Ancient shamans, mad scientists, underground psychonauts, and interdimensional DMT elves.
Meeting non-human entities on psychedelic drugs is, understandably, not a topic many straitlaced scientists are enthusiastic about trying to unravel.
With the push to make psychedelics legitimate stories about "talking to interdimensional DMT elves" for therapeutic support will hardly impress the FDA. However, the entity phenomenon is sort of impossible to ignore. DMT is seriously intense, and when people say "more real than real," they are not exaggerating.
What am I talking about? When smoking or injected with enough DMT, a psychedelic drug currently being studied for therapeutic benefits, people consistently report going to another reality and communicating with elves, aliens, reptiles, jesters, and many other things.
"Entity encounters" have been happening since early psychonauts like author William Burroughs and psychedelic evangelist Tim Leary experimented with the drug. The first legal studies of DMT led by Dr. Rick Strassman also stumbled into this territory.
Officially, Straussman gathered data about DMT's safety, physiological effects, and establishing tolerance levels for injection of it. While he got that data, Strassman also found people on DMT reliably leave their bodies to interact with "entities."
Strassman is a clinical research psychiatrist, yet his psychological explanations consistently fell flat as his research subjects repeatedly resisted biomedical explanations of hallucinations.
Eventually, for the comfort of research participants, Strassman had to change his tone.
I was scared, but I kept telling myself, “Relax, surrender, embrace.” Then I saw what I can only describe as a as Vegas-casino type of scene, all flashing and whirling lights. I was rather disappointed. Here I’m expecting this profound spiritual experience and I get Las Vegas! But then, before I had much time to be disappointed, I “flew” on and saw clowns performing. They were like toys, or animated clowns. I had the overwhelming urge to laugh. I was kind of self-conscious about it at first, but I couldn’t contain myself and I laughed out loud watching those clowns.
Rick told me the clowns are a common experience. In fact, he said “Oh, you saw the clowns?” as if they were old friends or something. Then he said, “Yes, they’re hilarious.” I felt more confident and not as scared.
-The Spirit Molecule, Strassman 2001
The experiences of his research subjects were so profound Strassman eventually formed a regular support group where the study participants could gather to process their DMT experiences. For reasons including the entity encounters, Strassman discontinued his DMT research, and it would be some time before anyone in the scientific community would openly express interest in entities again.
Research of DMT Entity Encounters
A paper examining the phenomena of entities was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2020. The survey compiles thousands of DMT journey reports from online havens for psychedelic drug subculture.
Pharmacological understanding of entity experiences is nonexistent. Instead, the authors explored the extensive online records of DMT entity interactions to find a practical therapeutic effect. The study isn't exactly the general population, nor does it have the scientific controls of clinical studies. Participants were anonymous and mostly educated young white males.
However, the study size is over 2500 screened individuals, with the average number of DMT trips being 14 times. DMT is not considered an addictive drug. So what kept bringing people back for over a dozen trips? The take-aways are revealing-
- 72% believed the entities continued to exist after the encounter.
- Entities were reported to be conscious, intelligent, and mostly benevolent.
- 69% communicated with an entity, receiving insight on their purpose in life
- A majority felt emotional exchange with entities — trust and joy, along with kindness, love, and even friendship.
- Over 80% reported improved wellbeing, life satisfaction, attitude towards life, and self following entity contact
- 55% of participants identified as atheist or agnostic before taking DMT, but the number dropped to 26% percent post DMT journey.
The majority credited their first encounter with a DMT entity in the top five most "personally meaningful, spiritually significant, or psychologically insightful experiences of their lives" and "the experience altered their fundamental concept of reality."
However, it is not all good vibes.
Fear is an essential facet of DMT to recognize, which 41% experienced. I'm personally at least 40% afraid before taking DMT. Complete disassociation from my body is hard to get used to, and while fascinating, DMT land is extremely strange and unpredictable.
One of the first western reports of synthetic DMT is by William Burroughs in a letter to Tim Leary described a terrifying "jewel-encrusted reptile." Straussman also documented many disturbing trips in his book, The Spirit Molecule, notably echoing Burroughs tale, with "sexually violent crocodiles."
And one only needs to spend an hour exploring DMT Reddit to see that people believing they are communicating with entities can get extremely dangerous for certain people's mental health.
How to Explain DMT Elves?
Explanations of entities point to expectancy bias — the mindset while taking a psychedelic can manifest was is being focused on. (hence all the talk about intentions and psychedelics.)
Earlier reports have promoted meeting DMT elves. In the 90s, ethnobotanist and psychedelic lecturer Terrence Mckenna popularized the "self-transforming machine elves" concept. Conversations about "the elves" have been a popular topic on the Joe Rogan podcast and online psychedelic communities. Indeed, an essential aspect of the survey mentioned above, 21% of participants took DMT intending to encounter an entity.
Another analysis has pointed to studies with the God Helmet, a wearable device for studying religious experience. The device has shown that brainwaves can be altered to make people see everything from the Virgin Mary to aliens — no drugs required.
Researcher Christopher Timmerman has taken EEG readings of people on DMT and found what you would expect — brain activity similar to dreaming and areas of the brain responsible for visual stimulation active. His results can be correlated to the come up and come down of the DMT trip.
Indigenous Perspectives of DMT
Science has its logical explanations, but DMT has been used for thousands of years.
