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DMT written with ethnobotanist and drug historian Jonathan Ott

Head Magazine, November 1977 

 

 

DMT

by Jeremy Bigwood and Jonathan Ott

"DMT has been found to occur normally in the blood of human beings."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Law 91-513 specifically proscribes unauthorized possession of any material which contains DMT in any quantity. Under this law, which exemplifies the rampant idiocy that prevails whenever drugs are treated as a legal problem, any individual human being is guilty of such possession.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1961, the American expatriate novelist William Burroughs was injected with a large dose of an extremely powerful but short-acting 'new' entheogen called dimethyltryptamine (DMT). He reacted to the experience with awe-filled terror, gulping down some of his ‘metabolic regulator’ apomorphine as an antidote. In typical Burroughsian style, he recorded this experience and "sounded a word of urgent warning" to the other entheogen users of the time.

Were it not for Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, the terror drug would have been excluded from the "Psychedelic Age." Although these three had heard nothing but negative reports about the effects of this compound, undaunted they decided to test the drug on themselves. They discovered that when one observes the rules of 'set' and 'setting,' DMT produces a short but ecstatic experience.

The history of DMT did not begin with Burroughs or the notorious Harvard three. Its use in the form of plant preparations extends far into the remote past.

History, Plants, and Preparations

The first recorded use of a DMT preparation comes from a friar employed by Columbus' second expedition to the Americas. In 1496, on the island of Hispaniola (now called Haiti), he observed the Taino Indians snuffing a potent entheogenic powder that they called ‘kohhobba’ and which was "so strong that those who take it lose consciousness,"

Kohhobba or ‘yopo’ snuff is prepared from the flat, dark brown seeds of Anadenanthera peregrina, a member of the Leguminosae or pea family.  The seeds are collected before spring, moistened, pulverized and gently dried to the consistency of paste. The paste is then gently heated, yielding a grey powder suitable for sniffing. Some tribes mix calcined lime into the powder, but no other plants are admixed. The powder is sniffed using bone or other tubes, but much more powerfully than modern cocaine sniffing. Similar preparations are made from other DMT plants of the genus Anadenanthera.

The potent entheogenic drink ‘vinho de jurema’ is prepared by eastern Brazilian natives from the roots Mimosa hostilis, another Leguminous DMT plant in the same genus as the ‘sensitive plant,’ M. pudica.

The snuffs prepared from DMT plants of the genus Virola (Myristaceae or Nutmeg family) vary in names and preparation techniques from one locality to another. Essentially, the preparation involves stripping the bark from the slender trees, then pounding and boiling it and collecting the dark red resin it exudes. The water is boiled and evaporated off and the residual tar is carefully toasted in the pot until dry. It is then finely chopped and pulverized with a knife. The resultant powdered snuff is blown into the nostrils, 'blow dart' style through long tubes, and is often sniffed individually. There are references to the smoking of certain preparations.

Both the vine Banisteriopsis rusbyana and bush Psychotria viridis, a member of the coffee family, contain high concentrations of DMT in their leaves. Neither of these plants is ingested alone. Instead, they are used as admixtures to brews containing plants possessing entheogenic alkaloids of the beta-carboline class (harmine, harmaline, harman, tetrahydroharmaline, etc.). In addition to DMT, B. rusbyana and P. viridis contain other closely related compounds which are also active and which contribute to the overall effects of these preparations. Some of these DMT analogs will be discussed below. There are many other less important species of DMT-containing plants used in South American shamanism.

DMT, or N,N-dimetryptamine, was first extracted from the roots of Mimosa hostilis by the Brazilian ethnobotanist and chemist Gonçalves deLima in 1946. He named the alkaloid ‘nigerine.’ Nigerine was later found to be identical to DMT which had been synthesized fifteen years earlier by the British chemist Richard Manske.  The white crystalline substance has a melting point from 44-50°C. Much of the DMT which is sold on the illicit market in this country degrades over time from white crystals to a light orange or dark salmon-colored moist substance. It is often see in the latter form. Often illicit market DMT is mixed with parsley or some other herb, to facilitate smoking.

DMT has a characteristic odor that defies description, and which many find quite obnoxious. The odor and taste of the burned material is similar, though stronger. Many liken the smell of DMT to the smell of burning plastic.

