Research on Endogenous DMT & Schizophrenia

Image: DMT crystals, retrieved from Drug Facts on December 16th, 2012.

"Despite [Stephan] Szára and others' steady production of research papers about DMT; it remained mostly a pharmacological curiosity: intense, short-lived, and found in plants. Clearly, LSD had a leg up on DMT when it came to making a significant impression on the psychiatric research community. This all changed when researchers discovered DMT in the brains of mice and rats, and then uncovered the pathways by which these animals' bodies made this powerful psychedelic.
The race was on. In 1965 a research team from Germany published a paper in the flag ship British science journal Nature announcing that they had isolated DMT from human blood. In 1972 Nobel-prize winning scientist Julius Axelrod of the U.S. National Institute of Health reported finding it in human brain tissue. Additional research showed that DMT could also be found in human urine and the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain. It was not long before scientists discovered the pathways, similar to those in lower animals, by which the human body made DMT. DMT thus became the first endogenous human psychedelic.
Endogenous means that a compound is made in the body: endo, "within," and genous, "generated" or "formed". Endogenous DMT, then, is DMT made within the body. There are other endogenous compounds with which we've become familiar over the years. For example, endo-genous morphine like compounds are endorphins.
However, the discovery of DMT in the human body stimulated much less fanfare than did that of endorphins. [A]nti-psychedelic drug sentiment sweeping the country at the time actually turned researchers against studying endogenous DMT. The discoverers of endorphins, in contrast, won Nobel Prizes.
The crucial question then naturally arose: "What is DMT doing in our bodies?"
Psychiatry's answer was: "Perhaps it causes mental illness." (48-49)


"In general, there were two types of studies investigating the DMT-psychosis theory. One compared blood levels of DMT between ill patients and normal volunteers. the other study design compared the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs to those of naturally occurring psychotic states. The NIMH [the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health] team that discounted the theory of a DMT- psychosis relationship, leading to the demise of human DMT research, critiqued both approaches. They pointed to the lack of consistent differences between blood levels of DMT in normal volunteers and psychotic patients; they also rejected claims that the effects of DMT and symptoms of schizophrenia demonstrated enough similarities to justify additional research.
First, let's discuss the blood level data. Essentially all DMT studies measured its concentration in blood drawn from forearm veins. However, it seems unreasonable to expect these levels to accurately reflect DMT's function in extraordinarily small, highly specialized, distinct brain areas. Finding a close relationship between blood levels and brain effects would be even less likely if the DMT originated in the brain in the first place.
This difficulty is one that all scientists recognize, even for such well known brain chemicals as serotonin. Dozens of studies have failed to convincingly relate serotonin levels in blood drawn from the forearm to psychiatric diagnoses with presumed abnormalities in brain serotonin. Therefore, it was highly unlikely, using DMT blood levels, that any real conclusions could be drawn regarding differences between normal and psychotic individuals. If psychiatric researchers demand such data for all brain chemicals, where is the call to bury serotonin?
In the case of comparing schizophrenia to DMT intoxication, the case becomes even murkier. Schizophrenia is a remarkably complex syndrome. There are several forms, such as "paranoid," "disorganized," and "undifferentiated." There are many stages, including "early," "acute," "late," and "chronic." There are even "prodromal" symptoms that exist before the illness becomes severe enough to diagnose. In addition, symptoms of schizophrenia develop over months and years, and individuals modify their behaviour to deal with their unusual experiences. These adaptations in turn create new symptoms and behaviours.
To expect a single drug given one time to a normal person to mimic schizophrenia is not reasonable. No one today contends that this is possible. Rather, the consensus even then was that the syndromes of psychedelic drug intoxication and schizophrenia possessed significant overlap. Hallucinations and other sensory distortions, altered thought processes, extreme and rapid shifts in mood, disturbances in the sense of bodily and personal identity- all of these may occur in some cases of schizophrenia and psychedelic states.
In psychiatry, there are always both similarities and differences between the diseases we seek to understand and the models we use to study them. We are always in search of better models, but we use the ones we have, keeping in mind their shortcomings. The NIMH group's rejection of DMT effects as producing a "valid" psychotic state was not consistent with accepted psychiatric research theory, practice, or the data.
If the scientific basis for discontinuing human DMT research was so meagre, why, then, was it stopped? what was the meaning behind the "life and death," "lease on life," and "decent burial" rhetoric? the data begged for further clarification. instead, these federal scientists distanced themselves from an extraordinarily promising field and encouraged others to do the same.
DMT was in the wrong place at the wrong time." (50- 51)

- excerpts from DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, M.D. (2001)

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