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DMT History and Discovery
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DMT was first synthesized in 1931 by Richard Manske in the great wave of chemical experimentation that followed the discovery of mescaline at the end of the nineteenth century. At this time neither its effect on the human consciousness nor its prescence in traditional South American indigenous admixtures were known, and so DMT was forgotten until some fifteen years later when the snuffs and potions of the South American shamans became of great curiosity to the then burgeoning field of 'psychopharmacology'. O. Goncalves first isolated DMT from Mimosa Hostilis (= M. teniflora) in 1946 (publishing his results in Spanish), and further investigations into the plants used by South American shamans resulted in DMT being later isolated from both Piptadenia macrocarpa (= Anadenanthera colubrine var Cebil) and P. Peregrina (= A. peregrina) in 1955.


Mimosa HostilisDespite its presence in the South American snuffs and ayahuasca, the psychoactive effects of DMT were not discovered until first reported by Stephen Szára in 1956. A Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist operating behind the Iron Curtain, Szára could not obtain LSD or mescaline from Sandoz so he synthesized his own DMT (after reading about its presence in the plants used by South American shamans) in the hope that he would find it to be ‘psychedelic’. After repeated oral doses were of no effect, Szára intuited that something in the gastrointestinal system might be neutralizing the DMT. Szára thus became the first person to recognize the psychedelic properties of DMT when he injected it into himself, and his subsequent research would publicize DMT’s properties to the rest of the world.  Szára would later escape Hungary (with his stash of DMT) and then later immigrated to the United States where he worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, for over thirty years. He served as the Director of Preclinical Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse for many years until his retirement in 1991.



 Ayahuasca Dream After it’s introduction to the burgeoning psychedelic underground through the writings of William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner, it was made illegal in 1966. (Burroughs wrote to Tim Leary that DMT was too dangerous to experiment with after he nearly over-dosed himself while injecting it in London in 1960). Nick Sands, the underground chemist famous for Orange Sunshine LSD, is credited with discovering that DMT could be volatized (smoked) somewhere in this period, a discovery which briefly increased its popularity amongst underground users. In 1968, Holmstedt, Lindgren, and Agurell first hypothesized that the effects of ayahuasca are caused by a combination of naturally occurring monoamine oxidase inhibitors and DMT. In 1970, Congress passed the Scheduling Laws that made it nearly impossible to do any research on LSD, mescaline, or DMT. This halted scientific investigation into the compound in the United States until Rick Strassman’s FDA-approved clinical trials at the University of New Mexico (1990-1995).


Fortunately other countries laws were not so shortsighted. The possibility that DMT might be endogenous first arose after researchers found DMT in the brains of rats and mice, and in 1965, a German team announced that they had isolated DMT from human blood. In 1972 it was found in the human brain tissue. (Julius Axelrod), and then subsequently found in human urine and the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain. Once the pathways by which the human body made DMT were discovered, DMT had become the first endogenous human psychedelic. 5-MeO-DMT was then subsequently found in the cerebrospinal fluid by S.T. Christian in 1975.



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