What Is DMT?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 08, 2023
5 min read

Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a strong hallucinogen, or psychedelic drug. This compound is found in various plants and animals. It can produce an intense, euphoric high that can distort your senses so that you see or feel things that aren’t really there.

It is a mind-altering drug. Its street names include dimitri, businessman’s special, the spirit molecule, changa, or fantasia. People from various cultures have used it for hundreds of years for ritual and religious practices as well as recreationally.

DMT is one of the active ingredients in ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea native to South America.

People use the drug for the short, powerful “trip” often called a “DMT breakthrough.”

The pure, lab-made form of DMT looks like a white crystalline powder. But you’re more likely to find it in the slightly less pure form, which is a yellowish-pink looking powder. You might find it in solid form, too.

If you mix it in as a drink with herbs or ayahuasca, it might look reddish-brown in color. 

People use DMT in several different ways, including:

  • Smoke it in a pipe, joint, or vape pen using a cart.
  • Brew it with herbs into a thick drink or concoction called “changa” or ayahuasca. 
  • Crush it into powder and snort it.
  • Inject it into the vein using a syringe.
  • Swallow it in pill form.

DMT messes with the chemical signaling in your brain and disrupts its regular functions. In the long term, it can:

  • Change your mood
  • Decrease appetite
  • Lower sleep quality
  • Affect digestion 
  • Impact sex drive
  • Cause your body temperature to fluctuate

DMT’s immediate effect on your body can vary depending on how much you take and how you ingest it. But either way, its effects kick in quickly, in seconds or minutes. It usually peaks in about 30 minutes. 

Psychological effects include:

  • Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there)
  • Auditory distortions (like hearing voices)
  • Disassociation or feeling of an out-of-body experience 
  • Feelings that time slows down
  • A spiritual and emotional experience
  • Distorted body image
  • An ability to unlock hidden memories

Short-term physical effects can include:

  • Dilated, or enlarged, pupils
  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Feelings of agitation

Some people can turn strangely quiet or introverted after taking DMT. Sometimes, you may feel as if you’re unable to move.

Depending on how much you took, DMT trips can last between 15 minutes to 1 hour or longer.

Experts aren’t sure if DMT can cause long-term health effects. But in rare cases, it’s possible for the drug to cause seizures or a coma. At high doses, heart attacks and an inability to breathe have occurred.

Serious side effects occur more frequently if you have pre-existing mental health or physical conditions.

Yes. This can happen especially if you don’t use the drug in a safe, controlled setting.

A bad trip can include:

  • Feeling scared or frightened due to hallucinations
  • Severe anxiety or anxious feelings
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Intense psychosis (when you lose touch with reality) 

You’re likely to have a bad trip if you have pre-existing mental health issues such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychosis, or bipolar disorder. Using the drug might worsen the symptoms or trigger new ones. 

The drug can alter the serotonin system in your brain. This is the chemical that affects mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, your body’s wound healing capabilities, bone health, and sexual drive, among other things. 

If you take DMT along with other drugs that also change the serotonin levels in your brain, it could cause bad side effects. In rare cases, it could cause a life-threatening drug reaction called serotonin syndrome.

Avoid DMT if you’re taking certain prescription drugs to treat mental health. Ask your doctor if you take any of these types of medicines:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, a class of antidepressants)
  • Certain antipsychotics
  • Opioids, especially a painkiller like tramadol
  • Central nervous system depressant medication
  • Vasodilators (medicines that open up blood vessels)

If you notice very bad reactions after you take DMT, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. 

Research shows it’s highly unlikely. The risk may be highest if you inject the drug directly into your veins. 

But even if you inject DMT, the chances of an overdose are very small. That’s because it can take more than 5,000 milligrams of DMT to overdose – nearly 100 times the amount in a single injection.

But several street drugs including DMT are often laced or mixed in with other dangerous substances such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, or morphine. People who sell them often lace DMT with additional substances as they can produce a stronger trip. It’s also more addictive, dangerous, and cheaper to buy. 

For example, fentanyl, even in small doses, can be harmful to you. It’s also difficult to spot, smell, or taste it apart from DMT. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are among the leading causes of overdose deaths.

If you notice signs of overdose like pinpoint pupils, difficulty breathing, or feeling weak or clammy, call 911 immediately for medical attention. 

No. Federal law in the U.S. classifies DMT as a “Schedule I” illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act. If you’re caught using, selling, or buying the drug, you’ll likely face large fines or also jail time. The penalty for use depends on where you live. 

While DMT is a naturally occurring substance, neither the organic nor the lab-made versions are approved for any legal use in the U.S. 

Researchers can’t confirm whether DMT is addictive, like other psychedelics in its class. This means they’re not sure if you’ll develop a dependency on it. But in rare cases, overuse of high doses of DMT can cause symptoms of addiction, such as withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it.

You can build tolerance to DMT, especially if you use it in high doses and often. That means you might need to take more DMT to get the same effect. 

If you have concerns about using DMT, tell your doctor about it. You can also reach out to addiction recovery centers that offer in-person or out-of-office treatment options to help you get your substance use disorder under control. 

You can speak to certified addiction specialists like psychiatrists, licensed therapists, and counselors. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

DMT can cause powerful, intense trips. In some cases, it could lead to serious or bad reactions that might require emergency medical help. If you choose to use DMT, follow these steps to stay as safe as possible: 

Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the drug, its effects, and the potential short and long-term health issues it can cause.

Pick a safe setting. It’s best to be in a secure, calm environment. Also, try to do it when you feel mentally stable. This will help you manage the unpredictable effects of the drug. 

Try not to do it alone. Ask a trusted friend or family member to stay near you when you try the drug. In an emergency, your trip sitter needs to be able to call 911 or get you medical help.