I remember the first time I smoked DMT.
We’d been trying the whole afternoon, stuffing small mothballs of brown waxy NN-DMT into a makeshift pipe made of coiled wire and a broken vase. Even at R200 a hit, which would only last 10-20 minutes, we were relieved that we’d bought a lot. The smoke was foul. It tasted like the copper wire in the pipe was melting down our throats, burning our lips, irreparably damaging us….On the third try though, I got it right.
The third toke pushed itself deep down into what had once been my lungs, for I was no longer a creature with lungs, or indeed one capable of breathing. My body expanded, or dissipated, or unfolded into some totally different space with totally different properties, yet there I was, on the floor, head on a pillow. Maybe it was my mind that was unfolding. The first few seconds were sheer blinding intensity. I did not know whether my eyes were open or closed, so intense and impossible were the pulsating mandala visuals and the sensation of pure, pure speed. I tore through space and time, into a timeless knowledge, a vast, horrifying understanding. I saw myself, an arbitrary ego-bound cluster of social conditioning and reactionary over-generalised programming. Little more than an automated process. Yet here, outside of linear time, I could see something else. The space around me and inside me had been recontextualised – there was an aesthetic grid placed over mine, and it was not from this world. This strange futuristic mayan/egyptian theme had infiltrated my reality and I could almost grasp how it was related to the mystery I was experiencing. Indeed, there was a strange familiarity to the whole thing, as if I knew this space absolutely, and was trying to remember….Millennia passed.
I sat up. My sitter and his friend seemed alien and archetypal – they had been placed into the contextual grid I was experiencing too. Perhaps it was the music I was listening to – The Black Dog’s ‘Spanners’ album….This definitely wasn’t like acid. Nothing could have prepared me.
“How long has it been?” my scared tiny voice asked my sitter, hoping to itself that the experience was over.
“You only just put your head down 10 seconds ago”, another tiny oscillating voice offered back.
I had destroyed time. I was destined to remain in this mysterious state of terrible knowing forever, and I wanted to forget – I wanted to go back to playing the small and silly game of being alive….After a moment, or another thousand years, I was thrust back down into my everyday space. Objects faded back into familiarity, the understanding I thought I had acquired slowly disintegrated, fragment by fragment, as my identity slotted back into place, the self-metaprogram restabilised.
Within 20 minutes I was totally back. I had forgotten everything, except for the vague memory of having seen something I couldn’t possibly have. And yet, something tiny and magickal remained.
So what is DMT?
Di-Methyl Tryptamine is a naturally occurring substance best known for its use as the major active compound in the South American brew ayahuasca. Tribes in this region consume ayahuasca on a regular basis, and the visions and ideas it imparts form an integral part of their cultural myths, rites and initiations. Some of them have combined their native belief systems with a Christianity gleaned from the Spanish, yet maintained the use of ayahuasca – The Santo Daime Church is an example of this.
Orally, DMT is non-active, as the human body breaks it down before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, and when ingested in this form it thus has to be consumed with a substance that inhibits this process (an MAO Inhibitor, such as the harmine/harmaline contained in the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine). It was discovered relatively recently though that DMT, in its naturally extracted or pure synthetic form, was active all by itself when smoked. Early advocates of this technique described it as being shot out of a psychedelic cannon, like strong LSD compressed into 3 minutes.
Psychedelic pioneers Gracie and Zarkov list potential effects of smoked DMT as including: a sense of transcending time or space, seeing strange plants or plantlike forms, a universe of formless vibration, strange machines, alien music, alien languages – understandable or not, intelligent entities in a variety of forms.
The peak of the DMT experience is about 2-3 minutes, even though subjectively it can easily feel like a lifetime. Perhaps the most well known advocate of DMT use was Terence McKenna, a self styled cybershaman cum ethnomycologist and an adroitly gifted public speaker whose pronouncements that psychedelics were the only solution expedient enough to serve the crises of our time were taken as writ by the burgeoning rave scene of the early 90′s. McKenna maintained this conviction until his death in April 2000 from a particularly vicious brain tumour, and his later writing seemed to be an extrapolation of his psychedelically assisted insights, hinting at a radical and profoundly lucid revision of our current socio-economic and political models.
