DMT: effects and mechanism of action of this substance

DMT is a psychoactive substance with powerful hallucinogenic effects. It is a compound present in different plants, and to a lesser extent in the brain of mammals. It is also an element that has been used frequently in mystical and spiritual rituals over time. In recent times, its use has also shifted to pharmacology in various psychiatric treatments.

Below we will see what DMT is, what are its main effects and what is its mechanism of action.

    What is DMT?

    DMT stands for N, N-dimethyltryptamine, a chemical with powerful hallucinogenic properties obtained from plant substances. Its consumption can be as an extract, or as a refined synthetic. In the latter case, the product is a small solid generally white in color; although mixed with other substances intended for illegal sale, it may have different colors.

    This substance is consumed orally, either by ingestion or by inhalation (i.e. smoke). In both cases, its effects are perceived almost immediately, although when consumed by inhalation, its effect is faster and avoids the possible side effects involved in its absorption by the stomach at the time of ingestion.

    In the case of a component present in one or more plant elements, DMT it is considered to be an entheogenic type substance. One of these elements is, for example, Psychotria vidris or chacruna, a plant used to prepare ayahuasca or yagé (a traditional indigenous drink used by several American peoples).

    In addition, and in small proportions, DMT is produced by our own brains, which is also considered to be an endogenous type chemical. In contrast, DMT belongs to the pharmacological category of tryptamines, which are alkaloids with neuromodulatory effects.

    Finally, because of its effects on the body, DMT is considered to be a psychoactive substance of the hallucinogenic type. In other words, that is to say its main effect is to produce hallucinations, With a special existential and mystical content. This is why it is also known as the “molecule of God”.

      Action mechanism

      DMT works by inhibiting an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO). In other words, it is activated when another substance prevents MAOs from working in the body. Indeed, this enzyme, MAO, has the main function of inactivating or degrading certain neurotransmitters, among which dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, adrenaline, And also DMT.

      In other words, when the activity of monoamine oxidase is inhibited, the levels of DMT are also prevented from gradually decreasing. So, for DMT to work, it must be mixed with a substance which is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).

      Some substances which act as MAOIs are alkaloids of the beta-carboline class, found in plants such as Cape Vinca, Ballica or English turf, or Arundin fescue. For their part, plants that contain DMT (the analogue in pharmacology is the group of tryptamines) are chacruna or chaliponga.

      In short, for DMT to have its effects, it is necessary mix this tryptamine with a MAOI substance. Therefore, DMT is usually taken together with drugs of this type, which were originally used to treat depression. By mixing them together, the effects of DMT are enhanced and prolonged, although these usually don’t last longer than 30 minutes.

      However, DMT can also be consumed without the need for MAOI substances and drugs, having an imperceptible effect. It is metabolized rapidly in the body and its consumption without MAOIs does not generate tolerance, probably due to its endogenous and entheogenic nature.

        Three main effects and uses

        The effects of DMT usually last between 5 and 30 minutes and are mainly hallucinations of different types. Although these effects are short-lived, the experiences they cause are usually very intense. DMT has also been linked to brain activity and pharmacological treatment of certain psychiatric diagnoses. Following the above, we will see below three of its main effects.

        1. Hallucinations

        As we said, the main effect of DMT is to induce hallucinations, both visual, auditory and sensory, with quite elaborate mystical content. For example, may include extrasensory or non-verbal communications with different beings or the perception of having made astral journeys.

        In addition, its prolonged and high dose use may induce manic and psychotic episodes, or an increase in symptoms associated with these conditions. Likewise (and as is often the case with psychoactive substances), it can cause withdrawal symptoms in the event of abrupt withdrawal.

          2. Hypothesis on its role in the brain

          The functions of this substance in the brains of humans and animals remain a mystery. Some hypotheses support that participate in dream experiencesIn other words, in the visual effects developed when we dream. Some hypotheses also say that it can serve as a precursor to near-death experiences. The latter is another reason why it is considered “the molecule of God” or “molecule of the spirit”.

          3. Medical use

          Likewise, this substance has been linked to certain neurodegenerative medical conditions, due to its activity in the Sigma-1 receptor (a protein found in much of the central nervous system). For the same use has been significantly linked to different psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia, And also with the treatment of depression.

          The latter may be linked to an increase in the overall connectivity of certain areas of the brain, as well as a potentiating effect of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, associated with euphoric moods, although there is no consensus. the scientific community on this subject.

          Bibliographical references:

          • Brown, T .; Shao, W .; Ayub, S .; Chong, D. and Cornelius, C. (2017). A Physician’s Attempt to Self-Medicate Bipolar Depression with N, NDimethyltryptamine (DMT), Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Taylor & Francis Group. United States.
          • Miliano, C., Serpelloni, G., Rimondo, C., Mereu, M., Matteo, M. and De Luca, MA. (2016). Neuropharmacology of new psychoactive substances (NPS): Focus on the enriching and reinforcing properties of cannabimimetics and amphetamine-type stimulants. Frontal Neuroscience, 10: 153.
          • Sánchez-Monge, M. (2016). The journey of LSD from counter-culture to the treatment of psychiatric pathologies. Diario Médico, Madrid. Accessed September 11, 2018. Available at html.
          • Wallach, JV. (2009). Endogenous hallucinogens as trace amine receptor ligands: a possible role in sensory perception Hypotheses Med, 72 (1): 91-94.

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