A study led by a team of researchers at the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrated that people under the influence of DMT (or dimethyltryptamine) show brain wave patterns similar to a dreaming state while they are awake.
In the study, 13 participants were given DMT in a research lab, while they were hooked up to electrodes that measured the brain’s electrical activity during different stages in their experience. The data showed that DMT significantly changes the electrical activity that takes place in the brain, causing a reduction in alpha waves, which are typically very active during waking states, and an increase in theta waves, which are associated with dreaming.
Christopher Timmermann, one of the lead researchers n the study, said that DMT creates different brain patterns than other psychedelic substances.
“The changes in brain activity that accompany DMT are slightly different from what we see with other psychedelics, such as psilocybin or LSD, where we see mainly only reductions in brainwaves. Here we saw an emergent rhythm that was present during the most intense part of the experience, suggesting an emerging order amidst the otherwise chaotic patterns of brain activity. From the altered brainwaves and participants’ reports, it’s clear these people are completely immersed in their experience – it’s like daydreaming only far more vivid and immersive, it’s like dreaming but with your eyes open,” Timmermann said.
Red circle shows an increase in the lower frequency delta and theta waves (Credit: Chris Timmermann)
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Centre for Psychedelic Research, said that this study makes it a bit easier to communicate what a DMT state is actually like.
“DMT is a particularly intriguing psychedelic. The visual vividness and depth of immersion produced by high-doses of the substance seems to be on a scale above what is reported with more widely studied psychedelics such as psilocybin or ‘magic mushrooms’. It’s hard to capture and communicate what it is like for people experiencing DMT but likening it to dreaming while awake or a near-death experience is useful,” Carhart-Harris said.
“Our sense it that research with DMT may yield important insights into the relationship between brain activity and consciousness, and this small study is a first step along that road,” he added.
Researchers have often speculated about DMT having a connection to both dreaming and near-death experiences, and this new study provides more evidence to support these claims.