DMT is available legally to researchers licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, from pharmaceutical companies, for $16.00 to $20.00 per gram. The drug is illegal for members of the general populace, and is controlled by the same laws which regulate LSD, psilocybin, and other drugs. DMT sold on the illicit market is valued at $20.00 to $60.00 per gram.

Psychopharmacology

In 1957, over a quarter century after its initial synthesis, the pharmacologist Stephen Szara determined that DMT caused entheogenic effects in human subjects when injected intramuscularly. Within five minutes of injection of 50-60 mgs of the substance, subjects experienced the onset of the entheogenic state. The peak effect occurred within a quarter of an hour. This was characterized by visual hallucinations both with the eyes open or closed. The entheogenic effects tapered down to normal consciousness within 30 minutes to an hour. At doses exceeding 125 mgs, subjects became catatonic and/or lost consciousness. Overdosing on DMT can be terrifying, as Burroughs discovered!

DMT is not active orally. Doses up to a gram have been ingested (over 30 times the normal injected or smoked dose) with no effect. If DMT is inactive when ingested orally, how do Native Americans derive entheogenic effects from the drinks prepared with M. hostilis, B. rusbyana, and P. viridis. Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, the world-famous ethnobotanist, and perhaps the man who has done the most work with DMT plants, has postulated that other compounds in the drinks (especially the beta-carbolines) open up pathways in vivo which somehow render DMT active orally. So far as we know, this theory remains untested in human subjects, using the pure chemicals.* Although DMT plants have been used by man for centuries, there are no data on the effects of sniffing pure crystalline DMT. Moreover because of the tacky, viscous nature of most illicit market DMT, it would be quite hard to sniff.

DMT has been found to occur normally in the blood of human beings. The function it may serve in vivo remains obscure. Public Law 91-513 specifically proscribes unauthorized possession of any material which contains DMT in any quantity. Under this law, which exemplifies the rampant idiocy that prevails whenever drugs are treated as a legal problem, any individual human being is guilty of such possession.

Similar Compounds

Experimental work has been conducted on structural analogs of DMT. It has been shown that diethyl-, dipropyl-, and dibutyl-tryptamine (DET, DPT, and DBT respectively) are also psychoactive in human subjects. Smoked or injected, DET produces a two to three hour trip, lacking the colorful visual effects of DMT.  DPT and DBT are even less potent than DET These two compounds have probably never appeared on the illicit market.

5-methoxy-DMT (5-MeO-DMT) has been sold on the illicit market. This interesting compound is found in many DMT plants. It resembles DMT only in duration and mode of administration. It is about five times as potent as DMT. Its effects are qualitatively different, eliciting a powerful ‘rush’ sensation, followed by either mild or extreme paranoia. Usually the colorful imagery of DMT is lacking. In his booklet, Psychedelic Chemistry, M.V. Smith has compared the effects of this drug to having a large elephant sit on one's head. While we cannot verify this observation, owing to the narrowness of our experience, we do feel that this drug has little recreational value. It is not a controlled substance.

Bufotenine (5-hydroxy-DMT, an isomer of psilocin) naturally occurs in the sweat-like secretions of certain species of toads (Bufo species), and is also found in seeds of A. peregrina. It occurs, along with DMT, in several species of edible mushrooms suggesting that this compound, too, is inactive orally. One study using prisoners as 'volunteers' found that the drug was entheogenic when injected. This finding has been contradicted by later studies. Even though bufotenine probably lacks entheogenic activity, it is a controlled substance available only to licensed researchers.

Use And Effects of DMT

In the present drug culture, smoking is the preferred way of using DMT. The reasons for this are many: when smoked, the drug acts with greater rapidity and elicits a shorter trip than via intramuscular injection; less of the drug is needed to produce the entheogenic effect, and one does not need to deal with the paraphernalia necessary for intramuscular injection. Furthermore, more of the DMT produced by underground chemists is not water soluble, and hence is unfit for injection.

When smoked, fifteen to thirty milligrams of pure DMT is sufficient to produce entheogenic effects. This is a small amount, too small to be easily estimated without some reference. We suggest, if you have some DMT to spare, that you weight out 15 to 30 milligrams as a reference. We do not recommend measuring doses while inebriated.

