Phenomenology and content of the inhaled N, N-dimethyltryptamine (N, N-DMT) experience

A total of 30,652 r/DMT reddit posts were identified and screened over the 10-year period from 2009 to 2018, of which 3305 posts containing 3778 unique inhaled N, N-DMT experiences were included in this study (see Fig. 1). Two-thousand nine-hundred and thirty-four posts (88.8%) included a report of a single experience, 297 posts (9.0%) included two experiences, and 74 posts (2.2%) included 3 or more experiences.

The included 3305 posts were created by 2277 Reddit authors, with a median age at the time of the N, N-DMT experience of 23.0 years [interquartile range (IQR), 20.0 to 29.8; reported in 118 experiences (3.1%)], and a median word count of 311 (IQR, 160.0 to 568.0; see Table 1). The gender of the author was identified in 237 experiences (6.3%), including 189 males (5.0%) and 48 females (1.3%). The location in which the experience occurred was reported in 1138 experiences (30.1%), of which the location was most frequently inside (n = 969, 25.6%) within a bedroom or living room (n = 492, 13.0%); while 169 experiences (4.5%) were reported as occurring outside. Music was reportedly used in 408 experiences (10.8%) and the presence or absence of a sitter was identified in 948 experiences (25.1%); of which 157 experiences (4.2%) were completed alone.

Table 1 Demographic data of the included posts and N, N-DMT experiences.

A median reported N, N-DMT dose of 40.0 mg (IQR 27.5–50.0) with a median of 3.0 inhalations (IQR 2.0–3.0) per experience were reported in 1347 (35.7%) and 1087 (28.8%) of the experiences, respectively. The plant source of the N, N-DMT was identified in 129 experiences (3.4%), including 95 (2.5%) experiences involving N, N-DMT extracted from Mimosa hostilis root bark and 34 (0.9%) from Acacia confusa root bark. A pipe or glass-pipe (n = 598, 15.8%) was the most frequent reported device used to self-administer the N, N-DMT. Identified plant-based material accompaniments included the “sandwich method” (containing the DMT between other plants to avoid losing intake due to vaporization produced by directly burning the substance; n = 259, 6.8%); Changa (n = 165, 4.4%); and enhanced-leaf, joints, or blunts (n = 21, 0.6%). The median experience duration, estimated from 538 experiences (14.2%) was 10 min (IQR 5.0–15.0).

No previous inhaled N, N-DMT experience (i.e., first time-use during the index experience) and one previous inhaled DMT experience were identified in 1008 experiences (26.6%) and 324 experiences (8.6%), respectively (see Table 1). Seventy-six experiences (2.0%) involved the Reddit authors reporting no previous psychedelic use prior to the index experience. Previous experience with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was most frequently reported (n = 550, 14.6%), followed by psilocybin (n = 383, 10.1%), and MDMA (n = 80, 2.1%). Concomitant psychoactive substance use was identified in 536 experiences (14.2%), most frequently involving cannabis (n = 243, 6.4%), followed by LSD (n = 129, 3.4%), alcohol or benzodiazepines (n = 101, 2.7%), MDMA (n = 40, 1.1%), and psilocybin (n = 30, 0.8%). To note, a separate analysis of the data was conducted excluding experiences with reported concomitant psychoactive substance use (n = 3242). No meaningful differences in the distribution of codes or themes were identified in experiences with concomitant psychoactive substance use excluded (see Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 89).

Table 2 Physical and somatic responses to N, N-DMT.
Table 3 Content of imagery and visualizations of the N, N-DMT experiences and changes to visual perception.
Table 4 Entity attributes, disposition, and characteristics of the entity interaction.
Table 5 God Encounter Questionnaire (GEQ).
Table 6 Typology, architectural features, structural characteristics, scenery, and objects encountered in the “DMT world”.
Table 7 Rewarding emotional responses and the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ).
Table 8 Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI).
Table 9 Difficult emotional responses and the non-physical components of the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ).

Physical and somatic experiences

Somaesthesias (i.e., bodily sensations or kinesthetic hallucinations) were identified in 1415 experiences (37.5%) including a body vibration, buzz, or tingling (n = 1026, 27.2%); body “high” or body euphoria (n = 209, 5.5%); and body “load” (n = 180, 4.8%; see Table 2).

