DMT is short for the drug N,N-Dimethyltryptamine. Some people try DMT because they believe it can positively impact their health. 

A study of Australians who had used DMT found that nearly a third said they tried it because they believed it might have mental health benefits. However, studies investigating DMT use are still in the early stages, and so far, there is not enough data to indicate that this might be true.

What Is DMT? 

DMT has been classified as a Schedule I drug since the 1970s and has no approved medical use. This makes it illegal in the United States, apart from researchers using it for medical studies. Exemptions to the law have also been made for people who use the substance as a part of religious ceremonies.

The effects of DMT cause the brain to interpret input from the eyes and ears differently to produce a distorted environment and hallucinations. Because of these DMT side effects, it is often taken illicitly. It is also commonly used for religious or spiritual purposes to induce altered states of reality and enhance creativity.

What Does DMT Do?

DMT is a naturally occurring molecule in plants and animals, including in the human brain. It interacts with receptors on brain cells and changes the brain’s serotonin levels. DMT is known to interact with various brain receptors, including serotonin, glutamate and sigma receptors.

By altering the receptors for these brain chemicals, DMT changes a person’s experience of reality. They might experience changes in perception involving sights, sounds, beliefs and experiences. Altered perception can create both positive (religious and spiritual) and negative experiences (psychosis).

DMT Side Effects 

The short-term side effects of DMT that a person may encounter include:

  • Coma
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
  • Hyperthermia
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Problems with coordination
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Uncontrollable rapid eye movements

Research has also shown that drinking ayahuasca tea, which contains DMT, can lead to changes in brain function, increased levels of stress hormones and decreased numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells. 

DMT has also been known to cause cardiac and respiratory arrest in people who have taken it in high doses. Anyone who has taken DMT and starts to experience negative side effects should seek medical attention immediately.

Serotonin Syndrome

DMT use can cause serotonin syndrome when combined with other drugs that affect the serotonin receptors, including antidepressants. Serotonin syndrome can cause headaches, confusion, loss of control over the muscles, shivering, goosebumps, high fever, passing out and seizures. This syndrome is potentially fatal, but it can be avoided by avoiding DMT use while on mental health medications and not mixing multiple substances together.

Long-Term Effects of DMT

It’s not known how often people who use substances like DMT experience negative effects or need hospitalization. Not much data has been collected about DMT use compared to some other types of hallucinogens, and the long-term DMT side effects are not yet known. Side effects that have been documented in people who have used other similar hallucinogens include:

  • Flashbacks months or years after taking the drug
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Seizure disorders
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Brain damage

Because DMT changes a person’s brain chemistry so quickly, people who have mental health disorders may be at an increased risk of experiencing dangerous side effects of DMT. Someone who is combining DMT with other drugs may also experience worse health problems. This includes over-the-counter or legally prescribed drugs such as antidepressants or anti-allergy medications.

DMT Effects on the Brain

There have been multiple cases of psychotic episodes in people who have used DMT or ayahuasca. These situations are rare and occur in people who have a family history of psychotic disorders, mixed DMT with other drugs such as cannabis or a history of substance use disorder. People who use cannabis or may be at risk of psychotic disorders are possibly at increased risk of experiencing psychosis when they use DMT.

DMT Effects on the Body 

One potentially dangerous effect of using DMT is that it disconnects people from their current reality. This means that someone who uses DMT may be more likely to exhibit dangerous behavior. For example, a DMT user may think they can accomplish an extreme physical feat and injure or kill themselves, or they may be more willing to take part in risky sexual behavior that can lead to sexually transmitted infections. DMT also occasionally causes people to feel extremely depressed, and they may be more likely to attempt suicide.

Ayahuasca vs. DMT

Ayahuasca is a type of psychoactive tea brewed for spiritual purposes and is a form of traditional medicine in the Amazon rainforest. DMT is the active chemical in it that causes hallucinations and other symptoms. Ayahuasca also contains many tryptamine derivatives and other active ingredients similar to DMT.

By contrast, DMT is the purified form of the psychoactive ingredient. It is much more potent than ayahuasca, making the risks higher. DMT is smoked rather than ingested orally. Therefore, ayahuasca’s side effects are probably milder than DMT.

Can DMT Kill You? 

We do not have enough medical literature to say with certainty, but it appears that DMT is not fatal by itself. However, it has been associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and dangerous actions. These risks are especially high for someone with a history of mental health disorders. 

Even though DMT is not known to be fatal, it can cause serious overdose symptoms. The symptoms may bring a person to the emergency department for treatment.

DMT Overdose Symptoms

Possible symptoms of DMT overdose can include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Manic episodes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Is DMT Addictive? 

It is not currently clear how addictive DMT is on a psychological level or how likely people are to misuse it. Other hallucinogens can produce physical tolerance, which can be dangerous, as a person feels like they need to take higher doses to feel an effect. 

Some hallucinogenic drugs are also mentally addictive and lead to cravings or uncontrollable drug use. As far as researchers currently know, it doesn’t seem like DMT or ayahuasca tea is physically addictive. There is some evidence, however, that people who use DMT regularly may start to develop cravings for it, which may be one sign that they are mentally addicted to DMT. More research is needed to fully understand the effects that illicit DMT use can have on the brain.

How Is DMT Abused?

The most common way that people use DMT is by smoking it. It is also frequently ingested as part of ayahuasca, brewed using parts of a South American plant. Additionally, DMT abuse occasionally takes the form of snorting or injecting when it comes in powder form.

Signs of DMT Abuse and Addiction

Drug use crosses over into psychological addiction when it starts to interfere with daily life. Signs that a person’s DMT use is becoming a substance use disorder may include:

  • Spending increasing amounts of time and money using or trying to acquire DMT
  • Accidentally taking more DMT than the person meant to
  • Giving up relationships, hobbies or activities in favor of DMT
  • Problems at school or work because of DMT use
  • Cravings for DMT

Anyone who thinks they may be starting to become dependent on DMT should talk to a medical professional or substance use disorder specialist to get advice about what they can do to become healthier.

DMT Abuse Statistics

DMT statistics indicate that the use of this drug is on the rise.

  • Prevalence in Adults: A global survey found that across the world, close to 9% of people had tried DMT at some point in their life. Studies within the United States indicate that the number of Americans who have tried DMT in their lifetime is much lower, although the number is rising. In particular, people ages 18 to 25 reported the highest amount of use of DMT, with 2.3% of peoplein this age group reporting that they had used it at some point in their life in 2013, and nearly three times as many men than women reported trying DMT.
  • Teen Abuse: Less than 1% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 reported trying DMT at some point in their life. Overall, high schoolers in the United States report using hallucinogens at much higher rates than students in most European countries.

DMT Addiction Treatment in Columbus, OH 

Therapy or rehab can help someone learn more about their own struggles with substance use and allow them to explore new strategies related to stopping usage. Inpatient or outpatient rehab may also be helpful for people seeking DMT addiction treatment.

Contact The Recovery Village Columbus today to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address a substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future; contact us today.

Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.