OPEN Foundation

S. Barker

N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function


This report provides a historical overview of research concerning the endogenous hallucinogen N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), focusing on data regarding its biosynthesis and metabolism in the brain and peripheral tissues, methods and results for DMT detection in body fluids and brain, new sites of action for DMT, and new data regarding its possible physiological and therapeutic roles. Research that further elaborates its consideration as a putative neurotransmitter is also addressed. Taking these studies together, the report proposes several new directions and experiments to ascertain the role of DMT in the brain, including brain mapping of enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of DMT, further studies to elaborate its presence and role in the pineal gland, a reconsideration of binding site data, and new administration and imaging studies. The need to resolve the “natural” role of an endogenous hallucinogen from the effects observed from peripheral administration are also emphasized.

Barker, S. A. (2018). N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function. Frontiers in neuroscience12, 536., 10.3389/fnins.2018.00536
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Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking


Introduction: Ayahuasca is a South American psychotropic plant tea traditionally used in Amazonian shamanism. The tea contains the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), plus β-carboline alkaloids with monoamine oxidase-inhibiting properties. Increasing evidence from anecdotal reports and open-label studies indicates that ayahuasca may have therapeutic effects in treatment of substance use disorders and depression. A recent study on the psychological effects of ayahuasca found that the tea reduces judgmental processing and inner reactivity, classic goals of mindfulness psychotherapy. Another psychological facet that could potentially be targeted by ayahuasca is creative divergent thinking. This mode of thinking can enhance and strengthen psychological flexibility by allowing individuals to generate new and effective cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies. The present study aimed to assess the potential effects of ayahuasca on creative thinking.

Methods: We visited two spiritual ayahuasca workshops and invited participants to conduct creativity tests before and during the acute effects of ayahuasca. In total, 26 participants consented. Creativity tests included the “pattern/line meanings test” (PLMT) and the “picture concept test” (PCT), both assessing divergent thinking and the latter also assessing convergent thinking.

Results: While no significant effects were found for the PLMT, ayahuasca intake significantly modified divergent and convergent thinking as measured by the PCT. While convergent thinking decreased after intake, divergent thinking increased.

Conclusions: The present data indicate that ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking. They suggest that ayahuasca increases psychological flexibility, which may facilitate psychotherapeutic interventions and support clinical trial initiatives.

Kuypers, K. P. C., Riba, J., de la Fuente Revenga, M., Barker, S., Theunissen, E. L., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2016). Ayahuasca enhances creative divergent thinking while decreasing conventional convergent thinking. Psychopharmacology, 1-9. 10.1007/s00213-016-4377-8

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Naltrexone but not ketanserin antagonizes the subjective, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine effects of salvinorin-A in humans


Background: Salvinorin-A is a terpene found in the leaves of the plant Salvia divinorum. When administered to humans, salvinorin-A induces an intense but short-lasting modified state of awareness, sharing features with those induced by the classical serotonin-2A (5-HT2A) receptor agonist psychedelics. However, unlike substances such as psilocybin or mescaline, salvinorin-A shows agonist activity at the kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) rather than at the 5-HT2A receptor. Here we assessed the involvement of KOR- and 5-HT2A-agonism in the subjective, cardiovascular, and neuroendocrine effects of salvinorin-A in humans.

Methods: We conducted a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study with two groups of 12 healthy volunteers with experience with psychedelic drugs. There were four experimental sessions. In Group-1 participants received the following treatment combinations: placebo+placebo, placebo+salvinorin-A, naltrexone+placebo and naltrexone+salvinorin-A. Naltrexone, a nonspecific opioid receptor antagonist, was administered at a dose of 50 mg orally. In Group-2 participants received the treatment combinations: placebo+placebo, placebo+salvinorin-A, ketanserin+placebo and ketanserin+salvinorin-A. Ketanserin, a selective 5-HT2A antagonist, was administered at a dose of 40 mg orally.

