DMT (Death Made Tangible) & Psychedelic Odyssey

“Reality is truly made of language and of linguistic structures that you carry, unbeknownst to yourself, in your mind, and which, under the influence of [DMT] begin to dissolve and allow you to see beyond the speakable. The contours of the unspeakable begin to emerge into your perception, and though you can’t say much about the unspeakable, it has the power to color everything you do. You live with it, it is the invoking of the other. The Other can become the Self, and many forms of estrangement can be healed. That is why the term alien has these many connotations.”—Terence McKenna, Conversation Over Saucer

For the past several decades, scholars have accused America of being a “death-denying” culture—one that uses medicine to evade death, funeral homes to establish distance from the dead, and memorials to extend the potential meanings of death.[i] As Americans became increasingly distanced from all death-related processes, the psychological challenges of coping with the finality of death compounded. Abstract memorials of monumental proportions came to symbolize America’s increasing inability to make sense of death.[ii] How have Americans attempted to close the growing disconnect between their understandings of life and death?

With the alleged scientific revelations of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), death lost its foothold in the realm of topical suppressions.[iii] This paper argues: firstly, that unlike other hallucinogens, part of DMT’s appeal comes from its simulation of death, its ability to allow users to experience what death is like if even momentarily or partially, to touch death and to come back to the world with some greater understanding of what death actually means for mankind; secondly, that the willingness to try DMT is sparked by an American distrust of traditional sources of authority, a disavowal of the rhetoric of fear that plagues American society, and a uniquely American exploratory attitude, therefore making DMT an all-American drug;[iv] and lastly, that DMT has become a new technology used to simultaneously mend the disconnect between scientific and religious understandings of death and to heal society through the projection of a new vision of the human condition.

Because it is considered a taboo Schedule I drug, clinical research on DMT has been limited, and academic source material on DMT similarly lacks. This paper employs the findings of Dr. Rick Strassman’s research during the 1990’s at the University of New Mexico, which included approximately 400 doses administered to 60 participants —the first of its kind in over 20 years, and still the most recent.[v] His priceless study lends legitimacy to the accounts in this paper provided by non-accredited DMT pioneers. Yet, since this paper focuses on DMT’s cultural significance rather than its medical properties, lay people’s expositions and reflections hold legitimacy as primary source material. Indeed, many of those who report on DMT are highly reflective and articulate.

The intelligibility of DMT users can be at least party be attributed to their generally privileged demographics. As Kim Kristensen explains, most of those who experiment with or frequently use DMT are white, well-educated, middle-class, middle-age people, who seek spiritual growth through self-exploration.[vi] He suggests that others—notably, populations who are Colored, less educated, poorer, and/or younger—are too busy working for equality or increased economic status and do not have the luxury to be able to invest the time or money on a DMT experience. Indeed, it is not cheap: A twelve day trip to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca (a medicinal tea usually prepared from the plants Banisteriopsis and Chacruna whose active ingredient is DMT) in an authentic shamanic ritual setting costs between two and three thousand dollars, not including the cost of transportation.[vii]

Like other Schedule I drugs, people continued (and continue) experimenting with DMT despite its illegality, and report on their experiences using traditional sources of information like the published article or book, or more modern sources of information like the blog or the website. Since a DMT experience leads one mentally to the doormat of death but allows for the physical survival of the body—in other words, the mind perceives sensations that carry no physical weight or manifestation, no outwardly visible proof of existence—it can be said such experiences are hallucinatory.[viii] Like other hallucinatory substances, such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote, DMT works by transforming consciousness to produce a heightened state of being.

Yet, it differs from other psychedelics in several fundamental ways. Firstly, it is the only endogenous psychedelic known to occur naturally in the human body: In 1972, the Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod of the National Institutes of Health discovered DMT in human brain tissue, and it has since been discovered elsewhere in the body. Strassman speculates the pineal gland produces DMT and releases it during birth, REM cycles, deep meditations, and death.[ix] Secondly, being more intense than LSD, it transfers the user into an environment unlike any other prior experienced, as it projects the expanded, visionary consciousness beyond the known worldly domain into the wholly unfamiliar realm of death.[x] Thirdly, when used in a shamanic or sacred context—typically in the form of ayahuasca—DMT can be considered an entheogen, a substance used for matters pertaining to spirituality. As such, the U.S. government has condoned its use solely for religious purposes by members of churches such as Santo Daime and União do Vegetal, thereby recognizing its spiritual potential.[xi]