An out of body experience (OBE; including floating out of body, body dissolving, spirit/soul leaving body, falling away from body) was reported in 655 experiences (17.3%). A sensation of accelerating, falling, or moving at a high velocity was identified in 332 experiences (8.8%).

Temperature dysregulation was identified in 191 experiences (5.1%) with a sensation of warmth (n = 151, 4.0%) more frequently endorsed than cold (n = 40, 1.1%). An unpleasant taste was reported in 186 experiences (4.9%). Pain (body, abdominal, or oropharyngeal) was endorsed in 69 experiences (1.8%); head pressure, headache, or migraines in 53 experiences (1.4%); and diaphoresis in 31 experiences (0.8%).

An auditory ringing-type sound was reported in 583 experiences (15.4%). Descriptors for this sound included ringing, buzzing, vibrating, humming, static, crackling, “electric”, popping, a high pitched or tinny tone, droning, pulsing, hissing, whining noise, and an auditory carrier wave.

Amnestic events were identified in in 582 experiences (15.4%). Partial amnesia of the experience was reported in 513 experiences (13.6%) while full amnesia and “blackouts” were reported in 69 (1.8%) and 46 (1.2%) experiences, respectively. A loss of awareness to being under the influence of N, N-DMT during the actual experience was identified in 46 experiences (1.2%).

Motor effects were identified in 105 experiences (2.8%), most commonly a sense of paralysis (n = 51, 1.3%), followed by convulsive- or athetoid-type movements (n = 39, 1.0%) and motor incoordination or balance impairment (n = 15, 0.4%).

Dizziness or light headedness were endorsed in 70 experiences (1.9%). Synaesthesia (including audiovisual synaesthesia) was identified in 47 experiences (1.2%). Facial or oropharyngeal paraesthesias were endorsed in 18 experiences (0.5%).

Predominant gastrointestinal complaints included nausea (n = 107, 2.8%) and emesis (n = 69, 1.8%). A sense of fecal urgency was reported in 8 experiences (0.2%), while urinary urgency or incontinence was reported in 24 experiences (0.6%).

A sense of tachycardia or dysrhythmia was reported in 79 experiences (2.1%), while a cough or lung harshness; dyspnea, tachypnea, or apnea; chest pressure; choking sensation; and breathing difficulty not otherwise specified (NOS) were reported in 70 (1.9%), 18 (0.5%), 17 (0.4%), 10 (0.3%), and 69 (1.8%) of experiences, respectively.

Content of visualizations and imagery

The most frequently reported visualizations included fractals, geometric shapes, and patterns [n = 1231, 32.6%; including kaleidoscopes (n = 85, 2.2%), mandalas (n = 44, 1.2%), chrysanthemums (n = 32, 0.8%), and sacred geometry (n = 22, 0.6%)] and vivid, novel, neon, beautiful, or hyperintense colours (n = 953, 25.2%; see Table 3).

Four-hundred and ninety-nine experiences (13.2%) described open eye visuals (OEVs) including room and wall distortion (n = 175, 4.6%), pixilation (n = 39, 1.0%), and tracers or halos (n = 20, 0.5%). Cartoon-type visuals were reported in 113 experiences (3.0%) and the description of faces or eyes were identified in 90 experiences (2.4%).

Ancient and/or cultural-associated imagery (i.e., ancient Egyptian or indigenous Meso-/South American) was reported in 80 experiences (2.1%). Visions of relatives (dead or alive) and visions of “previous lives” were described in 75 (2.0%) and 31 (0.8%) experiences, respectively. Additional content of visualizations and imagery are listed in Table 3.

Changes to visual perception

Changes in visual perception included a shaky or vibrating vision (n = 139, 3.7%; see Table 3); visual clarity (n = 66, 1.7%); visual field expansion, seeing with eyes closed or with a third eye (n = 65, 1.7%); and a perceptual veil or curtain lifting/falling (n = 26, 0.7%).

