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03-11 The truth about the abuse of DMT

Posted in Substance Abuse

The truth about the abuse of DMT

“You cannot imagine a stranger drug or a stranger experience.”

This was Terence McKenna’s reaction to Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a powerful hallucinogenic substance found in plants, animals and people. McKenna certainly had a depth of experience to draw on; a lecturer, researcher and author, McKenna spent much of his career experimenting with psychedelic drugs.

Users of DMT report intense, almost spiritual experiences when under the drug’s influence. Rick Strassman, M.D., conducted five years of study on DMT’s effects in the 1990s, cataloguing them in his book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.” Strassman found that about half of the volunteers he studied reported interactions with “intelligent beings,” an experience mirrored with McKenna’s visions of what he called “self-transforming machine elves.”

That’s the attractive thing about psychedelics – they’re interesting. Users evangelize in online forums about the visions they’ve seen, tourists use them in South America, and researchers claim the drugs are useful in therapy. Drugs like cocaine and heroin don’t have that kind of advocacy, or the aura of new-age friendliness. It can make experimenting with these substances attractive, particularly for younger people.

Perhaps that’s why DMT popularity as increased. In 2013, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found nearly 1.5 million people in the U.S. had used DMT in some form in 2012, up from 688,000 in 2006.

So what is DMT?

Dimethyltryptamine is a naturally occurring substance. For centuries, tribes in the Amazon region have consumed DMT for spiritual purposes in the form of ayahuasca, a brew made from plants that contain DMT. The drug was first synthesized in the 1930s.

Most users ingest DMT by smoking it in powder form. The drug provides a very intense drug trip that comes on quickly and ends in around 30 minutes – it’s been nicknamed “the businessman’s lunch trip” in some circles. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reports that other slang terms for DMT are “Dimitri” and “fantasia.”

Risks of DMT use

According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, DMT is not considered an addictive substance as it does not cause the same compulsive, drug-seeking behavior that drugs like alcohol and cocaine do. However, the foundation also warns that regular DMT users can build a tolerance to the drug, making them take larger amounts of DMT to achieve the same effect, which can lead to problems.

DMT and other psychedelics can be dangerous for users, largely because their effects can be both strong and unpredictable. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes the effects of DMT and other hallucinogens as “drug-induced psychosis.” The effects these drugs have depend on many different factors, including the surroundings they’re taken in, who they’re taken with, and especially the mental health of the person taking the drug.

Some users really do seem to find psychedelic experiences to be revealing and enjoyable. Others, though, experience “bad trips,” where they experience intense fears of insanity and death. NIDA says that short-term effects of DMT use can include agitation, an increased heart rate and hallucinations “frequently involving radically altered environments.” Indeed, DMT’s effects can be so powerful that the user has no idea of what’s actually happening around them, leading to dangerous situations like accidental self-harm, falls or even assault.

The debate over the value of hallucinogenic drugs will likely go on, but it should be obvious that intense, mind-altering substances like DMT are never a good idea for children. Teens already have enough to contend with mentally without mind-altering substances being added to the mix.

Sovereign Health’s adolescent program provides a structured treatment environment for children aged 12 to 17. Our Rancho San Diego treatment center is staffed with experts in the treatment field. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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