You’ve heard the phrase “I watched my life flash before my eyes”, right? Well, a group of researchers wanted to know what it felt like to get as close to death as possible—with the help of a psychedelic drug.
Dimethyltryptamine (otherwise known as DMT) is an intense naturally occurring psychedelic, also found internally in our bodies. It’s the active hallucinogenic compound in ayahuasca, the tea brew traditionally sipped in spiritual ceremonies of some Amazonian tribes. DMT can also be ingested in crystal form and, when taken in this manner, can produce a powerful but short-lasting hallucinogenic state.
And, according to new research, a DMT trip can mimic the feeling of almost-dying extremely accurately.
For the first time ever, scientists measured the similarities between a DMT trip and near-death experiences and published their results in the Frontiers in Psychology. The lead author of the study, Christopher Timmermann, and his team used the drug in a controlled research environment to safely induce “radical shifts in consciousness” and record the experience of each volunteer.
Once their trip was over, the 13 volunteers were quizzed on what they saw and felt. Did time speed up or slow down? Did they see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light? Did they sense they were in some other, unearthly world?
Most of the volunteers said they were initially engulfed in a sensation of warmth and felt a vibration in their bodies. Some said they communicated with foreign entities, and these encounters had a sense of emotion or gratitude.
The team then compared the participants responses with a sample of people who’d reported having near-death experiences. When the results were compared, researchers found an overlap in almost every item of the questionnaire. (The biggest difference was that participants knew they were involved in a study versus the shock and distress that comes with a near-death experience.)
This isn’t the first time DMT has been used to conduct research on its effects on humans. In the 1990s, Dr. Rick Strassmen was the first to do research, where he intravenously injected DMT into volunteers and monitored them medically while recording their experiences. Half of the volunteers experienced other entities like aliens, other humans, spiders, reptiles, and dwarves.