DMT – How Does it Work? What are the Risks and Side Effects?

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a white, crystalline hallucinogenic compound found in ayahuasca. It is a plant-based mixture. Notably, this drug has an increasing popularity rate. Recently, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted a survey. It showed that the number of people using it in the U.S. during the year of 2006 was 688.000. Additionally, in 2012 that number went up to 1.475.000. Among this vast number of users, the majority are young males attending school.
The latest research happened in 2016 by the Global Drug Survey. In this case, it showed that 2.24% of people used DMT in the last year.

How Does DMT Work?

Researchers believe this drug was initially used in shamanic rituals in Amazonian tribes. Today, DMT is popular because of the psychedelic experiences it provides. Therefore, people gave it the name “spirit molecule”. As mentioned, dimethyltryptamine is present in ayahuasca. However, it is also a naturally occurring substance in our body. Interestingly, its biological purpose is not quite well examined. As a result, many scientists eagerly continue to search for new revelation.
As the most hallucinogenic illicit substances, this drug acts as a mind-altering chemical (compared to Ibogaine, it has much stronger hallucinogenic effects). It does this by influencing neural circuits in the brain which use serotonin. More precisely, it exudes its effects in the prefrontal cortex. This is an area involved in mood, cognition, and perception. At the same time, it also covers other regions in charge of regulating arousal. In addition, it also includes physiological responses to stress and panic.

Is DMT harmful?

Actually, the production of DMT happens naturally by some plants and even the human brain. They consider this substance to be a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. It is not approved for any kind of medical treatment since the FDA has found no medical value with it.
There aren’t any reliable facts that the drug produces dependence in the same way other drugs do. Nonetheless, it is a harmful drug, and like any other hallucinogenic substance. Therefore, it may cause serious side-effects. Learn how long does DMT stay in system.

What are DMT Short-term Side Effects?

The main goal of DMT intake is a psychedelic experience. This is much like the one triggered by LSD or psilocybin ingestion. These “trips” normally last 30 – 45 minutes. Also, the user can feel the drug’s effects almost immediately.
Common short-term DMT side effects of taking this drug are:

  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or involuntary eye movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Shivering
  • Altered perception of time and space
  • Hallucinations – visual and auditory
  • Intense joy
  • Epiphanies – believed to have come from divine intervention, aliens or other mystical beings)

What are DMT long-term side effects?

Using DMT can cause serious health problems. Therefore, it can affect a person’s physical and mental well-being. In fact, it will last their whole life.

Physiological side-effects of the drug may include the following:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blood pressure increase
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In large doses more serious side-effects can occur:

  • High fever that can damage the heart and brain
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Dehydration
  • Hyperthermia
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Coma
  • Death

What is the greatest risk and danger of prolonged DMT use? It is the effects on one’s psychological well-being. It has the ability to alter a person’s perception by changing the brain’s chemistry. This is because DMT is a hallucinogen drug. As a result, it can result in creating an image of distorted reality.

Psychological side – effects of DMT may be:

  • Psychosis
  • Flashbacks (frequently or spontaneously)
  • Chronic audiovisual hallucinations
  • Mood disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia

Other general psychological effects:

  • Depersonalization – loss of identity, existential crisis.
  • Emotional disturbances – fear or apprehension. There is a study performed by Rick Strassman MD. They published the results in the Archives of General Psychiatry (1994). It revealed that even experienced users of psychedelic drugs can face some dangers. The users experience euphoria mixed or coexisted with anxiety.
  • Very realistic hallucinations.

DMT Addiction Treatment

First of all, when someone is on drugs, wait for the effects to wear off before confronting them. In the case of a bad trip, make sure to provide a safe and quiet environment for the user. Have things escalated? Is the user is experiencing high levels of anxiety, paranoia, and aggression? In this case, call 911. Sometimes, users can take benzos to deal with anxiety and other mental side effects.
It’s hard to think that the loved ones might have became an addict. However, it’s even harder for the user to admit their problem. That’s why positive and non-judgmental attitude and calmness are crucial. Sometimes, people rely on interventions and put ultimatums on users. Many personal issues, emotional scars, and traumas can lead to addiction. Therefore, each user needs some expert help to explore the reasons behind drug use and abuse. Often, family therapy is a must. Consequently, members of the family will have the chance to understand each other. Then, they may restore their communication.

There are some principles of drug addiction treatment. Of course, the staff will conduct an evaluation and interview before intake. Note that they should address polydrug abuse and all comorbid disorders as well.
Counseling is beneficial when treating addictions. This is because it gives us a chance to explore some issues. These include the personal problems and triggers behind substance abuse. Doctors recommend behavioral therapy for DMT addiction. This is because it provides structure and goals to the individual.
The next step in the treatment of DMT dependence is aftercare. It will include support groups and 12-step programs. They can give the addict a sense of belonging and re-socialization. DMT is a potent drug that leads to psychological addiction.

Page Sources

  1. Steven A. Barker. N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2018; 12: 536.
  2. N,N-DIMETHYLTRYPTAMINE(DMT). Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control DivisionDrug & Chemical Evaluation Section. November 2016.

Published on: April 25th, 2017

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.


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  • Mary green
    I was offered a pipe and was told that I would be smoking Something different I’ve been a drug addict a long time, this drug was the most frightening feeling I had ever experienced everything I read on your website happened to me