Saturday Night: From Mike's flat to a parallel universe

Alix Sharkey
Saturday 27 November 1993 00:02 GMT

'AFTER inhalation of a full dose of DMT in a single breath, the effects will be experienced in 10 or 15 seconds, usually before the exhalation of the smoke. The initial 'rush' sensation is similar to the feeling of rapid acceleration and may be accompanied by vertigo. The peak effect occurs within two to three minutes, during which most users are stunned and speechless. Arabesque or geometric coloured patterns, similar to those experienced with LSD, mescaline or psilocybin, are commonly reported effects . . . paranoia and panic reactions are probably more frequent following DMT administration than with other entheogenic drugs - a consequence, doubtless, of the extreme rapidity with which the user is torn out of his everyday consciousness and thrust into a swirling, screaming, visionary state.' From Pharmacotheon by Jonathan Ott (1993).

The above is taken from a photocopied handout freely distributed in nightclubs in London, Nottingham and Brighton. Another freesheet doing the rounds describes, in clinical detail, the process for manufacturing this drug, which the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna has called 'a megatonnage hallucinogen'.

DMT was part of the pharmacopoeia of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, and Tom Wolfe, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), describes the Pranksters using it to blow the minds of Hell's Angels, to control them better. 'As somebody once put it,' he wrote, 'LSD is a long strange journey; DMT is like being shot out of a cannon.'

DMT or N, N-dimethyltriptamine, an off-white hydrochloride salt, was first synthesised in 1926 by the British chemist Richard Manske. However, it was not until 1956 that it was tested and its full effects recognised. William Burroughs tried it in 1961, but it scared the self-proclaimed Pope of Dope out of his wits. Timothy Leary took to it like a duck to water, calling it 'this wondrous alkaloid'. While its synthetic history is short, natural DMT from the ayahuasca vine has been used since the dawn of time by the indigenous peoples of South and Central America, where it is brewed and taken orally. As a recreational Western drug, though, it has never been widely available outside California. Until now, that is. DMT began to emerge in Britain this summer and is fast becoming the buzzword of the 'psychedelic renaissance'. It sells for around pounds 200 per gram, apparently sufficient for 20 full-strength trips.

Strangely, although DMT's name and reputation are well-known in underground circles in Britain, few people seemed to have tried it. What I knew of its effects was alarming: somebody I met had smoked it and developed acute psychotic delusions which seemed to be permanent, and another reliable source spoke of having his world view shattered, of seeing alien life forms, of venturing to another universe. Nevertheless, my friend Mike and I decided to try it - with trepidation. As I lit the pipe and took a deep draw, I heard a rushing sound. Before I could exhale, Mike and the room leapt forward, saturated with colour.

'Hold me, Mike,' I said in panic, realising there was no edge to grip on to. 'I'm not kidding,' I said, and scuttled across the room. Before I could take his hand, it was too late. His face rippled with scarlet masks: god, demon, pixie, alien, genie, sorcerer. His skin was alive with tongues of flame, textures and symbols, as the room surged and shivered with colour, light, density, meaning, possibility. The place to which I was transported was so heart- stoppingly beautiful - so alive and luminous - that I could only look on in amazement. But this wonder was flooded with a terrible dread. What if I were stuck, never able to return?

DMT had fired me into a parallel universe. I found myself inside a multi-coloured holograph of Mike's flat posing as a scene from the Arabian Nights being art-directed by Walt Disney, the Dalai Lama and Hieronymus Bosch - continuously and simultaneously. This exquisite vision had a physical analogue. My connection with all things was complete and intimate; I had only to project my attention on to a surface or object for it to leap forward, eager to reveal itself and its meaning: shapes and signs danced across the forms that contained them.

In the midst of this maelstrom, only Mike's eyes remained constant in a universe that destroyed and recreated itself every fraction of a second. Something seemed to mock my feeble attempts to interpret the unimaginable. There was a vague awareness of terror - the last vestige of ego being blasted away on a tidal wave of awe.

But just as I began to explore this state the vision started to wane. Without any conscious effort my breathing became deep, rhythmic and even: gradually I relaxed, feeling I had been 'dropped off' by some responsible adult after a big night out. My subjective 'self' returned in shuddering giggles, astounded, delighted and deeply mystified.

The whole trip lasted no longer than 10 minutes; after another 15 I was ready to eat. Yet the experience seemed - still seems - to have happened in eternity. An hour later, Mike and I were still searching for metaphors. 'Psychedelic bungee-jumping,' he said.

'Good call,' I replied, knowing we would never find the right words.

The 'Independent' would like to point out that DMT is an illegal drug whose long-term medical effects could be harmful.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in