Drugs

Tripping On Your Lunch Break: Inside the Rise of Casual DMT Use

The “spirit molecule” is edging further into the mainstream, thanks to vapes that compress an hours-long trip into a ten-minute one.
July 9, 2021, 8:30am
A man smoking DMT
Image: Alex Jenkins

“Many more people are trying DMT now. We all feel stuck and sick of the rat race,” says Jacinta, 31, a teaching professional from Liverpool who asked us to change her name for privacy.

DMT – often nicknamed “the spirit molecule” – is commonly accepted as the world’s most potent and exploratory psychedelic. It is the chemical compound present in ayahuasca – a plant blend drunk ceremonially by South American tribes for centuries, though one that has since been co-opted by everyone from war veterans battling PTSD to “gap yah” kids looking for meaning in their trust funds.

An ayahuasca trip usually lasts around six hours, while smokable DMT is a rapid onset substance that can last between 10 and thirty minutes – earning it the semi-ironic moniker of “the businessman’s trip” and the “lunch-hour psychedelic”. This can make it more appealing to the modern tripper holding down jobs and a side hustle, and for whom the journey of ayahuasca (or even LSD or magic mushrooms) is unacceptably long for an already creaking Google calendar. 

While there are no government statistics, the 2021 Global Drug Survey found that DMT use among psychedelic users had more than doubled since 2016. The figures are still relatively small – a rise from 2.2 percent to 4.8 percent – but significant nonetheless. Once firmly a preserve of Erowid-lurking psychonauts, it seems DMT is now skirting the fringes of the narcotic mainstream, thanks to pens and vapes that make the experience more palatable for those who don’t refer to themselves as “The Voyager” on obscure internet forums.

Ali, 25, from Bristol, is one such more recent casual user who also asked to remain anonymous. “I have to deal with really serious issues on a day-to-day basis in my job,” she says. Ali vapes DMT and prefers smaller recreational doses that don’t necessitate mind-shaking, perception-shifting breakthroughs. “To be able to look at amazing sparkly colourful visuals, have the most amazing body rush and just be out of my own head for ten minutes can be really valuable when I'm struggling to see the good in the world,” she explains.

Sam, 34, from Brighton, is another more casual user who asked us to change his name for privacy. He used to smoke DMT with a glass pipe, but has since been able to buy cartridges of e-liquid from a local seller for £100 a pop. This can last for between seven and eight sessions, meaning it’s not exactly pricey and is a much less fiddly method than smoking. “It’s good value and less of a commitment,” says Sam, who runs an online business. “You can easily do it and go back to work.”

Research around DMT has historically been relatively thin on the ground in the UK, although one 2018 paper did find that DMT use can resemble near-death experiences. But in 2020, UK regulators were given the go-ahead for the first clinical trial of the use of DMT to treat depression. At the same time, the Global Drug Survey found that more and more people are using psychedelics as a way to self-medicate for their mental health. When we consider that psychedelics such as DMT might not only be becoming more accessible, but also more widely acceptable, it makes sense that the drug might reach recreational circles as opposed to just those looking for one life-changing trip into the cosmos. 

David Luke, associate professor at Greenwich University and co-founder of the Breaking Convention psychedelic conference, agrees that recent DMT research and conversation has pushed the drug even further into the mainstream. “Every bit of research and coverage helps get DMT Into the consciousness,” he says. “Also big personalities like Michael Pollan, Joe Rogan and Mike Tyson have helped,” he adds, referring to the swathes of celebrities who have spoken publicly on the benefits of the drug.

Ali tells me that DMT “is definitely more in my social group than ever” and that “since the pandemic kept dragging on, people have gotten bored of sitting around with the same people doing coke and ketamine”. She also says that the easy-access nature of vapes have been crucial in reducing some of the anxiety that can be induced by the drug’s mythology. “DMT used to be a kind of 'scary' trip… but with the vape it’s so much easier to take a little dose and see how it feels. It’s much more accessible.”

Youtuber Adeptus Psychonautica regularly smokes DMT on his channel for nearly 20,000 subscribers. He also points to the fact that “vape devices are beginning to change the landscape, and at some point they will just become the go-to standard”. Nevertheless, he thinks the majority of users still use bowls and that it's only been in the last year or two that vapes and pens have gained a foothold in the DMT space.

Your everyday coke, MDMA and weed roadman still might not stock DMT. This is partly driven by the fact that DMT is fairly straightforward to synthesise at home using the easily purchased Mimosa hostilis bark, but DMT has certainly made it onto the menus of the more discerning dealers. Dylan, 19, who asked to remain anonymous, was involved in supply for a time and tells me that “a lot of people were after it – people I’d never of thought to dabble in things such as DMT. Some people who knew nothing about it.” 

David Luke thinks dealers selling DMT is still a relatively recent phenomenon. “I think people getting it off the street is a new thing,” he says. “It’s always had quite a sacred quality to it – you know, wait for it to find you.”

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We also know that dealers don't work the way they used to, which might contribute to DMT being more readily available. A 2019 study found that 24 percent of young people had been offered drugs on social media while the 2020 Global Drug Survey reported that darknet drug purchases had increased by over a third in the space of a year – from 10.7 percent of respondents to 15 percent. I followed a couple of Instagram accounts with “DMT” in the name of research and was swiftly offered shipped cartridges. 

Insta Dealer.jpg

Mike Power, author specialising in drugs and tech and consultant at OEVPartners.com, tells me that DMT has become cheaper and more readily available thanks to recent online advances. “The dark web and apps like Televend [an automated retail system often used to sell drugs on Telegram] have democratised access to all drugs – there is now very little rarity, hardly any scarcity,” he says. 

“DMT in 2001 cost up to £300 a gram – if you could find anyone selling it. It’s now £80 a gram or less,” he continues. “Its delivery-mechanism innovations now mean people are smoking it in much less restricted ways and with a wider variety of goals. I’ve heard of people hitting DMT vapes on the dancefloor.”

While DMT use might be more casual than the days of One Big Trip while soul searching in South America, Adam Waugh of Psycare – who provide psychedelic harm reduction at festivals – suggests exercising caution, regardless of whether you're taking it in small doses on your lunchbreak. 

“It’s important to think about how you’re feeling before taking DMT and potentially delay taking it if you’re going through a difficult time,” he says. “Only take DMT in a safe environment, with someone sober present. The experience is often so strong that you are totally unaware of what is going on in reality, which can put you at risk of harm from your environment.”

For new user Jacinta, however, the effects are as permanent as they have been cosmic and comforting. “It’s changed my life and I don’t worry about rubbish now – life has a greater meaning,” she days. “I’m certain there’s something after death now and I realise we’re all connected. That’s all because of DMT.”

@dhillierwrites / @alexgamsujenkins