November 18, 2006

DMT and the Collective Unconscious

DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a naturally occurring psychedelic tryptamine found all throughout nature, including the human body. This chemical is a powerful hallucinogen, chemically related to psilocybin (4-phoshporyloxy-dimethyltryptamine), the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxy-tryptamine). “DMT exists in all of our bodies and occurs throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. It is part of the normal makeup of humans and other mammals; marine animals; grasses and peas; toads and frogs; mushrooms and molds; and roots.” (Strassman, 2001, p.42) “In 1972, Nobel prize winning scientist Julius Axelrod of the U.S. National Institutes of Health reported finding DMT in human brain tissue. Additional research showed that DMT could also be found in human urine and the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain.” (Pinchbeck, 2003, p. 248) It is believed that dimethyltryptamine is produced in the pineal gland; a small organ centered in our brain and may also be a neurotransmitter. Unfortunately, we still do not know much about the pineal gland, and little has been proven when discussing it. There has been dialogue of the pineal gland in mythology. The pineal gland was the last endocrine gland to have its function discovered. Its location deep in the brain seemed to indicate its significance. This combination led to its being a “mystery” gland with myth, superstition, and even metaphysical theories surrounding its perceived function. “Rene Descartes called the pineal gland the “seat of the soul”, believing it is unique in the anatomy of the human brain in being a structure not duplicated on the right and left sides. The pineal gland is also associated with the sixth or third eye chakra. It is believed by some to be a dormant organ that can be awakened to enable “telepathic” communications.” (Wikipedia, 2003) “The pineal gland of evolutionary older animals, such as lizards and amphibians, is also called the ‘third’ eye. Just like the two seeing eyes, the third eye possesses a lens, cornea, and retina. It is light-sensitive and helps you regulate body temperature and skin coloration-- two basic survival functions related to environmental light.” (Pinchbeck, 2003 pg. 249)

DMT is a potent psychoactive substance that has for centuries been used by humans as a sacrament, or catalyst to receive spiritual experiences. Snuffs made from the DMT-containing plant Anadenanthera peregrina have been found in a burial site in Northern Chile that dates back to the eighth century. “In 1496, Friar Ramon Pane documented the use of a psychoactive snuff called cohoba/yopo among the Taino, who inhabited the island of Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic). It is now agreed that cohoba/yopo was almost certainly made from Anadenanthera peregrina which contains N,N-DMT, 5-methoxy-DMT, and Bufotenin.” (Erowid, 2006) The tribes of the Amazon have used a beverage called Ayahuasca for centuries and continue to this day. DMT is not active when taken orally, because it is destroyed in the digestive system by the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). However, if an MAO-inhibiting agent is taken prior to the ingestion of the DMT, the DMT becomes orally active because it is not broken down by MAO. The Ayahuasca is a combination of two drinks. The first drink is traditionally made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which contains beta-carbolines such as harmine and harmaline, which effectively inhibit MAO production. The second drink is brewed from Psychotria Viridis, which contains DMT. The shamans used the beverage to enter the land of the dead to assist newly-departed tribesmen in their transition into death. The shamans also used it to do spiritual combat with the shamans of enemy tribes, heal ill tribesmen, and to connect fully with the gods of nature and the beyond. It is remarkable that the shamans discovered this relationship between chemicals, since the action of MAO inhibitors was unknown to modern science until the 1950’s. On the other side of the globe, DMT has been used as a sacrament by the Aborigines in Australia, derived from several species from the genus Acacia. Incidentally, an Acacia appears on the flag of Australia. In modern times Ayahuasca is still highly revered as a religious sacrament, and used by nationally recognized religious groups in Brazil and the United States. Many people's lives at the present time are marked by improved communication, a will to go beyond ego, synchronistic flow, and a sense of transcendent oneness and identity due to the use of DMT. (Wikipedia, 2003)

In 1931, DMT was first synthesized in a lab by British chemist Richard Manske; he named it “Nigerine.” (Erowid, 2006) In 1946, it was isolated from the root bark of Mimosa hostilis by Goncalves de Lima. Its psychoactivity as a synthetic entity was first reported by Stephen Szara. DMT in its pure crystalline form became popular among the psychedelic underground in the late sixties due to the writings of Timothy Leary, William S. Burroughs, Ralph Metzner, and others. It was banned in the United States in 1971. In 1976, it was identified as a component of the healthy human brain and possibly a neurotransmitter by S.T. Christian. (Shulgin, 1997 p 248)

