The notion that something from within our bodies could be considered an “illegal” substance has always seemed rather odd to me. However, this is precisely the case with the powerful drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), active ingredient in the shamanic ayahuasca tea used primarily in South America for vision quests; while prevalent in a number of different plant species, DMT also happens to be found in the human body.
The catch is that there are still many questions about how the DMT is synthesized in our bodies, though a few researchers, chief among them Rick Strassman M.D., have suggested that the stuff could be produced within the human pineal gland, which Renee Descartes famously proposed “was the point of mediation between the material body and the immaterial soul.”
In the realms of both fact and fiction, the pineal gland has occasionally played an important role with regard to man’s supposed innate abilities to “unlock” psychic powers from within, allowing us to perceive distant worlds which, to the naked senses in our typical day-to-day state of mind, remain hidden. H.P. Lovecraft’s maniacal character Crawford Tillinghast in his short story, From Beyond, described it as such:
You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense organ of organs - I have found out. It is like sight in the end, and transmits visual pictures to the brain. If you are normal, that is the way you ought to get most of it... I mean get most of the evidence from beyond.
What poor old Crawford was rambling about, in Lovecraft’s story, that is, was that the pineal gland would allow a “normal” person to perceive “evidence from beyond” through the use of a resonating device he had built. More specifically, his contraption allowed the pineal gland to function in such a way that multi-dimensional alien realms became visible when one stood near enough to it.
Paradoxically, if researchers like Rick Strassman are correct about DMT production in the brain, Lovecraft may have been closer to home than he could ever have imagined with his notions that the pineal gland acted as a medium for strange phenomenon... or possibly even certain hallucinatory experiences.
Several years ago, a study carried out by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that DMT regulates a mysterious protein that is abundant throughout the body called the sigma-1 receptor. Experiments with laboratory mice that had this receptor genetically removed yielded the strange effect of… well, nothing, whereas “normal” mice that had been injected with DMT yielded expected increases in hyperactivity until the effects of the drug had worn off. Indeed, it seems that a receptor for the hallucinogenic effects of DMT may have already been discovered.
But perhaps of even more interest is the fact that, in addition to small amounts found throughout the body of sane healthy humans, elevated levels of DMT have also been found in the urine of schizophrenic patients. This brings to mind a few interesting questions; for instance, could finding ways to inhibit or otherwise affect sigma-1 receptors in schizophrenic patients result in a new treatment for the disease?
On the other hand, many of the shamanic cultures around the world who use DMT-rich snuffs and teas in their rituals describe entities they meet while taking the stuff. Similarly, test subjects in various DMT studies (including those of Rick Strassman) report meeting such “beings”, and common to both groups are haunting consistencies between descriptions of these entities. Some offer that these beings are interdimensional creatures, which come to meet psychonauts in the sub-space realm that lingers between reality and wherever people experiencing a DMT trip tend to “go”. Conventional science tells us, however (as would common sense, perhaps) that such experiences, occurring during induced hallucinatory states, must stem solely from within the mind. Thus, the experiences are representative of little more than the imaginings of a brain operating within a chemically-induced altered state.
If indeed there is a link between DMT, or any other substance of chemical significance to diseases like schizophrenia, could this in any way mean that a person afflicted with such a condition may have some limited ability to perceive things which, in a more traditional, spiritual outlook, might be considered to exist “beyond” the five senses? We are left with these curious, even troubling questions as to how drugs like DMT work with the human mind, and how, under the right conditions, substances like this might carry the strange ability to allow up perception of those things which seem to exist in places which, rightly or wrongly, may appear to be from beyond.