In 1976, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was on a roll. The “godfather of psychedelics” had left the Dow Chemical Company, where, after developing the first biodegradable pesticide, he’d been given the freedom to research psychedelic compounds. He was now working out of a laboratory behind his home in Lafayette, California. During this decades-long era of independent research, Shulgin (with the help of his wife Ann) synthesized and tested hundreds of compounds, finding that slight variations in chemical structure produced massive changes in psychoactive effect.
Shulgin is credited with introducing the therapeutic potential of MDMA to modern psychology—a “pro-social” drug that inspires feelings of empathy and closeness. He also synthesized and popularized the 2C series, a group of drugs that produce a visual psychedelic experience. But some of Shulgin’s experiments resulted in unusual surprises, including a compound that produces a different kind of trip altogether: Diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT) impacts the perception of sound, sometimes in unpredictable, at times, grotesque ways.
So, What’s DiPT?
DiPT is a rarity in the laboratory and in psychedelic communities. You’re unlikely to find it at your local music festival or psychedelic retreat center. Shulgin’s lab notes report that he synthesized the compound in 1975. His first two times ingesting it were unremarkable—but he didn’t give up. In 1976, he took a slightly higher dose. To his surprise, DiPT seemed to radically affect his perception of sound. “Music out of key,” he wrote. “Piano sounds like a bar-room disaster… The telephone sounds partly underwater.” Besides these auditory changes, he observed few other effects.
DiPT is a lesser-known research chemical of the tryptamine family. It belongs to a broad class of compounds derived from the amino essential acid tryptophan—the same amino acid that supposedly makes you feel sleepy after eating too much turkey. By activating receptors in the brain, tryptamines affect perceptions, mood, and thinking. Many tryptamines like serotonin and melatonin occur naturally as part of the regular chemical makeup of plants and animals. Others are natural hallucinogens, such as psilocybin (the active compound in magic mushrooms) and DMT (central to the sacred South American medicine of ayahuasca).
“Tryptamines differ from phenethylamines [the class of drugs that includes MDMA and the 2C family] in that there’s a greater breadth of effect,” says Paul Daley, co-founder, and chief science officer of the Alexander Shulgin Research Institute (which exists to further Shulgin’s legacy in chemical discoveries). Of the countless diverse tryptamines that can be synthesized, many “haven’t really been studied,” he says. “So there’s a lot of room for using these as tools to probe the brain-mind interface, which is something that Sasha was always interested in doing.”
Early research in psychedelics began with the synthesis of another popular tryptamine—LSD, a synthetic compound derived from the Ergot fungus. After researchers discovered LSD’s psychedelic effects in the 1940s, it sparked interest in synthesizing new tryptamines like DiPT in search of medicinal properties. Yet DiPT’s effects on the human body are mostly limited to changes in hearing and the perception of sound, with broader psychedelic effects only coming into play at high doses.
Shulgin described DiPT as a drug he “designed” by looking at tryptophan as a “canvas” on which he “embroidered” atoms to create a new tryptamine. But, he actually wasn’t the first person to synthesize the compound—DiPT was first documented in a 1958 study that sought to understand the drug’s basic science by applying it to rat uterine tissue.
“Sasha’s contribution was re-synthesizing and testing [tryptamines] on humans, describing the qualitative differences,” explains Daley. In this context, says Daley, DiPT’s auditory qualities made it “sort of an oddball.”
The DiPT “Trip”
Unlike other Shulgin compounds—like 2C-B, which is a phenethylamine, or DiPT’s closely related cousin, 5-MeO-DiPT (aka “foxy”)—DiPT has never become a popular recreational drug, perhaps because its psychedelic effects are narrow and unconventional. DiPT most commonly affects auditory processing, with minimal visual or cerebral stimulation. On moderate to high doses of DiPT—Shulgin’s book suggests 25 to 100 milligrams ingested orally—most people who Shulgin shared the compound with experienced a lowering of apparent pitch.
Yet Shulgin observed that this was not like the distortion expected from putting your finger on a record to slow it down. Instead, “different notes were distorted to different extents,” creating what he called “complete harmonic distortion.” In other words, the distortion of sounds is not applied proportionally or consistently across sounds. Another experience documented in Shulgin’s book attests to abrupt sounds having “after-sounds.” A physician once told Shulgin that DiPT “affects the auditory processing centers in the brain in a complex way.”
DiPT has hardly ever been scientifically examined for its psychoactive properties, so most of what we know comes from anecdotal reports, which must be taken with a grain of salt. Many reports on online forums say the arc of the trip fits a fairly typical tryptamine profile, with effects (including a possible buzz and light visuals) setting in slowly over the first one to two hours, after which the auditory effects are usually obvious, wearing off after six to eight hours.
Yet, while DiPT is often considered a purely auditory experience, anecdotal reports paint a more complex picture. DiPT’s subjective effects can include a body high, euphoria, and mild visuals, but also a feeling of inner ear pressure (“as if my ears were clogged but they aren’t,” says one note in Shulgin’s book). Dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and tinnitus are also possible. Some users of online forums report effects lasting more than eight hours. One Reddit user claimed that a single dose of DiPT exacerbated a ringing in their ears that still persisted eight years later.
Another Redditor reported feeling mostly sober besides the auditory effects, while another said they were tripping “not only with my ears,” and that effects lingered for almost three days. Reports on Erowid attest to nausea, which may dissipate early or linger the entire trip. Someone who took 100 milligrams experienced muscle weakness, and was desperate for sound to return to normal nine hours later. Someone else who took 70 milligrams experienced “a mildly psychedelic state of mind with amusing thoughts.” Yet another user said that 72 milligrams of DiPT seemed to give the benefits of “two years of therapy in just eight hours.”
