DMT Use: Effects, Dangers & Addiction
Young adults aged 19 to 30 make up the largest group of people in the United States to use hallucinogens such as DMT. In 2021, a record number of young adults reported using a hallucinogen (8%).
This page will explain what DMT is, DMT effects, and discuss the dangers associated with DMT use.
What Is DMT?
According to the DEA, the drug N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is a potent hallucinogenic drug that has been used for centuries by a number of different groups in South America in their religious services.
DMT is a naturally occurring substance in a number of plants, the best-known probably being the ayahuasca plant. DMT can also be synthetically produced and was originally produced synthetically by a British chemist, Richard Manske in 1931.
The substance became popular in the 1960s and was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in the 1970s due to its potential for misuse, potentially dangerous effects, and possible potential for the development of psychological dependence.
The drug has no known medicinal uses, and it can only be legally obtained for research purposes with special permissions from the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The DEA reports that the drug is still encountered as an illicit drug in instances where it is purchased or manufactured illegally and marketed with other hallucinogens.
Despite its classification in the United States, DMT is still legally used by certain religious tribes in Central and South America. The drug is:
- Brewed in tea (ayahuasca).
- Used in forms of snuff.
- Taken orally.
Effects of DMT
Immediate DMT effects can include the following:
- Heightened perceptual experiences that can include perceiving colors as much more intense than they really are, sounds as more acute, touch as more sensitive, etc.
- Seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not really there (hallucinations)
- Synesthesias, which are mixed sensory experiences, such as believing that one can hear colors, see sounds, etc.
- Cognitive changes that include distortions, such as feeling that one is invulnerable, that one is leaving one’s body, that surrounding things are not real, or that one has become something else (anything from an animal to an inanimate object)
- An alteration in one’s sense of the passing of time (e.g., time is moving far more slowly than it really is; minutes may seem like hours, hours like days, etc.)
- Powerful delusions, representing beliefs that are not supported by reality
Is DMT Dangerous?
DMT can be associated with dangerous outcomes. These are largely dependent on each person’s experience. While a person is hallucinating, they may engage in activities that could result in harm.
In rare cases, life-threatening DMT effects such as respiratory arrest and coma have been associated with the use of DMT. Risk of such events increases with higher doses of DMT and polysubstance use—the use of more than one substance at a time.
Further research is needed to better determine DMT dangers.
Additional Side Effects of DMT
According to the DEA, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and academic sources, such as the book The Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse Volume 2, additional DMT side effects can include the following:
- Issues with anxiety that can be severe and are similar to having a panic attack
- Physical changes that may exacerbate anxiety, such as increases in heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing (unclear whether this represents a complication of anxiety or a specific autonomic nervous system issue)
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting; if untreated, can lead to dehydration
- Unconsciousness in some individuals
- Mental health issues—DMT use may cause problems that are normally associated with having a formal mental health disorder, such as psychosis, anxiety, mood swings, and/or depression. This risk is increased with individuals who experience unpleasant effects or “bad trips” as a result of using hallucinogenic drugs.
- Cardiac issues—Cardiac arrest can occur in people who have pre-existing cardiac problems or in individuals who are using other medications for depression or chronic pain. Individuals who are using opiate drugs may be at particular risk to develop cardiac problems when using DMT.
- Asphyxiation—Possible asphyxiation may occur in individuals who lose consciousness as a result of taking DMT and begin throwing up.
- Seizures—The DEA reports that there are some cases of reported seizures that are associated with DMT use. It is unclear if these instances occurred as a result of an individual using DMT alone or in combination with other drugs. In any event, the development of seizures represents a potentially fatal condition.
- Damage to major body systems—Hallucinogenic drugs are often combined with other drugs, and this increases the potential for damage to a number of organ systems, including the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).
- Addiction—A hallucinogen use disorder may develop as a result of chronic misuse of hallucinogens like DMT.
- Flashbacks—APA describes a rare disorder that can occur in some individuals who use hallucinogenic drugs: hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. This is a formal mental health disorder that consists of having drug flashbacks when one has not used a specific hallucinogenic drug for some period of time. The disorder is most often connected to past use of LSD along with a history of bad trips, some other psychological disorder, and other issues, but it can conceivably occur in anyone who chronically uses a hallucinogenic drug. Flashbacks appear to suddenly develop without any drug use. Individuals may become very frightened, and the DMT experiences can often be mistaken as psychotic episodes or some type of neurological insult, such as stroke. Treatment for the disorder consists of medications to manage specific symptoms; in some cases, anticonvulsant drugs may be useful.
Can You Overdose on DMT?
At the time of this writing, it is not clear if extremely high doses of DMT produces toxic effects. The DEA reports that there are cases of individuals suffering respiratory distress as a result of DMT use. Fatalities associated with DMT appear to be linked to polysubstance use, such as combining DMT with alcohol or narcotic pain medications.
Therefore, it is unclear if DMT use alone can result in a potential fatality. However, individuals who are under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs run the risk of becoming involved in accidents or making judgment errors that can be seriously dangerous and/or fatal.