Using DMT in the right manner ensures a positive experience. Strassman and numerous others have concluded that the set and setting in which one consumes DMT is of paramount importance, and essentially determines the way in which one’s mind interacts with the substance.[xii] After his clinical study of DMT produced different effects than most ethnographic studies relate, he concluded: “DMT itself was inherently neither harmful nor beneficial, and the intent of giving and receiving DMT was equally as important.”[xiii] In other words, people experiment with DMT for a number of different reasons and in numerous types of venues, the particular contextual circumstances of which help to mold and define the experience.

Some Westerners journey on pilgrimages into the Amazon to experience DMT in an authentic shamanic ritual setting, where through the consumption of ayahuasca they seek healing and/or enlightenment. Others stay domestic and experience it in settings like Burning Man, essentially a modern-day Dionysian arts festival with over 48,000 attendees held annually in the Nevada desert.[xiv] Still others discover DMT while attending musical gatherings of one sort or another. At street value, one dose of DMT might cost around $20-$40, depending on the quality and location, making the domestic use much more affordable (albeit typically much less spiritual).[xv]

Especially when taken in a shamanic setting, DMT produces profoundly religious, ethos-altering effects. With the combinatory aid of ayahuasca and a shaman, or healer, the Western pilgrim’s mind opens into another dimension that reveals reality’s hidden nature and can be use as form of psychotherapy.[xvi] Terence McKenna describes that, while on DMT, “One has the impression of entering into an ecology of souls that lies beyond the portals of what we naively call death.”[xvii] DMT shatters prior convictions of the separation between life and death and between one organism to another, as its projects saturated images of welded, inter-related currents weaving in and out of both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Image 1 represents the interconnectedness of all things, as relayed through Jason WA Tucker’s DMT experience.

In his drawing, what appear to be individual figures are connected by a single line; a single line twists and turns to produce distinct figures that could not exist without each other. The organic shape of the line connotes natural beings in a transformative process. He speaks of his work, “Early on I yearned to express what it was that I felt and not necessarily what I thought. Now I carry with me a strong feeling that I’ve experienced art as a living being—like a human being—both complicated and ever evolving. I have come to see things beings as anthropomorphic entities, made of language, each one performing an act of transformation—a visible linguistic dance expressing infinite possibilities.”[xviii] For Tucker, his ability to create DMT inspired art became the task of transcribing the unspeakable, of translating complex thoughts given to him in an alien language. The solution, as he suggests, was to deliver the message in relatable, though new, terms by creating anthropoid figures who resemble the human form but who are clearly not quite human. Tucker uses simple lines to create emotion and energy, and despite DMT’s production of reputedly colorful visuals, keeps his drawings monochromatic, perhaps in order to make them more digestible. Lastly, Tucker’s drawing resembles archaic cave drawings, makes a connection between his modern experience and that of the ancient experience, and relates the sense of timelessness produced by DMT. Through placing an emphasis on transformation, interconnectedness, and the stability of eternity despite its constant revolution, Tucker translates a shamanic DMT experience’s effect on the individual worldview.

The shaman’s presence notably influences the experience, as he remains present throughout the duration of the ceremonial session, monitoring the subjects’ condition, leading chants or dances, and using his knowledge and metaphysical powers to guide the subjects’ journey through the new dimensions they discover.[xix] The significance of the shaman cannot be overstated. Through alliances with the spiritual forces that he dedicated his life establishing, the shaman imparts the healing wisdom of indigenous spirituality to

introspective Westerners. According to the shamanic worldview:

There is an underlying spiritual aspect to everything that exists, an intimate relationship and even dependency between the seen and unseen, between the world of nature and human creation on one side, and normally invisible and intelligent forces. The preservation of the individual and the community, and therefore human action, depends on finding the proper balance in this complex reality. Sacred plants, such as ayahuasca, facilitate the perception of such complexity.[xx]

The shamanic ethos pervade the Western pilgrims’ ritual journey both during the ceremony and in post-ceremony reflections. Typically with the aid of a translator, the shaman helps the subject make sense of the complex sights, sounds, and feelings he or she experienced during the ayahuasca ritual. The shaman takes on an authoritative, elderly (read: leadership) role, as he putatively has the capability of steering the mind’s exploration by metaphysically interfering with the interactions between the subject and the other-worldly beings he or she encounters; during the ceremony, a shaman might “throw arrows” at specific areas of the subject’s body or mind, targeting certain spots that contain kinks and require special attention.[xxi] Additionally, the shaman assists the Western pilgrim in distilling his or her experiences into discernible lessons that can be applied to future days.

