People have been trying to contact aliens for a while now. Egon Arenberg, a web marketer from South Florida, seems an unlikely guy to have nailed it. But he's one of a handful of people who thinks he’s found a way to do just that — with a brand-new machine.

Only, his machine's key component isn't nuts or bolts, antennae or telescopes.

It’s DMT.

Arenberg is one of a small but growing group of people who believe that this obscure, powerful drug can be used to contact extraterrestrial life.

"Contact has been made," says Arenberg. "We've found life."

See, when DMT is smoked — often in high school basements, college dorms and estates in Silicon Valley — it makes you "see" weird dancing characters: animals, cartoons, aliens and elves. Some people say it makes them astral travel to new worlds. The people who see these things aren't crazy — anyone who vapes enough DMT will see these entities, too … for five crazy minutes.

However, Arenberg, like thousands of others, believes the things people see on DMT aren’t just hallucinations or imagined characters in a strange dream. He thinks they are real. Real like your dog is real. Or you are real. Or maybe real like bacteria or radio waves are real; real but invisible … most of the time. That’s why he wants to make a special DMT machine — to explore, and hopefully contact things he believes exists outside conscious perception.

After all, it took special instruments to prove that radio waves and bacteria are real. So, following in the footsteps of science, Arenberg and others hope to build a machine based on a design put forth by two academics in this scientific paper from last summer. It's a basically a DMT drip, to meter out DMT, to get high and stable amounts in the bloodstream. It's how anesthetists keep a stable concentration of anesthesia in patients' brains during surgery.

Once they get the machine built — and someone will probably eventually do it — a subject will climb into a bed. There will be a needle in the arm. A tube running down from a bag. A heart monitor. A blood pressure cuff. Beeping and whirring of machines. And in this bed, hooked to this machine, DMT will race through the blood of the brave person, and they'll blast off. Not for five minutes, like a normal DMT trip, but perhaps for five hours, into what the machine's inventors say is the perceived "alternate universe."

To be clear, once it’s put to use, no one will have ever been that high. These trippers will be the Neil Armstrong of drugs, the Buzz Aldrin of tripping.

This may seem like strange terrain — a niche one at that — only interesting to the relatively small number of people familiar with this obscure, powerful drug. But these folks' quest speaks to is the constant human desire to go farther and farther out, to be the first, best, and bravest. It shows the human desire to explore isn’t dead; it’s just taken new forms, traveled down new alleys.

Or, maybe, this story just speaks to the inborn human tendency to see life — gnomes and leprechauns and ghosts back in the Dark Ages, nowadays aliens in UFOs — when it's all just shadows and dreams, all just in our heads.

Either way, after five hours or so, they’ll come back and tell us what they saw. Tell us what the “aliens” and “elves” get up to all day. Maybe what their names are – their addresses and their telephone numbers. Provided these DMT pioneers can come down from the stratosphere after a five hour DMT drip, the stories they tell might just be some of the most important of our time, offering a glimpse of things that exist beyond the perception of normal human consciousness.

To be clear, Arenberg isn't currently building this machine. But he's created a nonprofit, Noonautics, to start networking with people who can contribute knowledge and resources to this project and others like it, while staying within the law. 

"This is like NASA," Arenberg says. "This is a launch pad to find new kinds of life. This is the new frontier."

Arenberg isn't the only person who uses the NASA comparison to talk about what's happening with DMT extraterrestrial exploration, though. Daniel McQueen, who lives in Boulder, and who's not a friend of Arenberg's but has grand plans along the exact same lines, also compares what he's doing to NASA’s probe to find new life. He's calling it "CyberDMT." McQueen runs cannabis meditation sessions and conferences about psychedelics. He’s told crowds that the exploration of this "DMT space" can follow the same lines as when Asians set out for Polynesia, the Norse sailed to Greenland and the Russians put a spacecraft on the moon.

“Nobody's ever done this before, even in the underground, in any capacity,” McQueen says. McQueen tells us he’s talking to people about moving to Boulder to pursue this. He’s trying to get a team together. He's corresponded with the inventors of the same machine as Arenberg is interested in. McQueen has no definite timeline for the building of this machine, but he's looking for financial support. While the machine might be built for just $5,000 to $20,000, he says, operating it could would require skilled medical technicians to monitor the person getting high.

