Amid increasing interest in the therapeutic properties of psychedelics, researchers have recently turned their attention to a mind-altering compound called 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT). Found in the gland secretions of the Sonoran Desert toad, 5-MeO-DMT has yet to be studied in clinical trials, yet a new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has highlighted the unique effects of this potent psychedelic, revealing how those who ingest it tend to enter an existential “void”.
Overall, “users report that smoking/vaporising 5-MeO-DMT elicits more intense effects compared to most other psychedelics,” write the authors, giving a sense of just how overwhelming the experience of nothingness can be.
Reviewing the available academic literature concerning this intriguing compound, they go on to explain that 5-MeO-DMT has been used by various indigenous communities throughout South America for millennia. In these traditional contexts, snuffs containing the compound are made from psychotropic plants such as Anadenanthera peregrina (locally referred to as as yopo or cohoba).
However, in the 1980s, a mysterious underground pamphlet appeared with instructions for how to smoke the milky secretions of the Sonoran Desert toad, and this has since become the most popular mode of ingesting 5-MeO-DMT among Westerners.
According to the study authors, we still don’t fully understand how the molecule interacts with the central nervous system – although what we do know is that it binds to the same serotonin receptors as other psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin. Fascinatingly, some studies have suggested that our own bodies may even produce 5-MeO-DMT, and the compound has been detected in human blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid.
Describing the effects of the drug, the researchers say that it has an extremely fast onset when smoked, reaching peak intensity after a couple of minutes and producing a trip that lasts for around 15 to 20 minutes. When snorted, the effects are typically less extreme and persist for slightly longer.
“The subjective experience is generally described as transcendent, often involving ego-dissolution, non-dual awareness and an increased range and intensity of emotions, spanning the feeling of love, unity and awe to panic and terror,” they write. “Notable is the frequent absence of visual effects.”
This last point is particularly fascinating given that similar psychedelics like N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) are famous for producing vivid visualizations. In contrast, the authors say that “users of 5-MeO-DMT often describe content-free experiences, associate[d] with loss of sense of self and bodily awareness, and sensory deprivation (described as all-white light, or all-black), with common descriptors such as: ‘emptiness’, ‘nothingness’ or ‘void’.”
Despite a lack of large-scale clinical trials, a limited number of small studies have indicated that 5-MeO-DMT may have significant potential as a psychotherapeutic adjunct. For example, research published in 2019 suggested that a single dose of the drug can produce a 68 percent decrease in depressive symptoms and a 48 percent reduction in anxiety, with these effects lasting for at least four weeks.
The mechanism behind this cathartic outcome is yet to be fully investigated, although the authors of this latest review study state that reductions in depression and anxiety are generally correlated with the intensity of the “mystical experience” generated by the drug.
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that further studies on 5-MeO-DMT are warranted, implying that stepping into the void may well bring considerable psychological benefits.