Offering a quick blast into another dimension, DMT is known to occasion among the most profound trips of any psychedelic. Although its effects last only about 30 minutes, the peak of a DMT trip happens almost instantaneously, within about the first 10 minutes.
While it’s also found in ayahuasca (which, in said form, lasts a few hours), drinking ayahuasca or smoking powder from a pipe isn’t the only way to experience DMT. It can also be mixed into e-liquid (a.k.a. “vape juice”) and inhaled using common vaporizers. These vapes require no alterations for those who want to use them for DMT, according to various online forums for DMT enthusiasts, who recommend using the DMT e-liquid with vapes like the SMOK AL85 (which retails for $50 USD). Pre-loaded DMT vape pens can also be found online for as little as $280 for a package of five cartridges.
And while the intensity of the experience is dose-dependent, vaping DMT can cause similarly intense hallucinations as consuming it in more traditional ways.
Is vaping safe when it comes to DMT?
“The bed in front of me seemed to breathe, inhaling and exhaling like a lung,” journalist Lester Black recalled after using a DMT vape pen in 2018. “The unkempt sheets appeared to grow and fall like a cresting wave. I looked around, but it became too tiring to focus on my oscillating furniture, so I closed my eyes and felt my body fall away. I couldn’t tell if I wasn’t in control of my arms and legs or if I had just completely lost interest in controlling them. I saw prisms of purple and white light, extending into infinity, behind my closed eyelids.”
As with cannabis, vaping DMT has its benefits, like convenience, ease of use, and a degree of control over how big of a hit you can take. But also, as with cannabis, the question remains: Is vaping safe when it comes to DMT?
There’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the health effects of inhaling DMT-infused e-liquid in light of the new, deadly lung disease that’s been tied to vaping.
Since August of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported 60 confirmed deaths and another 2,668 hospitalizations in America due to EVALI (which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury).
EVALI causes severe lung infections in otherwise healthy individuals. Health experts have found that vaping cannabis and/or tobacco e-liquid is a common thread among patients with EVALI. Since making that discovery, researchers have begun analyzing the chemicals used to produce cannabis and tobacco e-liquid, but they haven’t given the same attention to the potential health risks of vaping other substances, like DMT.
“I don’t know of any research on DMT vape pens,” Thomas Anderson, research director of the Psychedelic Studies Research Program at the University of Toronto, tells DoubleBlind. “As far as I know, there is zero research on that topic. As such, honest scientists could not authoritatively comment on whether DMT vape pens are especially safe or dangerous or anywhere in between.”
While there is no hard evidence on this issue, there are reasons to be wary of inhaling DMT-infused vape juice. The CDC notes that cannabis vape pens purchased through “informal sources” (including the black market) “are linked to most EVALI cases and play a major role in the outbreak.” Those findings suggest that cannabis consumers could drastically reduce the risk of developing EVALI if they stick to using regulated vaping products purchased through licensed sources in states that have legalized marijuana. By sticking to regulated products, consumers can rest assured that what they are vaping does not contain vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent that has been strongly linked to cases of EVALI.
But that solution won’t work for anyone using DMT, which is still prohibited throughout America and most of the world, so there are no regulated devices or licensed retailers for DMT vape pens. Without regulation, consumers cannot be 100 percent certain that DMT vape juice acquired from an informal source is free of vitamin E acetate or other harmful additives.
Without regulation, consumers cannot be 100 percent certain that DMT vape juice acquired from an informal source is free of vitamin E acetate or other harmful additives.
The only way for a consumer to know what is in their DMT vape juice is if they make it themselves. There are plenty of recipes for DMT e-liquid available online, including ones that use propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG), which are key ingredients found in JUUL pods. Neither PG or VG has been connected to EVALI (though one recent study suggests that vaping either chemical can cause lung inflammation over time).
Of course, since there are no scientific studies on the short-term or long-term effects of inhaling DMT vape juice, there’s no way of knowing what sorts of health benefits or risks it could present to consumers. And even if DMT e-liquid is benign, vaping it nevertheless puts consumers at risk of suffering legal ramifications. As long as federal law enforces DMT prohibition with the threat of imprisonment, no method of smoking or vaping it can be considered completely safe.
James McClure is a journalist, playwright and scholar based in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, who specializes in cannabis culture, international drug policy, hockey and English literature. His work has appeared in Civilized, Mental Floss and other publications.