What Is Happening in the Brain During a DMT Trip?

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Rick Strassman

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Rick Strassman is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and books, among them "DMT: The Spirit Molecule." His most recent, "The Psychedelic Handbook: A Practical Guide to Psilocybin, LSD, Ketamine, MDMA, and Ayahuasca," is available now. www.rickstrassman.com

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Well, you know, one of the interesting things about endogenous DMT, and especially with its discovery in such high levels in the brain, is that it may be the endo-matrix. It could be kind of regulating everything all of the time. What do you mean by that? Regulating everything all the time. It could be the way we interact with reality, is through endogenous DMT, which is always at a steady level. Well, the way I began wondering about that is because, you know, what is the purpose of endogenous DMT? Why does the brain make DMT? Can you do a DMT test on a person's blood level? It's pretty hard. It's really low in blood. It's like, you know, billionths of a gram per milliliter. Okay, so you'd have to measure it in the actual brain itself? Maybe in the brain or spinal fluid, maybe spinal fluid, but most likely brain. When they start doing stuff like neural link, where they're going to insert wires into your brain and, you know, you're going to have an app to control your brain, to control your mood. I mean, it seems like that would be one of the ways they would do it, right? Well, you'd need to find, you know, where in the brain the main source of DMT is, and then put an electrode there and keep that going. Do you think it's limited to one specific area where it's developed? Oh man, they're just beginning to unravel the whole role and location of endogenous DMT. So when they know that it's in the liver and they know that it's in the lungs, the lungs to me sound interesting because of holotropic breathing, you know, because people have done breathing exercises and achieved altered states of consciousness. Yeah. Kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Well, yeah, but I think it's not working through the lungs because those more recent studies haven't really demonstrated DMT in lung. Oh. Yeah. Yeah. I used to say it's made in lung. Everybody used to say it's made in lung, but it seems like it's made in brain. So if it's made in brain, then all the other stuff, you're just getting like a trickle down effect. Well, does it go through the whole body? Yeah, but it's metabolized so quickly that, you know, by the time it gets into the blood that you're drawing, the concentrations are pretty minuscule. Wow. What a sneaky molecule. Well, you have to wonder what it's doing, right? Right. What is it doing? What is endogenous? What's the function of it? You know, there's the possibility we have a DMT neurotransmitter system like serotonin or dopamine, in which case, you know, what is it doing? Wow. So this is a really wild way to think about it because to this time, I'd never even considered that. I always thought of it as being something that was responsible maybe for very vivid dreams or something that was responsible for near-death experiences or what happens to when you die, the idea of a portal. But I never thought about it as being something that is regulating regular everyday reality. Well, you know, one of the hallmarks of the DMT effect is that it feels more real than real. Yeah. You study the function of endogenous neurotransmitters by giving, you know, drugs that modify the effect of that endogenous neurotransmitter. You know, so we've got the SSR antidepressants and they affect serotonin, although they may not all that much. But still, that's been the working model for decades. And you know, so because SRIs are useful for depression and anxiety, you then can speculate that serotonin is responsible for mood or anxiety. You know, so the hallmark of the DMT effect is it's more real than real. It feels more real than anything else. You know, so it's tempting to speculate. But again, when I go back to that disembodied mind thought process of like thinking like, what am I thinking when I'm over there? Since my body doesn't seem to be there and I'm there and it seems more real than real, is that me just tricking myself into thinking that it's a different place? I mean, how could you tell? How could I tell, right? Yeah, I mean, how would you know? I have one way of looking at it that I always describe. This is what I say to people. I say, if there was a thing that you could do, like a door you could go through and that door would take you to another dimension where you would communicate with some entity beyond your wildest imagination that's constantly visually changing and communicating with you telepathically and knows everything about you, sees all your bullshit and is trying to impart some ideas that will help you with your life because it's a God-like experience. Like you're experiencing like some sort of uber powerful entity, some uber intelligent entity, something beyond any, if we just looked at humans and thought of the evolution of human one day we'll get to this. We're not going to get to that. That is a different, it seems like it's so beyond the body. It's so beyond the human monkey body. This is what I tell people. I go, if I could give, if you would open a door and you would go there and you'd have that experience, would you do it? And most people are like, yeah, I was going to do it. If I gave you a drug that gave you that experience, you still have the exact same experience. It's the exact same experience. You've just decided it's not real and you've decided it's not real because you're putting into this category of hallucination. What does that even mean? What does that even mean? You're actually having that experience. I don't know what it is. I mean, I like to play devil's advocate and I like to think that maybe I'm messing with my own head and maybe I'm just like, it's like, I'm like, well, through doing what? Looking at it like maybe it's just my neurochemistry going bonkers and, you know, interacting with my visual cortex could produce this hallucinations, but it doesn't feel that way. That's why I'm trying to figure out if you're bullshitting yourself when you're over there or if you really are over there. But what I tell people is it's the same experience. Yeah. What difference does it make? What? Yeah. Yeah. It's previously invisible and it contains information. A lot. Yeah. And I think that's all you can say about it. It contains information about you, right? Well, it could only be happening to you. Yeah. Yeah. It's