Dimethyltryptamine, commonly called DMT, is a hallucinogenic drug derived from plants native to the Amazon. The compound can be distilled into a drink called ayahuasca or a powder that users may inject, inhale, or smoke. Even low doses of this substance cause psychotropic effects. For thousands of years, DMT has been used to create intense spiritual experiences, with some cultures incorporating the substance into religious ceremonies. However, the use of DMT can create serious long-term physical and psychological health effects. Teens who try this substance often order it illegally online. You may hear DMT referred to by street names like the spiritual molecule, 45-minute psychosis, businessman’s special, or fantasia.
What are the Effects of DMT?
Scientists have discovered that DMT and other hallucinogens react with the brain’s serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a chemical that is strongly associated with mental health, mood, perception, and cognition. Smoking this substance results in a hallucinogenic trip that lasts for up to 45 minutes, but consuming ayahuasca orally results in an experience lasting as long as 10 hours. The length of the experience depends on the amount of the substance ingested and whether the person has eaten anything else or used other drugs.
A DMT trip is primarily characterized by vivid auditory and visual hallucinations, which can be either pleasurable and euphoric or frightening and anxiety-inducing. Some people who use DMT describe speaking with alien entities, experiencing life-changing epiphanies, or having out of body experiences that are sometimes perceived as the afterlife. Some researchers believe that DMT naturally occurs in the human brain at the times of birth and death, but research has not yet supported this theory.
Other DMT effects include an altered experience of body, time, and space, intensified colors, confusion, disorientation, a perceived loss of control, and a feeling of detachment from one’s emotions (depersonalization). Because of the intensity of this experience, individuals may struggle with the psychological impact of the drug trip for days or even weeks after use. This can be particularly dangerous for those who have underlying mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
Nausea and vomiting, along with other physical effects, typically occur when the drug is taken in beverage form. With high doses of DMT, the person can experience coma and respiratory arrest, especially when this drug is used along with opioids, cocaine, alcohol, or prescription medications. Additional physical symptoms may include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of coordination
- Involuntary eye movements
Individuals who habitually use DMT are at risk for long-term side effects in addition to the short-term impact of the drug. Some chronic users experience flashbacks, trouble with cognition, paranoia, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety. DMT is also associated with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, which results in frequent hallucinations even when the person has not taken DMT. HPPD can also lead to symptoms that mimic those of a stroke or brain tumor.
Those who use DMT and also take monoamine oxidase inhibitors or other prescription antidepressants are at high risk for serotonin syndrome disorder. This life-threatening condition is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 if your child exhibits unexplained symptoms such as:
- Muscle rigidity or spasms
- Dilated pupils
- Disorientation and confusion
- Tremors or shivering
- Overactive reflexes
Can Users Become Addicted to DMT?
Although no evidence currently exists of physical addiction or dependence to DMT, the drug may cause psychological addiction. This type of dependence is characterized by:
- Cravings for the substance
- Inability to control use
- Difficulty recovering from the effects of use
- Using more of the substance than intended
- Spending a lot of time, money, and energy to obtain DMT
- Avoiding responsibilities, relationships, and activities because of drug use
- Using the drug despite the negative impact on health, life, and relationships
Many people who try DMT report feeling anxious and unsettled for weeks after their drug experience.
Are Treatments Effective for DMT Abuse?
Although no medications have yet been approved for DMT addiction treatment by the Food and Drug Administration, behavioral therapy is often effective for adolescents who are struggling with substance use. Recovery may include a combination of these modalities:
- Recovery lifestyle programs designed to foster self-esteem and self-acceptance
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on shifting negative behaviors and thoughts to create positive change
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which challenges negative beliefs and assumptions to help build personal strength
- Individual and group therapy along with family counseling sessions
- Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), which combines aspects of mindfulness, behavior change, and acceptance strategies
At Anthony Louis Center, we specialize in inpatient and intensive outpatient rehabilitation programs for teens ages 13 to 18. If you are concerned about your child’s unusual behavior, or he or she has admitted substance use, we can create a treatment plan designed to overcome addiction to DMT and other substances. Our personalized strategies and therapeutic approach address the factors that contribute to drug use. Contact us today to schedule a screening and evaluation for your teen.