McKenna was convinced that when he smoked DMT, he encountered a race of what he called self-transforming machine elves – conscious entities that tried to impart a visual language to him when he was in DMT Land. This experience of alien encounter whilst on DMT is not uncommon. Rick Strassman, a noted DMT researcher and author of the book ‘DMT: The Spirit Molecule’, was amazed by the frequency with which his test group reported contact with different types of sentient beings, some of them benign, others terrifying. Another researcher who was doing neurochemical studies on ‘alien abductees’ found that the human pineal gland contained its highest concentration of DMT directly after these experiences.
Here we come to something even more fascinating – DMT is a substance endogenous to the human body. Our brain synthesises DMT. Usually it is produced in miniscule amounts, with the highest concentration being present in the pineal gland, the small pea-like object in the centre of the brain which in some reptiles is a photosensitive ‘third eye’, the function of which we cannot entirely discern, save that it may have something to do with melatonin production & sleep cycles. And, as DMT is a Class 1 substance (in American drug law Class 1 is equivalent to our Schedule 7/8), we’re all basically walking around with highly illegal drugs stored in our brains. The legal implications of this are amusing, and go some way at least towards triggering a re-appraisal of what exactly the term ‘Drug’ means.
Five years later….
I’m in a crowded, artistically decorated lounge in Westdene, with about 7 other people. They’re all here to smoke a batch of 5-MeO-DMT one of us acquired over the internet. I’m here, or so I imagine, as an objective observer, documenting their experiences.
One by one they inhale the tiny puffs of white smoke from the lightbulb, ingesting somewhere between 5 & 20 milligrams of DMT each. It seems a tiny amount, the 15mg needed for a full strength dose, yet each person appears obliterated by their experience, unable to communicate save for a startled smile or an erratic hand gesture. The lightbulb is passed to me, filled with vapourised DMT. I inhale deeply and, as I do, I know that I had planned to do it all along….
The chatter of the people in the room becomes pure vibrating deja-vu, spinning around faster and faster, circuits failing, my usual programming dissolving into the aether. I am back in the space I have always been, outside spacetime entirely. All the thoughts I’ve ever thought are here, right now, all at once, in stunning clarity. The part of me that filters these one by one is gone, obliterated by the sheer simultaneity of it all. I see time for what it really is, and myself outside of it. It’s like the Invisibles comic I think to myself, peoples’ true forms stretched through time as though it were an extra spatial dimension. I cannot think in the usual categories anymore. I know I will forget this, so removed is it from my everyday waking life. What is this? Where am I? Is this a drug? This is too real. Hyperreal.
Other experiences differ dramatically.
“18:19 – dust becomes vapour, gotta get it all in 30seconds or else…
Feels like I’ve been doing this for years, almost tastes familiar but my chest is getting tired, I don’t think this is gonna work. I think I should lie down cause everything is getting kinda strange, why am I so small? maybe I should lie down before I get hurt.
Lying down…looking up I think time has just frozen. I think I just died. Now watch as it all starts moving again, apply the motion blur.
18:38 – I’ve got the feeling that something significant just happened, if only I could remember what it was… I got the secrets of the universe on the tip of my tongue. Secret time, that had something to do with it, take some important numbers, like a birthday maybe hmm 21.10? Put it into time and watch the world go by…
20:11 – car crash outside, 21:10 Aragorn calls, ‘how was the dmt?’ how WAS the dmt, man I don’t think its over yet cause you called at 21:10, how weird is that?
And where exactly did I lose the past 3 hours? Time, its just numbers, we’re told that those numbers move in a logical sequence, but I don’t really think that’s true anymore cause its STILL 18:38 and I’m sitting writing all these numbers down while I’m talking to you on the phone [?]
Secret time, that’s what the dmt let me see, I think I almost understood it.”