The modern users of DMT generally inhale the vapor or take it orally following an MAOI. When it is smoked it can produce entheogenic experiences including true hallucinations or perceived extensions of reality. “The maximal effects last for a short period of time, such as five to ten minutes. The onset after inhalation is very fast, less than forty five seconds, and maximal effects are reached within about a minute.” (Wikipedia, 2003) DMT has been described to separate the consciousness from the physical body, dissolve the ego, and allow the user to perceive other dimensions. Many users experience a state described as ultimate bliss, oneness, or transcendence, and many users report the same archetypal imagery associated with near-death experiences, such as the appearance of a fantastic white light, traveling through a tunnel at light speed, and feeling like one has merged completely with God-- mere seconds after the vapor is inhaled. Some users report contact and communication with alien or sentient beings. DMT has virtually no history of use as a “party drug.” The effects are so overwhelming and sometimes terrifying that it has never become a popular drug of abuse. It is used in a much different context than other hallucinogens, usually in a much more ritualized manner with great care taken to ensure proper set and setting. The goal is not to get intoxicated, but to have a mystical experience with deep personal meaning. Many modern users of DMT consider themselves shamans, their tribe a worldwide network of entheogenic explorers connected through the internet, telephone and mail. (Martinez, 2006)

There are new theories being constructed around DMT. It is fairly new to the scientific community and because of legal issues, there is not much research being conducted on it. Dr. Rick Strassman considers DMT to be the spirit molecule. He is one of the only researchers that has administered DMT to humans and made some propositions about its role and how indispensable it has been in our evolution and even our entire existence. “Dr. Strassman discovered that the human pineal gland becomes visible in the developing fetus at seven weeks, or forty-nine days, after conception, almost precisely the same time that the sex of the fetus is determined. He also learned that Buddhists believe the soul reincarnates forty-nine days after death. Astonished by this synchronicity, he evolved a hypothesis that the pineal gland is like a receiver that picks up the spirit--an extra dimensional vibration that exists outside of the body-- and DMT is the conductive element. When our individual life force enters our body, the moment at which we become truly human, it passes through the pineal gland and triggers the first primordial flood of DMT… As we die, the life-force leaves the body through the pineal gland, releasing another flood of this psychedelic spirit molecule.” (Pinchbeck, 2003 pg. 249) It is known that DMT occurs in a very high concentration in the brain tissue of human cadavers, while the concentration of DMT in living subjects is relatively low. For Strassman, this theory would explain the pineal gland’s unique structure and placement inside the brain. Formed from “specialized cells originating in the fetal mouth,” the pineal nearly touches visual and auditory sensory relay stations. The emotional centers of the limbic system surround it, and its position allows for instant delivery of its products directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. This reasoning further develops the idea that decomposing pineal tissues affects residual awareness of death. “DMT, released by the pineal after death, could diffuse through the ‘sensory and emotional centers’ even without a functioning circulatory system, allowing the departed soul the time to make the life review and enter the bardo domains detailed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.” (Strassman, 2001) “The Bardo Thodol, traditionally but inaccurately called the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is a funerary text that describes the experiences of the consciousness after death during the interval known as bardo existence between death and rebirth. One can compare the descriptions of the Bardo Thodol with accounts of certain "out of the body" near-death experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table - these typically contain accounts of a "white light", experienced as, somehow, a living being, and of helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition.” (Wikipedia, 2003)

Another concept reflecting DMT is that a minimal flow of DMT might also catalyze the dream state during sleep. “Considering relatively common and naturally occurring, altered states of awareness in which pineal DMT may play a role is dream consciousness. The most likely time for us to dream is also the time at which melatonin levels are at their highest, that is, around 3 AM. Since melatonin itself has such mild psychological effects, it suggests a role for another pineal compound whose levels parallel those of melatonin. DMT is a likely prospect for such a substance. Unfortunately, no one has looked at 24-hour DMT rhythms in normal volunteers in an attempt to relate DMT levels to dream intensity or frequency. Meditation or prayer also may elicit deeply altered states of consciousness. Pineal DMT could underlie these mystical or spiritual experiences.” (Strassman, 2001 pg. 73) All spiritual disciplines describe relatively psychedelic accounts of the transformative experience, whose realization motivate their ritual. When comparing the beliefs of what is occurring during spiritual transcendence from mediation to the distinctiveness of a fully psychedelic DMT experience, they are exceptionally similar. Transcendental meditation is difficult for many to explain. Strassman explains mediation like a standing wave in water. “It looks as if the wave is not moving at all, while water rushes along on all sides of it. In fact, it is the rushing water that produces the wave, and those waves create a unique note, or sound. Such wave phenomena, by their production of a particular note or sound associated with their frequency, establish wide-ranging and diffuse fields of influence. Objects within those fields vibrate sympathetically, or with the same frequency; this is a phenomenon called resonance. Meditative techniques using sound, site, or the mind may generate particular wave patterns whose fields induce resonance in the brain. “Millennia of human trial and error have determined that certain "sacred" words, visual images, and mental exercises exert uniquely desired effects. Such effects may occur because of the specific fields they generate within the brain. These fields cause multiple systems to vibrate and pulse at certain frequencies. We can feel our minds and bodies resonate with these spiritual exercises. Of course, the pineal gland also is buzzing at these same frequencies. The pineal begins to "vibrate" at frequencies that weaken its multiple barriers to DMT formation: the pineal cellular shield, enzyme levels, and quantities of anti-DMT. The end result is a psychedelic surge of the pineal spirit molecule, resulting in the subjective states of mystical consciousness…” (Strassman. 2001 pg. 74)