Unfortunately, not all who experiment with DMT can afford or are able to have a shaman guide their journeys. As noted earlier, set and setting can determine the sort of trip one encounters. One who uses DMT recreationally at a rock show will have a very different experience than one who journeys into the Amazon for an ayahuasca ceremony. But even D.M. Turner who used DMT more recreationally than spiritually says the main difference between DMT and LSD is the level of transcendental interaction:

With LSD, Katamine, or any other synthetic psychedelic, I typically feel that I am interacting with my mind, and a universal process of consciousness change where the self-identity is dissolved and then reformulated. These same processes occur with DMT and mushrooms. However, with these substances I often get the sense that I am also interacting with an intelligent entity who is vastly superior to me in knowledge and breadth of consciousness. This entity seems to be quite aware of what’s transpiring in my mind, and is able to instruct and to tailor the experience so that it’s personally suited to me.[xxii]

Turner emphasizes an omnipotent other—a presence commonly felt during DMT induced states. Many interpret such a presence as God, though not necessarily as the Christian God or any other God in particular. Oftentimes, the omnipotent figure takes on a feminine persona, challenging centuries of patriarchal religion, and generating constructive self-identities for women.[xxiii] Regardless of the God-like figure’s gender, the resulting feeling of transparency partially accounts for the sense of being in a different dimension.

Many who experiment with DMT characterize the new dimension they were transported to as a post-death state. Though only implicitly mentioned by Turner, accounts of DMT induced post-worldly or death-related visions abound, revealing death as an integral aspect of the DMT experience. Jan Kounen, filmmaker and co-author of The Psychotropic Mind: The World according to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism, relates:

It forces you to encounter the feeling of death; even if it is virtual, your mind is still going to perceive it. It is going to perceive the mortal organic mechanism, which is going to be unplugged one day, scaring you even more. Learning to cross through these stages in order to live more intensely appears to be one of the shaman’s, the healer’s, modes of operation.[xxiv]

As she expresses, one takes DMT not only to experience death, but also to then use any insights gained to direct future actions in life. Experience death during DMT might be scary initially, but most often results in positive, self-affirming revelations.

User testimonies from both clinical and field settings consistently mention the presence of death. In his clinical study, Strassman distinguished two primary states of death people enter into while under the influence of DMT: states of near-death and states of death-rebirth. One person relates the feeling of being reborn: “It changed me. My self-concept seemed small, stupid and insignificant after what I saw and felt. It’s made me admit that I can take more responsibility; I can do more in areas I never thought I could. It’s so unnatural and bizarre you have to find your own source of strength to navigate in it.”[xxv] Users often have vivid recollections on how horrible the death part was, but in the end, the negative aspects become overshadowed by the resulting growth.

Scholars speculate that the release of endogenous DMT might be responsible for near-death experiences.[xxvi] In Strassman’s clinical study on DMT, reported near-death experiences mirrored that reported by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who contracted a rare bacteria that completely shut down his cortex (the part of his brain responsible for thoughts and emotions). He recounted his near-death-experience to Newsweek as a precursor to the release of his book about it. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is no way he could have experienced even a dim or limited consciousness.  But as he sat under minute medical observation during the seven days of his coma, he underwent what he describes as a “hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey,” that completely altered his perception of reality:

Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.

But now I understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.[xxvii]

Alexander’s experience, like a DMT experience, breaks two of the strongest binaries in America: the binary of life and death, and the binary of science and religion. He no longer views death as opposed to life, but rather as a transformative state that leads to additional revelations and adventures. His experience convinced him that science and religion were not mutually exclusive like he had been taught to believe. Also as with DMT, Alexander challenges the dominant paradigm of Western science by embracing metaphysical spirituality and radically claiming scientific legitimacy nonetheless. In doing so, both Alexander and psychonauts assert their own authority in opposition to society’s establishments of science, education, and –for the psychonaut—government.

