Flashback Friday: DMT, ‘The Lunch-Hour Psychedelic’

DMT, AKA, dimethyltryptamine, yopo, epena, virola, parica, the businessman’s lunch, etc.
Flashback Friday: DMT, 'The Lunch-Hour Psychedelic'
An artwork of a DMT realm entity, known as Jester/Machine Elf. “Heyokah The Light Bearer” by Pavel Souviron/ Wikimedia Commons

From the February, 1986 issue of High Times comes the DMT entry in the “Abuse Folio” column, written by David E. Smith, MD and Rick Seymour of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic.


Can produce frighteningly rapid psychedelic experiences. Biological analogs of this drug produced naturally in the body may be involved with the development of abnormal psychological states such as schizophrenia.

Nature and Use

Dimethyltryptamine is originally found in a variety of plants used ceremonially and for divination purposes by South American Indians.(1) It is the main ingredient in the bark of Virola calophylla, and is also found in the seeds of the vine Mimosa hostilis, and the leaves of Psycotria viridis, often in the same plants as another tryptamine, 5-MeO-DMT. In some tribal societies, both drugs are often added to shamanic potions containing harmala alkaloids to heighten their effects.(2) It is also used in a number of psychedelic snuffs or smoked.

As a tryptamine, DMT resembles several other psychedelic substances in both chemical structure and effect.These include LSD and psilocybin. Unlike all other psychedelics, with the exception of the most closely related 5-MeO-DMT, DMT cannot be taken orally unless it is mixed with harmala alkaloids or monoamine oxidase inhibitors. An enzyme in the stomach breaks down the DMT before it can enter the bloodstream.

Consequently, the South American Indians who use it by itself prepare DMT as a powdered snuff. It is then absorbed via mucous membrane rather than being swallowed. Dr. Andrew Weil reports that the DMT-containing Chagrapanga leaves he sampled in South America were mixed
with harmala-containing plants to produce yage.(3) North Americans and others who use the purified chemical form of DMT either smoke it or inject it intramuscularly.

Weil cites a typical South American DMT snuff as yopo. Yopo is used by tribes in the Amazonian forests. “It is made from the resin of a huge jungle tree, cooked down, dried, and pounded into a fine powder which the men blow forcefully into each other’s noses through long tubes. Taken this way, yopo causes a very intense intoxication beginning within seconds but lasting only 30 minutes or less.

While under its influence, Indians dance, sing, and see visions of gods and spirits.”(1) If you have seen the movie The Emerald Forest, wherein several yopo ceremonies among Amazonian Indians are graphically and accurately depicted, the above description will be most familiar.

Most DMT that appears in the United States is reported to be a brown, solid substance that smells somewhat like mothballs. Small quantities of this are smoked in the ends of cigarettes made of mint, marijuana or oregano. It is reported that even a single inhalation is enough to cause an intense five-to-ten minute psychedelic trip in which users may lose all awareness of their surroundings and become overwhelmed by visual hallucinations.

The drug may take effect even before the user takes the cigarette from his or her lips and can peak within one minute. Such use has been called a “businessman’s trip” because of its short duration. After 15 minutes, the psychedelic effects subside and within 30 minutes the user is back to normal.

As with other psychedelics of short duration, the onset of tolerance with DMT is rapid. Those who like the effects of DMT are reported to use them only on special occasions.(1)

As a tryptamine, DMT closely resembles such other psychedelics as LSD, psilocin and psilocybin, 5-MeO-DMT and the synthetics DET and DPT. Grinspoon and Bakalar cite the effective dosage of DMT as around 50 mg. The physiological effects resemble those of LSD, but DMT does have more sympathomimetic or stimulant symptoms, such as dilated pupils, heightened blood pressure, and increased pulse rate.

An interesting sidelight on DMT is that it has recently been identified as occurring naturally within human and rat brains. Furthermore, the enzyme responsible for its synthesis and the receptor sites where it is absorbed by nerve terminals have also been discovered.(4, 5) The similar tryptamines LSD and 5-MeO-DMT will displace DMT in these sites that are thought to also serve as serotonin receptors. What this all indicates is that DMT may be our natural, internal psychedelic, just as endorphins and enkephalons are our natural internal opiates. This represents one more step toward a paradigm to the effect that all types of psychoactive drugs have their naturally occurring counterparts within our own central nervous systems.

Hazards and Liabilities

The greatest hazard from DMT appears to be the rapidity of onset and intensity of its psychedelic trip. These can work to bring about anxiety and a high degree of disorientation, and a resultant fear for anyone not familiar with the drug’s action. Its proponents say that DMT provides the ultimate psychedelic rush, because of the sudden and dramatic changes in consciousness it produces. Were it not for the rapid onset of body tolerance to the drug, this rush would probably make it a most compelling candidate for compulsive use and possible addiction.

First Aid Plus

The rapidity of this drug’s action would preclude most acute problems being dealt with by more than friendly and sympathetic reassurance. However, the drug has been linked to schizophrenia and, like any other psychedelic substance, can uncover and exacerbate underlying psychopathology that may call for therapy and counseling. It would be most unwise for anyone using this drug, given the intensity of the trip, to attempt anything more complex than staying put and experiencing it.

Note: The authors do not advocate the use of any psychedelic substances.


(1) Weil, Andrew, M.D. and Rosen, Winifred. Chocolate to Morphine. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1983.

(2) Grinspoon, Lester, M.D. and Bakalar, James B. Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1979.

(3) Weil, Andrew, M.D. The Marriage of the Sun and Moon. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1980.

(4) Christian, Samuel T, Harrison, Robert and Pagel, John. “Evidence for dimethyltryptamine (DMT) as a naturally occurring transmitter in mammalian brain.” Alabama Journal of Medical Sciences 13:162-165, 1976.

(5) Christian, Samuel T, Harrison, Robert, Quayle, Elizabeth, Pagel, John and Monti, John. “The in vitro identification of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in mammalian brain and its characterization as a possible endogenous neuroregulatory agent.” Biochemical Medicine 18:164-183, 1977.

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