Studies should look further at the effects of DMT produced inside the body (endogenous) to be able to better understand the effects of psychedelic drugs, according to researchers at the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Services (ICEERS Foundation) in Barcelona, Spain.
A recent review published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology looking at the so-called “spirit molecule” saw that the potent psychedelic contained in ayahuasca had several important physiological roles.
Research around the molecule showed that it works as a neurotransmitter acting on the serotonergic receptors as well as having a role in neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize neuronal connections.
Other studies found that DMT activity is high during early rat biological development and plays an important role during pregnancy.
Studies have shown the molecule may have properties involved in tissue protection, circadian rhythm regulation and could be involved in the sleep cycle.
Researchers found that while there are some arguments dismissing the role of endogenous DMT, the data is obsolete or misleading.
“Current research is more interested in DMT as a drug than as an endogenous molecule,” wrote the authors in the study.
“However, our knowledge about psychedelic drugs will improve substantially if we understand the natural mechanisms with which they interact. The same way that opiates helped us to better understand pain, and understanding pain helped us to better use opiates.”
“Beyond the science, if the scary schedule I hallucinogens like DMT are at the heart of important aspects of being human like consciousness or dreams, we will need to reconsider legal, political and philosophical perspectives on psychedelics,” researchers added.
DMT is produced in the adrenal glands, not the pineal gland
“Since the publication of Strassman’s (2001) book entitled ‘DMT: The Spirit Molecule’, the pineal origin of endogenous DMT and its relation to near-death experiences has been a hot topic in countercultural pseudoscience,” wrote the researchers in the review.
The pineal gland’s main function is to regulate the light-dark cycle by producing melatonin which is a hormone that regulates sleep.
In 2018, a study showed numerous difficulties that the pineal gland would have to face in order to produce fully psychoactive amounts of DMT in the few seconds or minutes before death.
A 2020 study by the same authors proposed that plenty of neurochemicals whose levels rise in the brain during stress could account for near-death experiences.
Current and past research showed that DMT could be produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress and has a protective and immunomodulatory effect.
Adrenal glands can produce fast-acting hormones that regulate metabolism, the immune system, blood pressure and it is the main organ that regulates the response to stress by producing cortisol and other fast-acting hormones like adrenaline.
In 2019, a study looked at the effects of removing the rat’s pineal gland but saw that the concentrations of DMT and 5-HT –which converts into serotonin– doubled.
Although the study results were not statistically significant, the authors of this report proposed that the gland might divert tryptophan towards sleep-regulating melatonin production, rather than producing DMT.
DMT-like structure of other popular psychedelics
The molecular structure of DMT is the backbone of some popular psychedelics being tested for medical purposes such as psilocin and LSD. The psychedelic is also similar to other biomolecules such as serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to regulate mood. DMT and other DMT-like psychedelics such as 5-MeO-DMT can activate serotonin receptors and cause strong psychoactive effects.
More companies are doing research on the medical potential of DMT in treating a range of health problems or disorders such as ischemic stroke or anxiety.
This month, the Vancouver-based firm Algernon Pharmaceuticals Inc. (CSE: AGN) (FRANKFURT: AGWO) (OTCQB: AGNPF) announced a new clinical study held in the Netherlands looking into intravenous DMT to treat ischemic stroke.
This June, the biopharmaceutical company Cybin Inc. (NEO: CYBN) (NYSE American: CYBN) also announced a study in partnership with Entheon Biomedical Corp. (CSE: ENBI) (OTCQB: ENTBF) (FSE: 1XU1) to study the potential of DMT in treating anxiety.