Entity encounters and entity phenotype

One of the most salient themes of the N, N-DMT experiences involved encounters and interactions with seemingly autonomous entities, occurring in 45.5% (n = 1719) experiences. Encounters with an archetypal feminine entity were most frequent (n = 416, 24.2% of entity encounters; see Fig. 2) and included a goddess or feminine deity (n = 43, 2.5%); Gaia, Mother Ayahuasca, or Mother Nature (n = 34, 2.0%); and a female entity or feminine presence not otherwise specified (NOS; n = 339, 19.7%).

Figure 2
figure 2

Frequency and distribution of reported entity phenotypes, characteristics, and attributes. Prevalence rates reflect the frequency in relation to experiences that reported an entity encounter (n = 1719) and do not summate to 100% due to instances whereby multiple entity phenotypes, characteristics, and/or descriptors were included within a single experience and/or were used to describe a particular entity. aIncluding Ganesh, Shiva, Kali, Indra, Naga, or Shakti; bincluding Tara; cincluding Ra, Anubis, and pharaohs; dincluding Minerva, Zeus, and Thor.

The next most frequent entity phenotype was that of deities, divine beings, and demi-gods encountered in 293 experiences (17.0%); most frequently identified were the Devil, Satan, demons, or death-type entities (n = 55, 3.2%) followed by “God” (n = 48, 2.8%). Hindu deities, Buddhist (including Buddha) deities, and ancient Egyptian deities were encountered in 40 (2.3%), 37 (2.2%), and 16 (0.9%) experiences, respectively. Angels or seraphim were encountered in 18 experiences (1.0%), while Jesus or Mary Magdalene were identified in 9 experiences (0.5%). See Fig. 2 for additional encountered deity-type entities.

Aliens, celestial beings, and extra-terrestrials were encountered in 281experiences (16.3%). Included within this thematic phenotype were beings made of light or energy and jeweled beings (n = 74, 4.2%); geometric, fractal, or hyperdimensional entities (n = 61; 3.5%); grey aliens (n = 18, 1.0%); and aliens or celestial beings NOS (n = 130; 7.6%).

Animal-based and creature-based entities were reported in 158 of the entity experiences (9.2%), encompassing reptilian or serpentine entities (n = 51, 3.0%); tentacled entities, octopus-like, squid-like, and jellyfish-like entities (n = 42, 2.4%); insectoid, praying mantis, or arachnoid entities (n = 40, 2.3%); and feline entities (n = 25, 1.5%).

Mythological beings were described in 144 experiences (8.4%). Machine elves were encountered in 50 experiences (2.9%); elves NOS in 30 (1.7%); faerie, sprites, nymph, spirits, or wisps in 20 (1.2%); giants, trolls, gnomes, imps, or goblins in 14 (0.8%); therianthropes, chimeras, and hybrids in 14 (0.8%); dragons in 10 (0.6%); and witches, wizards, or a bearded individual in 6 (0.3%).

A jester, joker, or clown was described in 112 encounters (6.5%).

Cultural-specific entities were encountered in 75 experiences (4.4%); most commonly ancient Egyptian deities and entities (n = 33, 1.9%); indigenous Meso-/South American entities (n = 25, 1.5%); Asian or Thai entities (n = 11, 0.6%); and Greek, Germanic, or Norse entities (n = 6, 0.3%).

Other phenotypes included a robot or machine entity (n = 115, 6.7%); a shaman, guide, nurse, or caretaker (n = 29, 1.7%); a gate keeper, golem, or guard (n = 18, 1.0%); and a conductor or entity with a top-hat or tuxedo (n = 11, 0.6%).

Other entity descriptors included humanoid (n = 112, 6.5%); shadowy, silhouette, dark, or black entities (n = 85, 4.9%); children (n = 36, 2.1%); faceless (n = 34, 2.0%); blue entity (n = 30, 1.7%); white, red, green, or golden entity (n = 27, 1.6%); face-only or masked entity (n = 16, 0.9%); and tall slender entity (n = 11, 0.6%).

