By Kelley Tatera
Researchers speculate the illegal hallucinogen is released in our brains during birth, death, and dreams.
Dimethyltryptamine or DMT, often referred to as the “spirit molecule,” is one of the most intriguing psychedelic substances on Earth — not just because of the wild experiences reported by DMT users, but because there has been research that suggests it is produced in our own bodies.
DMT users have reported a wide variety of strangely unimaginable experiences, from communicating with aliens in other realms to distorted worldly things, like intelligent cacti and giant insects.
Terence McKenna, an ethnobotanist and psychonaut who experimented with the drug 30 to 40 times throughout his career, said in his book The Archaic Revival, “It was really the DMT that empowered my commitment to the psychedelic experience. DMT was so much more powerful, so much more alien, raising all kinds of issues about what is reality, what is language, what is the self, what is three-dimensional space and time, all the questions I became involved with over the next twenty years or so.”
McKenna, along with many others who have tried the drug, insists that the experience is so surreal that it cannot be accurately translated into words — “In other words, what DMT does can’t be downloaded into as low-dimensional a language as English,” describes McKenna.
You can check out a play-by-play of one of his DMT experiences here as McKenna describes a trip as it progresses from seconds to about seven minutes, but he says when the trip wraps up, it’s hard to remember it all. In an interview with the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, McKenna expressed how he believes DMT could play a role in dreaming, partially because “the way a dream melts away is the way a DMT trip melts away.”
However, McKenna is not alone in speculating that DMT has something to do with our dreams. Even further, there are speculations that DMT is released in our bodies when we’re born and when we die, but more work needs to be done to back up the possibility with solid science.
In 2013, researchers reported finding DMT in the pineal gland of rodents — the pineal gland in the brain produces melatonin (a hormone derived from serotonin) which affects sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. This study sparked the widespread assertion that DMT occurs in the human pineal gland and is released during dreams as well as at or shortly before birth and death, but the claim still needs to be scientifically verified with further research.
Dr. Rick Strassman, a Stanford University graduate with a specialization in psychiatry and psychopharmacology, is the torchbearer behind the idea that DMT is released when we are born and when we die. He took on a five year project to investigate the effects of DMT, and administered about 400 doses of the drug to nearly five dozen heavily pre-screened volunteers. Throughout his work, him and his team coined a new rating scale called the Hallucinogen Rating Scale (HRS), which has been widely accepted throughout the international research community — over 45 articles have documented its use as a solid instrument for measuring psychological effects.
Interestingly, based on his extensive research and observations, Dr. Strassman hypothesizes that when a person is approaching death or possibly even just in a dream state, the body releases relatively large amounts of DMT. The majority of his volunteers reported profound encounters with non-humans and deep spiritual experiences, and Dr. Strassman believes that DMT could explain some of the wild imagery described by survivors of near-death experiences as well as those recounting their dreams.
However, although this hypothesis has yet to be confirmed with scientific evidence, Strassman’s research did produce some striking facts about DMT.
In his book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, he writes that DMT “exists in all of our bodies and occurs throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. It is a part of the normal makeup of humans and other mammals; marine animals; grasses and peas; toads and frogs; mushrooms and molds; and barks, flowers, and roots.”
He continues, “Twenty-five years ago, Japanese scientists discovered that the brain actively transports DMT across the blood-brain barrier into its tissues. I know of no other psychedelic drug that the brain treats with such eagerness. This is a startling fact that we should keep in mind when we recall how readily biological psychiatrists dismissed a vital role for DMT in our lives. If DMT were only an insignificant, irrelevant by-product of our metabolism, why does the brain go out of its way to draw it into its confines?”
It goes without saying that DMT strikes interest not only based on the reports of the strange, vivid hallucinations induced by the drug, but to unravel the mystery of its true purpose within our brains.
Watch a quick explanation of DMT in less than three minutes:
N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT or N,N-DMT) is a tryptamine molecule which naturally occurs in many plants and animals. It can be consumed as a powerful psychedelic drug, historically prepared by various cultures for ritualistic and healing purposes. Rick Strassman labeled it the “spirit molecule”.