back of person looking at psychedelic patterns

How Do We Make Sense of DMT Realms?

Many people who try DMT report encounters with otherworldly spirits—but what do they mean? A journalist explores.

DoubleBlind Mag

Article by
Published on
Updated January 26, 2024

A feeling so strange it’s downright alien washes over your body. Your physical being crumbles and disseminates into the void, like dust blown by some cosmic wind, and while this sensation is initially alarming and your instincts cry out to turn back, you remember what the guy who sold you the vape said—You’re gonna want to stop after the second inhale, but you MUST inhale one more time—so you pull a mighty final draw. Before exhaling, you appear to arrive at (or maybe it arrives at you?) this place where the architecture seems to be an endless infinity of electric circus mirrors that are, somehow, just as structurally stable as the pyramids yet ever-morphing like a kaleidoscope at the same time—and there are people there.

At least, that’s how it happened for me the first time I took the weird step into the Realm of DMT. To the uninitiated, this likely reads like some good old-fashioned drug-addled madness, but those who have visited the Realm are likely nodding their heads in recognition. Because while every psychedelic endeavor is contextually subjective, the uniquely bizarre thing about DMT is how so many people tend to report objectively similar experiences. Not identical, but highly coincidental to the point where many are adamant that the DMT space and its resident entities are as real as you or I.

READ: AI Can Now Generate DMT Visuals, Thanks To This Online Community

hand holding pipe light pure DMT to smoke
The “Realm of DMT” is most often associated with the smoking of pure DMT | Photo by Georgia Love

The Dubious Reality of the DMT Realm

Now, it’s important to mention that I’m specifically referring to the Realm of DMT that is inspired by pure DMT itself—whether smoked or infused—rather than the more primordial landscape one crosses into with ayahuasca, of which DMT is a key ingredient. [Ayahuasca is a brewed tea, most commonly made with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis shrub, plants native to the Amazon rainforest. Smoked DMT is either created synthetically in a lab or extracted from plants that contain the natural psychedelic.] 

While ayahuasca most certainly can be—and frequently is—teleportative as well, its ride is distinct from that of pure DMT for many reasons, from duration to physical effects to content. Ayahuasca is a prolonged, physically demanding engagement. The smoked DMT show lasts about twenty minutes, and you’ll feel more or less baseline within an hour. And if with the former you visit ghosts and ancestors in ancient, vine-covered temples, with the latter you’re hanging out with extra-dimensional aliens in some kind of ultra-futuristic hyperspace—well, sometimes.

So now we reach the question that is under hot debate within the small yet growing community of DMT aficionados: is the Realm real? What about the beings Terrence Mckenna famously called the “self-transforming machine elves” who populate the place?

“The high dose DMT experience in particular is of rapid onset, short duration, and usually accompanied by loss of body awareness,” Dr. Rick Strassman, a DMT pioneer since the early 1990s and author of DMT: the Spirit Molecule and The Psychedelic Handbook, told DoubleBlind. “One enters into a seemingly freestanding level of existence, highly visual, frequently experienced as possessing sentience or beings who are sentient and with whom one interacts. [This is also accompanied by] the sense that that ‘world’ seems more real than everyday reality.”

🍄 👁 🌈 ✨

How to Grow Shrooms Bundle

Take Both of Our Courses and Save $90!

Zeus Tipado, noted neuroscience and DMT researcher at Maastricht University, was bluntly skeptical when asked about the authenticity of the DMT space, saying, “If we take DMT are we going to another place? No. There isn’t any transportation to a different realm or a different dimension. But a better question I think would be, why are we having these very intense experiences?”

Strassman has similar questions, if also similar skepticisms, explaining that he thinks the Realm and its beings “contain information that is normally inaccessible. Where they reside is not possible to prove at this point, [whether] simply in our brains or inhabiting some objective freestanding external level of reality. The most important thing at this point is to extract information from the beings. What are they trying to tell us?”

“It’s definitely something that is completely internal,” elaborates Tipado. “There isn’t any external element of the process. It can feel like there’s an external element. It could feel like there’s some higher consciousness beaming down on our brain to tell us something, but the reason it feels like that is because we’ve done a powerful drug that affects how we think and how we perceive. But is it happening? Emphatic no. That’s ridiculous. However, I think a better question would be, Why are we perceiving reality in these archetypes of aliens and beings? Why is perception all of a sudden becoming quantified as beings and aliens and faces and why do we have a sense of presence whenever we do DMT? The DMT experience makes us feel as if there are agencies around us for sure.”

Tipado is speaking from the perspective of hard science, which—quite reasonably—necessitates hard evidence to support its findings. But as others point out, while this view is scientific, it is not the only way to look at the matter. 

“Science and technology are powerful tools,” acknowledges a seasoned Washington State-based ayahuasca facilitator who prefers to remain anonymous. “But we should be careful in assuming that simply because we haven’t measured or studied something it does not exist. I think it’s worth mentioning that we also have a long history of not believing or respecting what Indigenous people tell us. Instead of dismissing their views, we should be wondering how they have retained a connection that others may have lost long ago. We should be curious about what they and the spirits have to teach us.”

More DMT Questions than Answers

Tipado’s assertion has garnered him no shortage of opposition from Realm true believers on Twitter (and his recent DoubleBlind op-ed on the matter certainly didn’t have commenters holding back), and I must admit, while I maintain healthy agnosticism toward the concept, it did diminish some of the more outlandish hopes that wink from the distant reaches of my own beliefs.

