One of the most popular “drug geek” myths is that the powerful psychedelic compound DMT is produced naturally within your body, specifically the pineal gland. Not only this, but this natural DMT is apparently involved in a wide variety of previously unexplained processes – it is the mechanism of dreaming, it causes religious feelings, and DMT production spikes near death to “carry away the soul”. This appears to stem primarily from Dr. Richard Strassman’s book The Spirit Molecule, which advanced many of these hypotheses which were then passed on and extrapolated telephone-game style to the point where fluoridated water is apparently an Illuminati plot to suppress natural DMT production.
There’s just one problem – there doesn’t appear to be any concrete evidence whatsoever for this. Dr. Strassman himself explains:
I did my best in the DMT book to differentiate between what is known, and what I was conjecturing about (based upon what is known), regarding certain aspects of DMT dynamics. However, it’s amazing how ineffective my efforts seem to have been. So many people write me, or write elsewhere, about DMT, and the pineal, assuming that the things I conjecture about are true. When I was writing the book, I thought I was clear enough, and repeating myself would have gotten tedious.
We don’t know whether DMT is made in the pineal. I muster a lot of circumstantial evidence supporting a reason to look long and hard at the pineal, but we do not yet know. There are data suggesting urinary DMT rises in psychotic patients when their psychosis is worse. However, we don’t know whether DMT rises during dreams, meditation, near-death, death, birth or any other endogenous altered state. To the extent those states resemble those brought on by giving DMT, it certainly makes one wonder if endogenous DMT might be involved, and if it were, it would explain a lot. But we don’t know yet. Even if the pineal weren’t involved, that would have little overall effect on my theories regarding a role for DMT in endogenous altered states, because we do know that the gene involved in DMT synthesis is present in many organs, particularly lung. If the pineal made DMT, it would tie up a lot of loose ends regarding this enigmatic little organ. But people seem to live pretty normals lives without a pineal gland; for example, when it has had to be removed because of a tumor.
In both these regards–the pineal-DMT connection, and endogenous DMT dynamics–we ought to know a lot more within the next several years due to the efforts of a research group being led by Steven Barker at Louisiana State University. He, with his grad student Ethan McIlhenny, are developing a new super-assay for DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, and metabolites. This assay will be capable of detecting those compounds much more sensitively than previous generations of assays. They’re looking at endogenous levels in awake sober normals, to assess baseline values of these compounds. We should have some data from those samples within a year. They also will be looking at pineal tissue. Once we have some baseline data in normal humans in normal waking consciousness, comparisons can be made between those levels and levels in endogenous altered states, like dreams, near-death, and so on.
It appears that myths about drugs can cut both ways, and this is an important illustration of the requirement for critical thinking, no matter how appealing the initial conjecture. Steven Barker and Ethan McIlhenny’s work to determine baseline DMT levels continues, with their latest paper involving detection of metabolites produced by ayahuasca consumption.
Hanna J. “DMT and the Pineal: Fact or Fiction?” www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article2.shtml. Jun 3 2010.