If you look through user testimonials about tripping on ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic tea containing the psychedelic compound DMT, the stories are absolutely wild. It's been used for centuries by tribes in the Amazon in spiritual, mind-opening ceremonies. Some people report seeing mechanized elves, black holes of evil and the death of ego. Some people puke their brains out. And in extreme cases, people die. But in almost every scenario, the gist is the same: extremely intense visuals that aren't for the faint of heart or mind.
And that happens because DMT, or N,N-dimethyltryptamine, takes your brain for a fucking ride.
"It was like bungee jumping," said Eric*, a 33-year-old producer in New York, who tried DMT for the first time a couple weeks ago. "Mushrooms and LSD are a slow burn. This was like getting pushed off a ledge and in 10 seconds you're on a different planet. It lasted 15 minutes, but it felt like an hour."
DMT is built a lot like melatonin and serotonin on a chemical level. And while more research needs to be done, it's thought that when you sleep, your body secretes dimethyltryptamine. Where that natural DMT's coming from is up for debate. Some researchers say it comes from the pineal gland, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
So you're actually on DMT right now. Sort of.
According to a study from the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, DMT increases your blood pressure, heart rate and rectal temperature and jacks up your blood concentrations of cortisol, growth hormones and beta-endorphins — the neuropeptides involved in pain management and natural reward circuits.
The study found that, almost immediately after subjects took a small dose of DMT, they experienced "visual hallucinatory phenomena, bodily dissociation and extreme shifts in mood," affecting their perception, cognition, volition and intensity.
In other words, they totally tripped balls.
DMT hijacks and binds to your serotonin receptors, kind of like what magic mushrooms do. When that happens, the neurons usually triggered by the release of serotonin fire — even though serotonin isn't actually present.
Here's where it gets murky: When there's no serotonin firing, and DMT binds to the receptors instead, the result is visual hallucinations and feeling like you're detached from your body — or even cruising through a completely different dimension.
"I was hurtling very fast through shapes and fractals all around me," Eric said. "When I tried to focus on the shapes, they would change. I was hurtling into new dimensions and I'd pop out of this door into a place I'd never seen before. It's the most bizarre thing I've done in my entire life."
What's known is that DMT is nothing to screw with. Researchers don't know if it could alleviate depression or increase it.
Unfortunately, like most Schedule 1 substances, the clinical research that could explain these effects is lacking. According to Eric, that "unknown" extends far, far beyond just the impact the drug has on your brain.
"There's so much more to our consciousness that we can possibly even fathom right now," Eric said. "It's like the drug is trying to tell you something. Someone is trying to say something to us."
* Names have been changed to let subjects speak freely on sensitive issues.