How to use DMT without going insane

Posted on 22 September 2022 by Cube Flipper

DMT has a certain popular reputation – that of something discombobulating, inscrutable, not necessarily for the faint of heart.

While I do believe DMT is capable of providing a comprehensible and even wholesome experience, it definitely deserves its reputation as an extremely powerful psychedelic. While it may only last twenty minutes or so, you might encounter situations which challenge foundational aspects of your belief system.

The risk involved is clear: the unprepared mind may start believing things which are bad for its ongoing well-being. Of course, the inverse is also true: DMT may help dislodge bad priors, break you out of unproductive behavioural patterns, or introduce you to new, more compelling models of reality.

This is why DMT has the mystical reputation it does. So, how can we prepare ourselves for this potential onslaught of ontological mayhem? It’s wise to spend some time planning how to orient ourselves at the meta-level.

In order to navigate this landscape of epistemic ambiguity, you must be prepared to flick between multiple belief systems and ideological frames of reference, without building too much attachment to any of them and judging each by the fruit it bears. If you can do this already, great.

Beliefs can be weighted not only by their truthiness, but also by their potential outcomes. You might wind up convinced that UFOs are real and President Eisenhower sold us all out to the Greys – and I cannot dismiss such a theory outright – but consider how much attention you might want to feed such a belief. What are you going to do with this information? Will you alienate your friends?

Some belief systems may contain infinitising aspects which may motivate one to make sudden and drastic lifestyle changes. Some people seem to have a natural immunity against these; some don’t. In many situations, agnosticism can be a healthy default stance. If you can find a way to avoid making a belief load-bearing; i.e., your behavioural outcomes will be similar or identical regardless of whether you decide it may be true or not, even better.

And hey, this is not just good DMT advice, it’s good life advice.

Epistemic hygiene practices

Sarah Perry, in her 2017 post, The Limits of Epistemic Hygiene, contrasts humanity’s healthy response to germ theory with our comparatively ill-developed response to meme theory:

Since the early days of the germ theory of disease, there was the suspicion that not only diseases, but behaviors and ideas, could be transmitted by social contagion. Nineteenth-century authors debated whether suicide, crime, and mental illness were spread contagiously. This line of thought was unified and formalized by Richard Dawkins in the late twentieth century under the name memetics.

Since then, enterprising researchers have attempted to show that a variety of behaviors and ideas are “contagious” within social networks: obesity, divorce, happiness, loneliness, sleep deprivation. (Seeing how impressed everyone was, other researchers found even more amazing contagious effects.) Your friends make you fat! Well. What can we do?

If ideas and behaviors can infect us, perhaps against our will, merely by exposure, then what can we do to regain our agency? Is there a possibility of epistemic hygiene?

She outlines practices that have worked to reduce disease:

The escape from the regime of infectious death can be credited to four broad categories of improvements:

  1. Improvements in nutrition, which allowed humans to better resist and fight off pathogens;
  2. Cleanliness practices to eliminate pathogens and segregate them from places where they might do damage (hand washing, antiseptic methods, sewage management, and a zeal for cleanliness in all its forms);
  3. Vaccines; and
  4. Antimicrobial drugs.

And later proposes equivalents that might work to preserve memetic health within communities:

Let us assume, for now, that some dangerous ideas (however defined) are contagious. Following the infectious disease model, there are four hygienic responses to idea contagion:

  1. “Nutrition” – increasing intelligence, knowledge, and skepticism through education
  2. “Cleanliness” – censorship to limit the spread of dangerous ideas; personal avoidance of sources of harmful ideas; “entertaining a thought without accepting it”
  3. “Vaccines” – exposure to weakened forms of dangerous ideas
  4. “Antibiotics” – heaping ridicule and scorn on those who hold dangerous ideas; arguing on the internet

I am not sure if I have ever seen a real-world application of her framework before. Let’s see if we can put it to work within the accelerated DMT memeplex, and build a working model of DMT epistemic hygiene practices.

1. Nutrition: internalising robust models of phenomenology

We are lucky to be living in 2022, and there already exist ample resources for self-education about DMT phenomenology as well as phenomenology in general – phenomenology being the study of subjective experiences.

Indirect realism is a sound philosophical cornerstone: by recognising that we are not experiencing the world directly, and instead a simulated reconstruction of the world, a whole class of common misunderstandings can be avoided.

Steven Lehar is probably the world’s leading armchair phenomenologist, and Andrés Gómez Emilsson of the Qualia Research Institute has helpfully written a guided tour down the rabbithole into his bubble world of force fields and world sheets. Andrés himself is a prolific YouTuber, and I can also recommend a couple of his videos:

In my opinion, it is absolutely critical to understand what attention is and how to direct it. A quick exercise: can you dissociate attention from foveation, by focusing on something in your peripheral vision without looking at it directly?

Once you understand this, you can then start to recognise how your brain reifies that upon which you place your attention – a process tremendously accelerated by DMT. Attention can almost be viewed like a computational resource, and just as germs feed upon chemical energy, ideas feed upon attention, so be careful where you direct it. Indeed DMT entities may even compete to attract your attention in a Darwinian ecosystem. A model such as this can be extremely useful to help avoid falling into bad attentional attractors.

Psychedelic experiences can be interpreted by way of their semantic content as well as their phenomenal character. “I saw the fabric of the universe and we are all made of Lego!” may prompt the question: “What size and shape were the blocks? How did they fit together?” By careful observation of the details, we may avoid missing the trees for the forest. A fine demonstration of this mode of analysis can be seen in Andrés’ interview with the YouTuber 434, where he helps interpret his experiences with mushroom entities.

