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“Under the influence of DMT, the world becomes an Arabian labyrinth, a palace, a more than possible Martian jewel, vast with motifs that flood the gaping mind with complex and wordless awe.” – Terence McKenna

Ask someone about what their DMT experience was like, and you are likely to get a tale that defies comprehension or belief. This powerful psychedelic has had a surge of interest in recent years, thanks in part to the research of Rick Strassman and his book-turned-documentary The Spirit Molecule. DMT is known for taking people on nail-biting adventures into other realities and other dimensions, leaving those who partake in it overwhelmed with a kaleidoscope of emotions and a novel set of experiences that defy comprehension, much less description. But while language is a feeble and wholly inadequate tool for accurately describing the depth and transcendent nature of a DMT experience, there are some commonly occurring themes and general factors that many DMT experiences have in common, which can help us to better understand the incomprehensible landscapes that DMT brings us to. So what does DMT feel like, and why is it such a mystery?

The Psychedelic Inside All of Us

As one of the most fast-acting, short-lived, and potent psychedelics known to mankind, Dimethyltryptamine is made all the more mysterious by the fact that it’s naturally present in humans and other mammals. As Rick Strassman writes in The Spirit Molecule, “DMT occurs in our bodies. We produce it naturally. Our brain seeks it out, pulls it in, and readily digests it. As an endogenous psychedelic, DMT may be involved in naturally occurring psychedelic states that have nothing to do with taking drugs, but whose similarities to drug-induced conditions are striking.” Strassman goes on to theorize that the presence of DMT in our bodies may be related to near-death experiences, transformational spiritual experiences, or other hyper-intense moments in our lives where time seems to slow or halt, and our consciousness is fundamentally different from our normal waking state of mind.[1. DMT: The Spirit Molecule, A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, Richard Strassman.]

Strassman’s theory gives some insight into what a DMT experience is actually like. Much in the same way that time “stands still” during peak or critical moments where the entirety of our attention is single-focused and all of our normal mental activity ceases, DMT is known for similarly taking people outside of time and space in a way that is highly unique and quite rare. As fantastical as that is, however, it’s just the beginning. Within this novel space of altered consciousness, visual hallucinations, brightly colored shapes and patterns, profoundly meaningful associations, and curious encounters with other beings are all par for the course, all of which can range from being ecstatically blissful to absolutely terrifying.

Encounters with Other Beings

One of the greatest psychedelic advocates of the last century, Terence McKenna, spoke about DMT often and gave a name to the other entities that many who take DMT report interacting with, calling them “self-transforming machine elves.” The creatures people often see during DMT experiences can range from friendly to hostile, and seem to take all kinds of shapes and sizes, but are often humanoid in appearance. While it is easy to dismiss these machine elves as figments of imagination that arise from DMT-induced hallucinations, many people report that they felt just as real as any other person they have met, having a quality that was beyond mere hallucination. Interestingly, the Amazonian psychedelic brew ayahuasca, which contains DMT as its active ingredient (but acts over a period of many hours rather than a few minutes), also produces similar encounters with seemingly sentient beings as one of its hallmark features. Whether you call them spirits, elves, inter-dimensional beings, or tricks of the mind, it’s likely you will meet them under the influence of DMT.

What Does It All Mean?

DMT is still a great mystery, and while there are some fascinating theories about how it functions in the human body, the jury is still out on what exactly it does to our consciousness and why it occurs within us naturally. For most people who take DMT, however, their life is never quite the same afterward. After directly experiencing such a radically different reality, people often reevaluate their lives and their deeply held beliefs about the nature of existence, more often than not in a way that is both curious and positive. Nobody can experience the full depths of a DMT experience and not walk away with a profound sense of awe and some fundamental questions about what is really going on out there in the universe and inside our own minds. And who knows, they may really be one in the same.