going on.” “I felt a sense that perhaps death isn’t the end – not that I’m religious,” she added.

Objective observations

Speaking strictly in terms of science, DMT when smoked produces intense visual and auditory ‘hallucinations’ in people. It is characterized by rapid moving kaleidoscopic images and bright colours. It also causes an increased heart rate, dilated pupils, rapid eye movements and so on.

Quoting verbatim from the introduction to a research, “Commonly described features of the DMT experience include a feeling of transcending one’s body and entering into an alternative ‘realm’, an acoustic perception of a high pitched ‘whining/whirring’ sound during the onset of the experience, perceiving and communicating with ‘presences’ or ‘entities’, plus reflections on death, dying and the after-life (Sai-Halász et al., 1958; Strassman, 2001; Gouzoulis-Mayfrank et al., 2005).”

Research conducted in recent times has also concluded that the DMT experience mirrors a near-death experience. “These findings are important, as they remind us that NDE[s] occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain,” lead study author Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London, said in a statement. “DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study, and thus better understand, the psychology and biology of dying”.

There is only one problem with Carhart Harris’ statement. Of course, the DMT experience occurs due to changes to how the brain is working but that does not undermine the spiritual and mystical impact of it in any manner. To paraphrase a wise man, just because it’s happening in your brain doesn’t mean it’s not real.

It can very well be that the substance enables us to perceive states of existence that already surround us which we cannot under normal circumstances due to the limitations of our sensory receptors. Of course, we can’t say for sure that this is what exactly occurs. However, there’s no good reason to refuse to entertain even the possibility of it.

DMT’s close ties with Spirituality

Humans have long known the psychedelic effects of the substance and have used it in religious settings to experience the divine for a long long time. DMT is the stimulating substance in Ayahuasca, a brew prepared and consumed by Amazonian tribes for hundreds and thousands of years. They use it for spiritual purposes and Shamans administer it in religious settings.

People from around the world throng to these places to experience the Spirit of the Vine. Normally, DMT is not orally active due to the presence of Monoamine oxidase in our belly. In Ayahuasca, there is another ingredient that contains Monoamine oxidase inhibitors that enable the individual to experience a psychedelic state through oral consumption. After consuming Ayahuasca, numerous people have reported witnessing a Mother Goddess, a benevolent spirit that offers them insight into their own personality and parts of it they need to fix.

The DMT experience is widely considered as a mystical and spiritual experience. Even scientific research considers it to be so. According to research conducted by Dr. Roland Griffiths of John Hopkins University and others on “God Encounter experiences” occurring naturally and those induced by psychedelic substances such as LSD, psilocybin and DMT, a statistically significant section of the participants became stopped identifying as an atheist and a monotheist.

There is also the growing speculation and almost a consensus among researchers in the field that it’s extremely likely that traditional spiritual practices such as Yoga can enable individuals to experience psychedelic states naturally without consuming it externally by virtue of endogenous DMT. It needs no elaboration that such practices are deeply rooted in religion.

Potential Medical Benefits

Research conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada (UBC) revealed that Ayahuasca may have medically beneficial properties for malaise such as substance abuse. They concluded that Ayahuasca assisted therapy “may be associated with reductions in substance use, particularly reductions in problematic cocaine use.”

It is consistent with the findings of research conducted into the effects of other psychedelic substances such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD. The researchers at the UBC state, “Our findings are also consistent with scientific evidence on the utility of psychedelic substances—such as LSD, mescaline and psilocybin—as therapeutic agents for treating addiction and catalysts for personal transformation.” The number of participants in the study was very small, thus, it requires further verification.

Researchers at the John Hopkins University have also discovered that use of the synthetic psychedelic 5-methoxy-N,-N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), a variant of the DMT which produces the same effects and is often referred to as DMT as well, appears to improve the mental health of individuals when used in a ceremonial setting. In a survey of 362 adults, approximately 80 percent of respondents reported improvements in anxiety and depression after use. These improvements were associated with the mystical experiences produced by the consumption of the substance.

Researchers found that people report having improved life satisfaction, purpose and meaning after the DMT experience. It adds to the growing body of evidence that such deeply spiritual and mystical experiences have healing effects, the researchers say.

Set and Setting

The DMT experience is profoundly impacted by ‘set and setting’. ‘Set’ refers to the mindset of the individual at the time of consumption and ‘setting’ refers to the external environment in which the substance is consumed. If the mindset of the person is negative, so to speak, or the setting is such that it makes the person feel anxious or stressed, it can lead to an extremely unpleasant experience, to put it mildly.

Bad trips are real. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance that people do not treat these casually. They are not party drugs to be consumed for fun. They are extremely powerful and are life-altering substances. Researchers have established that it is safe to consume it in a laboratory setting, however, even they cannot guarantee that participants will not experience a bad trip. If psychedelic drugs can lead people to heaven, it can also send them to hell.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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