DMT is one of the main ingredients in ayahuasca. A toad named "Bufo," whose secretions are smoked contains 5-MEO-DMT has unique but comparable effects to synthetic DMT being studied. A psychedelic snuff known as "Yopo" also has been documented to contain DMT and 5-MEO-DMT. Even psilocybin mushrooms are chemically similar to DMT.
Indigenous cosmologies are rich with spirits and multiple layers of existence. Communication happening in these realms was also practical for healing, predicting future crops or disasters, or even finding lost objects.
I don't know anyone who found their car keys after smoking DMT.
Still, a lot of indigenous knowledge around psychedelics has proven to be very applicable- intentions, mindset, setting, music, integration- to name a few. Not to mention psychedelic's healing properties in general.
So is there still something we westerners aren't getting? Many traditional practitioners would say so. How much we can understand or if we are even capable of it are perhaps better questions. However, the puzzle of DMT's effects isn't lost on everyone.
The New Psychonauts
DMT experience reports far outpace the slower moving, classical pharmacological approaches to understanding how drugs work. Because of this, a unique approach to DMT has emerged.
Enter Dr. Andrew Gallimore, a computational Neuro-Biologist who worked with Dr. Rick Straussman to create a model for mapping the DMT experience. Gallimore thinks of taking DMT like changing the channel on your TV set.
Take a breakthrough dose of DMT, and your brain constructs the DMT world with a new pattern of information. Your TV doesn't go to another dimension, and neither does your body; the effect is the brain interpreting a different signal. But Gallimore doesn't think this means the experience isn't real.
He suggests that we should treat DMT as a technology to access another world, suggesting allowing us to connect with other beings should be an astonishing discovery.
The proposal is the unique, repeatable effects of a DMT trip deserve more profound study. They point out dreams and hallucinations during psychotic states have received extensive attention, so why not DMT?
Extended State DMT
Gallimore and Straussman outlined a system that slowly releases DMT into a person using machinery used by anaesthesiologists to keep people sedated during surgery. This makes prolonged DMT journeys of many hours or even days theoretically possible.
The rapid onset of DMT allows quick entry into the proposed alternate reality. Once in the realm, mechanical means adjust the dose, and therefore "depth" of the experience could be controlled by a sober sitter.
And people are signing up; following bold ideas like outwards into space is not the final frontier, but instead, powerful psychedelics will take us deeper within. To quote a participant in Strassman's research:
“It’s ridiculous to think of space travel in little ships”
How to Explore Another Dimension
Gallimore thinks we should be training our best people and engineering technology to tackle the challenges of first contact. The view is traditional uses of DMT like ayahuasca are not adequate for stabilizing the DMT realm enough for exploration and communication.
The intensity of first arriving in DMT space is enormous, far too chaotic to "find footing." Yet by stretching the length of the DMT trip beyond a typical 20-minute whirlwind, the theory is DMT will become a more manageable experience, and a stable reality will emerge.
Once familiar with this other dimension, psychonaut explorers would log hours in the DMT space and potentially map the DMT landscape. Or perhaps build relationships with the beings who dwell there.
Sound pretty sci-fi?
Psychonaughts Opened Portals to DMT Space Before
In a recent podcast, David Nickles, editor of Psymposia and former underground DMT researcher, pointed out that this has been tried before. Multiple DMT users on an online forum, DMT Nexus, all coordinated their DMT trips to take place simultaneously across the globe and then meet up in the DMT realm.
It didn't work.
Maybe that's not a surprise, but stories like this haven't stopped an organization called DMTx from taking the exploration of DMT as another reality seriously. Led by Daniel Mcqueen, the creator of Medicinal Mindfulness, a psychedelic therapy clinic in Colorado, has begun constructing a training program.
A call for volunteers willing to pioneer the exploratory work has gone out. Psychonauts trained, and two "retreats" have been completed to date using what McQueen dubs "CyberDMT" — the combination of DMT and technology to venture forth in the unknown.
To date, the group has not released its findings. However, the team's roster outlines not only psychonauts and sitters but integration therapists, artists, and musicians. What the output of this exploration will be — a map, art project, or some unforeseen wisdom we can only wait and see.
Why Do DMT Entities Matter?
Alien contact aside, DMT provokes thoughts about reality and how we experience it. Psychedelic science is not only about treating mental health but also understanding how consciousness and the brain work.
Psychedelic researcher Robin Carhartt-Harris sums it up with:
“Research with DMT may yield important insights into the relationship between brain activity and consciousness”
To be clear, Harris wasn't talking about DMT entities. He acknowledged that DMT research is very new, and there is much still to learn.
How deep the rabbit hole of consciousness goes had always been spearheaded by mystics, explorers, and artists. They can swiftly duck under red tape and dive in even with obvious risks. Scientific understanding may eventually help those who have experienced entity contact. But during these first attempts at understanding, we have mostly only questions.
Are the entities constructs of the mind? Aliens? Teachers? Should we have left DMT to indigenous cultures? Or are there lessons for the western mind to understand?
I can't draw conclusions on DMT's effects, but I do get excited when something so potent and strange enters the realm of western science. DMT has fundamentally altered the way many see the world, whether they believe the experience to be "real" or not.
How DMT will respond to an investigation by rational minds is a curiosity I cannot resist. Along with wondering how much more wisdom will be learned from ancient psychedelic traditions.