American psychedelic pioneer and DMT guru Terence McKenna gave DMT to a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and after the experience was over, the monk told McKenna that it brought him to a place the Buddhists had seen many times through meditation, but he also stated that it was about as far as one could go into the Bardo and still return to the physical plane afterward. Jesus Christ and other biblical prophets used fasting and sleep deprivation to achieve mystical states and have the visions upon which the Bible is based. Sleep deprivation increases endogenous DMT levels, and this triggers these transcendent visions and religious experiences. Buddhists and Hindus have the same experiences through meditation, and the South American shamans use their sacred DMT-containing brews to break into the same space. The emerging networks of entheogenists within modern urban societies use DMT crystals with the same goal in mind. In this light, it seems clear that DMT is an integral part of all religion, whether or not it is acknowledged. Religions are founded by people who have had these experiences and want to share what they have learned with their fellowman. Since most people will never experience these divine moments of truth, and can therefore never truly understand the nature of the universe, religion converts this inexpressible experience into culture-based symbols, metaphors that relate these intangible things to the physical world so the common man can partially comprehend them. Saint John’s Revelation is a vivid description of the death experience. He describes his visions using the imagery available to him, in the hope of communicating the revelation to the masses. The events described in the Revelation are metaphors for the death experience. During cosmic consciousness, many possible futures are beheld. Saint John describes one possible future, one possible route of humanity’s demise that was revealed to him during his transcendence. This is simply one path in the sea of infinite possibilities. Humanity’s course is set by our collective free will. The choices we all make each day, each second, determine the fate of humanity in the physical world. Free will is absolute in this dimension, so the itinerary changes over time. We are still making a mad dash toward destruction, but the method of destruction has changed since Saint John had his vision. The death experience he describes remains the same. (Martinez, 2006) “Man’s need to expose himself to shock effects is his adjustment to the dangers threatening him. DMT is mind expansion as shock therapy, and McKenna has been responsible for its arrival: The dimethyltryptamine molecule has the unique property of releasing the structured ego into the Overself. Each person who has that experience undergoes a mini-apocalypse, a mini-entry and mapping into hyperspace. For society to focus in this direction, nothing is necessary except for this experience to become an object of general concern.” (Pinchbeck, 2003 pg. 247) Our brain expends precious energy actively transporting the drug from the blood into its inner recesses. It is as if DMT were necessary for normal brain function. Perhaps just the right amount of DMT is involved in the brain's maintenance of the correct receiving properties. That is, it keeps our brains tuned in to Channel Normal. Too much and all manner of unusual and unexpected programs appear on the mind's screen. Too little, and our view of the world dims and flattens. Many definitions of imagination refer to the divine nature of this element. To conceive of and produce something new allows us to share in some of God's creative power. Our imagination extends us by thought into places where nothing previously existed. Therefore the return of psychedelics in spirituality may be the revolution we essentially must create. Psychedelics stimulate the imagination, and thus they are logical tools to enhance creativity. “The problems facing our society and planet require the use of novel ideas as much as new and more powerful technology. It's impossible to overstate the urgent need to improve our imaginative abilities. Psychedelics may provide a powerful tool for doing so. In addition to the treatment of clinical disorders, psychedelics could be used to enhance characteristics of our normal state of being, such as creativity, problem-solving abilities, spirituality, and so on. This work may ultimately serve more people, and have greater overall impact, than strictly pathology-based therapy projects.” (Strassman, 2001 pg. 349)

Cited References

Erowid. (1996). Erowid DMT Vault. [Online]. Available: [2006, November 18].

Martinez, S. (2006). Life, Death and DMT. [Online]. Available: [2006, November 19].

Pinchbeck, D. (2003). Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. New York: Broadway Books.

Shulgin, A. (1997). Tihkal. California: Transform Press.

Strassman, R. (2001). DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Vermont: Park Street Press.

Wikipedia. (2003). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. [Online]. Available: [2006, November 2].


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