DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic drug that occurs naturally and can also be produced synthetically. Although the drug does not produce the same kind of addiction as other drugs such as opioids or cocaine, people can become addicted to DMT. It is important to know the characteristics of DMT and how DMT addiction differs from other substance addictions.
How is DMT Used?
DMT cannot be used orally on its own because it is not absorbed into circulation. However, when DMT is taken orally with a type of drug known as an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) it will take effect.
Tribes in the Amazon Basin make a brewed drink (a tea) called ayahuasca that contains DMT. Ayahuasca is made by boiling certain vines and plant ingredients (that happen to contain a naturally occurring MAOI) along with plants containing DMT. The tribes use ayahuasca as part of traditional, shamanic spiritual ceremonies.
There are other ways to take DMT other than with ayahuasca:
- Smoking DMT: DMT is very harsh to smoke, so it is usually mixed with herbs and other plants, in which case the mixture is known as “changa.” There is no set formula for changa, so the composition varies.
- Snorting DMT: DMT crystals are ground into a fine powder and used as snuff.
- Injecting DMT: DMT can be prepared for intravenous or intramuscular injection, but this is an especially dangerous practice.
Symptoms of DMT Addiction
DMT is not inherently addictive because there is little to no euphoria or activation of the brain’s reward system with its use. Unlike most other hallucinogens, DMT causes limited tolerance to develop over time and produces no withdrawal symptoms, both of which are features of substance addiction.
However, DMT can produce a pattern of abuse similar to addiction, in that it can produce psychological dependence. That means that people may regularly use the substance because they seek out the effects of the DMT trip, either because they enjoy or value the effects of the trip (as a religion-related use) or because they are using it as a way to cope with stress and negative feelings (escapism).
As such, hallucinogen use — including DMT use — is well-known to produce a pattern of abuse that resembles addiction.
Other than the symptoms during a trip or any persistent long-term symptoms, there may be no physical clues that a person uses or is addicted to DMT. If a person continually complains about bad experiences from using DMT, yet continues to use the substance, they may be struggling with an addiction.
Addiction to DMT is not characterized by the drive to avoid withdrawal symptoms as are some other substance addictions. Rather, it is a behavioral addiction, similar to other behavioral addictions (“process addictions”).
As such, DMT addiction may be characterized by:
- Invasive and persistent thoughts about using the drug
- Using the drug to cope with negative emotions or stress
- Using the drug to cope with mental health symptoms
- Defensiveness about the drug use
- Experiencing emotional distress when drug use stops
- Difficulty controlling drug use
- Continuing the drug use despite obvious negative consequences
- Avoiding important activities and responsibilities to use the drug
Side Effects of DMT Addiction
The hallucinogenic effects of DMT are actually a drug-induced psychosis characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and odd, irrational behavior. Because of this, a “trip-sitter” is recommended to attempt to prevent any harmful behaviors to the self or to others. This DMT side effect alone makes DMT use unsafe at any dose.
DMT drug side effects include serious cross-reactions with some commonly used medications, including:
- Blood pressure medications
- Other illicit drugs, especially cocaine
- Some complementary medicines
Even some preserved or aged foods should be avoided due to the potential for serious cross-reactions with DMT.
Common, short-term DMT side effects include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- Profuse sweating
- Bizarre, high-risk behaviors
- Rapid eye movements
- Chest pain
- Overwhelming fright from the “trip” experience, potentially lasting for days
- At higher doses, DMT may cause seizures, respiratory arrest and coma
There are also a variety of risks from the various chemicals that are used with DMT, especially in making changa or ayahuasca. Serious illness, injury, and death have been reported in people who travel to Brazil to attend ayahuasca ceremonies.
Long-term effects of DMT addiction involve DMT’s effects on the brain, which may endure long after even a single use of the drug:
- Persistent Psychosis: ongoing psychosis that persists long after the previous drug use.
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPDD): Sudden, unpredictable flashbacks of hallucinations and other psychosis symptoms, lasting for months or years after the drug was previously used.
Long-term DMT effects may include the unmasking of latent mental health disorders in people with pre-existing conditions or a predisposition to mental illness.
