Johns Hopkins University is studying encounters with DMT 'entities'

Johns Hopkins University is studying encounters with DMT 'entities'

Drug's strange hallucinations finally getting academic treatment

VicesMarch 29, 2018 By Reilly Capps

One of the country's most prestigious universities is studying the world's strangest drug.

A new online survey from Johns Hopkins could help bring the illegal psychedelic drug DMT into the light. It's asking average folks for reports of the strange things they see on DMT — especially the so-called "entities." It wants to know what they think of these entities, and whether seeing them has changed their lives.

"Essentially we are trying to understand these experiences," said Alan K. Davis, Ph.D., a post doc research fellow for the study. The team plans to present their findings in a scientific journal sometime in 2019. 

Even if you've never heard of "DMT entities," the study shows you how quickly America's drug culture is changing. Now that marijuana is here to stay, and "Just Say No" is dead, the question now is — to which other drugs should we "Just Say Yes"? Or at least — "Just Say Maybe"? 

Davis is neck-deep in answering this question. He has already authored papers on whether ibogaine helps folks quit opiates, why people drive on drugs and how many veterans use cannabis. He's also founder of the Source Research Foundation, which supports scientists-in-training who want to pursue psychedelic research. 

[Alan K. Davis of Johns Hopkins is interested in what people think they're seeing inside the otherworldly hallucinations of DMT.]

His Johns Hopkins lab — headed by Roland Griffiths — has already shown that psilocybin — the drug of magic mushrooms — can relieve depression, help you quit smoking, reduce fear of death and be one of the most "spiritually significant" events of a lifetime.

Compared to many drugs, mainstream science can say very little about DMT. We're still on the basic questions, Davis said.

"What is happening?" he asked. "Are there similarities across experiences? Can the phenomena be quantified in a meaningful way?"

It's hard to study DMT because it's associated with Burning Man and ayahuasca retreats and other semi-hidden parts of the culture. But DMT is also a natural substance, found in every single human body. It's not super-popular — only about a million Americans have smoked it — but you could nominate it for Drug of the Moment. In liquid form, it's ayahuasca, a trendy drug of kale and yoga-loving hippies. Concentrated from plants into a powder, it's "deems" or "spice," and it's casually smoked on college campuses, in Silicon Valley and at EDM shows. Its rapid, colorful, bizarre hallucinations feel like "loading the universe into a cannon and firing it at your brain." 

DMT matters because, to some people, DMT is much more than just a fun way to scramble your brain for six minutes on a Friday night. They say it's changed their lives.

Take "Bliss," who lives in the Denver area, likes to wear Phil Lewis psychedelic threads, and asked that his real name not be used. In a certain light, to certain dudes, Bliss is a hero. He's guided more than 100 people through hallucinogenic DMT trips, always free of charge — a kind of underground DMT study. 

["Bliss," DMT shaman.]

Johns Hopkins, in its study, is relying on data gathered by brave folks like Bliss.

Bliss believes DMT has made him happier, healthier, more enlightened, and that it points to something so weird it could scramble the whole culture.

The "beings," as he calls them. "Aliens." 

This is a big part of why Johns Hopkins is studying it.

"Basically, we are very curious about the phenomena of entity encounters," Davis said. 

It's hard to explain, but out of the geometric patterns and strange lights of a DMT or ayahuasca trip, characters often emerge. These "entities" are part of your subconscious — but a very strange, very foreign-looking part of it. DMT raconteur Terence McKenna thought they were actually beings from another dimension. Ayahuasca curanderos in the Amazon think they're actually "spirits of nature." 

It's probably impossible to know. But as science starts to quantify these strange visions, and welcomes the study of DMT into the Ivory Tower, real data on the experiences will come to light. This Johns Hopkins study won't tell us what's happening with DMT, but it will tell us what most folks who've smoked DMT think is happening. And whether they think it's "spiritually significant." And how it's changed their lives. And so will add to what we can say about DMT. And maybe lead to other, bigger questions. 

"Perhaps this foundation," Davis said, could "eventually lead to studies that are able to answer the question about whether these experiences are hallucinations in the traditional sense of the word, (or) whether they are in fact 'breakthrough' experiences that lift a veil to another universe or into other parts of our own universe." 

Regardless of what the team finds, and what studies come next, unauthorized DMT research is going to continue, and these rebels are going to help the above-ground researchers find answers.

Just ask Bliss, who is off to South America to study with ayahuasca shamans. DMT is his life's work. And he doesn't need a highly-ranked college to tell him that DMT is important. 

"It helps you to find yourself," Bliss says. "And be able to realize the true knowledge that we hold within ourselves." 

Take the Johns Hopkins survey here.