That being said, I personally still maintain the possibility of what may exist beyond our biological and scientific instrumentation. A bat must presume that the whole world is nothing but echoes because that’s all it has to interpret its surroundings. Two hundred years ago, when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis began advocating that doctors wash their hands to prevent the transmission of illness via tiny, invisible creatures, he was nearly laughed out of medicine. Will some hereto unforeseen technique or tool one day expose the veracity of the DMT Realm?

All that we know for now is that we don’t know much, but as Tipado observes, we have no evidence supporting it. So why do DMT psychonauts tend to report such similar experiences? And why is the pure DMT mechanism so fast-acting and acute?

“That’s a question that we really don’t have an answer for,” admits Tipado. “I believe the reason why people report the same sort of visual experience of the DMT—shared experiences—is because despite our vast cultural, ethnic, geographical differences, all humans have the same brain in our head. And when we take the same substance, like DMT, then we respond similarly. Like how the taste of cake is sweet to a person in India, Iceland, or Italy. It’s just a physiological response to a very similar stimuli that’s experienced because we’re all humans.”

READ: How to Make Sense of Your Last Trip

New DMT Research

Until further notice, psychological projection is the best explanation for the Realm and its inhabitants. There is some new research underway, however, that may help us to learn more about the contents of the space.

“There are two studies developing a continuous infusion of DMT,” says Strassman. These controlled DMT infusions allow participants to enter the DMT space for extended periods—at this point as long as around an hour. “Those are valuable because they will help us characterize the state better, in a more leisurely manner than that provided by a fifteen-to-twenty-minute single dose experience. This model may yield new psychotherapeutic tools in as much as one could titrate the effects in more or less real-time depending on the needs of the clinical situation.”

While much has been said about psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine therapy, DMT isn’t as widely associated with therapeutic benefits. But a handful of studies on the various forms of the compound—DMT, ayahuasca, and 5-MeO-DMT—have indicated that it may have a positive impact on a range of mood disorders.

The mechanism behind this is unknown, but Tipado has his speculations: “I think it’s less about the type of psychedelic and it’s more about how restructured your visual field is and your perceptual field is. The reason why I say that is because in all psychedelics—DMT also—the reported benefits correlate with the intensity of the actual trip itself. So the bigger the trip, the bigger the visual distortion of the perceptual field. The bigger the trip, the bigger the reported therapeutic benefits. These things correlate, so perhaps there’s something about having your visual and perceptual field redefined that also comes with a secondary thing of, Oh, I feel better. I feel fantastic. I feel great. I have less anxiety.

He warns that some commercial efforts may remove that benefit.

“A lot of scientists in that field—and also lots of investors and companies—don’t really consider the visual experience. They almost see it like it’s a secondary aspect of psychedelics. Some companies are trying to take the trip out of psychedelics, but I think the trip is not a secondary aspect. Not a bug, but the primary feature. And perhaps the reason why people are getting better is because of this reconfiguration of the visual field.”

And DMT certainly does that, arguably to a greater degree than any of its weird cousins.

When you enter the Realm—or encounter a Category 5 visual storm due to any psychedelic, for that matter—you tend to come away with the awareness or at least suspicion that things may not be quite what they seem. Whether or not it is real may be beside the point. Perhaps the point is in the wondering, because nothing cures what psychically ails you like a strong belt of wonder.

It could be that to verify or disprove the existence of the Realm and its residents isn’t important. What matters is its exploration.

Enjoy this article on DMT realms? Deepen you learning here.

Modern ayahuasca ceremonies draw from the wisdom of Amazonian cultures, Shipibo culture in particular. So why isn’t this common knowledge? Here’s how the Shipibo became the most common group serving ayahuasca to foreigners.

🍄 👁 🌈 ✨

How to Grow Shrooms Bundle

Take Both of Our Courses and Save $90!

For over 30,000 years, visionary art has helped people integrate and translate their travels into the Dreamtime, the cosmos, and other worlds. Read a brief history of Ayahuasca art.

Psychedelics could become extractive capitalism—unless we hold stakeholders accountable, argues Tony Greenberg. Reciprocity with Indigenous stewards of plant medicine is one way to start.

About the Author

Read More
Editorial Process arrow

DoubleBlind is a trusted resource for news, evidence-based education, and reporting on psychedelics. We work with leading medical professionals, scientific researchers, journalists, mycologists, indigenous stewards, and cultural pioneers. Read about our editorial policy and fact-checking process here.

Legal Disclaimer arrow

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

hand holding mushrooms
How to Take Shrooms

How Much Shrooms Should a Beginner Take?

Preparing for your first mushroom trip? We've got you.
hand pouring out blue ecstacy pills onto palm with sparkly background
Other Psychedelics

Blue Molly May More Easily Disguise Adulterants, Experts Say 

More blue doesn’t mean more pure
shaman pouring ayahuasca brew out of green plastic bottle into small cup
Equity + Indigenous Reciprocity

Spanish Police Bust Ayahuasca Syndicate for Unspecified Sex Crimes and Workers’ Rights Violations

Inner Mastery International’s founder, Alverto Varela, died before he was able to face trial following a crackdown on his retreat empire.