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DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Rick Strassman, M.D.

Pages: 377
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Inner Traditions
Pub Date: 2001
ISBN: 0961423455

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Table of Contents >

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Prologue
  • Part I: The Building Blocks
    • 1. Psychedelic Drugs: Science and Society
    • 2. What DMT Is
    • 3. The Pineal: Meet the Spirit Gland
    • 4. The Psychedelic Pineal
  • Part II: Conception and Birth
    • 5. 89-001
    • 6. Labyrinth
  • Part III: Set, Setting, and DMT
    • 7. Being a Volunteer
    • 8. Getting DMT
    • 9. Under the Influence
  • Part IV: The Sessions
    • 10. Introduction to the Case Reports
    • 11. Feeling and Thinking
    • 12. Unseen Worlds
    • 13. Contact Through the Veil: 1
    • 14. Contact Through the Veil: 2
    • 15. Death and Dying
    • 16. Mystical States
    • 17. Pain and Fear
  • Part V: Taking Pause
    • 18. If So, So What?
    • 19. Winding Down
    • 20. Stepping on Holy Toes
  • Part VI: What Could and Might Be
    • 21. DMT: The Spirit Molecule
    • 22. The Futures of Psychedelic Research
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
Description >
From the Introduction -

In 1990, I began the first new human research with psychedelic, or hallucinogenic, drugs in the United States in over 20 years. These studies investigated the effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, an extremely short-acting and powerful psychedelic. During the project's five years, I administered approximately 400 doses of DMT to 60 human volunteers. This research took place at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine in Albuquerque, where I was tenured Associate Professor of Psychiatry.

I was drawn to DMT because of its presence in all of our bodies. Perhaps excessive DMT production, coming from the mysterious pineal gland, was involved in naturally occurring "psychedelic" states. These might include birth, death and near-death, psychosis, and mystical experiences. Only later, while the study was well under way, did I also begin considering DMT's role in the "alien abduction" experience.

The DMT project was founded on cutting edge brain science, especially the psychopharmacology of serotonin. However, my own background powerfully affected how we prepared people for, and supervised, their drug sessions. One of these was a decades-long relationship with a Zen Buddhist training monastery.

The Spirit Molecule reviews what we know about psychedelic drugs in general, and DMT in particular. It then traces the DMT research project from its earliest intimations through the maze of committees and review boards to its actual performance.

Our research subjects were healthy volunteers. The studies were not intended to be therapeutic, although all of us believed in the potentially beneficial properties of psychedelic drugs. The project generated a wealth of biological and psychological data, much of which I have already published in the scientific literature. On the other hand, I have written nearly nothing about volunteers' stories. I hope these many excerpts from over 1000 pages of my bedside notes provide a sense of the remarkable emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of this chemical.

Problems inside and outside of the research environment led to the end of these studies in 1995. Despite the difficulties we encountered, I am optimistic about the possible benefits of the controlled use of these drugs. Based upon what we learned in the New Mexico research, I offer a wide-ranging vision for DMT's role in our lives, and conclude by proposing a research agenda and optimal setting for future work with DMT and related drugs.

The late Willis Harman possessed one of the most discerning minds to apply himself to the field of psychedelic research. Willis, earlier in his career, had published the first and only scientific study using psychedelics to enhance the creative process. When I met him 30 years later in 1994, he was president of Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organization founded by the sixth man to walk on the moon, Edgar Mitchell. Mitchell's mystical experience, stimulated by viewing the Earth on his return home, inspired him to study phenomenon outside the range of traditional science, which nevertheless might yield to a broader application of the scientific method.

During a long walk together along the central California coastal range one day, he said firmly, "At the very least, we must enlarge the discussion about psychedelics." It is in response to his request that I include highly speculative ideas and my own personal motivations for performing this research. This approach will satisfy no-one in every respect. There is intense friction between what we know intellectually or even intuitively, and what we experience with the aid of DMT. As one of our volunteers exclaimed after his first high dose session, "Wow! I never expected that!" Or, as Dogen, a thirteenth century Japanese Buddhist teacher said, "We must always be disturbed by the truth." Enthusiasts of the psychedelic drug culture may dislike the conclusion that DMT has no beneficial effects in and of itself; rather, the context in which people take them is at least as important. Proponents of drug control may condemn what they read as encouragement to take psychedelic drugs and a glorification of the DMT experience. Practitioners and spokespersons of traditional religions may reject the suggestion that spiritual states can be accessed, and mystical information gained, through drugs. Those who have undergone "alien abduction," and their advocates, may interpret as a challenge to the "reality" of their experiences my suggestion that DMT is intimately involved in these events. Opponents and supporters of abortion rights may find fault with my proposal that pineal DMT release at 49 days after conception marks the entrance of the spirit into the fetus.

Brain researchers may object to the suggestion that DMT affects the brain's ability to receive information, rather than generating those perceptions themselves. They also may dismiss the proposal that DMT can allow our brains to perceive dark matter or parallel universes, realms of existence inhabited by conscious entities.

