In the beginning of the DMT: The Spirit Molecule documentary Rick Strassman MD says modestly: “DMT is a compound in the brain that can elicit the mystical experience.” Well, let there be light: recent scientific research has also proven there’s also a swathe of neuroprotective, neurogenic and all-round neurosomatic health benefits from sub-threshold doses of DMT.
And as the mystical and medical lenses converge do they point towards a deeper purpose for DMT in the evolutionary mechanism itself?
DMT or N,N–dimethyltryptamine, first rose to fame back in the 1960s as a drug with the potential to thrust you into an alien hyperreal dimension of fractal-information-density communicating in intelligent pulsing rhythms some primal message just beyond the linear mind’s comprehension.
It’s nicknamed “The Spirit Molecule” because the out-of-body immersion into unfolding hyper-dimensions often feels just like that: a trans-linguistic rebirth into a space that is simultaneously alien, intelligent, alive and autonomous.
Over time science has come to see that DMT is an endogenous neurotransmitter used in both the animal and vegetal kingdoms regulation of consciousness. While tests on rats have shown DMT in the pineal gland, there are no corroborating studies on the origins of DMT in the human being, although traces have been found in the lungs, thyroid, adrenals and other tissues. Far from a “drug”, DMT seems fundamental to consciousness, and it may also play a strategic role in the health of the body and mind as well.
How the mechanism of DMT works to produce it’s mind-altering affect is still under scientific examination–modulating the Default Mode Network and bonding to the 5HTA and Sigma-1 receptor sites is part the mechanical process–but the reason for this apparent immersion into alien worlds is unknown, while the fundamental basis of DMT throughout nature implies an equally fundamental purpose.
The media root system of psychedelic culture is strewn with inter-dimensional DMT trip reports from bygone generations of explorers. It used to be a thing, before science discovered DMT had all these “promising treatment modalities in the therapy of various diseases, including autoimmune and chronic inflammatory conditions, infections, and cancer”.
Exciting, yes, but I know what you’re thinking – are these health benefits simply by-products of a larger genetic imperative DMT plays in species evolution?
Psychedelic philosopher and culture maker Terence McKenna once said:
“DMT is a reliable method for crossing into a dimension that human beings have debated the existence of for 50,000 years. Is there an invisible nearby world inhabited by active intelligences with which human beings can communicate? You bet. And if you don't think so, then tell me you don't think so after you've smoked 75mg DMT. Otherwise we just don't have anything to talk about.”
The plant medicine cultures of the old world would agree. In their cosmovision they believe in an archetypal shamanic universe with many worlds and beings, accessible through visionary plant sacraments like ayahuasca. This revered Amazonian brew contains DMT usually sourced from admixture plants like Psychotria viridis, also called chacruna, comes on orally and lasts for hours.
Healing is said to come from both the purgative effect of the Bannisteropsis Caapi vine (containing harmine and harmaline) and the power and connection to the DMT-visionary state itself. And recent studies have shown that some of the healing power of ayahuasca may derive from the neuroprotective and neurogenenic potential of N,N-dimethyltryptamine itself.
These peripheral applications of DMT are coming to the fore that could revolutionize health, memory– even aging itself. This sublimated functionality may seems an extreme paradigm shift from the psychonautical experience of alien worlds and probing entities. But maybe, just maybe, these potentials are two ends of the same stick.
DMT in the medical model
The healing potential of DMT is clearly worth pursuing. Its active role in helping protect the brain process stress and shock; its role as an immunomodulator in the body, and its ability to effect neurogenesis, or the birth on new brain cells, and the possible benefits for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s holds great promise.
Neurogenesis is the term for the production of new neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain. It’s thought is that as we age neurons also age and new neuron production may still occur, but starts to decline. Learning new skills or pushing the brain to learn forces new pathways to form and neurogenesis to occur. So too, does psychedelics, and tryptamines like N,N-dimethyltryptamine are foremost in their neurogenic activity.
Algeron Pharmaceuticals in Vancouver, Canada recently announced a study administering sub-threshold does of DMT to stroke patients, as DMT has “in pre-clinical studies shown to improve neuroplasticity.” CEO Christopher Moreau said: “It will help the brain heal even though patients aren’t having the psychedelic experience – and we really don’t want that if your patient has just had a stroke.”
A clinical trial is also currently underway in the UK led by Dr. David Luke, examining the role of DMT in treating anxiety and depression through inducing neurogenesis. Moreover, a 2020 paper published by leading researchers Ede Frescka, Attila Szabo and others examined the way rats recovered more readily from brain injury after being treated with sub-threshold doses of DMT.
Ede Frescka has also conjectured that DMT is released from the lungs and other bodily structures at death or in near death experiences and plays a role in protecting the brain from oxygen starvation. So the after-care usage of DMT with stroke and brain injury patients is a clever application of the more immediate role in brain preservation and optimization (via neurogenesis).
