It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to really understand addiction and the full extent of what substance abuse does to the brain. Years ago, addicts were seen as selfish or even just bad people who refused to exercise self-control, but now we know that these individuals are suffering from an actual brain disease. Of course, it’s a highly variable and extremely complex disease, the full effects of which vary according to the substance to which the individual is addicted. Oftentimes we focus on substances like alcohol or heroin, but there are many other substances that have shown to be prone to abuse, including hallucinogens. In particular, a drug called DMT is known to be quite a dangerous hallucinogenic substance, making it an extremely important one to know about. But what is DMT, exactly? What are its effects? And, perhaps most importantly, is DMT addictive?
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WHAT EXACTLY IS DMT?
You might compare hallucinogens to a group of misfits and outcasts at a high school; on the surface, they appear to have very little in common and might even seem quite different in some cases, but at their core, they share a number of important characteristics. Of course, we know that hallucinogens are substances that change a person’s cognitive state and alter his or her perceptions of reality. In practice, this means causing things like auditory and/or visual hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and other such effects. However, beyond those effects, there a high level of variability among hallucinogens, some of which share just as many characteristics with other classes of drugs — such as stimulants or opiates — as they do with hallucinogens.
As well, the use of hallucinogens extends fairly far back in human history. Although many of the hallucinogenic substances in use today were created synthetically, there are also a number that occur naturally and can be found in certain plants. It’s for this reason that the use of hallucinogens has become strongly associated with a number of native tribes found all over the world. One such example would be the tribes located in the South American Amazon who are known to use a hallucinogenic substance called ayahuasca — a substance that’s made from naturally-growing vines that are indigenous to the area — as part of divining and spiritual rituals or even for healing.
DMT stands for N,N-dimethyltryptamine, which is a powerful and naturally-occurring compound that, when imbibed, induces intense hallucinations. Specifically, DMT is a member of the tryptamine family, not to be confused with tryptophan, which is an amino acid associated with protein and found in certain types of meat, known to cause people to become tired after eating. Instead, DMT is a substance that’s distilled from plants and is typically consumed orally in the form of tea; however, it can also be insufflated (inhaled through the nose) or smoked, which causes the onset to be much more rapid although the effects last for far less time. Specifically, ingested DMT lasts for three hours or more while insufflated or smoked DMT tends to last only five to ten minutes. Far less frequently, DMT can be prepared for injection.
The substance has been made illegal in much of the western world, but it has recently gained something of a cult following. New Age revivalists have begun to see DMT as having potential for psychological and emotional healing; such individuals often allege that the substance can help people overcome phobias and addictions although there have been few empirical studies to corroborate this. In most western societies, the drug is viewed as being incredibly dangerous for many of the same reasons as other hallucinogens.
MANY OF THE SAME REASONS AS OTHER HALLUCINOGENS. EFFECTS OF DMT
Although DMT is, first and foremost, a hallucinogenic substance, it has been associated with a number of physical effects, too. For instance, those who have imbibed DMT — whether by drinking ayahuasca or via some other substance — often exhibit elevated heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, and an overall increase in body temperature; however, the drug’s primary effects are psychological and hallucinogenic in nature. Upon taking the drug, people often experience intense visual hallucinations in which they believe they are seeing things in their immediate surroundings that are not actually real. There’s also a level of physical euphoria that’s been associated with DMT, but, again, these physical effects are secondary to the psychological and hallucinogenic effects.
A number of the drug’s effects are changed that it evokes in the levels of certain nutrients and hormones in the body. In particular, those who have imbibed DMT typically exhibit elevated concentrations of cortisol, prolactin, corticotropin, beta-endorphins, and other such substances. As well, levels of growth hormone were found to increase when a person imbibes DMT although levels of melatonin in the blood remain unaffected.
IS DMT ACTUALLY ADDICTIVE?
Typically, when we discuss a mind-altering substance, we expect it to pose a major threat in terms of its addictive potential; however, DMT is not addictive in the traditional sense. Of course, if a person were to use DMT daily, there’s a limited level of risk that he or she would become dependent on the substance, but hallucinogens like DMT aren’t substances that people use daily. The reason for this is because it’s difficult — perhaps even impossible — to function in everyday life, fulfilling one’s daily responsibilities, while under the influence of a hallucinogen like DMT. Those who use alcohol, marijuana, and other such drugs can use small amounts while still being able to function somewhat at home and at work, but hallucinogens like DMT would prevent a person from fulfilling their obligations; therefore, individuals tend to not become addicted to hallucinogens since they’re using them less often.
THE RISKS OF FREQUENT DMT USE
There have been studies to suggest that DMT has a level of addictive potential, but, again, the vast majority of users won’t be using the drug often enough to become addicted, which is fortunate. Many of the risks associated with DMT actually apply to hallucinogens in general; those who use DMT are inclined to injure themselves or others due to the distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations they experience while under the influence.