DMT(NIH)

WASHINGTON – It’s one of the most popular new hallucinogenic drugs being smoked by young people around the world, with many users reporting “spiritual encounters” with entities that sound a lot like demons.

And now, Johns Hopkins University is studying the alarming effects of DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine, asking volunteers who have taken the drug about encounters they may have had with “seemingly autonomous beings or entities.”

One researcher characterized DMT as a “spirit molecule.”

So bizarre are the effects that users have described crossing into another world and seeing “machine elves,” aliens or cartoon cats. One woman reported being swarmed by apparently alive Slinky toys.

The research team is headed by Roland Griffiths, a behavioral biologist with a history of studying psychedelic substances that produce “mystical-type and near-death experiences.”

DMT is a “tryptamine” molecule that occurs naturally in many plants and animals but has been synthesized since the 1930s. Users often smoke the substance and report almost immediate hallucinogenic effects.

One regular user, Terence McKenna, had this to say about the experience: “What arrests my attention is the fact that this space is inhabited. You break into this space and are immediately swarmed by squeaking, self-transforming elf-machines … made of light and grammar and sound that come chirping and squealing and tumbling toward you.”

Others have described interactions with non-human beings, describing them as “jokers,” clowns, aliens or “helpers.”

Neuroscientist Michelle Ross offered this account of her experience with the drug: “There were little cartoon cats going around, and ice cream cones. … It felt like I was with deceased, amazing and really important people. I was surrounded by people who were influential but cared about me and wanted me to be there and be safe. It was an oddly emotional feeling. It was very abstract.”

Another man reported: “There was this creature that was, like, dancing around me and it looked like the thing from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ As it danced around it would shape shift and spit out these colors.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports the number of people in the U.S. who have used DMT in some form is up every year since 2006 – from an estimated 688,000 in 2006 to 1,475,000 in 2012. The newest users, the global survey found, were more likely to be young, male and in school.

The cult film “Enter the Void” in 2009 and the 2010 documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” are believed to have ignited popularity of the drug in recent years.

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