UNDER THE INFLUENCE
ence"; "As I started coming down a little, I got journalistic. I became an
Others, however, sensed their thinking was abnormal and, in fact,
even wondered if DMT might cause psychotic thought processes. "Every-
thing looked right, but just a little off. It seemed as if the clock was just
starting to move every time I looked at it. The colors in the room were
malevolent." Another said, "You know how schizophrenics talk about dif-
ferent meanings to things? A leaf on the ground takes on great significance?
That kind of thing."
One common effect was a loss of normal time perception. For ex-
ample, nearly everyone was surprised at how late in the session it was by
the time they found out the time, believing only a few minutes had passed.
Nevertheless, there was a sense of timelessness in the peak DMT state:
they experienced an enormous amount in those first few minutes.
Volunteers usually found the high dose caused an almost complete
loss of control. They felt utterly helpless, incapacitated, unable to func-
tion or interact in the "real" world: "I felt like an infant, helpless, unable
to do anything." DMT volunteers decided, at this point, they were happy
to be in the hospital! Beyond their own loss of control, some volunteers
felt another "intelligence" or "force" directing their minds in an interac-
tive manner. This was especially common in cases of contact with "beings."
Almost every research subject believed their first non-blind high dose
of DMT brought them "higher than they had ever been." However, this
first session usually was more anxiety-ridden than any other high doses
they received subsequently. Once volunteers were prepared to lose con-
trol, it was easier for them to do so. They understood that the drug
experience was essentially safe, that they would live through it and not
suffer any psychological or physical damage. What also helped was their
growing confidence in our ability to support their regressed condition as
our work together progressed.
While the most stunning effects came from the high doses of DMT, smaller
ones also produced a variety of responses, many of which volunteers found
pleasurable and interesting.
150 • SET, SETTING, AND DMT
The tolerance study dose, 0.3 mg/kg, was fully psychedelic, and for
some was their "dose of choice," causing the full spectrum of mind-alter-
ing effects with slightly less anxiety.
The next lower dose, 0.2 mg/kg, was the threshold at which typical
psychedelic effects reliably emerged. Nearly everyone had relatively in-
tense visual imagery, but auditory effects were rare. Some particularly
sensitive volunteers preferred 0.2 over 0.3 or 0.4 mg/kg.
The 0.1 mg/kg dose was the least popular. The vibratory energizing
effects predominated, but there never was a breakthrough into a full psy-
chedelic experience. Volunteers felt "left hanging," uncomfortably tense,
both physically and mentally. "My body feels like pepper tastes," one
said. "This dose has all the negative physical effects without any of the
positive mental ones."
The lowest dose of DMT, 0.05 mg/kg, was pleasant, and almost all
volunteers said they felt like smiling or laughing after receiving it. One
volunteer who previously had used heroin thought this dose felt some-
thing like that drug: "There was a warm cotton batting sensation." A few
people experienced relatively intense effects from this little bit of DMT
we gave on the first day. This warned us that the next day's large dose
might be especially powerful.
For readers familiar with other psychedelics, the effects of DMT must
sound more or less typical. While its properties are similar in many ways
to those of LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin, there is something peerless
about the spirit molecule. I don't know if this is because it works so quickly
or because it possesses a unique chemical structure. Maybe it's because
the brain is familiar with, and actively seeks out, this endogenous psy-
chedelic. Whatever the reasons, at the further limits of the spirit molecule's
reach, volunteers returned with tales of encounters neither they nor I knew
were possible. It is to these stories we'll now turn our attention.
to the Case Reports
-Louring each DMT session, I took detailed notes of every aspect of that
day's events: what volunteers said and did; how they looked, sounded,
and felt to me; the state of the research ward, weather, and world politics;
the behavior and emotional tone of others in the room with us, including
the research nurse, family or friends of the volunteer, and visitors; and my
own thoughts and feelings.
After I got back to my office, I dictated these notes, and my secretary
transcribed the dictation into a word-processor file. When printed, these
records occupy more than one thousand pages of single-spaced text.
Upon completing a particular DMT experiment, I sent the volunteer a
copy of these notes to review. I asked him or her to edit for clarity, accu-
racy, and completeness, as well as to add anything that may have come to
mind since finishing the study. Some volunteers supplemented my records
with journal entries, letters, art, and poetry related to their encounters
with the spirit molecule.
154 • THE SESSIONS
While most sessions involved psychedelic amounts of DMT, there also
were many low-dose and placebo days. These were more relaxed and gave
us an opportunity to discuss and work through earlier high-dose sessions.