By interacting with illegal substances, psychonauts ignore the government’s fear-mongering mandate to stay away from drugs. By investigating DMT in genuinely academic mindsets and by breaking the D.A.R.E promise forced upon them as elementary school children, psychonauts abandon hegemonic notions of what constitutes material worth knowing as they abandon their allegiance to hegemonic academia.[xxviii] Lastly, by fearlessly pioneering the scientific exploration of the metaphysical, psychonauts separate themselves from the rigidity of modern science. Psychonauts’ dismissal of traditional sources of authority and their willingness to explore unchartered dimensions resembles that of Revolutionary American, where colonists rebelled against the British and risked their lives by expanding Westward (except psychonauts typically have the best intentions when dealing with indigenous groups—have no desire to kill them, take their land, or colonize them—and, unlike most early American pioneers, seek to learn from the tribes rather than teach them something). Indeed, psychonauts could be considered pioneers into the final frontier of the psyche.

Like the pioneers experienced hardships (example: Donner party), a DMT trip is not always completely fun and games. One website for an ayahuasca pilgrimage tries to prepare guests for the dual-nature of the experience:

Ayahuasca sessions vary immensely from shaman to shaman, but generally speaking one can say that they all have two major characteristics: they teach about life and about death.

An Ayahuasca session teaches about death in that it purifies us of all the things we hold inside our bodies and that we have come to believe are essential to our being, when in reality they are foreign and harmful. Thus, in letting go of them, a person faces the unknown and sometimes feels like s/he is literally dying. Also, it feels like dying because one has to let go of the control which, specially for us in the West, holds us prisoners to our fears.

This death process in the ceremony usually leads-up to, and is sometimes resolved through vomiting and/or shitting; literally our body is being cleansed of physical and spiritual impurities.

On the other hand, Ayahuasca teaches us about life, and it can sometimes offer the participant the most amazing embodied visions where most precious knowledge is imparted, and most miraculous healings happen. This doesn’t happen every-time, as one often needs to undergo many stages of purification before such a blessing is forthcoming.[xxix]

The shamanic use of DMT results in the healing of the user, who can then help to heal society by translating his revelations to others using various forms of communication (face to face, blogs, full websites, documentaries, books, etc.). It is worth noting the tremendous amount of information that exists online on the subject of DMT. The Internet serves as the forum for public discussion on an otherwise forbidden topic, as it allows those who are interested to anonymously and safely contribute their knowledge or pose their questions. Christie Davies notes that whereas the television worked to alienate and isolate individuals within the community, the Internet “goes beyond television, and also circumvents television,” as it provides “a free and decentralized electronic medium in an otherwise controlled and restricted electronic age.”[xxx] She wasn’t speaking in reference to discussions over psychedelics, but her point holds true nonetheless. Whereas society has failed to include drugs in public dialogue except for campaigns like “Just Say No,” the Internet has facilitated recent interest in DMT, has provided the means for Western pilgrims to schedule journeys into the Amazon, and has assuredly helped educate countless numbers of curios ‘psychonauts’ on how to safely approach DMT and other drugs.[xxxi]

In this way, alternative visions of the human conditions slowly spread throughout America. But the use of DMT exists outside of shamanic rituals, most especially at specific types of rock concerts, which become a venue for the spread of the ethos that characterize the DMT subculture. Though typically considered mere forms of entertainment, DMT rock shows take on a therapeutic value and provide the opportunity for the embracive DMT worldview to heal greater percentages of the population.

DMT is most likely not the only drug present at such concerts; other drugs might include alcohol, marijuana, LSD, salvia, mushrooms, MDMT (ecstasy/molly), or various amphetamines, all of which undoubtedly contribute to the atmosphere. Debating which drugs deserve the most credit for allowing the healing process to take place is futile, however, because what matters is the general effect produced by their presence. In fact, one need not necessarily consume any drugs in order to be healed; by merely being present at the show, immersed in the culture, and surrounded by the energy flowing freely back and forth from performer to audience and from attendee to attendee, one can partially experience the liberating release of DMT. With the aid of some combination of dancing, drugs, community unity, and pure musical bliss, attendees are able to break away from the stress they carried into the show and fully enter into the moment, allowing the atmosphere itself to work its magic.

