Self-aware iron orbs, creatures with swappable Lego-like limbs, and “machine elves” consisting of interlacing geometric patterns—these are just a few the inexplicable beings reported by people who have taken N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the potent psychedelic that lets users visit other realities for five minutes at a time.
That people would see weird stuff when they trip is not exactly surprising, but what is remarkable is the regularity with which some of these strange characters appear. Now, a veteran psychedelic researcher associated with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), David Jay Brown, has teamed up with artist Sara Phinn, to catalog these entities in a new field guide—like an interdimensional kind of cryptozoology.
As interest in the once-obscure drug ramps up among academics and it becomes more accessible through the popularity of DMT vape pens, Brown and Phinn have set about collecting reports from users along with the existing body of entity research. Some of these DMT entity reports have come from places like University of New Mexico, surveys at Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, and independent researcher Josie Kins—plus drug forums like Erowid and DMT Nexus.
In a new report by the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London covering ‘“extended-state’” DMT trips—where an intravenous DMT infusion keeps participants in the DMT world for longer than a normal trip—entity encounters became frequent at 10 minutes into the infusion. The same university previously published a paper based on thousands of entity encounters, finding most interactions to be positive, involving “benevolent, comforting, protecting, or outwardly caring interactions.” Similarly at John Hopkins, even committed atheists reportedencountered meeting “autonomous entities” in interactions that “oozed joy, trust, love, and kindness.”
To find out more about these mysterious entities and the efforts to categorize them, Motherboard spoke with David Jay Brown and Sara Phinn, whose new book hopes to act as a Dungeons & Dragons-style bestiary for encounters within the psychedelic realm.
Motherboard: What’s the origin of this book?
David: Since DMT has become so popular and entity encounters have become rather common, we thought that it'd be helpful and fun to create an illustrated, naturalistic field guide—classifying the different advanced alien species from other planets or dimensions with pictures and descriptions for identifying them.
Sara: It feels like first contact for our species. It's really exciting to be at a place where we feel the common culture is broad enough to receive it.
How are you cataloging these entities and what’s the criteria for including them?
David: We chose to profile 27 entities, taken from our own personal experiences, the experiences of friends, reports people sent us and we found online, as well academic studies. We've also combed through alien abduction and UFO contactee reports, fairy sightings, and other reports of non-human entity contact to see where there's overlap.
We’ve been asking people: what did the entities look like and how did they appear visually? What did they communicate? What was the experience like? As many details as they can remember from the encounter.
It’s interesting you mention aliens. A friend took DMT, blasted out of her body, seemed to fly to the edge of the universe, crashed through it, and “awoke” on an operating table in front of some gray aliens performing a procedure.
That's one of the common crossover experiences between the alien abduction phenomenon and DMT entity encounters. Gray aliens are encountered a lot. When I had a hyperspace breakthrough the first time in 1983, I encountered a huge Mantis-type being that pinned me down helplessly, and began experimenting and adjusting things in my brain. It seemed like I was the subject of some kind of scientific experiment. This is also unusually common among people who have had the alien abduction experience. I think this gives greater credence to the possibility there might be some kind of independent reality to these beings. A few people told me that the beings they met said they were doing DMT too often and not to return, because they were basically bothering them.
Sara: They call that a “hyper-slap” in colloquial slang. When you have an unpleasant experience out there, and they tell you to stop doing it so much. I think that there's any number of beings and dynamics, and it's like a jungle in this dimension: there's going to be friendlies and not-so-friendlies.
What are some of the more unusual encounters like?
David: There were beings with interchangeable body parts that switch with one another like Legos; octopus-like entities with multiple limbs; self-aware metallic spheres. One person sent us a report about an entity composed entirely of sunflower seeds. They don't all fit into neat categories, but it’s uncanny how many do.
What is communication between people and these entities like? Will the extended state trips help?
David: Part of the problem is people going in and out of the experience so quickly. Even though the experience can sometimes seem like it lasts forever, the peak is usually only five or ten minutes, so it's very hard to have extended conversations with these beings. I think that's what the extended state studies are going to allow for: longer communications, as it isn't really possible to have in-depth conversations with these beings from vaping a breakthrough dose. Maybe they'll be able to teach us how to create time machines, starships, warp drives, or other undreamed-of technologies, and it will then become obvious that they have an independent existence. In terms of our book, we asked people: what did they tell you in their communications? Usually, it's a few sentences at most that we receive and they’re not long conversations.
Why do you think there are commonalities between experiences?
David: We change our mind all the time about this and entertain many possibilities. We don't hold on to any fixed belief system about what it could be. Carl Jung's notion of the Collective Unconscious and archetypes does seem to offer a powerful explanatory factor. Cultural expectations play a big role: people's religious upbringing could be an important factor, because there are a lot of reports of Hindu or Biblical deities, as well as angels and demons, that seem to correspond to different cultural expectations people have. I think Terence McKenna's popular talks probably influenced a lot of people's expectations as well.
The neuroscience research, and recent MRI imaging studies, show that DMT binds to the serotonin 2A receptors in the brain, like psilocybin and the other classical psychedelics. The Default Mode Network in the brain is disrupted, there's more communication between different brain regions that are normally not in direct communication, and there’s generally a more fluid and complex cortical state. But how that translates into people seeing clowns, jesters, insectoid and alien beings, well, that’s anyone’s guess really.