Polysubstance use is the abuse of more than one substance at the same time. It magnifies the risks of substance use and complicates addiction treatment. Polysubstance use can be especially dangerous for people who use DMT because of adverse drug reactions with other drugs of abuse, especially cocaine.
Among people who use hallucinogens, polysubstance use is exceptionally high:
- Alcohol: 89.5%
- Tobacco: 82.6%
- Cannabis: 82.6%
- Opioids (other than heroin): 49.3%
- Tranquilizers: 23.8%
- Stimulants: 22.3%
- Inhalants: 27.7%
- Heroin: 2.5%
The side effects of using more than one substance, even if not used at the same time, are additive and substance use becomes more complicated and difficult to treat.
DMT Abuse Facts and Statistics
DMT statistics are difficult to obtain because the drug is uncommon in the United States. It is not specifically reported on major drug reporting sources, such as the CDC and SAMHSA. However, according to the DEA there are 500 to 600 cases of lab-confirmed DMT annually in the United States.
Although specific DMT drug facts are not available from the large national drug use databases, figures for hallucinogen use in the United States are available. According to the 2016 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):
- 1.4 million Americans were current users of hallucinogens (0.5% of the population ages 12 and older)
- 114,000 adolescents (ages 12 to 17) reported being using hallucinogens currently (0.5% of adolescents)
- 668,000 young adults (ages 18 to 25) were current users of hallucinogens (1.9% of young adults)
- 608,000 adults (age 26 and older) were current users of hallucinogens (0.3% of the adult population)
Can You Overdose on DMT?
DMT drug overdose (and even using the drug without overdosing) has been attributed to deaths. Even when it is not fatal, DMT overdoses can be unpleasant and frightening experiences. DMT has some stimulant properties, so it can increase the risk of overdose when used with other stimulants, especially cocaine.
As the dose of DMT increases, the psychosis is likely to increase. People using DMT have been known to leap from rooftops and balconies.
Symptoms of overdose and the DMT death rate are not well-known because the drug is uncommon. Many of the deaths occurred from people attending ayahuasca ceremonies in South American jungles, which are far from any medical help.
High doses of DMT may cause seizures, respiratory arrest and coma. The vomiting and diarrhea and hyperactivity that accompany ayahuasca use may cause life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
DMT Addiction Treatment
DMT addiction treatment depends on whether there is substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder. Some available options include:
- Detox: DMT does not produce withdrawal symptoms, so detoxing the body and brain from the drug is not usually a difficult process. The main concern is managing the detox from other substances.
- Residential: Residential DMT therapy involves staying at a rehab facility during the treatment period. The main focus is on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the drug use and learning to live without using substances to cope.
- Outpatient: Outpatient DMT treatment involves attending treatment activities during the day and living at home or at a sober living house during the rehab process.
- Dual Diagnosis: Dual diagnosis — the presence of substance use and a mental health disorder — requires treatment directed at both issues in order to optimize recovery and a return to good health and function.
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Key Points: Understanding DMT Addiction
Keep the following key points in mind regarding DMT addiction:
- DMT is a relatively uncommon hallucinogen drug that is illegal in the United States
- Although DMT is not addictive in the same way that some other drugs are, people can develop addiction-related behavior from DMT use
- DMT addiction is more of a behavioral addiction, similar to process addictions
- DMT abuse and addiction may be complicated by other substance use and mental health disorders
Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak to a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help you address a substance use disorder. Take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.
CBC News. “Effects and risks of ayahuasca, the hallucinogen sought after by Canadians travelling to the Amazon.” April 23, 2018. Accessed July 30, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).” July 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.
Herman, Melissa; Roberto, Marisa. “The addicted brain: Understanding the neurophysiological mechanisms of addictive disorders.” Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, March 19, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).” September 2017. Accessed July 30, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Compound summary N,N-dimethyltryptamine.” PubChem, July 22, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019.
Wu, Li; et al. “Hallucinogen-related disorders in a national sample of adolescents: The influence of ecstasy/MDMA use.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, September 1, 2009. Accessed July 30, 2019.
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