Results: Inhalation of 1 mg of vaporized salvinorin-A led to maximum plasma concentrations at 1 and 2 minutes after dosing. When administered alone, salvinorin-A severely reduced external sensory perception and induced intense visual and auditory modifications, increased systolic blood pressure, and cortisol and prolactin release. These effects were effectively blocked by naltrexone, but not by ketanserin.

Conclusions: Results support kappa opioid receptor agonism as the mechanism of action underlying the subjective and physiological effects of salvinorin-A in humans, and rule out the involvement of a 5-HT2A-mediated mechanism.

Maqueda, A. E., Valle, M., Addy, P. H., Antonijoan, R. M., Puntes, M., Coimbra, J., … & Barker, S. (2016). Naltrexone but not ketanserin antagonizes the subjective, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine effects of salvinorin-A in humans. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, pyw016.
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Exploring the therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca: acute intake increases mindfulness-related capacities



Ayahuasca is a psychotropic plant tea used for ritual purposes by the indigenous populations of the Amazon. In the last two decades, its use has expanded worldwide. The tea contains the psychedelic 5-HT2A receptor agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), plus β-carboline alkaloids with monoamine-oxidase-inhibiting properties. Acute administration induces an introspective dream-like experience characterized by visions and autobiographic and emotional memories. Studies of long-term users have suggested its therapeutic potential, reporting that its use has helped individuals abandon the consumption of addictive drugs. Furthermore, recent open-label studies in patients with treatment-resistant depression found that a single ayahuasca dose induced a rapid antidepressant effect that was maintained weeks after administration. Here, we conducted an exploratory study of the psychological mechanisms that could underlie the beneficial effects of ayahuasca.


We assessed a group of 25 individuals before and 24 h after an ayahuasca session using two instruments designed to measure mindfulness capacities: The Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and the Experiences Questionnaire (EQ).


Ayahuasca intake led to significant increases in two facets of the FFMQ indicating a reduction in judgmental processing of experiences and in inner reactivity. It also led to a significant increase in decentering ability as measured by the EQ. These changes are classic goals of conventional mindfulness training, and the scores obtained are in the range of those observed after extensive mindfulness practice.


The present findings support the claim that ayahuasca has therapeutic potential and suggest that this potential is due to an increase in mindfulness capacities.

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On the transmethylation hypothesis: stress, N,N-dimethyltryptamine, and positive symptoms of psychosis


Past research suggests a relationship between stress and positive symptoms of psychosis. However, the biological substrate of this relationship remains unknown. According to the transmethylation hypothesis, schizophrenia could result from a biochemical disruption in the stress mechanism. This biochemical disruption would lead to the production of a substance that would account for the symptoms of psychosis. Moreover, some studies have tested endogenous N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the context of the transmethylation hypothesis. Stress has been found to elevate DMT levels in rodents. Also, elevated DMT levels have been associated with positive features of psychosis in psychiatric patients. Additionally, healthy participants treated with exogenous DMT experience predominantly positive symptoms of psychosis. The present paper examines endogenous DMT as a possible biological mediator of the relationship between stress and positive symptoms of psychosis.

Grammenos, D., & Barker, S. A. (2014). On the transmethylation hypothesis: stress, N, N-dimethyltryptamine, and positive symptoms of psychosis. Journal of Neural Transmission, 1-7.
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Metabolism and disposition of N,N-dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids after oral administration of ayahuasca


Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychotropic plant tea obtained from Banisteriopsis caapi, which contains β-carboline alkaloids, chiefly harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. The tea usually incorporates the leaves of Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana, which are rich in N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychedelic 5-HT2A/1A/2C agonist. The β-carbolines reversibly inhibit monoamine-oxidase (MAO), effectively preventing oxidative deamination of the orally labile DMT and allowing its absorption and access to the central nervous system. Despite increased use of the tea worldwide, the metabolism and excretion of DMT and the β-carbolines has not been studied systematically in humans following ingestion of ayahuasca. In the present work, we used an analytical method involving high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)/electrospray ionization (ESI)/selected reaction monitoring (SRM)/tandem mass spectrometry(MS/MS) to characterize the metabolism and disposition of ayahuasca alkaloids in humans. Twenty-four-hour urine samples were obtained from 10 healthy male volunteers following administration of an oral dose of encapsulated freeze-dried ayahuasca (1.0 mg DMT/kg body weight). Results showed that less than 1% of the administered DMT dose was excreted unchanged. Around 50% was recovered as indole-3-acetic acid but also as DMT-N-oxide (10%) and other MAO-independent compounds. Recovery of DMT plus metabolites reached 68%. Harmol, harmalol, and tetrahydroharmol conjugates were abundant in urine. However, recoveries of each harmala alkaloid plus its O-demethylated metabolite varied greatly between 9 and 65%. The present results show the existence in humans of alternative metabolic routes for DMT other than biotransformation by MAO. Also that O-demethylation plus conjugation is an important but probably not the only metabolic route for the harmala alkaloids in humans.