However, if I did not describe all the ideas behind the DMT studies, and the entire range of our volunteers' experiences, I would not be telling the entire tale. At best, The Spirit Molecule would have little effect on the scope of discussion about psychedelics; at worst, the book would reduce the field. Nor would I be honest if I did not share my own speculations and theories based upon decades of study, and listening to hundreds of DMT sessions. This is why I did it. This is what happened. This is what I think about it.

It is so important for us to understand consciousness. It is just as important to place psychedelic drugs in general, and DMT in particular, into a personal and cultural matrix where we do the most good, and the least harm. In such a wide open area of inquiry, it is best that we reject no ideas until we actually disprove them. It is in the interest of enlarging the discussion about psychedelic drugs that I've written The Spirit Molecule.

Reviews/Excerpts >
If you are interested in the chemistry of the mind, this book is for you. Rick Strassman's pioneering research work with DMT, a natural psychedelic drug used by Amazonian Indians, raises fascinating questions about the neurochemical basis of experience and the feasibility of conducting human research with mind-altering drugs in a university medical center. Adventurous reading!
----Andrew T. Weil, MD, University of Arizona Medical School, author of Spontaneous Healing, and The Natural Mind.

Fascinating and provocative. A remarkable exploration of the boundaries of science and consciousness itself.
----Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of A New Science of Life, and Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home

DMT: The Spirit Molecule is an inside look at the medical research surrounding the psychedelic drug DMT, dimethyltryptamine, by a respected researcher, Dr. Rick Strassman. This gripping account explodes the stereotypical idea that many people have about psychedelics, and reveals the social and political forces that have influenced this research. Strassman raises vital questions about the origin of spiritual experiences and the nature of consciousness. Anyone seeking to understand the relationship between mind and body must come to terms with this fascinating account.
----Larry Dossey MD, Author of Reinventing Medicine, and Healing Words; Executive Editor, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

Dr. Strassman is a research psychiatrist who has completed the most extensive scientific study of the mental and perceptual effects of a psychedelic drug since the 1960s. His book provides fascinating insight into the world of psychiatric research as it seeks to understand these most mysterious substances and their profound effects on human consciousness. Strassman's approach is both cautious and balanced, in evaluating the positive potentials and the possible pitfalls of these substances.
----Ralph Metzner, PhD, author of Ayahuasca--Consciousness and the Spirits of Nature

This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the mind, philosophy, the nature of reality, and spirituality. The world's foremost expert on DMT has created a masterpiece of the genre, as he brilliantly leads the reader through a series of startling revelations about the nature of the Universe, as revealed behind the doorway once DMT turned the key.
----Karl L. R. Jansen, MD, PhD, MRCPsych; South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, London.

Strassman's important research contributes to a growing awareness that we inhabit a multi-dimensional universe that is far more complex and interesting than the one that our scientific theories have shown us. It is of the utmost importance that we face the implications of this discovery, for it has so much to tell us about who we are and why we are here.
----John Mack, MD Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, author of Abduction, and Passport to the Cosmos.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a dazzling journey through psychedelic drug experimentation, and a tantalizing peek into a new model of how the brain and mind work. Strassman's research points towards a physiological basis for spirit, and its interaction with the human body; his data suggest that our brain chemistry allows us access to other realms of existence just when we need it most; and his story recounts both the dangers and promises of entering this brave new world.
----Bruce Greyson, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Virginia, editor of Journal of Near-Death Studies

DMT: The Spirit Molecule points the way beyond the present impasse of the reigning "drug-abuse" paradigm. It is shocking how little basic human pharmacological data we have on proscribed drugs, contrasting with impressive detail in various animals. Some scientists disdain the "subjectivity" of human research, but our interest remains, after all, the subjective human experience of inebriation, to which no animal-model can speak clearly nor appositely. The cruelty visited upon animals in "coke-cages" tells us nothing about complex and variable human relationships with inebriants. The Spirit Molecule, on the other hand, tells us much. We indeed owe a debt of gratitude to Strassman for persevering in the face of bureaucratic obstacles, to conduct important human research into the human pharmacology of DMT, and here elucidating it for the general public, in both scientific and humanistic terms.
----Jonathan Ott, author of Hallucinogenic Plants of North America, and Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plants Sources and History

Post-Publication Reviews

Review from The Village Voice
June 1, 2001, Reviewer: Erik Davis
As the first researcher in decades authorized to give humans psychedelics, Strassman has an interesting story to tell....Technically, he was studying the drug's physical effects, but what really drove him was his hunch that DMT was "the spirit molecule": the biological basis for near-death experiences and mystical states of consciousness. 