Even though a DMT trip is short, one should observe certain precautions. DMT should not be used in the carefree ways marijuana often is. Smoking DMT while driving is extremely dangerous, and could harm the user unlucky enough to be involved in an accident. It is best to be in a calm and relaxed state before smoking DMT. If one is tense or anxious, it would be unwise to smoke DMT. Most users prefer to be sitting down or reclining before and during the trip. The smoking should be carried out in a setting free from unexpected intrusions by visitors, a ringing telephone, etc. The rules of set and setting apply to DMT as much as to LSD or any other entheogen.

When smoking the pure crystalline substance, a glass 'hash oil' pipe should be employed. A dose of crystals is first placed directly in the bowl. Shortly before toking, the bowl should be heated by flame until the crystals have melted and begin to produce a pungent smoke. The flame should be kept under the bowl during the toke, which should be initiated as soon as the DMT begins to smoke. All of the DMT should be vaporized during the toke. Often there is a dark brown residue left in the pipe. If the crystals are merely placed in the bowl without melting preceding toking, they will be aspirated without entheogenic effect.

If hash oil pipes are unavailable, a regular pipe with a fine screen will serve. The crystals should not be placed directly on the screen, lest they be aspirated before they can be vaporized. Instead an herb (preferably non-psychoactive) should be placed on the screen and the DMT added atop the herb.

When smoking DMT-soaked parsley, it is often difficult to gauge the proper dose. The only recourse, other than solvent extraction and isolation, is to use the 'bioassay technique.' Basically, one should try a small amount of the mixture, increasing the dose on successive days until the desired effects become apparent. It is unwise to use DMT more than once daily. The drug elicits rapid tolerance which may persist for 24 hours. Smoking DMT when one is tolerant only wastes an expensive and rare drug. DMT is often misrepresented on the illicit market. There are analysis services available to the general public, but the Drug Enforcement Administration, in keeping with its marplot role, has stopped such services from performing quantitative analyses (they will only inform you what is in a certain substance, not how much).

DMT should only be smoked by one person at a time. After placing a dose of DMT in the pipe, one person should smoke the entire dose, preferably at once. The bowl should then be refilled for the second person, etc. The person who is filling the pipe with doses of DMT should be the last to smoke, as he will be incapacitated shortly after smoking. Passing the pipe around, as though it contained marijuana or hashish, will not give uniform doses, and by the time the pipe comes around for the second round of hits everyone will have built up tolerance to the effects.

To derive the optimum DMT effects, a full dose should be ingested in one long toke, the smoke being retained in the lungs as long as possible (this may be hard, owing to the unsavory nature of the smoke). The first effects are often noticeable within fifteen seconds. The first sensation experienced, the 'rush,' is similar to the effects of acceleration on the body, like rapid takeoff in an aeroplane. This feeling may be accompanied by vertigo and dizziness, giving way to color hallucinations similar to LSD or psilocybin in nature and intensity. When the eyes are closed, the subject becomes aware of swirling patterns, often geometric in shape. The peak experience occurs within three minutes, during which time most users are speechless. Many people become ecstatic or euphoric, others become meditative and concentrate of the eidetic imagery with eyes closed. Sometimes, especially during the initial stages of the inebriation, there can be a slight feeling of paranoia, but this is seldom more than momentary. After the peak, the effects taper off, leaving the user at normal consciousness within 25 minutes.

Street History

After Leary, Alpert, and Metzner set the record straight regarding the use of DMT, the drug began its rise as a recreational entheogen of the sixties. It became known as the 'businessman's trip' because of its short duration (the trip could be taken during a lunch hour, hence the epithet). DMT, along with LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin was made illegal by Federal and State laws enacted from 1966 through 1969.

At about the same time, a few pamphlets appeared describing techniques for the synthesis of DMT. These were sold through advertisements in the underground press and through the budding 'head shop' business. The most important of these pamphlets were The Turn On Book, The Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist, and leaflets distributed by the Neo-American Church, a hippie outfit that used DMT as a sacrament. In the following decade many books were published describing similar syntheses.

