- In 2019, I was going through a particularly rough time and searching for something to help me cope.
- I reached out to a friend who had experience with psychedelics. He suggested I do some research.
- After I did, he guided me through a DMT trip. It changed everything for me.
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My introduction to psychedelics started in 2019. At the time, I was lower than I had been in decades. Generally lost in the world and teetering on an adolescent-caliber chemical chasm, my depression was so bad, I couldn't taste food. My work was suffering. My marriage was crumbling, which strained my relationship with my children. I wanted to stop existing.
Jaded by past adverse side effects to prescription antidepressants but desperate for relief, I reached out to a friend — I'll call him Jay — who'd been plagued by similar struggles. Jay had long touted the benefits of his quarterly mushroom trips, calling them "a DIY serotonin reboot." Recreational LSD use in college made me skeptical about how a drug that caused an Iron Maiden poster to come to life could also be beneficial for my mental health, but he swore by the benefits of psychedelics, or as he liked to call them, "plant medicine." I imagined myself drinking mushroom tea and waking up a smidge less suicidal.
"Oh, I haven't used psilocybin since I discovered DMT," he said. My interest was piqued.
I started looking into DMT
DMT — or dimethyltryptamine — is essentially powdered ayahuasca, a sacred brew made from the stem and leaves of two different plants, prepared and used ritually by Indigenous shamans in the Amazon rainforest. It is the active ingredient in ayahuasca that causes psychedelic experiences, and is known for inducing such a life-changing — albeit brief — experience that some call it the "businessman's lunch."
"It's like 20 years of psychotherapy in 20 minutes," Jay said. It sounded exactly like what I needed. He offered to accompany me through my DMT trip with the stipulation that I read Michael Pollan's "How to Change Your Mind," a book about Pollan's own experiences with a variety of psychedelic substances (including a type of DMT) that's a great primer for the generalities of psychedelics use, and Rick Strassman's "The Spirit Molecule," which focuses specifically on DMT research conducted by an associate professor of clinical psychiatry in New Mexico. Jay was adamant that I make an informed decision.
In hindsight, I appreciate this prerequisite. I read both books and went down every rabbit hole I could find online, including essays and message boards about possible negative side effects and interactions with the blood-pressure medications I was taking. I found articles that warned of a possible rise in heart rate, dizziness, and nausea. But they also said there was no evidence of chemical dependence on DMT, the one thing I truly feared.
Getting ready to trip
I flew to Jay's city, prepared to spend a week. It was his first time "sitting" and since he wasn't certain how much DMT I would need, we'd decided I would do a little more each day until I could feel the full effects. Both Pollan and Strassman's books insist on the importance of set (your own personal state) and setting (the state of your physical environment), and we planned my journey for early morning as I was rested and fasting.
Jay cued up a sample of ancient drumming meditation music and put my journal and pen nearby. I put on a sleep mask. He used a machine called a Volcano to heat the DMT powder into a vapor which collected in a clear cellophane bag with a nozzle. Then, he instructed me to inhale as many breaths as I could before "the veil dropped." I had no idea what that meant.
My body was surprisingly DMT tolerant. We tried every day for three days to get a the dosage correct. I was frustrated that it wasn't working but glad we had the week to get it right. Each day, each new tested dosage brought me closer to revelation. But it was on the fifth day that Jay administered over twice his own usual dosage that I finally had a full-blown trip.
After my fourth breath, I understood what Jay said about the veil dropping. My vision went dark and the physical world fell away to something nearly indescribable. It was like I stopped existing as a physical being but I could still see, hear, and feel. In a space of winding, turquoise metallic tape that I can only describe as similar to a garden, a shapeless presence visually communicated things at once mysterious and also deeply familiar through a silent language of fractals, shapes, and colors. See? Nearly indescribable.
As I slowly came back into my body after what seemed like weeks — but was actually just 15 minutes — it felt like someone had rubbed Icy Hot on certain intimate parts of my body. Jay's voice broke through my daze to remind me to write it all down. But journaling was like chasing a dream; words seemed both inadequate and inaccurate to capture what I'd felt. My hands couldn't keep up with my mind, which was flooded with messages the presence had communicated through images.
Psychologically, I was immediately and noticeably better, like the third day in a course of strong antibiotics. I felt invincible and euphorically optimistic about the future. But there were also surprising physical effects. Decades of outrunning childhood trauma had robbed me of sexual sensation and libido, otherwise known as anhedonia. After DMT, I felt like a teenager. Parts of my body that had become numbed by trauma suddenly had sensation, including my nipples. Although many DMT users report psychological benefits, physical effects are apparently rare. (That said, Netflix's "[Un]Well" series follows a woman's recovery from scleroderma after drinking ayahuasca.)
I couldn't believe how well it worked
Despite its illegality, I couldn't stop talking about what had happened to me. DMT brought me back from a scary, dark place — and I wasn't alone in this. People talking about using psychedelics as therapy were suddenly everywhere, including a whole list of documentaries. Michael Pollan's book has been made into a Netflix series. Celebrities including Will Smith, Sting, and even Prince Harry have talked about using psychedelics to cope with grief and trauma.
Anyone thinking about using psychedelics should keep in mind that they can affect everyone differently and can adversely interact with other medications you may be taking, so you'll want to do your own research — as I did — and talk to your own practitioner before doing anything. It's also always important to have a guide and use these substances in a controlled space and under trustworthy, experienced supervision.
Although DMT brought me immediate results from a quick journey, both the physical and psychological effects have faded with time — for me, this started about a year after my trip, but the study in this article found that for many, they diminish after three months. I have since used other, less intense psychedelics as boosters, including a course of psilocybin microdosing, with great results. I'm a believer.