CRIME

What is DMT? Georgetown drug lab explained.

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Correction:

Cocaine and methamphetamine are classified as Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. The story originally stated that they are classified as Schedule I drugs.

Dimethyltryptamine, the drug that was allegedly being made in a Georgetown dorm room, is a hallucinogen that naturally occurs in plants. The drug, commonly called DMT, is perhaps best known as part of a drink called ayahuasca (a.k.a. hoasca, a.k.a. Daime tea) that’s used in South American shamanistic rituals. DMT can also be synthesized in a lab -- or in a makeshift lab, as the case may be.

The drug is usually snorted, smoked, or injected, since taking it orally generally doesn’t have an effect unless taken with another substance that “inhibits its metabolism,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. (One of the plants used to brew ayahuasca contains such a substance.)

Reason No. 1 why you might want to think twice about making DMT: The drug is classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government. Schedule I substances “are subject to the most comprehensive restrictions, including an outright ban on all importation and use, except pursuant to strictly regulated research projects,” according to the Supreme Court. Other Schedule I substances include heroin, MDMA (Ecstasy), marijuana, and LSD. 

Reason No. 2 why you might not want to mess with making DMT: Homebrew recipes found online conjure up visions of Breaking Bad’s foul meth-trailer sessions. Substances like lighter fluid, drain cleaner, and paint thinner are involved, and warnings abound not to touch this substance or inhale that fume.

Street names for DMT include 45 Minute Psychosis, AMT, DET, Fantasia, Businessman's LSD, Businessman's special, and Businessman's trip, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. (The latter three names refer to DMT’s effects lasting about an hour.)

A drug’s number of street names doesn’t necessarily correlate to its popularity. In a federal report on 2006 hallucinogen use based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, DMT does not even get its own statistics. Instead, it’s lumped together with alpha-methyltryptamine (AMT), and 5-methoxy-diisopropyltryptamine (5-MeO-DIPT or “Foxy”).

According to the report, almost 700,000 people 12 or older had used one of those three drugs in their lifetime, with about 100,00 using one of the three drugs in the past year. (The 2006 statistics are the most recent available for specific hallucinogen use.)

By comparison, about 23 million people 12 or older had used LSD in their lifetime, with 700,000 using it in the past year. More than 12 million people 12 or older had used ecstasy in their lifetime, with 2.1 million using it in the past year.

For a staid description of DMT’s effects (in the drink Daime tea), turn to the U.S. District Court in Oregon:

Users may experience anxiety and discomfort soon after drinking Daime tea. In perhaps a third of users, Daime tea initially causes nausea and vomiting. It less frequently causes diarrhea. Church members view these ostensibly unpleasant effects as a beneficial purging or cleansing. Daime tea may also cause mild increases in heart rate (5 to 15 beats per minute) and blood pressure. ...

As Daime tea takes effect, members may sit quietly with eyes half-closed. Users describe the experience as dream-like. They may experience visual effects, although not true hallucinations (i.e., the person is aware that the effect is not real); alterations in the perception of time and space; and intense emotions, including euphoria. Users report profound insights into their personal problems.

For a more vivid descriptions of DMT’s effects, check out journalist Kira Salak's account of drinking ayahuasca in an Amazon ritual, in this National Geographic Adventure story:

Fantastical scenes glide by, composed of ever-shifting geometric forms and textures. Colors seem to be the nature of these views; a dazzling and dizzying display of every conceivable hue blending and parting in kaleidoscopic brilliance. But then the colors vanish all at once as if a curtain has been pulled down. Blackness. Everywhere.

Dark creatures sail by. Tangles of long, hissing serpents. Dragons spitting fire. Screaming humanlike forms. For a bunch of hallucinations, they seem terrifyingly real. An average ayahuasca ceremony lasts about four to five hours. But in ayahuasca space—where time, linear thought, and the rules of three-dimensional reality no longer apply—four to five hours of sheer darkness and terror can feel like a lifetime. My heartbeat soars; it's hard to breathe. ...

I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Hamilton [the shaman] calls over one of his helpers—a local woman named Rosa—with directions to hold me down.

"Tell the spirits to leave you with ease," Hamilton says to me. "They won't!" I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it.

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the American branch of O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV), a Christian Spiritist sect based in Brazil, could legally use hoasca under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. In 2009, the U.S. District Court in Oregon similarly ruled that members of the Santo Daime church (based in Brazil) could legally use Daime tea.

However, unless the Georgetown University defendants can retroactively claim they’re among the UDV’s 130 American members or Santo Daime’s 80 members in Oregon, they’ll have to find a different defense.

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