DMT synthesis techniques are of little use to the layperson. Only an experienced chemist should attempt the manufacture of drugs. Even for the chemist, drug making is difficult, Lithium aluminum hydride and other chemicals needed for the synthesis of DMT are watched closely by the Drug Enforcement Administration and are therefore difficult to obtain. Underground chemists usually manufacture only the most lucrative drugs possible. When they can obtain the reagents needed, they will usually opt for synthesis of LSD, which yields so many more doses per unit weight. Consequently, DMT is seldom seen on the illicit market.

DMT would appear to be an ideal entheogen. It produces color hallucinations as do LSD and psilocybin Moreover, the drug is short acting, and the user need not commit a large block of time to the experience, as is the case with most other entheogens. Why, then, is DMT not a popular drug today?

We can only speculate. Probably the most important factor relates to the myth that DMT causes brain damage. Though there is no evidence for this, it appears that some early users became frightened by the rapid onset of the effects, the chemical taste of the smoke, and the potency of the drug, and responded by generating myths. The idea that DMT caused brain damage became entrenched in the counterculture, and is still parroted today.

Some of the 'DMT' sold on today's illicit market is actually PCP, and this misrepresentation may have tarnished the reputation of the drug. PCP is often sold as a yellowish crystalline substance, similar to DMT in appearance. Although PCP is active orally, it is most often smoked. Parsley or another herb is saturated with PCP The mixture is commonly called 'angel dust' or 'hog.' The smoke of PCP tastes very much like DMT smoke. PCP is an entheogen of sorts, but not in the sense that DMT or LSD is. When smoked, PCP is much longer acting than DMT. Many people have unpleasant reactions to PCP, though in all fairness we must say that it has its adherents. There is some evidence that PCP may cause brain damage.

5-methoxy-DMT has also appeared on the market, represented as DMT. As we have discussed, this compound is quite different and has disagreeable effects. The misrepresentation of noxious drugs as DMT is probably the chief reason the drug has such a poor reputation in the counterculture.

It is unfortunate that such a unique and desirable drug as DMT is not freely available and widely used. We feel that anyone who likes entheogenic drugs would do well to try DMT, if given the chance. Not only are the effects enjoyable, but most users are astonished to learn that a drug can so rapidly produce such profound effects which have such a short duration. DMT may be the quintessential ‘wonder’ drug, for the novice cannot help but wonder at its awe-inspiring potency.

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* The Ayahuasca Mystery Solved:
In the fall of 1978, a year or so after the above article was published, and after waiting for someone else to determine if the mixture of oral DMT and ß-Carbolines were psychoactive and thus caused the entheogenic effect of ayahuasca, and having been made weary of listening to the endless debates of academics speculating about it, I performed a series of experiments.  These experiments started with active doses of ß-Carbolines and worked their way backwards to determine subthreshold doses (i.e. doses  which did not produce any effect.).  To avoid tolerance and not interrupt work, experiments were made one week apart.  For the ß-Carboline part of the admixture, I settled on harmaline because I had experienced the least negative effects from it at the active doses. DMT freebase was then ingested orally by itself up to 200 mg without effect.  Finally a subthreshold dose of the ß-Carboline harmaline was mixed with 100 mg of DMT and the effect was rapidly apparent (15 minutes or less) and lasted about three hours.  The effect was stunning and required that I be seated or reclined.  Eidetic imagery welled up inside me and splashed colorfully against my closed eyelids. These experiments showed conclusively that the subthreshold harmala alkaloids provided enough MAO inhibition to make DMT active orally, but at doses higher than is normally smoked.  In all the experiment lasted some four months.

Interestingly at the time, the luminaries of the field were uninterested in these experiments.  At the time, Terence McKenna and his wife Kat were still  trying to sell their "spores from outer space" theories and co-author Jonathan Ott was still trying to foist off Amanita pantherina as an entheogen and eating a lot of chocolate for his book, The Cacahuatl Eater.  Only later did the McKenna and Ott come around to experimenting with this mixture in forms other than Ayahuasca.

 

 

 

In his booklet, Psychedelic Chemistry, M.V. Smith has compared the effects of [5-Meo-DMT] to having a large elephant sit on one's head. While we cannot verify this observation, owing to the narrowness of our experience, we do feel that this drug has little recreational value. It is not a controlled substance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are analysis services available to the general public, but the Drug Enforcement Administration, in keeping with its marplot role, has stopped such services from performing quantitative analyses (they will only inform you what is in a certain substance, not how much).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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