Entity attributes, disposition, and characteristics of the interaction

The attributes, disposition, and characteristics of the entities and the encounters were identified and coded (see Table 4). Positive interactions occurred in 600 encounters (34.9%) and most frequently involved a benevolent (i.e., kind, compassionate, altruistic, etc.) interaction (n = 527; 30.7%); followed by an interaction characterized as comforting, protecting, or outwardly caring in 230 encounters (13.4%); welcoming (n = 177, 10.3%); loving or embracing (n = 139, 8.1%); and dancing, singing, or partying (n = 122, 7.1%).

The Reddit author reported being healed by an entity in 51 entity encounters (3.0%). A sexual, intimate, or erotic interaction was documented in 29 experiences (1.7%) and a happy, friendly, or excited interaction in 26 experiences (1.5%). An interaction involving the Reddit author being provided nourishment occurred in 13 experiences (0.8%). An affusion-type or aspersion-type action or the entity pouring liquid on the Reddit author was described in 10 experiences (0.6%).

A companion-type, pedagogical, or guide-type interaction was identified in 557 encounters (32.4%). An entity guiding, touring, or showing occurred in 457 experiences (26.6%), while an entity beckoning or summoning occurred in 47 experiences (2.7%). The entity tested or offered a choice (including option to live or die) to the Reddit author in 77 experiences (4.5%). An entity controlled or altered the visuals of the experience in 58 encounters (3.4%), transferred knowledge in 52 encounters (3.0%), and was encouraging in 24 (1.4%). Gifts or information were offered by entities in 18 experiences (1.0%).

A negative or difficult entity interaction was described in 196 of the 1719 entity encounters (11.4%), most frequently involving a description of an entity being menacing, maliciousness, evil, threatening, violent, attacking, intimidating, or bullying in 92 experiences (5.4%). An angry, frustrated, unfriendly, unhappy, disappointed, or sad entity disposition was reported in 57 encounters (3.3%). A rejecting, denying, or unwelcoming encounter was reported in 45 experiences (2.6%). A description of being tortured or raped by an entity occurred in 14 experiences (0.8%), while being teared apart or eaten/consumed by an entity occurred in 11 encounters (0.6%).

A medical-type interaction was coded in 154 encounters (9.0%), most frequently involving the description of an entity examining, observing, scanning, or analyzing the Reddit author (n = 141, 8.2%). The implantation of a device was described in 59 encounters (3.4%); a surgery, procedure, operation, injection, or experimentation in 56 encounters (3.3%); and bodily exploration or probing in 34 encounters (2.0%).

An entity was playful or mischievous in 77 experiences (4.5%). An entity touched or interacted with the Reddit author’s forehead or chest in 16 (0.9%) and 11 (0.6%) experiences, respectively.

The description of a novel or alien language was described in 152 experiences (8.8%), while communication via emotions, colours, or vibrations was reported 11 experiences (0.6%).

God Encounter Questionnaire (GEQ)

In the majority of entity encounters, the encounter was initiated by the entity (n = 1681, 97.8%; see Table 5) and sensed visually (n = 1520, 88.4%), followed by auditorily (n = 475, 27.6%), extra-sensorially (n = 429, 25.0%), by tactile/bodily sensation (n = 257, 15.0%), and taste or smell (n = 3, 0.2%).

Entity communication occurred in 1279 of the 1719 entity experiences (74.4%) which was most frequently one-way from the entity to the Reddit author (n = 826, 48.0%), followed by two-way (n = 442, 25.7%), and one-way from the Reddit author to the entity (n = 11, 0.6%). Communication was most frequently visual (n = 937, 54.5%), followed by verbal-auditory (n = 489, 28.4%), extra-sensory or telepathic (n = 361, 21.0%), and somatic (n = 250, 14.5%).

The majority of the Reddit authors had an emotional response during the encounter (n = 1583, 92.1%) and that which was encountered had an emotional response during the encounter in 394 experiences (22.9%). The Reddit author ascertained a message, task, mission, or insight from the encounter in 792 experiences (46.1%) and very few acquired predictions about the future (n = 6, 0.3%).

