DMT, Ayahuasca, and MAOIs

Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is perhaps the most potent psychedelic known to man. Potency aside (experiencing DMT requires a mere 50 mg), DMT commands significant respect due to the intense psychoactive odyssey it imparts upon those who venture forward. In modern times those attempting to breakthrough often consume DMT via inhalation (smoking). If attempting other routes, a DMT user may become disappointed. That is, unless their preparation contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The goal of this article will be to provide some clarification as to why oral DMT use necessitates the addition of an MAOI.

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DMT provides an introspective journey as its users “breakthrough to the other side.” Molecularly, DMT is a tryptamine that has been dimethylated. Dimethylation occurs following the addition of two carbon atom. Tryptamine is structurally similar to the well-known neurotransmitter serotonin, which speaks to the etiology of tryptamine-containing compounds’ associated psychoactivity. Other notable tryptamines are AMT, 5-MeO-DiPT, and 4-HO-DMT.

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The word tryptamine is strongly associated with hallucinogens. Alkaloids of psilocybin-containing mushrooms are perhaps the most well-known tryptamines and their consumption has sparked the minds of psychonauts for ages. DMT, however, is unique in this regard as ingestion of isolated DMT produces no effect. Long before DMT entered the lexicon of modern civilization, ancient man was already aware of and solved this barrier to the DMT experience.

The plant Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a South American liana (climbing vine) that boasts a rich history in shamanism. The vine itself is medicinal, as it contains the alkaloids harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline. These three compounds are beta-carbolines that inhibit monoamine oxidase. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that is carried around in the outer membrane of mitochondria. Mitochondria are obnoxiously touted as the ‘powerhouse” of cells. Although an oversimplification, their identity as metabolic powerhouses is suitable for our purposes.

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The monoamine oxidase of mitochondria occurs widely throughout the body to oxidize compounds that contain a single nitrogen, as its name implies. Significant metabolic targets of monoamine oxidase include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. As noted previously, serotonin and DMT are similar and monoamine oxidase does not effectively differentiate the two. As such, orally consumed DMT is immediately metabolized by monoamine oxidase before it can reach the brain.

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Ayahuasca Vine with DMT-Containing Leaves

Long before man was browsing images of pure DMT through a Tor browser, shamans discovered that the consumption of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) permit effective ingestion of DMT. They were unaware of molecular details, but knew that one could prepare a psychedelic tea with vines from an MAOI-containing plant, such as ayahuasca, and the leaves of a DMT-containing plant. The tea permitted users to breakthrough in a natural way, providing a unique window into humanity. Additionally, any discussion of DMT would not be complete without mentioning Terence McKenna. Those curious about DMT are strongly encouraged to research the works of McKenna. Thanks for reading!

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