Study Finds DMT Induces Trip Similar to Near Death Experience
There have long been anecdotal similarities between Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and psychedelic trips induced by Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. Within these experiences there are uncanny parallels, including out-of-body-experiences, traveling down a tunnel toward a white light, meetings with extra-dimensional or divine entities, and a feeling of being at peace. Then upon return to reality, there is often an overwhelming sense of gratitude for simply being alive that lingers indefinitely.
And now a study conducted at London’s Imperial College has been the first to scientifically compare these resemblances.
The study, which was headed by the young impresario of the university’s Psychedelic Research Group, Robin Carhart-Harris, administered DMT intravenously to 13 participants who had prior experience using psychedelics ranging from DMT, to psilocybin and LSD.
Two traits the study tested were the commonly reported ego-dissolution and the mystical or religious experience. To qualify these highly subjective experiences, they used two standardized tests created by colleagues: The Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI).
In their experiment, Carhart-Harris and colleagues administered a range of doses to participants in a single-blind study over two sessions, of which one session only a placebo was given.
Their results showed that every participant rated their DMT experience above the conventional cutoff for an NDE, essentially ranking the DMT trip higher than the minimum level one might consider an experience to be an NDE. They concluded, “results show that near-death experience phenomena were significantly enhanced following DMT administration.”
Watch this episode of Psychedelica in which we explore the scientific studies being conducted with DMT: The Spirit Molecule:
The theme of death and rebirth is also rife within the ayahuasca experience. The names of the plants used to create the ayahuasca brew contain references to death, while the word ayahuasca translates to ‘vine of the dead’ or ‘vine of the soul.
Not so surprisingly, when Raymond Moody coined the phrase “Near-Death Experience” in 1975, he actually noted the comparisons between NDEs and DMT trips. Today, after four decades of clinical research and a relaxation of certain taboos, the study of DMT has revealed it is an endogenous chemical, produced in varying quantities in the lungs and in cerebral spinal fluid.
When the DMT molecule was studied in a lab by Dr. Rick Strassman – head of the first clinical study to administer DMT in the United States – he found that it minimized neuronal damage from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the brain. This discovery led Strassman to entertain the idea that maybe the body releases DMT in emergency situations when the brain’s oxygen supply is dwindling, producing the psychedelic NDE. Could this explain the similarities?
Watch Dr. Raymond Moody discuss Near Death Experiences on this episode of Beyond Belief:
Oldest Evidence of Ayahuasca Use Found in Ancient Shaman's Stash
Bolivian archeologists found what appears to be the world’s oldest evidence for the use of the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, in a shaman’s stash alongside a slew of other psychoactive substances. The ancient drugs were found in a 1,000-year-old pouch made of fox snouts in a cave in Cueva del Chileno in the highlands of the Andes.
The shaman’s pouch was originally thought to be a leather shoe when it was discovered back in 2010, but upon further inspection proved to contain a bundle with a headband, llama bone utensils, and various devices meant for crushing and inhaling psychoactive powders – a toolkit of primitive paraphernalia.
1000-Year Old Ancient Drugs
In addition, the shaman’s pouch contained a pharmacopeia of psychotropic herbs and plants containing DMT, such as chacruna, harmine (an ayahuasca compound), bufotenine (a DMT analogue found in toad venom), cocaine and a cocaine metabolite, and possibly psilocyn a psychoactive component of magic mushrooms.
According to Jose Capriles, an archeologist at Penn State University and one of the authors on the discovery’s paper, the array of psychotropic herbs found in the shaman’s pouch would have had to be sourced from very disparate areas of the Amazon, meaning this DMT shaman would have travelled many miles or had access to extensive trade routes to acquire his stash.
The history of ayahuasca in the Amazon is believed to have been passed down over centuries –about 5,000 years— according to indigenous cultures, despite debate by western archeologists studying its history. But when it comes to western studies of ayahuasca, western academia is often stumped by the many inexplicable facets of the brew.
Such as how, out of 40 thousand plant species in the Amazon, did indigenous people know to combine specific vines and plants containing DMT and a substance that negates a very specific enzyme in the gut, to produce the most potent hallucinogen known to man. Not to mention the vast troves of medicinal combinations of those plants, which indigenous shamans and doctors say were revealed to them under the influence of ayahuasca.
In Jeremy Narby’s 1998 book The Cosmic Serpent, documenting his time spent among the indigenous Ashaninka tribe of Brazil, he concludes that the discovery of the DNA double helix strand was influenced by visions seen under the influence of ayahuasca. Narby says he believes the brew allows shamans to shrink their consciousness to the molecular level to “gain access to DNA-related information, which they call animate essences or spirits.”
Now with this recent discovery, it has become apparent that the use of these psychedelic substances was widespread and likely considered extremely valuable as tools of knowledge and spiritual sacrament. And as these substances slowly become more popular tools of healing and medicine in the western world, it seems we may be on the verge of discovering what indigenous cultures have held sacred for so many years.
For more on the shamanic rituals involved with ayahuasca and other psychedelics check out our series Psychedelica: