The DMT Expeditions

Scientists in Boulder and San Diego are studying extended-state hallucinations

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There are two main ways in which people ingest DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine). But researchers are pursuing a third method of ingestion that will allow them to gain deeper insights into how the brain works during the peak of a DMT trip, and how this drug might be used to heal trauma. 

The oldest form of DMT ingestion is the traditional Amazonian method. Tea is brewed with beta-carboline-rich Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis — a mixture known as ayahuasca. The effects often cause colorful hallucinations of patterns and hieroglyphics. Sometimes users even report having out-of-body experiences and interactions with “beings.” The trip lasts for somewhere between four and six hours. 

The other common way to consume DMT is by smoking a concentrate, either in powder or oil form. The effects are often more potent but last for just 10 to 15 minutes. Many people describe “blasting off” at high doses — flying out of their physical body, through a psychedelic kaleidoscope, meeting god-like entities, seeing past lives, and physically experiencing the interconnectedness of all things. 

According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,DMT affects the parts of the brain where we generate reality. But it also acts on the highest-evolved areas of the brain that deal with complex problem-solving, language, planning and imagination (Weed Between the Lines, “Your brain on DMT,” March 30, 2023). 

But we don’t know much about the peak out-of-body state achieved by DMT users who smoke the substance. That state is so fleeting that it’s very hard to gather meaningful data on what’s going on inside our brains, which makes it difficult to understand what conditions the drug might be used to treat.

Scientists are working to get to the bottom of this, though. Researchers from the Department of Anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine were recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to gather data on the effects of DMT on consciousness. And there is also a program in Boulder seeking answers.

The UC San Diego grant will fund an entirely new research program within the university’s Psychedelic and Health Research Initiative: the Division of DMT Research. It will be focused solely on studying the biological and psychological effects of DMT in humans. Jon Dean, PhD, postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Anesthesiology, is the division’s first director. 

“Reliable methods for measuring DMT directly in the human brain and bodily fluids do not exist,” Dean said in a press release about the grant; so he and his division plan to develop their own methods. 

To suspend their subjects in an “extended state” of peak DMT visions, Dean and his team will implement continuous intravenous infusions of DMT. So instead of drinking ayahuasca tea or smoking DMT concentrate, an IV will administer DMT directly into the subject’s bloodstream over an extended period. It’s a newfangled third method of ingesting DMT, and no doubt it’s the most potent, dangling users at the apex of their trip for many minutes or even hours. 

“Our long-term objective is to gain a better understanding of how DMT and other psychedelics could be used in a therapeutic manner to address pain, trauma and various medical conditions related to the brain,” Dean said. 

While UC San Diego is the only university in the U.S. to create a dedicated division to conduct extended-state DMT research, it isn’t the first institution to experiment with intravenous DMT infusions. Boulder’s own Center for Medicinal Mindfulness likewise launched an extended state DMT research program known as DMTx in 2018. 

However, where the UC San Diego program is focused solely on scientific data collection, the Center for Medicinal Mindfulness is also interested in spiritual and perhaps even extra-dimensional exploration. Daniel McQueen, the Center’s founder, says they’re hoping to spend more time in the DMT realm to better understand it as a “place.”

“We believe extended-state DMT research is as much an expedition as it is a scientific experiment,” McQueen writes on the DMTx webpage. His group plans to pursue scientific inquiry, while upholding the creative and spiritual interests and values of the psychedelic community. 

The Center for Medicinal Mindfulness’ DMTx program is still seeking volunteers. Interested psychonauts can apply on the Center’s website: bit.ly/MedicinalMindfulness-DMTx. For more information on the UC San Diego Psychedelic and Health Research Initiative’s (PHRI) Division of DMT Research, and to learn how you might apply to become a subject in that study, contact phri-recruitment@ucsd.edu