Brain plasticity is often an indicator of mental health as we age. Psychedelics in general, and DMT in particular has proven to assist this neuroplasticity. In the psychedelic DMT experience this is a short-term disruption of established neural patterns; new pathways are created as new connections of neurons are established, or the strength of old connections changes or worn-out paths are deleted.
But there’s another aspect to brain plasticity which measures long-term structural change of brain re-wiring. This is a cumulative process that evolves over longer periods –not instantaneously like when you take a psychoactive–although long-term psychoactive usage may indeed precipitate long-term change.
And here we enter a phase state transition for understanding the purpose of psychedelics, why they are so plentiful in nature and so strategically crafted to interface with our brain structure. From here on in it becomes conjecture, but we do know that the beneficial fringe effects of psychedelics are currently being standardized and shoehorned into the existing medical model, all good and well.
That short-term use of DMT shows an ability to maintain, optimize or regenerate the existing neural structure, or in larger psychedelic doses, to initiate a change in the Default Mode Network and “change channels” of reality. The long term affects are not just unknown, but the big picture potential may be outside the medical model entirely.
The truth is, despite its ubiquity, neither science nor mystics definitely understand the role of DMT in consciousness in humans or throughout the animal and vegetal kingdoms. It is still a great mystery, or you could say, a doorway to the Great Mystery. And now that Great Mystery is being teased and shaped into the Western medical model, like putting an elephant put through a meat grinder.
DMT’s effects on neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are tantalizing, but remind one of the Indian parable about the blind men describing an elephant: all reach out and one has the tail, one the trunk, one a leg, etc. They all have a limited perception of the whole. Only when they put together all the parts can they truly understand what an elephant is like.
If we look at the experience of a full dose psychedelic DMT experience, there's often that information density, speed, the everything-at-once-ness and connection to an informational ecosystem that one feels on the cusp of making sense of. DMT feels like a lubricant, like it's protecting the brain structure, but it also has the potential to increase the dendrites and the synaptic pathways themselves like an evolutionary scaffolding leading us into this new hyper-dimensional ecosystem.
The full potential of neurogenesis may be just that: new brain wiring that creates the new human for a new environment. DMT’s neuroprotective and neurogenic functions then would be the initial building blocks to function and process the data of living in that raging hyperspace.
A neurospatial lubricant for conscious evolution
Neurobioligist Andrew R. Gallimore explores this potential in his book Alien Information Theory, Psychedelic Drug Technologies and the Cosmic Game. In it he argues that normal DMT floods the brain, peaking and fading within minutes. But what if you brought someone into the space over an extended period of time, say hours or even days? This long-term immersion could be conducted via IV drip carefully titrating someone into the DMT realms for hours or even days, and Gallimore has drawn up a proposal for just such an experiment with the help of Rick Strassman.
Gallimore suggests a kind of “rewiring effect” could result from longer DMT immersions, where the “DMT might actually cause the brain to resculpt itself beyond the initial psychedelic effect.” Long-term DMT immersion, he hypothesizes, “could actually allow the brain to adapt to and learn to construct the hyper-dimensional environment“. For instance, Amazonian shamans who drink ayahuasca for many decades are anecdotally more receptive to the dimensional spaces the medicine can reveal even without the brew, both through their dietas and perhaps just this type of long-term synaptic pathway shaping by DMT.
Seen through this lens, the microdosing affect of DMT on the Sigma-1 receptor, promoting plasticity and neurogenesis, might actually be the somatic event horizon of the deeper purpose: to allow the brain to build a hyperdimensional information receiver – a gateway to higher dimensional space.
It wouldn’t be the first time. The brain has done this type of thing many times before – that's why we're here now, because the brain keeps building and extending itself to track and engage with higher dimensionality. And perhaps that’s DMT’s complete role: to lubricate the psyche into reality bootstrapping .
“It wouldn’t necessarily be the Orthodox explanation for DMT,” Gallimore counters. “The Orthodox explanation is just to say, well, it's just a hallucination, but I think it's more than that. There is something about the DMT space which appears to be well beyond the geometric constraints of this universe, of this reality, of consensus reality. The brain does appear to be able to reach into these spaces, or even has a tendency or propensity to reach into these high dimensional spaces, given the right stimulation. And DMT seems to provide just the right stimulation.
Why is that the case? Why is it DMT in particular that allows this? It's not a coincidence that the most common naturally occurring plant alkaloid in the world, or certainly the most commonly and simplest naturally occurring psychedelic plant alkaloid, also happens to be the most effective in transporting you to this high dimensional, crystalline, alien reality.”
Aeons ago we came out of the ocean and went onto the land, and now there's another step, another space that we have to grasp: Innerspace. We have to grasp the dimensionality of this new space that the elders and ancestors of indigenous wisdom have been describing for so long. DMT could be the genesis not just of new brain cells, but of a whole new world and way of being.
“It remains something of a mystery of what's actually going on in the DMT space and how it relates to our world and whether we are on some kind of trajectory into this hyperdimensional space,” Gallimore concludes.
“But DMT may be the gateway into that space.”