It was quite helpful for volunteers to do this in a less altered, or even
completely normal, state of mind. The shock waves elicited by a big DMT
experience extended far beyond a single session, continuing to reverber-
ate in all aspects of someone's life for days, months, or years.
DMT does a lot to our consciousness, but not everything. If we can limit
the number of types of experiences DMT produces, we can start focusing
on a manageable number of hypotheses to help understand them. Devel-
oping coherent and reasonable groupings helps us make sense of the
amazingly wide array of stories we're about to hear.
Another reason to categorize these experiences is to support the hy-
pothesis that outside-administered DMT elicits altered states of conscious-
ness similar to those that people report during spontaneous psychedelic
experiences: near-death and mystical states and the phenomenon we call
alien abduction. If drug-induced and naturally occurring conditions appear
to have sufficient overlap, it supports a role for endogenous DMT in the
production of these spontaneous psychedelic experiences. This would then
open a wide range of possibilities for us to study, understand, and apply
these findings beneficially.
Three major groupings capture nearly all the various experiences
within these reports. While most people's actual drug sessions partook of
at least two of these types, one particular category usually predominated.
These three categories are personal, invisible, and transpersonal
Personal DMT experiences were limited to the volunteer's own men-
tal and physical processes. DMT helped open avenues to his or her personal
psychology and relationship to the body. Chapter 11, "Feeling and Think-
ing," presents several examples of this type of response. Once volunteers
began approaching the furthest boundaries of this category, near-death
and spiritual themes began to emerge. The personal then became
INTRODUCTION TO THE CASE REPORTS • 155
The hallmark of the invisible category is an encounter with seemingly
solid and freestanding realities coexisting with this one. When these planes
of existence were inhabited, contact by our research subjects with these
"beings" made for the most disturbing and unexpected type of DMT ses-
sion. I cover these bizarre stories in chapters 13 and 14.
The most sought-after and highly prized sessions were the transpersonal
ones. These involved near-death and spiritual-mystical experiences. I
describe these in chapter 15, "Death and Dying," and chapter 16, "Mys-
tical States," respectively.
The last chapter of case reports, "Pain and Fear," discusses the nega-
tive, frightening, and potentially damaging effects of DMT on our
volunteers. Here we encounter the negative aspects of all three types of
experiences: personal, invisible, and transpersonal.
This introduction is a good place to begin addressing how we responded
to what people said and did during their DMT sessions. In chapter 7
I described how, after administering the DMT, the research nurse and I
sat quietly on either side of the person's bed. We allowed the volunteer to
have his or her own experience, with no more than the barest minimum of
"coaching." However, we could not maintain absolutely neutral and pas-
sive stances when someone began talking about confusing or anxiety-
ridden experiences. If a volunteer needed our help and support, we
There is a fine line between supporting a person and telling him or
her what sort of experience he or she has just undergone. After a big dose
of DMT, volunteers were extraordinarily suggestible, open, and vulner-
able. These factors demanded exquisite sensitivity to the interpersonal
field existing in the room at the time. Reflection, support, education, ad-
vice, and interpretation are quite different from criticism, argument,
persuasion, and brainwashing.
.Tor the most part, personal experiences with DMT stay within the con-
fines of one's own body and mind—the realms of feeling and thinking. As
such, the phenomena we encounter are not very different from the sorts of
things any psychotherapist hears in the office: body-based feelings and
Most of our volunteers more or less consciously hoped for a spiritual
breakthrough with the aid of DMT—a final resolution to questions re-
garding why they were born, or a union with the Divine in which all conflict
ended and an unshakeable certainty prevailed. However, DMT, as a true
spirit molecule, gave our volunteers the trip they needed, rather than the
one they wanted.
Some research subjects resolved difficult personal problems during their
sessions. Afterward, they realized they had worked something through in a
positive way and felt better. The basic processes of psychotherapy seemed
to be at work: thinking, recollecting, feeling, connecting emotions with ideas.
For most of us, facing painful feelings is difficult, and DMT can make those
Feeling and Thinking
FEELING AND THINKING • 157
feelings easier to confront. Stan's DMT sessions, for example, helped him
contact feelings too raw to touch in everyday consciousness.
Dreams are a basic tool for any personal growth and understanding,
and DMT may generate highly symbolic dreamlike images. Marsha's high-
dose sessions are a beautiful example of how the spirit molecule can show
us what we need to know using this particular facet of its power.
For many of us, traumatic experiences set the stage for painfully blind
reenactments of situations in which we face those same feelings over and
over again. A high dose of DMT shares many features with physical and
psychological trauma. We'll see how it is possible to turn these aspects to
good use in Cassandra's story.
