Humphry Osmond gave us one the best quotes describing psychedelics: “To fathom hell, or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” The psychiatrist who coined the term “psychedelic” seemed to have encapsulated the two extremes available to psychonauts on their trips. Should you decide to trip with DMT, you could plumb the depths and be back within 15 minutes.
N, N-dimethyltryptamine, known as DMT, is sometimes called “The Spirit Molecule,” which some believe can help you look upon the face of the divine. But not everyone has a such a positive experience with the molecule. Author William Burroughs once wrote to Timothy Leary to “sound a word of urgent warning” about the DMT experience. But what is DMT, exactly? And how long does DMT last?
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a naturally occurring entheogen, a substance that may occasion mystical experiences and is used for spiritual purposes. This humble tryptamine has the unique quality of being endogenous, meaning it is generated within the body and is already present in the brain. DMT is found everywhere—in animals, plants, and us. It also can be synthesized in a lab.
DMT is found in abundance in the plants of Latin America. Indigenous Latin Americans have used DMT for thousands of years in the form of Ayahuasca, a psychedelic beverage, and as snuffs, which are used in a way similar to tobacco powder snuffs that were popular in the 1800s. To ingest DMT snuff this way, a partner would use a tube or pipe to forcibly blow the powdery concoction into the recipient’s nose, often so powerful it could knock them to the ground.
DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is not 5-methoxy-DMT, found in toad venom. People sometimes mistake 5-methoxy-DMT for DMT. However, 5-methoxy-DMT is four to ten times more potent than DMT. Psychonauts must take extra precautions to avoid overdose—there’s less research on 5-meo-DMT, and while celebrities like Mike Tyson praise the powerful psychedelic, there are also reported fatalities.
How Long Does A DMT Trip Last?
Well, that depends. According to Dr. Kelan Thomas, Associate Professor at Touro University California, the amount of time the effects of DMT last “depends on the formulation and the route of administration.” Simply stated, a lot depends on how you take it—and even then, it can range depending on your individual body. DMT is typically inhaled or ingested. In clinical settings—like scientific trials—it may be injected. The administration mode will determine the length of the experience. The psychedelic effects of DMT peak within a few minutes. The intensity of the effects typically decline rapidly after ten to 15 minutes, with mild “afterglow” effects for possibly up to an hour. The effect is slower if the injection is intramuscular, i.e., injected into a muscle.
Oral ingestion of DMT in the form of teas like Ayahuasca or changa has the slowest onset, with a less intense peak usually occurring within one to two hours, lasting roughly four to six hours. The bottom line is that inhaling DMT can inspire very short, intense experiences. Oral ingestion—as with Ayahuasca or changa—can inspire a moderately intense experience lasting up to six hours. Your experience with DMT will depend on the dose amount, the consumption rate, and what administration route you choose.
The three popular routes of administration for DMT are inhalation, ayahuasca, and change. DMT vapes are increasing in popularity—but they’re illegal and, therefore, not subject to the same safety standards as other vaporizer products. (Standards that may be questionable in the first place.) Like other inhaled forms of DMT, the onset and decline of active effects last about ten to 15 minutes. It’s very difficult to know what exactly is inside DMT vape pens and their potential impact on your health, so it’s important to remain mindful and proceed with caution should you choose to use them. The psychonaut adage “start low, go slow” may help reduce potential harm and risk here.
Ayahuasca is a tea brewed with a combination of two plants. The most common mixture starts with the DMT-containing psychotria viridis, called chacruna. This plant is combined with banistereopsis caapi, also known as caapi, ‘the soul vine’ or peganum harmala, or, alternatively, Syrian Rue. Caapi and Syrian Rue are essential to Ayahuasca as they inhibit an enzyme called monoamine oxidase in the gut. If monoamine oxidase is not inhibited in the stomach, it will break down orally ingested DMT, rendering it inactive. Effects of Ayahuasca usually peak within one to two hours, lasting up to six hours in total. Physical side effects include vomiting and diarrhea.
