Imagine being transported to another dimension – one with an infinite amount of knowledge and possibilities, illustrated in an infinite array of colours, patterns, sounds and wavelengths, instantly understood in every possible way. Fractals cascading on fractals. Space, time and energy becoming one and yet becoming irrelevant. Body, mind and spirit melding into a single consciousness that is united with the universe. Everything is understood and everything is love.

Sounds like a bunch of wish-washy hippy tripe doesn’t it? Sounds completely unattainable and useless in our world? Think again. Because it most certainly is attainable and if treated the right way, quite useful, too. Bear with me.

Enlightenment, nirvana, omnipotence, conversations with God. All these are normally attributed to profound and engaged religious experiences. From Buddhism to Hinduism to Shamanism and Jewish and Christian mystics, there is a thread of experiences running through the ages related to having a complete out of body experience where one meets with the Godhead, immersed in ultimate knowledge, love and creative power. Ask anyone who’s seen the welcoming light while between life and death on a hospital bed, or a monk diligently trained their whole life to attain this state of mind and they will give you a variation of this experience. Ask anyone who has taken DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) and you will undoubtedly get the same response.

DMT, or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a chemical compound found naturally in trace amounts in many plant species, most mammals and humans. It is classified as a psychedilc neurostransmitter which is part of the tryptamine family. It is analogous with serotonin (5-HT), the hormone melatonin and psilocybin. It has been used for centuries by Amerindian tribes and shamans in the form of ayahuasca, a shamanistic brew used for divinatory and healing purposes. According to studies done on it’s effects ( and the infinite wisdom of experiences gathered on the internet), when DMT is ingested, it causes psychedelic states ranging from “short-lived milder psychedelic states to powerful immersive experiences; these are often described as a total loss of connection to conventional reality with the encounter of ineffable spiritual or alien realms”.

There are many different forms of psychedelics that result in hallucinations and altered states of consciousness, but DMT is considered to be the most powerful and most pure. Internationally, it is also classified as a Schedule I drug under the UN 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, restricted to scientific research uses. In other words, it’s an illegal drug deemed dangerous by governments. To date, no serious physical side-effects have been remarked and it is not found to be addicitive. As with any substance related to mental states, it is not advised to be taken by individuals with a history of mental disorders or disposition. Locally, a plant derivative known as Salvia Divinorum has been used for generations by witch doctors and healers to attain similiar dream-like states. Salvia is not classified as illegal in South Africa, but this does not make it a free enterprise for anyone to try it. That means you reading this – you have been warned.

Unlike other psychedelics such as LSD (which is man-made), DMT is not commonly associated with psychotic episodes or a cause of it. The nature of the trip, while incredibly intense, is said to be one of peace and connection, but the marked intensity of the trip is what can cause people to not be able to fully process it and have ‘bad trips’ – it is therefore vital that it be ingested in a safe environment with the user completely at ease. Curiously, scientific research on DMT has been very limited, with only a handul of in-depth studies done on its effects. Most notably, it was studied by the American pyschiatrist Dr. Rick Strassman. He was drawn to investigating DMT because of his earlier study of the pineal gland. He saw it as a potential “biological locus” for spiritual experiences and a possible source of naturally produced DMT in the body. During his study between 1990 and 1995, he administered several hundred doses of synthesised DMT to approximately 60 volunteers. So profound were the results, it led him to write about his research in the popular book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into over 10 languages.

There has long been a connection between the pineal gland and higher or altered states of consciousness. The pineal gland is a part of the brain, located in the center at the base of the skull. Ancient religions and mystics have long referred to something called the “third eye”, which is located in the centre of the head and is considered a source of ‘divine inspiration’. It is believed the pineal gland is the biological source of this third eye. It produces the serotonin derivative melatonin, a hormone that affects the modulation of wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions. Studies have shown it is also affected by the earth’s electro-magnetic field and curiously the varying strength of the field affects the intensity of our dreams. DMT trips have been likened to extremely vivid dream-states, although there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that trace amounts of DMT in our bodies is directly responsible for our dreams. There are speculations that DMT is released in the brain at the moment of birth and death, but without being able to conclusively prove this, it remains a theory. The connection between DMT and near-death experiences is tentative at least and is one of the reasons Dr. Strassman started his research. Near-death experiences are usually described as seeing a tunnel of light, whereas DMT trips are described by most users as a kaleidoscope of colours, geometric patterns and visions, much more intense than any other psychedelics.