I expected to see many volunteers working through emotional and
psychological conflicts during these studies. Sessions of this nature might
help prepare the way for psychedelic-drug-assisted psychotherapy in pa-
tients. We would note how DMT affected volunteers in potentially beneficial
ways, then build those effects into any subsequent psychological treat-
The first generation of psychedelic scientists made such therapy
projects the mainstay of many centers' research activities. We would es-
sentially be doing little more than retracing their steps in anticipation of
renewing their work in a contemporary context.
I was ready for these types of sessions. I believed it was possible for
the volunteers to reach some valuable insights into personal conflicts,
difficulties, and psychosomatic symptoms by using psychedelics. In ad-
dition, many years of undergoing, practicing, and teaching psychoanalytic
psychotherapy prepared me for dealing with the painful emotions I thought
would emerge during some DMT sessions.
Stan was forty-two years old when we met and he began participating in
the DMT studies. His wife of fourteen years was a respiratory therapist
who worked with many medical patients at the Research Center. She
thought he'd be interested in the project, and he gave me a call.
He was one of the most experienced psychedelic drug users of anyone
in our studies, having taken LSD "over four hundred times." "They don't
158 • THE SESSIONS
call it 'acid' for nothing," he laughed during our first meeting. He took
LSD or mushrooms every few months, using them with several close friends
with whom he shared a strong belief in their beneficial effects.
Stan was married, had a young daughter, and held a highly respon-
sible position in the local government. He was of medium height and
build, good-looking and attentive to his appearance. He was rather disin-
clined to talk about his inner experience, and he stated his interest in the
DMT studies in a typically concise manner: "To further legitimate studies
and for personal exploration."
Stan's low screening dose of DMT, 0.05 mg/kg, was uneventful. Like many
others, he felt an urge to smile early on in the session.
The next day was Stan's high-dose session. Carrying my varied as-
sortment of needles, syringes, and disinfectant swabs, I entered his room
and found Stan sitting in cross-legged position on a meditation cushion
with the back of the bed raised as close to a right angle as possible. He
was one of the few people who felt better sitting up than lying down.
Stan didn't say a lot about that morning's high-dose experience. Mostly,
he was impressed with the power of the onset of effects. In fact, he thought
he might even have liked a dose slightly higher than 0.4 mg/kg.
He wasn't sure if DMT had any beneficial effects, either.
It's not as useful as LSD or psilocybin. It's too much too fast. You can't
really work with it. You're totally out of control. It wasn't a spiritual expe-
rience. There was very little emotional flavor to it at all.
Regarding what he actually saw, all Stan ventured was that there were
"lots of kaleidoscopic blues and purples."
Stan went through the dose-response study successfully, but without
it making a particularly deep impression on him. However, he enjoyed
participating in the research and wanted to be notified when the tolerance
About a year later, Stan signed on for the DMT tolerance project. A lot
had happened. His wife had experienced a recurrence of her serious psy-
chiatric illness and was filing for divorce. A very difficult child custody
FEELING AND THINKING • 159
battle was developing, and their eight-year-old daughter was living with
I wondered if the DMT sessions might provide him with some emo-
tional clarity for these trying times. While the goals of the research
remained unchanged, Stan was a fellow human being undergoing a major
loss, and if we could help him within the project's context, all the better.
As it turned out, his first "double-blind" day was active drug—four
consecutive high-dose DMT injections. The first two doses helped him
clarify the stress under which he'd been laboring.
Mmm. There were the usual colors. I guess I'll do the next several doses,
in spite of the anxiety.
Gently teasing him, appealing to his "psychedelic machismo," but
also encouraging him to go a little deeper, I said, "I didn't think you'd
have it any other way."
He lay quietly with his eyeshades on.
/ like the eyeshades.
"They've turned out to be quite helpful.... Did you have any thoughts
I had some anxiety, more or less. I don't remember that from before.
I offered this suggestion: "There's a lot more going on in your life now.
I wonder if the anxiety is related to the uncertainty and loss of control in
your life right now. This is a drug that causes loss of control. That might
At 5 minutes after the third injection:
There is a very slight nausea.
I've noticed that nausea in an altered state of consciousness often is a
way for the body to distract us from anxiety and sadness. During medita-
tion or hypnosis, or on psychedelic drugs or even marijuana, it's somehow
easier to feel sick than sad.
I'm not going to throw up. Don't worry. Maybe it's the combination of
anxiety and my sinuses. Part of my anxiety relates to my daughters school
next year. She s in fifth grade. I need to decide this morning. She s having a
hard time with the divorce, especially having difficulties with her mom. It's
hard on me but it's harder on my daughter.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested