DMT – the strongest psychedelic known to man – treats people with severe depression after just one dose, a cutting-edge clinical trial suggests.
Up to six out of ten people who received a single dose of intravenous DMT before treatment were declared depression-free three months later.
And three out of 10 participants were declared depression-free two weeks after a session, compared to one in ten in the placebo group who had just undergone therapy alone.
N,N-dymethyltriptamine (DMT) has received endorsement from celebrities such as Joe Rogan and is gaining popularity as an alternative to harsh antidepressants. More recently, Prince Harry admitted to using ayahuasca to help him heal from the trauma he felt after his mother’s death.
DMT is the natural psychedelic in ayahuasca, a potent brew widely used by tribal societies in the Amazon Basin, where it is considered a plant of “wisdom” that allows entry into the spiritual realm.
Ayahuasca is typically drunk as an infusion during religious ceremonies, but in this study participants were given DMT via an intravenous infusion over 10 minutes, which induced a 20-30 minute psychedelic experience.
These graphs show the percentage of responders one week and two weeks post-dose, measured by a decrease greater than or equal to 50% at Madras from baseline on the left hand. For the group that received DMT, remission rates were 44% after one week and 35% after two weeks. In the placebo group, the response rates were 6% and 12%. The graph to the right shows remission rates determined by a MADRS score of 10 or less at one week and two weeks. The one-week and two-week remission rates for the DMT treatment group were 44% and 29%, compared to placebo remission rates of 13% and 12%. Data show clinically relevant change in response and remission rates after DMT treatment
DMT and ayahuasca are part of a wave of psychedelics, along with psilocybin mushrooms and ketamine, that have been dismissed as hippie drugs but are now being explored by scientists as powerful therapeutics.
The latest study was carried out in 2021 by Small Pharma, a biotech company based in Canada.
It involved 34 male and female participants with moderate or severe depression.
In the first part of the trial, 17 participants received 21.5 mg of DMT, about half of a typical smoked dose.
They received the drug via an intravenous infusion for 10 minutes, which induced a 20-30 minute psychedelic experience, followed by a therapy session immediately afterwards to help them work through it.
The other 17 patients received only one treatment.
Independent reviewers, who were unaware of which treatment the participants were receiving, rated people’s depression using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) at the start of the trial and then a , two and 12 weeks later.
One week post-dose, the DMT group showed a minus 10.8 change in MADRS scores compared to the placebo group. After two weeks, there was a difference of minus 7.4 in depression scores in the group receiving DMT compared to the placebo group.
Two weeks after receiving the treatment, the depression scores of the DMT group were 7.4 points lower than those of the placebo group, showing a statistically significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared to placebo.
And three months after receiving the treatment, the symptoms were further reduced – the total mean reduction in MADRS scores after one dose of DMT was 15.4 points.
Six out of ten of those who received a single dose of DMT were also declared depression-free three months later.
This was defined as having a MADRS score of ten or less.
Dr David Erritzoe, clinical psychiatrist at Imperial College London and lead researcher on the study, said: “The results are exciting for the field of psychiatry. We now have the first evidence that DMT, combined with supportive therapy, can be effective for people with MDD.
“For patients who are unfortunate enough to derive little benefit from existing antidepressants, the potential for rapid and lasting relief from a single treatment, as shown in this trial, is very promising.”
So far, the therapeutic benefits of DMT have been mostly anecdotal, alongside evidence showing that the drug also carries a risk of lasting negative mental health effects.
Scientific details on exactly what DMT does to the brain are scarce, but research suggests that there is an increase in monoamine “utilization rates” in the amygdala, which increases the intensity of memories.
There is also an increase in blood flow to the insula, which may be responsible for users’ improved self-understanding.
This is thought to make therapy more effective because people can face their trauma with less fear.