Ayahuasca produces sensations similar to those experienced by people who undergo Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), new research indicates. This is because of the dimethyltryptamine, popularly known as DMT, the substance that is the active principle of the drink.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the study investigated the connection between NDEs and DMT consumption. Scientists at Imperial College London in the UK administered intravenous doses of the substance to 13 healthy volunteers. Did they still have to answer a questionnaire with questions like “scenes from your past came back to you?” And “did you see or feel surrounded by a bright light?”.
Their reactions were compared with the NDEs of 67 people. The affinities between the responses confirmed the anecdotal (informal) evidence that whoever takes the psychedelic compound is capable of feeling the same effect as an NDE.
“Our findings show a similarity between the kinds of experiences people have when taking DMT and those who report having experienced an NDE,” researcher Chris Timmermann told Newsweek.
David Nutt, a professor who also contributed to the study, said the data suggest that “the known life-changing effects of DMT and NDE may have the same neuroscientific basis.”
And Robin Carhart-Harris, leader of the Imperial College’s psychedelic research group, commented: “DMT allows you to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of death.”
Even with these results, scholars noticed that there were some subtle differences between the two experiments. People who used DMT were more likely to describe “I entered a supernatural realm,” while those who went through EQM said, “I’ve reached a point of no return.”
For scientists, these distinctions may be the result of rigorous screening and preparation that preceded the dosing of DMT in these experiments in volunteers.
“We hope to conduct more studies to measure the changes in brain activity that occur when people take the compound,” said author Timmermann. “This, along with other works, will help us explore not only the effects on the brain but also whether they can have medicinal benefits in the future.”
Substances such as DMT, LSD, MDMA and psilocybin (present in mushrooms) promise to revolutionize the treatment of anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress for patients who do not respond to the remedies that currently exist.