Not likely to be used at a Nickleback show, DMT use tends to follow rock bands such as the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips: bands that attract cult-like followers who repeatedly and frequently attend shows, who establish a genuine sense of community, and most significantly, who frankly and fearlessly explore the dimensions of death to deeper depths than their mainstream counterparts.[xxxii] It may be noted that, generally speaking, mainstream music tends to reflect mainstream attitudes, while countercultural music reflects countercultural attitudes. Mainstream music may be considered as music played on public radio stations—USA Singles Top 40 type of music—where an artist might attract fans to a concert because he or she has several good, well-known songs, or because he or she develops a celebrity-like aura that attracts fans like bugs to a light. Mainstream music followers typically discover their favorite songs on FM radio, cycle through their favorite artists as societal trends evolve, and have one or two songs from many different artists in their iTunes library (perhaps the occasional complete album). But no real bond exists between the fans themselves; for them, attending a concert is, if anything more than a fun way to let loose on Friday night, an attempt to bond with the performer (and maybe with the friends they went to the show with), rather than with the crowd of strangers that, annoyingly, only get in the way of a more intimate connection between the performer and the individual fan.

For fans of bands like the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips, on the other hand, attending a show has the potential to become a sacred ritual, complete with a ceremony and sacraments.[xxxiii] In such shows, the multitudes of people positively (read: buoyantly) amplify the ecstatic nature of attending the performance and being part of the ritual gathering. Attending the show means so much more than being in a certain space at a certain time; it becomes a transformative experience, capable of healing the soul by releasing it from the shackles of baggage that it entered with. This process of reconnecting with inner realms by being made aware of others’ existence and rejoicing in it, Aldous Huxley argues, leads to enlightenment:

Systematic reasoning is something we could not, as a species or as individuals, possibly do without. But neither, if we are to remain sane, can we possibly do without direct perception, the more unsystematic the better, of the inner and outer worlds into which we have been born. This given reality is an infinite which passes all understanding and yet admits of being directly and in some sort totally apprehended. It is a transcendence belonging to another order than the human, and yet it may be present to us as a felt immanence, an experienced participation. To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness—to be aware of it and yet to remain in a condition to survive as an animal, to think and feel as a human being, to resort whenever expedient to systematic reasoning. Our goal is to discover that we have always been where we ought to be. Unhappily we make the task exceedingly difficult for ourselves. Meanwhile, however, there are gratuitous graces in the form of partial and fleeing realizations.[xxxiv]

Huxley notes the delicate balance between rationality and sensitivity, and emphasizes how important one’s mindset is in determining happiness. He encourages the embrace of cognizance; himself rationally concluding that without it, the human species probably would not last very long. Yet he acknowledges that unless the mind participates in some sort of transformative process where it recognizes itself as a member of something much larger and more powerful, and furthermore that through its membership in this incomprehensible realm that it is an active participant in the universe, its potential remains untapped. The opportunity for such a transformative process arguably exists invariably, but especially at places like DMT rock shows where mind-altering drugs, music, and dancing help to knock down the barriers erected by the rational mind.

By making connections with people previously considered ‘other,’ one begins the transformative process of death and rebirth experienced during a shamanic DMT ritual. In this context, new understandings of death arise. Death no longer equates with the negative result of something good ending, but rather becomes the positive result of something bad ending. Scholars refer to this moment as the “death of the ego.”[xxxv] After the dismantling of the ego, ones inhibitions melt; there remains no idolized self’s reputation to protect, no possible way for synthetic materials or attitudes to elevate one’s economic or social position, no need to tirelessly prove one’s worth. Lata Mani prescribes the death of the ego for all of society: “From a spiritual purview, the root of suffering, whether of individuals or collectives, lies in this tendency of the ego to see itself as separate from the larger, mutually interdependent collectivity of which each of us is an equal, and equally sacred, part. The spiritual quest, then, is about emancipating oneself from the stranglehold of egoic thinking and action.”[xxxvi] Ironically, the death of the ego results in a sublime awareness of one’s significance.

