DMT Use Skyrockets Among American Users

By Paul Gaita 12/17/13

Despite powerful hallucinogenic effects and intense vomiting among users, DMT has also been seen as an alternative treatment for addiction.

ayahuasca house.jpg
An ayahuasca ceremony house in Peru.
Photo via Shutterstock

DMT, a powerful hallucinogenic compound used in religious rituals among Amazon tribes, has now become a popular recreational drug among U.S. residents.

According to recent reports by the Global Drug Survey and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people in the U.S. who have used DMT in some form has risen every year since 2006, with over a million users reported in 2012. The drug is a key component in ayahuasca brew, a combination of two plants grown in South America that has been used as a medicinal and religious aid for tribal peoples in the region for countless years.

One of the plants in the brew, Psychotria viridis, contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, which is a common element in many plants and even the human body itself, which neutralizes the potency of the drug. However, when combined with Banisteriopsis caapi, which prevents the body from warding off the drug, the brew – known as yage to Beat literature aficionados who were introduced to it in Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs’ The Yage Letters (1963) – produces intense and long-lasting hallucinations that users profiled in the Global Drug Survey have cited as stronger than ketamine or LSD. Physical reaction to the drug is also often ferocious, with violent vomiting and gastrointestinal distress among the immediate symptoms.

Despite these issues, ayahuasca has cited by independent scientists and researchers as an effective alternative treatment for addiction, due in part to its ability to raise the levels of serotonin transporters, which regulate mood. Its efficacy in this regard has been hampered by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which lists dimethltryptamine as a Schedule 1 drug alongside LSD, marijuana, MDMA, and GHB.

The positive aspects of ayahuasca have been further muddied by “ayahuasca vacations,” in which the curious have traveled to remote areas in Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil and braved natural hazards, as well as the physical and emotional turmoil incurred by the drug. These in turn have given rise to groups in the United States that are devoted to carrying out the ayahuasca ritual for Americans, most notably in Los Angeles, as noted in a recent article in the L.A. Weekly.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.