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4. Subjective Effects of Smoking DMT

Modified 1996-06-10

The subjective effects of a good lungfull of DMT are usually very intense, with consciousness usually overwhelmed by visual imagery. With eyes closed this may take the form of extremely complex, dynamic, geometric patterns, changing rapidly. Such a dose of DMT may produce a visual pattern consisting of overlapping annular patterns of small rhomboid elements all in saturated hues of red, yellow, green and blue. Gracie & Zarkov [44] refer to this, or something similar, as "the chrysanthemum pattern". The pattern itself seems to be charged with a portentous energy.

This state of consciousness characterized by amazing visual patterns seems to be a prelude to a more profound state, which subjects report as contact with entities described as discarnate, non-human or alien. A very articulate account of the subjective effects of smoking DMT is given by Terence McKenna in his talk "Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness" [72], in which he describes his contact with what he calls "elves".

As usual with tryptamine psychedelics there is usually no loss of ego, although large doses will produce unconsciousness. There is often loss of body awareness. It is usually possible to think under the influence of DMT, but with larger doses it may become difficult to hold a thought, and sometimes confusion will occur.

The term "mind blowing" might have been invented for this drug. The experience was described by Alan Watts as like "being fired out of the nozzle of an atomic cannon" (Leary 1968a p.215). Thoughts and visions crowd in at great speed; a sense of leaving or transcending time and a feeling that objects have lost all form and dissolved into a play of vibrations are characteristic. The effect can be like instant transportation to another universe for a timeless sojourn. (Shulgin [98b])
With a fully effective dose the experience is usually so bizarre that an inexperienced person may believe that he or she has died, or is dying, especially if body awareness is lost. If this belief arises then it is important to remember that one will survive and return to ordinary consciousness. In general, yielding to the temptation to believe that one has died is not helpful when navigating psychedelic states since the resultant anxiety will usually distract one from a scientific observation of what is going on. More experienced users, knowing that hitherto they have always survived, however weird the experience, can learn not to succumb to this anxiety.

Unfortunately most users are not especially experienced in using DMT in any form. In fact, some first-time users of DMT are not at all well-informed as to this substance. It has happened that some, perhaps having heard of DMT only from their friends, are persuaded to smoke some by peers who are mainly interested to see what observable effects they can produce, the weirder the better. In the wrong setting a first-time user smoking DMT can find themself in a state which they never wished to be in. Fortunately all return safely. Nevertheless such an experience is hardly to be recommended (and it is unethical to induce it in others), and need not occur.

If there is some risk with smoking DMT, the solution is not to criminalize the use of this material but rather to provide accurate information, based on first-hand experience, to those who are interested in exploring it. It is lack of information which is the problem. And this lack of information in comtemporary society about DMT is primarily due to the fact that DMT, along with other psychedelics, was in the late 1960s made illegal. Had its use not been criminalized, research and publication would have continued (as regards DMT as a psychedelic, hardly had reports begun to be published when it was made illegal). Thus the prohibition of the use of this material has not protected people; it has had the opposite effect, it has harmed them, by suppressing important and relevant information. What is needed is not a repressive attitude from society but rather an attitude which fosters the free flow, and general availability, of useful information. Information about what happens when you use DMT (or any other psychedelic) is without doubt useful to those people (increasing in number) who wish to explore the use of these substances (as they have a right to) and so in fact society has an obligation to its members either to make this information available, or at least, not to object to its dissemination.


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