The onset of the effects is near-instantaneous, with the user unable to perform physical tasks or interact with the world around them. The duration of the experience is never longer than a couple of minutes, but to the user it can feel as if they are gone for hours. The trip leaves as rapidly as it comes, and roughly half an hour after the user is more or less back to their regular state of mind, if not a little shaken or disoriented. Not to mention quite possibly reeling from the mind shift they just experienced.

While DMT is considered the most powerful and profound psychedelic known, the correlation between different users’ trips is rather remarkable. Each trip is unique to the person experiencing it and no trip is ever the same, but users do speak almost universally of meeting with sage-like entities who wish to impart some sort of knowledge. Describing the experience with mere words is like trying to describe a tantric orgasm. There is a sudden rush, like a freight train shot out of a cannon, with vibrations that seem to shake the fabric of time. The imagery seen ranges from archetypal trees of life, to alien machinations to pathways of light. The enigmatic duo known as Gracie and Zarkhov who have written about psychedelics since the early 80′s described it as thus: “Closing my eyes, I got a glimpse of several entities moving in front of a giant complex control panel. The visions were not crystal clear and seemed as if I were viewing it through a scrim. The creatures were bipedal and of about human size. It was impossible to say more other than they did not move like the giant insect creatures I have seen clearly under the influence of stropharia mushrooms. There was a direct awareness of an overwhelmingly powerful and knowledgeable presence! It was neither frightening, nor encouraging. It was just mentally there. A thought came, unbidden, into my head. I realized that I was viewing ‘god central.’ the central panel I saw was the control panel for the entire universe.”

Terrence McKenna, the ethnobotanist, philosopher and author is widely known for his passionate writings and speeches on the subject and before his untimely death, some of his descriptions read “…And language cannot describe it – accurately. Therefore I will inaccurately describe it. One’s eyes are closed and one hears a sound like ripping cellophane, like some one crumpling up plastic film and throwing it away. An ascending tone is heard. Also present is the normal hallucinogenic modality, a shifting geometric surface of migrating and changing coloured forms …one arrives in a place that defies description, a space that has a feeling of being underground, or somehow insulated and domed. So you burst into this space. It’s lit, socketed lighting, some kind of indirect lighting you can’t quite locate. But what is astonishing and immediately riveting is that in this place there are entities – there are these things, which I call “self transforming machine elves,” I also call them self-dribbling basketballs. ”

The general consensus is that the effects of the drug, or substance, or psychedelic, is a combination of three things – set, setting, and the drug. The set, is what is going on in the mind of the person taking the drug. The setting is where and with whom they are taking the drug, and then there’s the actual drug. The word ‘drug’ has become rather demonized in modern society, and can mean anything from a Panado to Marijuana to DMT. The Oxford dictionary defines the word as “a substance that has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body, in particular”. Take that as you will (twice daily, with water or rolled with some tobacco is that’s your thing), but it most certainly is a subjective term that has been thrown around quite loosely. “The War On Drugs” springs to mind, as if we need to mount an armed offensive against headache tablets. In theory, drugs classified as illegal by governments are done so because the are thought to pose some sort of threat to civilised society. As demonstrated in numerous studies, the only danger DMT poses is one of being overwhelmed by new ideas and possibilities. Granted, you shouldn’t be performing open-heart surgery after taking a hit of any kind of psychedelic, but it’s quite clear that you are incapable of doing much while under DMT’s short influence. It’s leagues safer than having a surgeon under the influence of a couple of whiskey shots, and that’s perfectly legal and prevalent. It must be illegal for one of two reasons: 1) It is misunderstood by those in power and thought to be dangerous and 2) It might just cause people to think outside their government sanctioned box and start to question reality. And of course, we can’t have that happening, because people might just stop paying taxes.

It is also notoriously difficult to simply manufacture, whether in a lab or brewing it like ayahuasca. All in all, there are arguments for why it is a good thing that it is indeed classed as illegal. It is the type of substance that is not to be taken on a whim or as a cheap thrill, but as history has shown us, people are all too prone to try something exactly for that reason. It also brings up the question of why such a transformative substance should be kept from people when there is a possibility of benefit.

What makes this correlation between DMT and religious experiences or higher states of consciousness so much more fascinating, is the fact that DMT is a naturally occuring compound. In other words, it differs from other types of so-called pyschedlic drugs that cause hallucinations or trips in that it is not entirely a foreign entity. It is as if DMT allows people to access and be part of a collective unconscious. A well-spring of experiences and wisdom and shared information that cannot otherwise be reached in our current state of consciousness, short of devoting one’s life to attaining such levels. There are those that say that a fully formed and accessible collective unconscious is our next evolutionary step. Imagine Cloud computing (or Bluetooth for the older generations), in our brains, on a global scale. Imagine the possibilities of what we can accompish as a species with that power – world peace, understanding, food and energy for all. Of course, that kind of power can only be wielded once we know it will never be used for nefarious means and that will most likely take quite a while. Like our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Nevertheless, we have already made generous progress in only the last century in terms of human rights, science, medicine and technology (and parts of those directly due to the study of mind altering substances. I doubt this article would have been finished on time without our good, and legal, friend named caffeine).

This all begs the question of why DMT is in us in the first place, and more profoundly, can we eventually as humans, synthesise it internally at will to make use of it’s positive effects? Perhaps, upon a time, we had this ability and through the ages and increased obsession of coping with modern life have lost it. Is the state that DMT inspires the source of mystic knowledge passed down to ancient cultures such as the Sumerians, Mayans and Egyptians? Maybe we are headed to that state through evolutionary progress. We are now in the position as a species where we have isolated the causes and effects of DMT in scientific and biological terms, bounds from the Amazonian tribes who ingested it and couldn’t attribute it to its chemical and neurological roots. The fact that monks, scholars and dedicated individuals can and have attained a state of bliss and knowledge just short of the power of pyschedelics, purely through forms of meditation and self-study, is perhaps proof that it is indeed possible.

Just like we have possibly forgotten the ways of synthesizing DMT within ourselves, much of the insight gained while on a DMT trip is lost when returning to our normal state. Like waking up from an incredibly profound dream, we remember having visited that place but we cannot in our current means of communication completely impart to others what we have learnt. The theory is that while in that state we attain answers to questions we can’t answer on our own. These beings of infinite knowledge endowing with the understanding of how the universe works, where it comes from, why we as humans exist and how we can exist in perfect harmony and everlasting sustainibility. It is a realm of possible answers to problems we face as a species, such as infinite energy, the ability to heal all ailments and to end all suffering.

There is of course the aspect of how our cultural references, not to mention the path of evolution we have taken, dictate our visions to a degree. We see humanoid beings, trees of life and patterns because it is the only reference our minds have. Perhaps these inter-dimensional beings have simply been waiting for us to attain a level of consciousness where we can start to process the messages they have for us. Or perhaps it’s all neo-shamanistic, hippy bullshit and we simply don’t have concrete answers yet.

The point is, the continued study of psychedelics such as DMT is tied in with the search for what true consciousness is. By documenting and experimenting with these altered states of consciousness, we open the doors to thinking outside of our own humanity. This does not mean everyone bored with their lives and stagnating in their existence should go out and hit a bong of psychedelics (because every dealer would most certainly run out in about an hour if that were the case) but it means that the very existence of alternate schools of thought is thanks to those individuals who have experimented with substances like it. This does also not mean that without psychedelics people would be confined in their thinking, but at the very least it offers another, deeper understanding of the self and your place in the universe. The tale of Ferdinand Magellan, the man purported to be the first to circumnavigate the globe, tells of him setting out with over 270 men and returning with only 18, yet the knowledge gained from that trip would not have happened if it were not for their risks. Those who have experienced the state made possible by DMT know the importance of thinking outside the box. But they also know that sometimes, taking the short-cut, even to something as great as enlightenment, is only detrimental.

It is the ultimate combination of science and, for lack of a better term, spirituality – chemicals combined to create god. Because isn’t that what god truly is, but a force of pure, guided and all-knowing creativity? In that sense, the mind is god; the ultimate source of creativity and understanding, and if there are two things almost everyone in the world wishes to understand, it’s themselves and god. Maybe, DMT truly is the spirit molecule. And ‘maybe’ is all that science and philosophy needs.

by George van der Riet

Illustration by Paul Crafford

Published in Playboy South Africa February 2013