Changa is an herbal mixture that is smoked similar to tobacco or cannabis. Changa is often called ‘smokeable Ayahuasca’ because, like Ayahuasca, it combines DMT with an enzyme inhibitor that usually breaks it down in the body (a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI). The timing of onset and peak effects is the same as smoking or vaporizing DMT, but the duration lasts longer, about ten to 40 minutes, as opposed to the typical 15 minutes of DMT.
How Long Does DMT Stay In Your System?
According to Dr. Thomas, at the highest estimates, the “half-life” of Ayahuasca is around four hours. The “half-life” is the time it takes for a drug in your system to reduce by half its original concentration. “In less than 24 hours,” he says, “the [blood] plasma concentration should be undetectable.”
Are There Any Risks or Side Effects With DMT?
“Adverse psychological effects reported include acute psychiatric symptoms similar to mania and psychosis, such as temporary anxiety, illusions, and delusions…DMT is generally not recommended for people with a family history of bipolar or schizophrenia,” said Dr. Thomas. He continued, “injected or inhaled DMT is very well tolerated physically, with only mild increases in blood pressure and heart rate along with headaches.” But, as we mentioned, inhaling DMT is most common.
As previously stated, ayahuasca or changa teas cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ayahuasca or changa brews also risk dietary and drug interactions due to harmala alkaloid MAO inhibitors (like in Syrian Rue).
Some people have developed messiah complexes after the overuse of DMT. Anyone with a history of or tendency toward major mental illness should avoid it, as well as anyone with elevated blood pressure, heart disease, history of stroke, or any other cardiovascular condition.
Researchers agree on the importance of understanding your trip’s dose, set, and setting. Before taking DMT, understand how much you are taking and what, beyond N, N-dimethyltryptamine is present in the smoke, vape, or brew you choose. “Set’ refers to the state of the person who takes the psychedelic, including their physical and mental health. One should consider a person’s state of health or sickness, their medications, the alcohol or other drugs they might be taking, stress levels, mood, previous experience with psychedelics, and intentions and expectations before attempting a DMT trip. The environment in which DMT is taken is known as the ‘setting.’ The setting can be indoors or outdoors, alone or with others, in a sacred context or a party environment.
Dr. Rick Strassman, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, has written extensively on DMT. In his 2001 book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule retells a story about Burroughs—mentioned above—that illustrates how vital set and setting are:
William Burroughs, the author of The Naked Lunch, was one of the earliest field users of DMT. Burroughs’s and his British colleagues’ encounters with it were unpleasant. Leary relates Burroughs’s tale of a psychiatrist and his friend who injected DMT together in a London apartment. The friend began panicking and, to the psychiatrist, appeared to transform into a “writhing, wiggling reptile.” “The doctor’s dilemma: where to make an intravenous injection [of an antidote] in a squirming, oriental martial snake?” This is as good an example of the power of a negative set and setting as there is: two people high on injected DMT in a seedy flat at the same time, one being responsible for the other. “Terror” drug, indeed.
As with other psychedelics, a calm, safe, and supportive environment can help to minimize the risks of an unpleasant experience. It’s also important to note that Burroughs uses DMT in a highly unorthodox way; when he was writing, scientific knowledge about DMT was scant and cultural context was all too often appropriated or overlooked. Today, we know that psychedelic is consumed orally and inhaled—with greater safety.
Potential psychonauts should know that pure DMT is classified as a Schedule I drug in the US. Federal penalties for trafficking Schedule I drugs are up to 20 years in prison, and if death or serious injury occur, 20 to life and a $1 million fine.
The use of Ayahuasca as an entheogen in the US by two Brazil-based churches is legal. In a unanimous vote in 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled to protect the religious use of Ayahuasca for one of these churches, The União do Vegetal (UDV), and later, federal courts similarly granted an exemption for ayahuasca use in another church, the Santo Daime.