Additional attributes of the entity included conscious (i.e., self-aware; n = 1602, 93.2%); intelligent (n = 1238, 72.0%); benevolent (n = 527, 30.7%); petitionable (n = 452, 26.3%); all-knowing (n = 320, 18.6%), sacred (n = 238, 13.8%), agency (n = 232, 13.5%), and eternal (n = 175, 10.2%). A positively judgmental entity interaction occurred in 800 experiences (46.5%) while a negatively judgmental interaction occurred in 308 experiences (17.9%).

That which was encountered existed, at least in part, in some other dimension or reality in 1504 experiences (87.5%) and continued to exist after the encounter in 1117 experiences (65.0%). The Reddit author felt they were completely the same as that which was encountered in 48 experiences (2.8%).

Typology, architectural features, structural characteristics, scenery, and objects of the “DMT world”

Common typological, structural, architectural features were identified and catalogued (see Table 6). Descriptions of alternate or higher dimensions were most frequently identified occurring in 952 experiences (25.2%) and included an experience of 1- or 2-dimensions (n = 30, 0.8%); 4- or 5-dimensions (n = 56, 1.5%); hyperspace (n = 646, 17.1%); and alternate-, hyper-, or multi-dimensions NOS (n = 220, 5.8%). To note, it is recognized that an interaction with an entity that existed, at least in part, in some other dimension or reality occurred in 1504 experiences (39.8%); however, authors frequently reported interacting with entities from a different dimension/reality whilst not being present in that dimension/reality themselves.

The description of being inside a room was identified in 582 experiences (15.4%); including 105 (2.8%) that identified being in the “waiting room,” specifically.

Reports of a sterile, clean, or functional room (including a medical, operating, or examination rooms) occurred in 88 experiences (2.3%). A geometric, fractal, or multi-coloured room was reported in 79 experiences (2.1%), while a white or bright room was described in 39 experiences (1.0%). See Table 6 for additional descriptions of rooms encountered.

A tunnel-type structure was reported in 390 experiences (10.3%). A void (including a white, golden, black, and void NOS) was described in 233 experiences (6.2%).

Landscape and landscape features were described in 229 experiences (6.1%), most frequently, an alien, fractal, or golden landscape (n = 46, 1.2%); an urban landscape (n = 39, 1.0%); fields (n = 26, 0.7%); a jungle, forest, or ancient forest (n = 22, 0.6%); and a beach, ocean, lake, or island (n = 16, 0.4%). See Table 6 for additional landscape descriptors.

Astronomical themes (including stars, planets, celestial bodies, galaxies, and outer space NOS) were encountered in 212 experiences (5.6%). A white, bright, or beam/stream of light was described in 130 experiences (3.4%) and machinery, clockwork, gears, or wheels were reported in 78 experiences (2.1%).

Ancient and/or cultural-specific architectural themes were encountered in 70 experiences (1.9%), including ancient Egyptian typology in 33 (0.9%), indigenous Meso-/South American (i.e., Aztecan, Mayan, etc.) in 30 (0.8%), and ancient Greco-Roman or Norse in 7 (0.2%).

A carnival, circus, or playhouse was encountered in 53 experiences (1.4%). Forty-nine experiences (1.3%) involved a vehicle, most commonly a spaceship (n = 37, 1.0%).

Pyramids were encountered in 44 experiences (1.2%) and a place of worship was identified in 31 experiences (0.8%). Metaphysical hell and heaven/nirvana were described in 31 (0.8%) and 21 (0.6%) experiences, respectively. Reddit authors reported being inside a domed or large sphere in 22 occurrences (0.6%). Eighteen (0.5%) Reddit authors reported encountering alien, advanced, or future technology.

Objects were frequently encountered (n = 352, 9.3%), with the most common being spherical objects [including globes and orbs (n = 46, 1.2%); cubes or containers (n = 30, 0.8%); and helices, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), spirals, or hourglass-shapes (n = 22, 0.6%)].

Rewarding emotional responses

A sense of familiarity to the experience was identified in 482 experiences (12.8%), of which 55 experiences (1.5%) reporting a sense of “home” or belonging (see Table 7).

Becoming tearful or reporting tears of joy were reported in 111 experiences (2.9%) and euphoria was reported in 93 experiences (2.5%). Despite 236 reports (6.2%) indicating a “feeling as if dead or dying” or a “profound experience of death” (see Table 9), 59 experiences (1.6% of all experiences or 25.0% experiences including the theme of death) endorsed an acceptance of death or the removal of fear of death.