Many people who are interested in DMT are impressed with these folks’ ambitions. Others think they've just … gone off the deep end. And that, by tripping too hard for too long, they risk total insanity.

This happens to DMT-smokers occasionally: they start to think the entities they see while tripping are real. Next thing you know, they've quit their jobs to smoke DMT all day and communicate with them. One such person I met was a psychiatrist, who asked me not to use his real name. He told me that, years ago, he stayed up for four days straight, steadily loading a new bowl of DMT as soon as he came down. In that DMT space he encountered "insectoid, reptilian aliens," he says, who communicated with him, telepathically, that he was a chosen person, almost a messiah, picked to broadcast the truth about the reality of alien life, to shout, essentially: “Contact has been made! We’ve found life!” He was maniacally happy. Him! Of all people! The pioneer! Whom the aliens trusted with knowledge of their existence!

It wasn't too long before he decided he hadn't actually talked to aliens. But he told people about the whole experience. He told his girlfriend and his friends. And then he told his boss.


His boss thought it possible he had lost his marbles, and was a danger to his patients. It was a tense time. There were meetings and agreements about not talking about aliens at work. The doctor nearly lost his job. 

Today, he’s a successful psychiatrist. He knows the human mind. He thinks all those aliens were all just in his head.

“It was a representation of my own mind, of what extraterrestrial intelligence could actually be,” he says. “It definitely wasn’t real."

His warning is this:

“Excessive use of Dimethyltryptamine can put you into a manic headspace where you think that you're the messiah who's supposed to spread the gospel of what you've learned,” he says, “to say, I’ve met the aliens, I know everything, I’m an ultra genius, let me heal the world.”

He's far from alone in his experience. After the one public, legal, clinical study of DMT, the experience so rattled some participants that they formed a support group to reassure each other that they weren't losing their minds.

McQueen responds: "This warning should absolutely be considered. We believe that the potential for mania and delusion are real. … For a research project like this, working with untrained 'healthy volunteers' wouldn't be enough. We would develop a psychonaut training program to prepare people for the intensity of these experiences," and "also test the safety of the extended state DMT experience by starting with shorter and lower dose experiences."

Still, even from the small crowd that believes these characters are “real,” shouts of objection to the idea of a DMT machine rise up, saying, "You can't lasso these entities! They won't be probed and prodded!" At least that’s what Hamilton Souther, a leader of retreats to do ayahuasca, a sister drug to DMT, and a person who thinks these characters are real-live spirits, has said. When asked by Duncan Trussell on his podcast about doing experiments to prove these spirits are real, he replied, "What makes you think these things are going to play by your rules?"

Maybe we're asking the wrong questions. Graham St. John, who has written a cultural history of DMT, said that the question, "Are they real," should be re-phrased into something like, "Is what they tell you useful? What do you come back with?" Because, a lot of the time, the entities tell people nice, uncontroversial stuff: that all is one, love is real, we should help each other. Maybe we should focus on what's being said, not who's saying it. 

As James Casey, the former head of the CU Psychedelic Club has said: "Either this is stuff is really happening and then, Holy Mother. Or else this stuff is all just being created by your brain and then, Holy Mother, too. Either way it's incredible." 

Others believe that most of these questions are simply beyond our understanding; that when we smoke DMT, we're like dogs being shown a card trick or cavemen trying to understand a rainbow. Nick Sand is the rebel chemist who made millions of hits of LSD. He smoked DMT thousands of times. And he wrote, very elegantly, that DMT is beyond our ken. "Some things just have to remain mysteries," he wrote. "We cannot analyze and dissect everything."

The scientist in all of us dies a little bit when we hear stuff like that. We want to know. But, in a way, it’s a joy to hear that there are still mysteries in the universe, roads to explore, and brave souls willing to do the exploring.

As to the risks: they're very real. But when the Vikings and Columbus set out to discover new lands, ships sank, sailors starved, diseases spread. When the space race started, rockets blew up left and right. Whenever we explore, won't risks always be involved? So while this whole DMT Machine idea seems weird as hell and risky as fuck — isn't it also possible that anyone willing to take a five hour DMT trip without knowing what it’ll do to them is really just a modern-day Magellan?