Riba, J., McIlhenny, E. H., Valle, M., Bouso, J. C., & Barker, S. A. (2012). Metabolism and disposition of N, N‐dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids after oral administration of ayahuasca. Drug testing and analysis, 4(7-8), 610-616. 10.1002/dta.1344
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A critical review of reports of endogenous psychedelic N, N-dimethyltryptamines in humans: 1955-2010


Three indole alkaloids that possess differing degrees of psychotropic/psychedelic activity have been reported as endogenous substances in humans; N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), 5-hydroxy-DMT (bufotenine, HDMT), and 5-methoxy-DMT (MDMT). We have undertaken a critical review of 69 published studies reporting the detection or detection and quantitation of these compounds in human body fluids. In reviewing this literature, we address the methods applied and the criteria used in the determination of the presence of DMT, MDMT, and HDMT. The review provides a historical perspective of the research conducted from 1955 to 2010, summarizing the findings for the individual compounds in blood, urine, and/or cerebrospinal fluid. A critique of the data is offered that addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the methods and approaches to date. The review also discusses the shortcomings of the existing data in light of more recent findings and how these may be overcome. Suggestions for the future directions of endogenous psychedelics research are offered.

Barker, S. A., McIlhenny, E. H., Strassman, R. (2013). A critical review of reports of endogenous psychedelic N, N-dimethyltryptamines in humans: 1955-2010. Drug Testing and Analysis, 4(7-8), 617-35.
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Methodology for and the determination of the major constituents and metabolites of the Amazonian botanical medicine ayahuasca in human urine


Ayahuasca, also known as caapi or yage among various South American groups, holds a highly esteemed and millennia-old position in these cultures’ medical and religious pharmacopeia. There is now an increasing interest in the potential for modern medical applications of ayahuasca, as well as concerns regarding its increasing potential for abuse. Toxicological and clinical research to address these issues will require information regarding its metabolism and clearance. Thus, a rapid, sensitive and specific method for characterization and quantitation of the major constituents and of the metabolites of ayahuasca in urine is needed. The present research provides a protocol for conducting such analyses. The characteristics of the method, conducted by sample dilution and using HPLC–electrospray ionization (ESI)–selected reaction monitoring (SRM)–tandem mass spectrometry, are presented. The application of the analytical protocol to urine samples collected from three individuals that were administered ayahuasca has also been demonstrated. The data show that the major metabolite of the hallucinogenic component of ayahuasca, N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is the corresponding N-oxide, the first time this metabolite has been described in in vivo studies in humans. Further, very little DMT was detected in urine, despite the inhibition of monoamine oxidase afforded by the presence of the harmala alkaloids in ayahuasca. The major harmala alkaloid excreted was tetrahydroharmine. Other excretion products and metabolites were also identified and quantified. The method described would be suitable for use in further toxicological and clinical research on ayahuasca.

McIlhenny, E. H., Riba, J., Barbanoj, M. J., Strassman, R., & Barker, S. A. (2011). Methodology for and the determination of the major constituents and metabolites of the Amazonian botanical medicine ayahuasca in human urine. Biomedical Chromatography, 25(9), 970-984. 10.1002/bmc.1551
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21 March - Ketamine Discussion with Celia Morgan, Filip Tylš & Will Barone