Fifty-three experiences (1.4%) described rebirth; 33 experiences (0.9%) incorporated a sexual, intimate, or erotic tone; and 22 reports (0.6%) stated the experience felt more real than everyday reality.

Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ)

A total 2696 experiences (71.4%) reported a minimum of one item on the MEQ, including 1188 experiences (31.4%, see Table 7) containing at least one item within the “mystical” subsection of the MEQ, most frequently a “gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level” (n = 717, 19.0%). A total of 2984 experiences (79.0%) included reports coded within at least one item within the “positive mood” subsection of the MEQ, most frequently an “experience of amazement” (n = 2715, 71.9%). A total of 2746 experiences (72.7%) included at least one item within the “transcendence of space or time” subsection of the MEQ, most frequently a “loss of your usual sense of space” (n = 2710, 71.7%). A total of 543 experiences (14.4%) reported at least one item within the “ineffability” subsection of the MEQ, most frequently a “sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words” (n = 534, 14.1%).

Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI)

A total of 259 experiences (6.9%) endorsed at least one item on the EDI, most frequently experience of a ‘dissolution of “self” or ego’ (n = 140, 3.7%; see Table 8) and experience of a disintegration of “self” or ego’ (n = 140, 3.7%). Additional common EDI features included “all notion of self and identity dissolved away” (n = 134, 3.5%) and “lost all sense of ego” (n = 134, 3.5%).

Difficult emotional responses and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ)

Difficult emotional responses to the experience included sense of being stuck in a time loop (n = 31, 0.8%), claustrophobia or feeling trapped/lost (n = 17, 0.4%), thoughts or mind racing (n = 9, 0.2%), and suicidality (n = 9, 0.2%; see Table 9).

A total of 1019 experiences (27.0%) included a minimum of one emotional item from the CEQ (see Table 9). A total of 840 experiences (22.2%) included at least one component of the “fear” section from the CEQ, most frequently an “experience of fear” (n = 693, 18.3%). A total of 416 experiences (11.0%) included at least one component of the “grief” section from the CEQ, most frequently “emotional and/or physical suffering” (n = 386, 10.2%). A total of 107 experiences (2.8%) reported at least one component of the “insanity” section, most frequently “afraid that the state would last forever” (n = 92, 2.4%). Forty-five experiences (1.2%) reported a minimum of one item within the “isolation” subsection, most frequently “feel isolated from people and things” and “experience of isolation and loneliness” (n = 44, 1.2%, each). A total of 236 experiences (6.2%) reported at least one component of the “death” section, most frequently “feel as if dead or dying” (n = 227, 6.0%). A total of 17 experiences (0.4%) reported at least one component of the “paranoia” section.

Statements of profundity

A total of 352 descriptors of profundity were identified in 232 experiences (6.1%, see Fig. 3). Reddit authors most frequently pronounced the experience or an aspect of the experience as the most “beautiful” or feeling the most “beautiful” of their life (n = 47, 1.2%); followed by “intense or extreme” (n = 35), “profound or powerful” (n = 31, 0.9%), “terrifying, terrified, scary, or scared” (n = 30, 0.8%), and “amazing” (n = 26, 0.7%). Statements of profundity with a single descriptor were identified in 156 experiences (4.1%).

Figure 3
figure 3

Heat map of the frequency of statements of profundity (“…most [X] experience of my life…” or “…the most [X] I have felt in my life…”, where [X] is a descriptor theme or themes). The total column represents the total coded frequency of a theme. For statements that included multiple descriptors, the order in which the themes appeared within a statement is indicated: first order column (i.e., the descriptor appeared first within the statement or alone), second order row (i.e., the descriptor appeared second within the statement), and third or fourth order column. The frequency in which first order and second order descriptors appeared jointly is highlighted at the intersection of those themes.

Dual descriptors within a statement of profundity were identified in 43 experiences, of which the most common descriptors reported concurrently were “beautiful” and “intense or extreme” (n = 6); and “terrifying, terrified, scary, or scared” and “amazing” (n = 6).

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