The ethereality experienced by attendees during a performance by a band like the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips oftentimes leaves a lasting impression. Whether or not the attendee uses DMT, another drug, or no drugs at all to heighten their senses, the experience provides the crowd with an alternative view of the human condition—a condition based off an inclusive and collective identity, instead of the exclusive and individual identity offered by mainstream America. This allows for the attendees to separate their identities from aspects of their lives that might typically define them—such as what style of clothes they wear, where they consider their home, what they chose to study in college, what job they hold, etc. (all of which are defined by their opposite, for example where they don’t shop, how they don’t talk, which drugs they don’t use, etc.)—and instead focus on one thing that they have in common with each other (and with every one else, too, for that matter): the simple fact that they are human.

Humans can always be separated into different groups depending on their individual characteristics, and all too often are. Mani warns, “This affliction of separateness, this inability to recognise the radical equality, divine essence and oneness of all that is, manifests as pride, greed, selfishness, and gives rise to discontent.”[xxxvii] We are trained to think in terms of opposites (Black vs. White, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, young vs. old, Republican vs. Democrat, religion vs. science, etc.), and indeed, doing so can be productive, as it often helps reveal inequalities that plague our society, that once identified can be addressed and hopefully corrected.  But if we continually focus on the ways in which things are different, we risk forming over-simplifications, untrue binaries, and incomplete conclusions; we risk ignoring fundamental similarities that can be helpful in forming definitions, making connections, and understanding how things truly relate to each other.

Using shared humanity as a starting point, DMT rock shows not only lead to a death of the ego, but they also change the meaning and significance of the death of the physical body. Speaking in reference to the Grateful Dead, Luanne K. Roth writes, “the subculture subverts conventional meanings of ‘death’ and ‘dead’—transforming them into life-affirming terms.”[xxxviii] Figure 2 shows how the Flaming Lips, like the Grateful Dead, uses skeletal images to introduce death, but adds a twist to it, such as DMT, to insinuate changing understandings of death.[xxxix] One Flaming Lips song in particular, “Do You Realize?” portrays alternative views to death:

Do You Realize—that you have the most beautiful face

Do You Realize—we’re floating in space

Do You Realize—that happiness makes you cry

Do You Realize—that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes—let them know

You realize that life goes fast

It’s hard to make the good things last

You realize the sun doesn’t go down

It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.[xl]

Notably, “Do You Realize?” is widely considered to be one of the groups most popular and assessable songs (others tend to get pretty abstract). In line with the DMT worldview, the Flaming Lips sing about cosmic ironies and how death isn’t so serious after all.

Western interest in DMT challenges the assured claim that “We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”[xli] Not only does experiencing DMT leave one with confidence in the metaphysical properties of life—suggesting that we are much more than biology, much more than modern science currently allows us to understand—but it also endows the user with a lasting reminder of his or her own mortality. DMT induces the perceived experience of death, but even after the psychotropic effects have worn off, the user’s attitude towards death remains irrevocably altered. DMT offers an inclusive, comforting world-view, where death is but the beginning.

[i] For an example from the 1970’s, see: Philippe Ariés, “The Reversal of Death: Changing Attitudes Toward Death in Western Societies,” American Quarterly 26.5, Special Issue: Death in America (Dec. 1974), pp. 536-560.

For a modern example, see: Peter N. Stearns, “American Death,” in American Behavioral History, Peter N. Stearns, ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2005), pp. 143-154.

[ii] Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[iii] DMT is an endogenous, or naturally produced, compound, found to exist in humans, some mammals, and some plants, including the Amazonian psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca, huasca, or yagé, which has been used in ritual practices for centuries. For a history of DMT, see Strassman (2001).

[iv] As noted in Manuel A Vásquez, and Marie Friedmann Marquardt, Globalizing the Sacred: Religion across the Americas. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press 2003). Notwithstanding any negative effects of neoliberal economic policy, it is because of globalization that traditional religious expressions, once self-contained and territorially rooted, have expanded to non-natal lands.

[v] Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2001).

[vi] Kim Kristensen, “The Ayahuasca Phenomenon: Jungle Pilgrims: North Americans Participating in Amazon Ayahuasca Ceremonies,” Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. (1998). Retrieved 12-11-12.

