Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a naturally occurring psychedelic drug found in many plants and animals and has been claimed to naturally occur in the human brain itself (Strassman, 2001).
DMT, less well-known than other psychedelics such as psilocybin or LSD, is striking for the brevity and intensity of its effects. When smoked, for example, hallucinogenic effects begin almost immediately and resolve within 30 minutes. As a result, it is sometimes known facetiously as the “businessman’s lunch trip” (Cakic, Potkonyak, & Marshall, 2010). One of the most remarkable features of the DMT experience is the frequency with which users encounter non-human intelligence, often resembling aliens. Even more remarkably, some users come away from these encounters convinced that these entities are somehow real (Strassman, 2001). The psychological aspects of such experiences have not yet been adequately explored by scientific researchers.
In the 1990s, psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted pioneering research on the effects of DMT, described in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.
This was the first time in over 20 years that the US government had allowed human studies on psychedelic drugs since such research had been effectively banned. Volunteers, who were all experienced users of psychedelic drugs, found that high doses of DMT had a usually overwhelming and instantaneous psychedelic effect, that Strassman described as a “nuclear cannon”. As this rush progressed, most volunteers lost awareness of their bodies and of their surroundings at least until the effects peaked after about two minutes (Strassman, Qualls, Uhlenhuth, & Kellner, 1994). After a few minutes, volunteers were able to begin describing their ongoing experience, which normally lasted 30 minutes. All volunteers experienced visual imagery that could be seen with eyes open or closed. Colours were brighter, more intense and more deeply saturated than in normal awareness or dreams. Many participants saw kaleidoscopic geometric patterns, as well as concrete recognisable scenes. Typically, participants felt initial anxiety at the rush effect, which was frequently followed by intense euphoria, although mixed emotions, such as fear and excitement, were also common. Mentally, participants noted that after their initial confusion at the rush subsided, their thought processes seemed clear and normal and they felt able to observe what was happening (Strassman, et al., 1994).
Strassman (2001) reported that “about half” of the 60 volunteers entered what he described as “freestanding, independent levels of existence” of a highly unusual nature. These places were inhabited by what volunteers described as intelligent “beings”, “entities”, “aliens”, “guides”, and “helpers”. These appeared in a variety of forms, such as “clowns, reptiles, mantises, bees, spiders, cacti, and stick figures.” These beings have been reported by other investigators, including Terrence McKenna, who described them as “self-transforming machine elves,” as well as in more sober case reports from research on people with schizophrenia conducted in the 1950s. Strangely enough, reports of these kinds of beings seem to be unique to DMT, as Strassman was unable to find anything similar in the research literature on other psychedelic drugs.
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