A psychedelic watercolor of the brain on DMT

Scientists Have a Fascinating New Map of the Human Brain on DMT

“It’s almost as if people are seeing with their eyes closed.”

Taking DMT is a bit like putting your brain through a jet engine and getting your consciousness blown out the other side. There’s no “you” anymore. You’re just kind of everywhere, surrounded by colours and fractals and aliens that look a bit like elves. It feels a lot like being dead, or what you imagine being dead feels like, and then you’re sucked back into your body feeling somewhere between terrified and peaceful. But what’s weird is that for such a chaotic ride, there seems to be a pattern to the experience. The trip tends to follow a similar trajectory each time, and everyone seems to experience some variation of the same thing.

For scientists this uniformity presents some interesting questions. Namely: what’s the neurology behind DMT? And why do so many people report seeing elves? These questions have instigated a few studies, including one at Johns Hopkins in the United States, but the latest findings have just come from the Imperial College London.

Last week a study published in Scientific Reports looked at the brain’s response to DMT, courtesy of the college’s Psychedelic Research Group. There, researchers administered intravenous DMT to 13 subjects, while measuring their brains’ electrical activity via a web of electrodes loaded into head caps—devices that are known as “EEG caps”.

“If we’re serious about understanding human beings and their consciousness, we need to understand psychedelic experiences,” Christopher Timmins, a PhD student at Imperial College London and author of the study, told VICE over the phone. “DMT [is] particularly relevant because, at normal doses, it generates this very strong sense of immersiveness.”

We asked Christopher what else he and his team discovered about DMT’s bewildering effects on the brain.

Read the rest of the conversation here.

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