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How Long Does DMT Last?

Some psychedelic journeys take hours. This one takes 15 minutes

DoubleBlind Mag

Article by Tamara Haywood
Published on
Updated December 18, 2023

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.

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?

DMT Basics

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 vape pen
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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. These practices are often done in community contexts with skilled and practiced elders, leaders, and shamans—using them alone can pose safety concerns.

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.

Curious about DMT safety? DanceSafe offers harm reduction information.

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. 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.

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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.

DMT in a pipe
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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.

Have You Heard…?

“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,” writes James McClure. Read the story 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.


READ: DMT Vape Pens: Is It Safe to Vape DMT?

DMT in pipe
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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. 



READ: Set and Setting: Here’s How to Prepare Your Mind & Space Before Using Psychedelics

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. Injecting DMT is unsafe; the product can contain contaminants, and injection opens the door to communicable diseases and other safety risks.

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.

DMT doesn’t last long, but there’s a lot to know before engaging with psychedelics. Deepen your learning here.

According to Sara Gael, M.A., harm reduction officer at the Zendo Project, one thing you might ask yourself before taking psychedelics is whether you are using them with the intent to “escape” a particular emotion or situation. Your “mindset” is a part of your set and setting, which are for a safe(r) psychedelic experience.

“I know that bad trips exist, because I’ve had one,” writes Dr. Erica Zelfand, an integrative and functional medicine physician. Here’s what she wishes others understood about challenging psychedelic experiences.

Trip sitters are people are often friends or trained folks who agree to hold space for someone while they journey. But, being a good trip sitter often means knowing when to take action and knowing when to hold back. Author Michelle Janikian has the details.

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Disclaimer

In the event of an emergency, please dial local emergency services. For mental health help in the US, please dial 988. For substance abuse help in the US, please dial the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at +1 (800) 662-4357.

This article is intended for harm reduction purposes and should not be used in place of medical advice. DoubleBlind does not advocate participating in illicit activities. Always consult your local drug laws before engaging with any unregulated substance.

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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.

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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.

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