N,N-Dimethyltryptamine

September 17, 2018
I’m a banned substance that may eventually get unbanned.
What molecule am I?

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a plant-based hallucinogen that is outlawed in most countries. DMT was isolated from many species in the 1950s, notably by Pfizer chemists F. A. Hochstein and Anita M. Paradies, who discovered it in the leaves of Prestonia amazonica (aka Haemadictyon amazonicum), which is called “yagé” by inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon basin.

Hungarian chemist/psychologist Stephen Szará synthesized DMT in 1956 and studied its psychotropic effects in volunteers during that decade. DMT is sometimes called the “spirit molecule”; it produces psychedelic results when it is swallowed, inhaled, injected, or “vaped”. The DMT structure with a hydroxyl group on the benzene ring is the “feel-good” molecule serotonin.

DMT is currently an outlaw, but chemist David Olson and his research team at the University of California, Davis, may have found a legitimate pharmaceutical use for it and other hallucinogens. In an effort to find alternatives to the side effect–prone anesthetic ketamine* for treating depression, the investigators showed that DMT, LSD, and other psychotropics increase the number of synapses in the brain areas of lab animals that regulate emotion and mood.

As with ketamine, the effects are long-lasting and involve a similar signaling pathway. These results are promising, but any commercial drug to arise from them is a long way off.

*Recently reported research indicates that ketamine may require signaling through opioid receptors.

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine fast facts

CAS Reg. No.

61-50-7

Molar mass 188.27 g/mol
Empirical formula C12H16N2
Appearance Clear or white crystals
Melting point

46 ºC

Water solubility Extremely low

N,N-Dimethyltryptamine hazard information

GHS classification**: acute toxicity, oral, category 3
H301—Toxic if swallowed  Chemical Safety Warning

**Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.

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