Customer Review from Amazon.com
(5 Stars) Pries the lid off the coffin of human psychedelic research ,
March 25, 2001, Reviewer: Cathie Leavitt from Nevada City, CA United States.
Detailed, very accessible description of Strassman's studies of the effects of intravenously administered DMT in human volunteers in a clinical setting. He describes his research protocols, his struggle to obtain government approval, and the volunteers' reports of their DMT experiences, with clarity and compassion. The book raises questions about the nature and purpose of mystical experiences, the similarity between externally induced experiences of death and rebirth, alien contact, and spiritual enlightenment and naturally occurring experiences, and the role of DMT (which occurs naturally in the body) in these types of experiences. Strassman discusses the limitations of the biomedical model in understanding these experiences, as well as the risks and benefits of using DMT as a research tool. Open-minded scientists, those on a spiritual path, therapists, and dedicated "psychonauts" will find much to ponder in this book. It enlarges the scope of rational discussion about psychedelics, and goes a long way toward dispelling the fear, ignorance, and stigma that have hampered psychedelic research for the last 30 years. The addition of an index would have been helpful, but other than that this book exceeded my expectations and deepened my sense of wonder about the nature of consciousness and the spirit.

Customer Review from Amazon.com
(5 Stars) A Bold Study of Chemicals and Consciousness,,
March 25, 2001, Reviewer: well-travelled from your Inner Self.
Dr. Strassman describes his research with dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a very powerful psychedelic drug that can produce very profound experiences that go beyond the explanations of our current scientific model. In this bold treatise he explains how this simple chemical induces mystical states that were previously reserved for religion and the occult. Not since Robert Monroe and his Institute's "Hemi-Sync" sound technology have I seen such potential to facilitate such events.

I was relieved to read that this Doctor of Psychiatry didn't reduce these extraordinary experiences of the volunteers down to creative imaginations, and I was impressed with his mature methods of studying a psychedelic drug. This isn't Timothy Leary tuning us in so that we can drop out. This is a scientist who is sincerely searching for something that can enhance our lives in areas such as creativity, therapy, and spirituality.

Dr. Strassman has a good grasp of our culture's perceptions about drugs and he not only discards the militaristic attitude against drug use, but also the naive acceptance that they are always beneficial. His clear insights allow this book to have a wide appeal to a mature audience. Hopefully, as he states, this research will at least be the start of more open discussions of practical applications of psychedelics.

Customer Review from Amazon.com
(5 Stars) More than interesting, rattling!!!,,
March 15, 2001, Reviewer: Simon Ypperciel from Québec Canada.
This book is very well written, no scientific blah blah masturbating on their intelligence. The explanation of the research on DMT is honest and leads to some very elemental questions and the great vulgarization lets the curious lay psychonaut into the reflection. Fantastic, merci beaucoup.


Review from Plastic.com
March 4, 2001, Reviewer: Joey Plastic
If [the recent] "60 Minutes" interview with Dr. Andrew Weil on the antihistamine effects of his LSD experiences left you unmoved, you might want to tune in to [the] archived radio conversation between professional nutjob Whitley Strieber and Rick Strassman, M.D., a dramatically more credible professional who is currently burdened with the unenviable task of explaining some incredible research. 

Review from Magellan's Log: The Internet Magazine of Culture, Counterculture, and Anticulture (Volume 32)
March 2001, Reviewer: Ceci Lumley
After a couple of decades of denial, even the managers of the anti-drug war began to realize that they needed to know more about their enemies. In the early 1990s, a lone doctor, working in Albuquerque, broke the barrier. He managed to obtain government funding for a study of one of the drugs: DMT, di-methyl-tryptamine. It was the first legal study of a psychedelic in 30 years. Rick Strassman, M.D. and psychiatrist, administered DMT to some 60 people in a carefully controlled clinical setting. Using the best scientific protocols, he set parameters and record responses. He wrote a book about what happened: DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Not all was sweetness and light in the year-long project. The setting—a hospital room, as Strassman was aware, was difficult, not especially conducive to metaphysical breakthroughs. But Strassman and his co-workers were sensitive to that and other problems as well. Not every subject responded well to DMT. There were a few bad trips. But on the whole, one senses that Strassman set up and ran a pioneering research project under challenging conditions with a great deal of humane insight. Click link for entire review.

Customer Review from Barnes & Noble.com
(5 Stars),
February 20, 2001, Reviewer: Stephanie Queen, author of "Fragmented Recollections," from Port Angeles WA, USA.
A compelling and harrowing account into the alien abduction experience, spirituality and schizophrenia. A must read for anyone that wants to know more about how the mind ticks, and the role that DMT plays in our lives.


Customer Review from Amazon.com
(5 Stars) a chemical looking glass to the other side,
February 9, 2001, Reviewer: lawre from tucson az.
This book expounds on various theories and experiences with the exciting compound DMT. Unlike McKenna, et. al., the hard science is here, giving witness to the prophets like McKenna. A MUST READ FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN SPIRITUALITY, NEAR DEATH /DEATH EXPERIENCES, DREAMS, VISIONS, AND THE CREATOR-FORCE. A keystone work in the exploration of all phases of consciousness. One of my top ten all-time favorite works on the field of conscious existence.


Rick Strassman's Web Site

CSP's Entheogen Chrestomathy entry for DMT The Spirit Molecule


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