“The method of smoking firstly fascinated me. Out of a lightbulb from which some innovative contraption had been made to smoke from. “You vaporize it… and then you inhale, long… and slow…”, echoes through mind. Somewhere during the inhalation physical space loses meaning, and with it the lightbulbpipe beomes a meaningless object. From there… aish… hard to describe…
I kept my eyes open, others said they’d had theirs closed. With open eyes objects in the room all swum through consciousness, taking on special meanings in themselves and within the broader context, while all kind of existed simultaneously as one intricately connected dreamlike reality. The catty rushed intensity gave way to a sense of complete peace, which lasted til long after the dmt had worn off (which was really quite soon, in real time, tho, like with dreams, the moments while it lasted seemed to stretch into eternity.
Again the blissful sense of no responsibilities – just experience, be, exist, flow through images and thought patterns, momentary awarenesses of body – touch, movement, hair, comfort – shifting a little this way or that and being aware of the different perceptions changed positioning brings. And then it’s over. Again – would love to try again. To get a better grip on description of the whole thing perhaps? Or just to live live live it and to hell with describings – recognise that some things just are, & if you want to know what it’s like, try it (again and again…)”
“The concentration of chasing the (tasteless) fumes around the bowl was followed by what can only be described as an intense rush of light/sound/presence that physically pushed me back into the couch. Closing my eyes i was confronted by a wall of faceted bright green light that was everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I was entirely conscious of everyone around me and what they were talking about – but completely disconnected from then all. Like a 4 hour acid trip in 5 minutes you would expect to feel overwhelmed and confused but it all made sense – everything was in it’s place ….and not there at all. After the initial peak the sensations receded in steps over what must of been half an hour, yet a sense of well-being continued over the next few hours.”
“…Second time around I double the dose to 20mg which is supposed to be a tad above the recommended threshold dose. Taking no chances. Three inhalations. Hart palpitations. And, then, nothing. My efforts thwarted. Anticipation. What happened to McKenna’s machine elves? What of other experience reports on stick-like reptilian entities? The smoke does its rounds again. An hour passes.
20mg. And we decide to let it broil for a while. Longer than usual. Let the pipe fill with smoke. No means of escape. Seemingly for the smoke and the experience. I had five to six tokes. I tried to keep each in as long as possible. It had to work. The smolder took effect. The come on was fast and my aural landscape turned into time-delayed segments of perception as I handed the residuals to my left. Sat back. I closed my eyes, or rather lost my visual field which I would only hear later. Fulmination into the void. My dissolution immediate. My return happened in what seemed to have been ages. My concept of time in shards, I probably looked around confused. Got up to get some water but couldn’t exactly manage.
Anticipation, but no elves, no insects, no incoherent messages from beyond. Just this: the void. Ineffable. Apparently I was out for longer than usual and had my lidless eyes open throughout. Scarily unfocused. It took a minute or two to fully get back, and even then there were no words and even less memories of the experience.”
“After a very quick onset all “my” energy was traveling in a beam of light through the atmosphere quickly on its way to see where is this infinity thing is. It (I) felt this presence of earth and when it looked back stopped instantly and flowered back around it. When all the parts met on the other side it beamed back into my body and i wanted a beer. My body was full of energy but didn’t quite want to accept the reality of having any needs.”
“I smoked in a very rattly car driving under streetlights, cruising at about a week a block. Rigid buildings echoing all the moving parts grudging against each other into a orhestra of city sound. Again beaming into infinity i got to a point where i realize that this beam through the void will just keep on going forever. At that moment all my energy shot out into this 2D sheet/dimension through the void. All i was left with was the core feel to this outstretched 1 frame winamp visualization.”
“How many light bulbs does it take to change a man? Just one, if you heat it slowly and inhale deeply. When the objects around you become vocabulary and the thing in your head one of the equations that determine the bend of space in time, the same curve of your smile, you’ll understand how DMT cuts away the smothering ribbons and, gee, aren’t they pretty?”
