A group of scientists has discovered that dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a molecule that is an active ingredient that is present in some hallucinogenic plants, is produced by two enzymes of neurons in the mammalian brain.
Dimethyltryptamine is historically used by various cultures during rituals that include hallucinogenic states, first of all those made by different indigenous peoples of the Americas for their religious or sacred ceremonies. It was then synthesized in the laboratory only in 1931.
One of the authors of the study, Jimo Borjigin, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s department of molecular and integrative physiology, turned to the work of another researcher, Rick Strassman. In the mid-1990s the latter conducted several experiments on humans subjected to DMT by intravenous injection, experiments that convinced him that the pineal gland in our body could naturally produce and secrete this substance. Borjigin resumed this work thinking that it would be relatively easy to locate the substance in this gland using a fluorescence detector. He therefore performed experiments on rats by collecting pineal gland samples from rodents and analyzing them in the laboratory. The analysis confirmed the presence of DMT, and this was already in 2013.
However, the researcher was not satisfied: he wanted to understand in what area of the body the substance was synthesized. He then worked with his student Jon Dean, lead author of a further study just published in Scientific Reports, performing experiments using a process called in situ hybridization that involves analyzing DNA strands to localize specific RNA sequences in a tissue.
They discovered that it is the enzymes of certain brain neurons that synthesize DMT. They also discovered that this substance did not end up only in the pineal gland but is also found in other parts of the brain, such as the neocortex and the hippocampus.
Finally, they discovered that the levels of this substance increase in rats subjected to cardiac arrest, which would justify the near-death experiences that in some ways can be considered similar to the hallucinogenic experiences that the substance produces when it is taken through plants.