not happening to somebody else. It's like it gives you advice. It can. But you, I mean, how do you judge the value of that advice? Yeah. Well, what is the advice? One of the things that happened to me, I've talked about this ad nauseam, unfortunately, if you've heard this before, folks. But one of my experiences, there was like a bunch of jokers, like jesters, or like jester hats and they were giving me the finger. They were going like this, fuck you. And it made me realize I was taking myself too seriously. Like instantaneously I went, oh, I get it. And they went like this. They went like, don't do that. Don't do that. But like saying fuck you to me, it was so clear what they were doing. It was so clear. It was like a little lesson. Like, don't do that. Yeah. It's interesting. Don't do that. That's like three syllables. And they correspond to a heartbeat. When I tripped on DMT the first time, these beings came out of this waterfall and they said, now do you see? Now do you see? Now do you see? It was the same three beat thing. I love you. They say I love you a lot. I love you. And I think it corresponds to the heartbeat because it's in sync. The vocalizations are in sync with the heartbeat. Yeah. Bum, bum, bum. Bum, bum. One time I did it and these entities were talking to me and saying, I love you 600,000,500,000 times like the way a child would say I love you with like some crazy number, seven billion zillions zillion. And every time they did that, it would show a more beautiful image. Like every image, like I love you 600,500,000 times. I love you 700,000,000, 400,000. Every time they did it, it was just as bigger and bigger experience visually. To the point where I was like crying, I was like openly weeping at the beauty of just what I was seeing. It sounds beautiful. It was wild, but it was that simple sort of, there's just like, they'll say simple things to you in a way that you're not really hearing it, but you know what they're saying. Well, it kind of penetrates you. Yeah. Yeah. It's very weird. Mm-hmm. And it's very weird. It's very weird. Yeah. You used to not talk about your personal experiences with it. I know. I figured to hell with it. Yeah, I think so. I think it's good that you did that because I remember when we first met, you were reluctant to discuss it. I mean, you didn't really want to talk about it publicly or want people to know about it publicly. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I figured that I had some legitimacy to maintain. A few years back, I had this conversation with Dennis McKenna, like about your reputation. Or one's reputation, he said, I've just given up on my reputation. It just, you know, so. Well, you talk as openly about psychedelics as Dennis. He's the best guy to talk about it too because he's got a really interesting way of discussing things. And he's had so many personal experiences, and he's so smart. He's got this incredible vocabulary to just draw from. When he describes the actual impact of psilocybin in psychedelic chemicals, particularly in formation of language, he was describing the stone to ape theory. The stone to ape, yeah. It's incredible listening to him say it because the way he describes it, like he actually understands what psilocybin and what all these various molecules are doing to different parts of the brain and why that would facilitate the development of language and compassion and connect the tribe more. Well, I mean, do you think it actually is information coming from the brain? Or do you think that the portal's being opened up and the information's coming from above? I think that's more likely. I think the more likely is that the brain is an antenna. It's one of the things that creative people will always tell you. Like someone sits down and writes a song. It just came from the air. They're getting things from somewhere else almost. It's almost like you just got to get out of your own way. You got to put enough good juice out there in the world and take enough bad out and see the world from a clear perspective, at least in these brief moments of creativity, and then things come to them. They just, like they're sitting in front of the computer and bam, they got an idea for a book. And where the fuck is all that coming from? It seems like people always want to say it's a muse. That's the Steven Pressfield analogy. He's got a great book about it called The War of Art, all about inviting the muse into your life and being disciplined and sitting there at the computer every day and summoning it and treating it like it's an entity. And if you do that, it works. This is what's crazy. People who are disciplined and also creative decide, I'm going to write this book. I'm going to sit down and I'm going to force myself every day. Ideas come to them. Where the fuck are they coming from? Is it possible that the brain really is some sort of an antenna and that wisdom and love and all these different things, they're just all around us. We're just confused by our monkey bodies. Well, do you think we're getting that information from God? If that's what you want to call it, the only problem I have with the word God is that it's God. And it's not really a problem, but it's a recognition, is that it's a loaded word. It's a loaded word, but so is love. Yes. So I think you just got to take the good with the bad. Well that's Alex Gray's position. Alex Gray says we have to take it back the same way we take back love and say God all the time. And that's what he does. Yeah. And that's the reason I think it's good to use the words psychedelic instead of hallucinogen or entheogen. Yeah, I think so too. And theogen is a cool word. It's cool. It assumes a lot though. Yeah, it's like people that call weed cannabis. I like to smoke a lot of cannabis. Like, okay, settle down buddy. Yeah, like the term entheogen, it refers to God, entheos, and it refers to N, which means that God exists within. And it has the word gen in it, which means it's a drug which is generating something like God. You know, so that just seems a lot. And there are people who could benefit from psychedelic experiences who might not be caught into those ideas and would avoid it entheogen, but might take a psychedelic. Yeah, I think psychedelic sounds manageable. Entheogen sounds like you're joining a cult. It's a bit cultish. Well, isn't everything a bit cultish? It seems like whatever anything, you know, really affects people in a lot of ways. There's always someone who looks to sort of take the reins and sort of dictate what the experience is and how to do it and what the ritual should be and how you should manage it and it gets culty. It gets culty, but I think you could, you know, decultify it to some extent.