[vii] The following are just five of the dozens of websites for Amazonian ayahuasca retreats, with costs as listed on the website (not including transportation, lodging, taxes, insurance, visas, or personal expenses): $1,818 for 12 days in Iquitos, Peru with ; $1,500 for 12 days in Iquitos, Peru with ; $1,050 for 9 days in Pucallpa, Peru with ; $2,250 for 7 days in Pampachica, Peru with

[viii] Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations. (New York: Alfred A Knopf—Random House, Inc., 2012), p. ix.

[ix] Strassman, op. cit.

[x] Alexander T. Shulgin, “Profiles of Psychedelic Drugs—DMT,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 8.2 (June 1976), pp. 167-168.

[xi] Oregon. District Court. Church of The Holy Light Of the Queen, et al., v. Michael B. Mukasey, et al. Case 1:08-cv-03095-PA (3/18/2009). Web.

[xii] D.M. Turner, Essential Psychedelic Guide. (San Francisco: Panther Press, 1994).

[xiii] Dr. Rick Strassman, “Chapter Summaries: Part 5: So what?,” DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Retrieved on 12-12-12 from


[xv] Figures gathered from half a dozen personal testimonies collected by the author.

[xvi] Marlene Dobkin de Rios, “Curing with Ayahuasca in an Urban Slum,” Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Edited by Michael J. Harner. (New York: Oxford University Press 1973), pp. 67-85.

[xvii] Terence McKenna, Food of The Gods: The Search for The Original Tree of Knowledge (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), p. 258.

[xviii] Jason WA Tucker, “Actual Contact,” The Guild. Retrieved 12-12-12 from

[xix] Edward MacRae, “Shamanism in the Western Amazon,” from Guided by the moon- shamanism and the ritual use of ayahuasca in the Stano Daime religion in Brazil. (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Brasiliense, 1992)., pp. 16-33.

[xx] Luis Eduardo Luna, “Indigenous and mestizo use of ayahuasca. An overview,” The Ethnopharmacology of Ayahuasca. Edited by Rafael Guimarães dos Santos. (Kerala, India: Transworld Research Network, 2011), p. 8.

[xxi] Kristensen, op. cit.

[xxii] Turner, op. cit., p. 52.

[xxiii] Gordon Lynch, The New Spirituality: An introduction to progressive belief in the twenty-first century. (New York: I.B. Tauris 2007), p. 51.

[xxiv] Jan Kounen, in an interview from Jeremy Narby, et. al., The Psychotropic Mind: The World according to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism. (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, 2009), retrieved from the web on 12-10-12 at

[xxv] Dr. Rick J. Strassman, et. al. “Dose-Response Study of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine in Humans: II. Subjective Effects and Preliminary Results of a New Rating Scale,” Archives of General Psychiatry 51.2. (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico, 1994), p. 7.

[xxvi] Strassman, op. cit.

[xxvii] Dr. Eben Alexander, “My Proof of Heaven,” Newsweek (Oct 15, 2012), pp. 28-32. Excerpted from the forthcoming Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

[xxviii] Graduate level and above psychonauts even have a closed group on google spaces, where you must submit an application to be allowed entry. It is intended as an international forum and support network for research and publication.


[xxx] Christie Davies, “Jokes That Follow Mass-Mediated Disasters in a Global Electronic Age,” in Peter Narvaez, Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003), pp. 15-34, 311-12.

[xxxi] Though the origins of this term are not certain, it is used throughout Turner (1994) to connote ‘one who studies the psychedelics.’ Interestingly enough, Turner’s whole book was nearly lost upon his unexpected death, though someone took the effort to digitize it. It is now available online for free—just one example out of the hoards of information available on the internet.

[xxxii] Luanne K. Roth, “Dancing Skeletons: The Subversion of Death Among Deadheads,” in Peter Narvaez, Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003), pp. 265-93, 330-32.

[xxxiii] Roth, op. cit.

[xxxiv] Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954) pp. 23-24.

[xxxv] See, for example, Walter Houston Clark, Chemical Ecstasy: Psychedelic Drugs and Religion. (New York: Sheed and Ward 1969), p. 156.

[xxxvi] Lata Mani, Sacred Secular: Contemplative Cultural Critique. (New York: Routledge 2009), p. 145.

[xxxvii] Mani, op. cit.

[xxxviii] Roth, op. cit.

[xxxix] image from

[xl] Lyrics from “Do You Realize,” by the Flaming Lips from their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Written by Wayne Coyne.

[xli] Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p. 84.


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