Finding a robust set of principles by which you may interpret your experiences is a rewarding research excercise in and of itself. And what’s more, the short half-life of DMT means that any theories you read about or hypotheses you come up with may be practical to verify experimentally, so you can make up your own mind as you progressively familiarise yourself with the phenomenology.

2. Cleanliness: taking care around priming

Something to be mindful of is how your existing ontological priors can shape the DMT experience. Those of a Christian faith might feel the light of the Lord Jesus Christ; those sympathetic to the simulation hypothesis might find themselves uploaded to the ultimate server at the end of time.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in some cases, it may be wise to avoid priming yourself with certain ideas. This is not unlike avoiding spoilers before seeing a movie – and I should note, this is a reciprocal relationship – just as someone may resent you if you spoil their movie, it is wise to take care to avoid priming others inadvertently.

Here’s a concrete example: Andrés Gómez Emilsson has publically advised not to look at anything with a high Hausdorff dimension while on DMT, such as cauliflowers. Of course, now I’m curious to see what would happen, but we are both now primed; if we are expecting something bad to happen, it’s more likely that it will.

If you want to find out what does happen, Andrés has written about it elsewhere, but be warned: it might prime you further, though he has carefully glazed his cauliflowers with a coating of humour.

You may find yourself in a situation where you are concerned that something you have encountered may have primed you in an undesirable way. If you still wish to use DMT even if you cannot avoid metaphorical cauliflowers – well, I’m not really sure what sort of advice to give here that isn’t dangerous.

In my experience, the harder you want something to go away, the less likely it will do so. It can be extremely challenging to find the equanimity in the moment to let these things go, so perhaps the safest option is to pre-load your experience beforehand with some kind of emotionally positive flow state. Ride your bike, pet a cat, perform loving-kindness meditation – this sort of thing. Semantically-neutral emotional states can have what it takes to neutralise semantically-loaded cerebral ones.

3. Vaccines: learning from others’ experiences

If you are feeling sufficiently confident in your memetic hazard handling skills, it may be worthwhile to familiarise yourself with what strange ideas do lurk around in the water supply. I won’t list common lore here so as to avoid priming you, but you can seek those out if you choose to.

Starting with raw phenomenology, you can check out the paper, Phenomenology and content of the inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine experience for a bestiary of entities suitably neutered for an academic setting; and also visit the DMT-Nexus wiki’s hyperspace lexicon for a more informal pantheon.

Then perhaps hop onto YouTube or r/DMT and get a sense for the common kinds of narratives people build, the ways they cluster, and their relative representations. Exposure to one bizarre DMT story is a priming event; exposure to a hundred should help put things into perspective.

Some common narratives tend towards the supernatural conspiracy theory in nature. Keep in mind how DMT tends to make people overfit their models of reality. Sarah has another post, The Art of the Conspiracy Theory, which embodies a playful attitude that I relate to. One may become a connoisseur of conspiracy theories without becoming attached to any in particular!

Correct epistemology is not a final state of having all the correct beliefs. Rather, it is an infinite game, where part of the point is to keep playing.

4. Antibiotics: finding the humour in everything

I can’t quite endorse a strategy involving (in Sarah’s words) ridicule and scorn – I do my best to view people’s experiences through a nonjudgemental lens – but humour has a way of dousing even the wackiest ideas in a layer of neutralising antiseptic.

While a culture of acceptance has its merits, sometimes you do need to be able to let someone know when you think they’re heading off the deep end. This, too is reciprocal: I like to believe that those around me would let me know if I’m losing touch with reality. For mutual sanity checks, we should be able to count on a culture of trust, and if good natured humour is not effective then compassionate deconstruction may be required.

Humour is a great sanitiser at the personal as well as interpersonal level. I am perhaps lucky to find that DMT is extremely compatible with my sense of humour; it is rare that I have been unable to reframe anything strange or unusual as funny in some way, but I recognise that this might not be the case for all people.

In any case, this advice ultimately reduces to: don’t take yourself too seriously. Being able to laugh at yourself is the antidote to much psychological malaise. At the very least, a running theme from my own DMT experiences is that we are all living out the half-remembered punchline to some great cosmic joke.

I have a cautionary tale with which to wrap up this post.

When I first started experimenting with a DMT vape pen, it would often leave me feeling quite drained afterwards. I would feel an intense hunger; I would feel a coldness in my extremities; I would want to crawl into bed for twenty minutes or so until I recovered. This could be quite unpleasant and exhausting and interrupted the productive afterglow period, so I wanted to do something about it.

I have been on a strict ketosis diet for a few years now. I figured that perhaps the DMT was burning through what little circulating blood glucose I had, putting me into brief hypoglycemia; why not eat something sugary beforehand? I went out and bought a bottle of liquid honey; now every time before I take DMT I would guzzle down a couple of tablespoons, and indeed I no longer ran into these problems.

I then remembered an auditory hallucination I’d been experiencing. As I was going in, I would often hear little voices coalescing out of the room ambience, humming bzz-zzz-zzz-zzz. Perhaps the bees had been trying to tell me something?

Encouraged by this theory’s narrative appeal, I was able to ramp up my experimentation, cranking through an entire sixteen-ounce bottle of honey in four days. That’s like five thousand kilojoules! Sugar! Give me sugar!

Later on, I decided to try a new experiment: during the comedown period, I would sit with the sensations of hunger without desiring their cessation, placing my attention on my growling stomach until it settled down. By doing this a couple of times, I was able to detrain the weird nervous system response.

With the benefit of hindsight, I decided that this had all been complete bullshit. Unfortunately this was not before telling a bunch of people about my ridiculous theory. I guess my health nerd background had primed me towards this interpretation of events.

I think I have now spent my 2022 Wacky Beliefs Annealing Budget (W.B.A.B.), and am glad to have done so on something as harmless as: the DMT bees want me to eat more honey.

I still feed the bees from time to time.