The Brains Endogenous Psychdelic
review by Jule Klotter

DMT: The Spirit Molecule

by Rick Strassman, MD
Park Street Press, One Park Street, Rochester, Vermont 05767 USA Softbound, ISBN 0-89281-927-8, 2001, 358 pp, $16.95

Psychedelic plants and mushrooms have played a part in human history for thousands of years. Even now, indigenous people use mind-altering plants in ceremonies that foster community, creativity, and spiritual transformation and in healing rituals. Western researchers have focused on identifying and investigating the effects of the psychedelic compounds in these plants: mescaline in peyote (a cactus); LSD-25 in ergot (a rye fungus); psilocybin in another fungus (Psilocybe mexicana). Originally, researchers hoped that psychedelic compounds like LSD would provide insight into psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Altered perception and hallucinations are characteristic of both. Negative publicity about psychedelic research and uncontrolled recreational use of LSD during the 1960s, however, led to public pressure for a 1970 federal law that outlawed LSD and other psychedelics.

In 1990, after two years of preparation, Rick Strassman, MD, initiated the first new psychedelic research project on humans in the US since the 1960s. The focus of his research was N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic compound innate to humans and other animals, and some plants. DMT The Spirit Molecule tells the story of DMT and the many questions that this naturally-occurring compound raises about consciousness and spiritually-potent experiences like birth, death, and near-death.

In DMT The Spirit Molecule, Dr. Strassman recounts the many steps he took in order to begin his study. He had to gain approval for human DMT research from the FDA, DEA, and University of New Mexico School of Medicine committees on science and human research ethics. Physical and medical safeguards for the participants as well as privacy concerns and informed consent issues were addressed.

Dr. Strassman determined the design of the study and what data to collect: blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, DMT blood level, participants' reports from a hallucinogen questionnaire, and his own observations. His biggest frustration was finding an affordable source for human-grade injectable DMT. It took two years of preparation before he actually began his first randomized double-blind dose-response study with twelve subjects in 1991. The dose-response study was followed by a tolerance study in which participants received four IV injections of DMT (.3 mg/kg) at 30 minute intervals.

Unlike other psychedelics that he had worked with, DMT showed nolessening of effect with repeated doses. After the tolerance study, he proceeded to study DMT's mechanism-of-action. For five years, he studied DMT, giving about 400 doses of DMT to 60 volunteers. A number of stresses, some personal, which Dr. Strassman explains in the book, finally led him to discontinue the project.

Dr. Strassman was drawn to DMT because it is made by our bodies and found throughout nature. Scientists have identified endogenous DMT in human blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid. It is a tryptamine, which is a family of chemicals derived from the amino acid tryptophan that includes serotonin. Japanese researchers found that the brain pulls DMT through the blood-brain barrier and into its tissues if DMT is necessary for maintaining normal brain function," Dr. Strassman notes.

The source of DMT in the human body has not been identified, but Dr. Strassman believes that it is made primarily by the pineal gland. The pineal gland makes serotonin, melatonin, and beta-carbolines. Beta-carbolines prevent the breakdown of DMT by monoamine oxidase. The presence of beta-carbolines in the South American shamanic botanical 'tea' ayahuasca keeps the DMT in the drink from being broken down by the MAO in the stomach. From the metaphysical perspective, the pineal gland is linked to the crown chakra and to spiritual development.

Dr. Strassman began his research with the hypothesis that endogenous DMT is the biochemical'vehicle'that allows us to experience mystical/spiritual consciousness during birth, death, near-death, and deep meditation. He theorizes that "when DMT levels get too high for'normal'function ... we start undergoing unusual experiences." In some people, DMT may be an underlying factor in psychosis. Dr. Strassman felt his hypothesis would be strengthened if he could show that DMT injections caused the same kinds of mystical and near-death experiences that he attributed to endogenous DMT.

What did the participants experience during the short period (less than 20-30 minutes) when they were under the influence of DMT? Almost all of them sensed a rapid, high frequency energy 'pulsing' through them. They saw kaleidoscopic geometric images with brilliant colors and DNA. They reported being in touch with the 'core of reality' and 'Logos.' Many, at least half, reported making contact with other beings, sometimes referred to as guides, helpers, even aliens. The beings sometimes took the forms of clowns, reptiles, insects, cacti, and elves. Dr. Strassman was disturbed by the number of subjects who reported experiences that paralleled alien abduction, a subject that neither he nor most of his subjects knew much about. The subjects were adamant in their assertions that whatever they experienced did not have a dream-like quality: "...our volunteers not only saw these things," he writes, 'but felt an unshakeable certainty that they actually were there. Opening their eyes at any time superimposed this reality with their now-manifest but previously invisible one." He came to believe that "DMT provides regular, repeated, and reliable access to 'other' channels. The other planes of existence are always there. In fact, they are right here, transmitting all the time! But we cannot perceive them because we are not designed to do so; our hard-wiring keeps us tuned in to Channel Normal."

DMT The Spirit Molecule is a fascinating journey into the research of psychedelics, specifically the psychedelic coursing through our veins. Dr. Strassman wrote the book "in the interest of enlarging the discussion about psychedelic drugs" - a taboo subject in this country. The questions and possible explanations about the endogenous presence of DMT that he raises not only enlarge the discussion about psychedelics but also expand our understanding of the nature of consciousness.

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