DMT: Everything You Should Know

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 24, 2024
7 min read

Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a compound found in various plants and animals that's used as a mind-altering drug. In large enough doses, DMT can give you a "high" and distort your senses so that you see or feel things that aren’t really there. Other names for DMT are Dimitri, businessman’s special, the spirit molecule, and elf spice. 

Various cultures have used it for hundreds of years for rituals and religious practices. DMT is one of the active ingredients in ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea native to South America. Synthetic DMT is also made in a lab.

People use the drug recreationally for the short, powerful “trip” sometimes called a “DMT breakthrough.” Some research shows it may have benefits for mental and physical health. But it can also have side effects that may outweigh any benefits.

What does DMT look like?

Natural DMT may be an extract or a dried plant that looks different depending on the form. 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. 

DMT vs. acid

DMT and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), or acid, are both strong "psychedelic" drugs that can alter your perception. They have the same chemical structure, which is similar to a neurotransmitter in your brain called serotonin. 

Differences between DMT and acid include:

Origin. DMT exists in plants and animals; LSD is synthetic and made from a substance in a fungus that grows on rye grains.

Duration. DMT is an intense, brief experience lasting 15 to 60 minutes, while an acid trip can last up to 12 hours. 

Form. DMT is often smoked, injected, or consumed in an ayahuasca brew, while LSD is taken orally by way of small tabs you place on your tongue.



People use DMT in several different ways, including:

  • Smoke it in a pipe, joint, or vape pen
  • Drink it in a brew with ayahuasca
  • Crush it into powder and snort it
  • Inject it into a vein using a syringe

DMT has different effects on different people. But some common effects are:

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Having an out-of-body experience 
  • Mood changes
  • Higher sensitivity to physical feelings in the body, like pain, tingling, and warmth
  • A feeling of euphoria or intense happiness
  • A spiritual and emotional experience
  • Distorted body image
  • An ability to unlock hidden memories

How DMT affects you depends on several things, such as:

  • Your size, weight, and health status
  • Whether you have taken it before or it's your first time
  • Whether you have taken any other substances at the same time
  • How much you take
  • The strength of the drug, which may vary from different sources
  • Your environment
  • Your mood when you take the drug

Set and setting for DMT

Set and setting refers to your mind state and the environment in which you take DMT. They have a big affect on your experience -- good or bad -- while you're on the drug.

Set is how you feel before you take the drug, what expectations you have, your previous experience with mind-altering drugs, any stress or anxiety you may be feeling.

Setting is where you are and who you're with. You might be in a safe, comfortable setting with people you know and trust. Or you might be in an unfamiliar place with people you don't know very well. A quiet and relaxed setting will affect you differently than a noisy and crowded setting. 



Like all drugs, DMT can cause side effects, both short-term and long-term. Some of these can be dangerous.

DMT short-term effects

While you are taking DMT and as it leaves your system, you may experience:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lack of coordination
  • Agitation
  • Seizures

DMT long-term effects

DMT hasn't been widely studied, so the long-term effects aren't well understood. 

Flashbacks have been reported as a common side effect. These may be unpleasant and can happen days, weeks, or month after taking DMT.

There aren't any reports of toxicity from long-term use of DMT. But there is concern over the effects it might have on heart health, since it raises blood pressure. 

Can DMT cause a bad trip?

You might have a negative experience while taking DMT called a bad trip. Instead of euphoric, you might feel:

  • Intensely anxious
  • Frightened by your hallucinations
  • Very confused
  • Paranoid

Being in a positive set and setting when doing DMT can help prevent a bad trip.

Serotonin syndrome

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 that you could take too much DMT. 

But if you notice any signs of danger, such as trouble breathing or chest pain, call 911 immediately for medical attention. You will not get in trouble with police if you call for emergency medical care. 

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. 

DMT doesn't appear to be addictive. You don't develop increased tolerance to the drug with repeated use, and there don't seem to be any withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. But more research is needed to confirm this.

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. 

Don't 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.

Don't mix. Don't take DMT with other drugs, recreational or prescription, or mix with alcohol. This can increase it's negative effects.

Start slow. Take only a small amount at first to see how it effects you. Take one or two hits from a pipe or vape, or a small snort of powder, then hold off to see how it effects you. If you take more, you risk being overwhelmed by the effects. 

Be careful when smoking. Clean your pipe before use. There may be leftover DMT from a previous session, which could cause you to smoke more than you planned.

Don't share equipment. Whether you are snorting, smoking, or injecting, do not share pipes, needles, or snorters. This can spread germs. 

Call for help. Don't hesitate to call for emergency medical help if you or someone else is in danger. You will not get in trouble with the police. 

DMT is a mind-altering drug that can alter your perceptions and make you see or hear things that aren't there. Although there is no evidence of long-term negative effects or risk of addiction, it can still have side effects in the short term ranging from high blood pressure to seizures. If you are going to take DMT, it's important to stay safe by being with someone you trust in a safe environment, starting with a low dose, and using sterile equipment.