In one striking anecdote from Shulgin’s book, someone who took 250 milligrams reported feeling like “a fallen angel” in “an anti-universe,” where “DiPT was the body of Satan.” We can’t know for sure what caused this person’s experience, says Daley, but “if you push the doses very high, there may be an accumulation of intermediate metabolic products that elevate above a threshold level where their effects can be felt.” In other words, at extreme doses, DiPT may break down into other compounds that come into play.
Clearly, DiPT can produce a range of experiences and would benefit from further scientific examination. DiPT has rarely been studied by scientists, so data about its toxicity and pharmacology is scarce. Closely related tryptamines have been linked to reports of overdose and death, so curious explorers should always proceed with caution and harm-reduction practices (see below). Anecdotally speaking, it seems that doses over 50 milligrams are more broadly and unpredictably psychedelic as opposed to simply auditory, and seemingly any dose can produce side effects that would be of particular concern for people already experiencing sinus pressure or tinnitus.
Is DiPT Legal, Even?
Over the years, many synthetic tryptamines slipped through the cracks of drug illegalization, partly because there are dozens, if not hundreds, of specific compounds governments would have to ban. In this legal gray area, tryptamines have historically been sold as “research chemicals” by head shops, dealers, and on the Internet.
DiPT is one such chemical. It is not explicitly scheduled or controlled at the federal level in the United States (though in the state of Florida, it is illegal to buy, sell, or possess). In 2004, a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation resulted in the arrest of ten individuals selling unregulated tryptamines online. Some were selling DiPT, though they were not necessarily prosecuted for this given its “gray market” status. In the United Kingdom, DiPT is a Class A drug like many other tryptamines, making it illegal to possess or use.
Interestingly, DiPT possession or use could theoretically be prosecuted in the US under the Federal Analog Act, because it could be considered an analog of 5-MeO-DiPT ( “foxy methoxy”), a a federally prohibited Schedule I substance that is more popular in recreational contexts. However, while the DEA recently considered placing DiPT on Schedule I, it withdrew this proposed rule change in 2022, citing a need for further scientific and medical evaluation.
Keepin’ it Safe with DiPT
These days, synthetic tryptamines are most popular with nightclub and festival attendees, according to Joseph Palamar, a professor at New York University’s Department of Population Health. In Palamar’s research, most tryptamine users are taking DMT: Only a handful report using experimental chemicals like 4-AcO-DMT or 5-MeO-DiPT. DiPT use is even rarer, based on post counts on online forums like Reddit and Erowid, and testing reports from DrugsData.org, which hasn’t tested a single sample of DiPT in more than 22 years of operation. It is rarely—if ever found at clubs or festivals—and seems to be mainly taken at home by dedicated psychonauts interested in trying the drug’s unique effects.
Unlike well-studied compounds like LSD or psilocybin, most “research chemicals,” including DiPT, have not been extensively analyzed to establish safe use parameters. As such, anyone experimenting with DiPT is taking a risk. While the Shulgins, their friends, and brave psychonauts have experimented with DiPT, much remains unknown.
DanceWize NSW is an organization promoting the well-being of festival goers in the Australian state of New South Wales. Their resident psychonauts and volunteers have experience with tryptamines like DiPT. Because of the limited research available on such drugs, said Jason Gregory Jones and Erica Franklin of DanceWize in an email, “Engaging with research chemicals safely requires restraint and patience.”
“We suggest taking small incremental steps over time while paying close attention to how your body responds, not only in the moment but in the days following the experience too,” they wrote. “Some of these chemicals are quite unique, [and] there is no way to tell how your individual human makeup is going to respond.”
Because DiPT is famous for its auditory effects, Jones and Franklin want people to know that it can also manifest strong psychedelic experiences involving visual, cognitive, and physical changes (see prior section). They suggest taking it in an environment where you have “some control over the auditory stimuli.”
With regard to dosing, they say, “Start low, go slow.” You can always take more, but you can’t take less. Invest in a good scale, do an allergy test (dabbing the tiniest amount of powder on your inside lip and watching for irritation), and start with a low dose, with no other drugs in your system and no re-dosing. “It’s way better to be underwhelmed and just get a taste of the experience at first than being potentially pushed into a drug-induced crisis,” they wrote.
Slowly developing one’s relationship with a compound, by taking notes and slowly adjusting doses over time, helps one find their personal “sweet spot” where the substance can be enjoyed with the least amount of side effects. DanceWize also promotes the principle of set and setting, formulating it as follows:
- “Know your mind”: Check in with your mental state prior to dosing, and have support easily accessible.
- “Know your body”: Maintain proper hydration, nutrition, and rest prior.
- “Know your substance”: Be aware of what you’re ingesting; ensure it comes from a trusted source.*
- “Know your environment”: DanceWize recommends a safe and familiar setting, with trusted friends.
- “Know your limits”: Dosages affect everyone differently; start low, go slow.
*Jones and Franklin note that testing for DiPT is only possible with the quantitative analysis done by professional labs like DrugsData.org. Home reagent tests can confirm whether a substance contains a tryptamine, but cannot distinguish between DiPT and compounds like DMT or LSD. Those who cannot send in a sample for quantitative analysis should proceed with caution, they say.