Small Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that focuses on depression and mental health, has secured approval to begin clinical trials with DMT, the psychedelic drug (nicknamed “the spirit molecule”) that is often considered the world’s most potent. Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, for instance, described it as “the most powerful hallucinogen known to man and science”.
While psychiatrists in the US have conducted studies with the drug before, Small Pharma claims that this is the world’s first patient clinical trial. Peter Rands, CEO of Small Pharma said: “DMT delivers a psychedelic experience in 20 mins and has unique properties that lend itself to clinical use. By adopting responsible evidence-based research and development into psychedelic medicine, we hope to help rebrand these once stigmatised compounds as highly effective medical therapies, which can be integrated into current healthcare systems and made accessible to the millions of people suffering from depression.”
While this might be a breakthrough for the pharmaceutical industry, it’s by no means the first time that DMT has been thought to have psychological benefits. For years, it’s been touted as a cure for PTSD and depression, and is known for its spiritual properties. According to one piece of research, almost half of people who take it later go on to say that they believe in a higher power such as God. Other research has suggested that people who’ve taken DMT, along with other psychedelics, can enjoy a long-lasting sense of connection with nature. A study that gave DMT to rats, meanwhile, found that it made them less anxious.
DMT is a naturally occurring molecule which is found in hundreds of plants and even exists within the brains of animals, and one of its most enduring myths is that “it releases the exact same chemical that your brain does when you die!” It's true that taking DMT is thought to be similar to having a near-death experience, with feelings of inner peace, the experience of traveling through a tunnel, out of body experiences, and encounters with sentient beings (including aliens, elves and demons), but the theory that your brain releases DMT when you die is still yet to be proven.
The history of humans taking DMT stretches back to traditional religious ceremonies undertaken by Indigenous communities in South America (DMT is an active ingredient in ayahuasca). In a sense, DMT has always played a therapeutic role, so it’s not surprising that the kind of revelatory, transcendent experience the drug is said to offer would be appealing to a company focused on mental health.
According to Rands: “With over 300 million people around the world suffering from depression, this welcome news couldn’t have come sooner — there is a desperate need for drug companies to develop new treatments for mental health afflictions.” Along with growing research on the uses of ketamine in treating depression and MDMA in treating PTSD, it seems as though regulatory bodies are increasingly receptive to drug-based therapies.