I think back to my days as a psychedelic advocate, punting mescaline, trips and shrooms to anyone who cared to listen. How different the scene is now….Far from the shady acid and mushroom deals of trance parties, most people who try DMT are literate and experienced psychedelic explorers who acquire pure synthetic 5-MeO-DMT from online chemical research companies, semi-clandestine labs that operate via legal loopholes and lengthy disclaimers. These same companies stock ranges of experimental mind and body altering compounds with exotic names like 2-CT7 and 4-AcO-DiPT, compounds often referred to as Shulgin drugs in reference to their creator, Alexander Shulgin.
Shulgin is a chemist who specialises in what amounts to inventing new psychedelics. He has synthesised over 300 distinct psychoactive compounds, working from generic tryptamines (acid is a tryptamine), phenethylamines (like ecstasy) and now mescaline cactii, and performing complex molecular substitutions on them to generate novel substances which he and his wife, now in their 80′s, consume and write reports on.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the research of Shulgin and others is that we now have a potentially infinite range of substances to experiment with, instead of the usual suspects – LSD, MDMA, Ketamine, THC, Psilocybin, etc… Some of these new compounds exhibit very specific effects – 4-Ho-DiPT is primarily a tactile enhancer that works wonders for sex, while 4-ACO-DiPT makes music sound different. The specificity of effect, and relative safety of most of these compounds offers a great challenge to current drug policy. After all, what is the difference between an aspirin and 4 Ho-DiPT? Both temporarily alter the human nervous system in measurable ways. Both have potentially positive applications and both carry the risk of abuse. Yet one is available to anybody at a nominal price, whilst the other is listed in the same class as heroin and crack as a dangerous illegal drug….
As the information imparted by my second DMT trip disappears, or perhaps downloads into my DNA or subtly restructures my neural pathways, new thoughts arise. Descriptions of the experience, interpretations of the awe-full bliss-state I have just been in. Looking critically at these, I see them for what they are: blanket memories, ideas formed to cover the experience in a gloss more acceptable to myself and those around me, more acceptable to all the ideas we hold so sacred as a species.
Perhaps all I experienced was a neurologically anomalous state, where the parameters of consciousness shifted somewhat, into registers that included usually unconscious activity, and excluded part of my normal waking conscious activity. After all, Tor Norretranders, in his book ‘The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size’ shows that, based on current neurological research, our conscious mind is but the tip of a vast iceberg of brain activity. Most brain activity, he concludes, happens at a level more fundamental than consciousness – implying that in a sense our everyday reality is no more than a high-end interface, a Windows XP to the complex mathematical abstractions and interactions happening within the hardware and the machine code. So perhaps, as I was saying, this strange substance was giving me a flash of some of my unconscious mental processes and, so unfamiliar were these to me, that upon ‘re-entry’ I was forced to create a story about the experience that fitted in with my personal and cultural mythologies.
Based on the sheer mystery of almost all the DMT experiences I have read about, listened to and experienced, I sometimes wonder why on earth anyone would want to do such things. Then I remember all the other rare and unusual things I have seen or tried in my life and it becomes obvious. Those of us who choose to experiment with obscure psychedelics are the same people who engage in unusual sexual practices, read books with low print runs and listen to music that most would call noise. We are the people that, perhaps because of our collective genetic heritage, perhaps because we’re impelled by our species, in all it’s confusion, hope and hypocrisy, choose to push the boundaries a little further, explore the edges, think new and wonderful thoughts and bring them back, as Prometheus brought fire from the gods to mankind, so that we may light our way through the beautiful ordeal of existing and being aware that we call life, and so that we may lend hope and direction to those who do not share in our thirst for adventure.
Perhaps it’s high time then that, as a culture, we reflect deeply on what is important to us, how we can get there, and how we may best facilitate those who are willing and able to assist us in that process. Perhaps then we will stop burning our Giordano Bruno’s, destroying the work of our Wilhelm Reich’s and jailing our Timothy Leary’s.
Perhaps only then will we truly live in a civilized and democratic world.
Tor Norretranders, The User Ilusion
Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule
Ann & Alexander Shulgin, Tihkal: Tryptamines I Have Known And Loved
Gracie & Zarkov, Notes from the Underground
Peter Stafford, Psychedelics Encyclopedia
Terence McKenna, various books and audio & video lectures.