Courtesy Rick Strassman.
Courtesy Rick Strassman.

It is January 1991, twenty-three minutes after I injected a large dose of DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) into Elena’s arm vein. Elena is a forty two-year-old married psychotherapist with extensive personal experience with psychedelic drugs. DMT is a powerful, short-acting psychedelic that occurs naturally in human body fluids, and is also found in many plants. Elena has read some Buddhism, but practices Taoist meditation.

She lies in a bed on the fifth floor of the University of New Mexico Hospital General Clinical Research Center. The clear plastic tubing that provides access to her vein dangles onto the bed. The cuff of a blood pressure machine is loosely attached to her other arm, and the tubing snakes its way into the back of a blinking monitor.

Within thirty seconds of the injection, she loses awareness of the room, and us in it. Besides myself, Elena’s husband, who has just undergone a similar drug session, and our research nurse sit quietly by her side. I know from previous volunteers’ reports that peak effects of intravenous DMT occur between two to three minutes after the injection, and that she will not be able to communicate for at least fifteen minutes, by which time most effects will have faded. Her eyes closed, she begins spurting out laughter, at times quite uproarious, and her face turns red. “Well, I met a living buddha! Oh, God! I’m staying here. I don’t want to lose this. I want to keep my eyes closed to allow it to imprint itself. Just because it’s possible!”

Elena felt great the next week. “Life is very different. A buddha is now always in the upper right-hand comer of my consciousness,” says Elena. “All of what I have been working on spiritually for the last several years has become a certainty. Left hooks from the mundane world continue to come up and hit me, but the solidity of the experience anchors me, allows me to handle it all. Time stopped at the peak of the experience; now everyday time has slowed. The third stage, that of coming down from the peak, was the most important; if I had opened my eyes too soon I wouldn’t have been able to do as much integrating of the experience as I have.” 

Two years later, Elena rarely takes psychedelics. Her most positive recollection of the DMT session was the “clarity and purity of the medicine.” The most negative: “The absolute lack of sacredness and context.” Many of the changes in her life, particularly a deepening shift from “thinking” to “feeling,” were “supported” by the DMT session, but were underway before it, and continued after it. 

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