DMT Use and Abuse:
Prevalence, Risks, and Addiction
DMT Use and Abuse:
Prevalence, Risks, and Addiction
What is DMT?
How is DMT Used?
DMT typically comes in the form of white or yellow powdered crystals. The most popular forms of taking this substance are either smoking or injection. In its natural form, it is found in certain Amazonian plants and is used to make a tea called ayahuasca.
It causes vision and hearing changes. It also distorts time, color and sense of self-perception. The effects begin within 3 to 4 minutes, and they peak around 35 to 40 minutes. After about an hour, the effects wear off.
Use by the Numbers
According to the Global Drug Survey, in 2016:4
Tourism to the Amazon to use ayahuasca tea has become more popular among people in the United States and Europe.5
Also, another research study reported that the United States ranked first among 36 countries in the proportion of high school adolescents who have used LSD and other hallucinogens like DMT.6
DMT's Class of Drug
This drug is classified as a psychoactive indole alkylamine drug.7 DMT is classified in the United States as a Schedule I drug.8 This means it has the highest level of potential for misuse, dependence or addiction. Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use. This drug is considered a controlled substance.
Is DMT Safe?
This substance is similar to the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin. Due to this close relationship, serotonin syndrome can develop when someone uses it. Serotonin syndrome is a potentially fatal condition. People taking antidepressant medications are at the highest risk for developing serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome develops when the body accumulates a large amount of serotonin. This syndrome often happens due to taking a combination of different drugs. Excessive amounts of serotonin in the body can cause the following symptoms, including:
High blood pressure
Loss of muscle coordination
When taken at higher doses, serious side effects can include:
The use of this substance can lead to serious and dangerous situations for those who have psychological issues or a mental health illness, such as schizophrenia.
Although it is not classified as an addictive substance, it has health risks, can create frightening hallucinations, and could cause psychological dependence.9
Other Names for DMT
Slang names include:
The Spirit Molecule
Effects of DMT
The distortions in perceptions or hallucinations that DMT can cause can change quickly. A sense of unreality and loss of control can be frightening in some cases. Moods and perceptions can shift rapidly. People who use hallucinogens call the events brought on by these drugs as “trips.” If the trip is disturbing or unpleasant, it’s sometimes called a “bad trip.”
The short-term effects include:
Cardiac and respiratory arrest (at high doses)
Elevated blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Loss of appetite
Intensified sensory experiences
Distortions in time
Paranoia and Bizarre behaviors
Mixed senses ("seeing" sounds or "hearing" colors)
Psychosis (disordered thinking along with a "break" from reality)
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder(HPDD): Hallucinogenic drugs such as DMT can cause psychotic-like episodes (flashbacks) that can happen long after an individual has taken the drug. These flashbacks are called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPDD). They can happen up to a year after taking the hallucinogen. The symptoms of HPDD can be mistaken for strokes or brain tumors.
Persistent Psychosis: Another potential long-term effect of hallucinogens is Persistent Psychosis. This condition is recurring mental problems that include:
At this time, any other long-term effects of DMT are unknown.
HPDD and Persistent Psychosis happen more often in those with a history of mental illness; however, they can happen to anyone, even after one use of hallucinogens. HPDD treatment can include antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs to control mood and treat psychosis. Behavioral therapies may help with the confusion or fear that comes from visual disturbances.
Can You Overdose on DMT?
DMT overdose can happen if an individual takes enough to produce serious negative effects, dangerous or life-threatening symptoms, or death. Similar to other hallucinogens, this substance can create extremely disturbing experiences that are not life-threatening. Nevertheless, hallucinogens can carry a risk of serious harm because of how deeply and quickly it can change mood and perception. After taking DMT, a person may do risky things, such as jumping out of a window. Also, there is an accidental poisoning risk from mixing substances.
Since this substance is typically not addictive, you can end use without medical supervision. However, if you find a psychological need has developed, it’s best to consult with your doctor or a treatment center.
Withdrawal and Treatment
Since tolerance and dependence for DMT has not been established, there is currently no data on withdrawal. There is little evidence that DMT is addictive.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications available for treating hallucinogen abuse issues. Behavioral treatments can help address a wide range of addictions and may help with hallucinogen abuse issues. Talk with your doctor or a treatment center for more information if you are struggling with your substance use.