Found throughout the plant and animal kingdoms, DMT, or N,N-dimethyltryptamine holds the reputation of being one of the strongest serotonergic psychedelics. As opposed to the manufacturing of LSD, DMT can be made from widely available precursors without a professional organic chemistry background. This is done via a relatively simple extraction process from several DMT-containing plants, namely Mimosa hostilis and Acacia confusa. Although uncommon in a clandestine setting, synthetic manufacture of DMT starts from either indole or tryptamine.
When was DMT First Manufactured in a Lab?
The indigenous use of DMT in ayahuasca brews and cohoba snuffs dates to the pre-Columbian era. But the Western world wasn’t introduced to the spirit molecule in a scientific setting until the 20th century. N,N-DMT was first synthesized in 1931 by the Canadian chemist Richard Helmuth Frederick Manske. He made DMT, along with several other carboline compounds, by chemically modifying the tryptamine molecule. He described its chemical properties and structure, but the compound was ultimately shelved without knowledge of its psychoactivity.
Scientific interest in psychedelic plants from the shamanic pharmacopeia grew in the years after World War II, particularly in light of the discovery of serotonin and LSD. In 1946, the Brazilian chemist Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima isolated DMT from the bark of Mimosa hostilis, a South American tree used to create psychedelic snuffs. Then, in 1955, American analytical chemists M.S. Fish, N.M. Johnson, and E.C Horning isolated and identified DMT in a closely-related tree that’s used to make a psychedelic snuff called yopo.
Discovery and Confirmation of Psychoactivity
The hallucinogenic effects of DMT were confirmed the next year by a Hungarian chemist named Stephen Szara. Szara synthesized DMT in his Budapest laboratory using a recently described synthesis published by M.E. Speeter and W.C. Anthony.
After synthesizing 10 grams, Szara conducted a self-experiment, first orally (the inactive route without an MAOI) to no avail, and later, successfully by intramuscular injection. After documenting the effects, he went on to recruit 30 volunteers for the first study on DMT’s effects in human subjects.
Unsurprisingly, Szara’s volunteers describe features of the DMT experience, such as entity contact, that closely resemble motifs in the trip reports from the volunteers in Rick Strassman’s research. Strassman’s research occurred more than thirty years later at the University of New Mexico. It helped to catalyze the psychedelic renaissance that we find ourselves in today.
The DMT Molecule and Chemical Structure
DMT is an indole alkaloid found in a wide variety of plants and animals, including in trace amounts within the human body. Similar to psilocybin and psilocin, DMT is a member of the tryptamine family of hallucinogens. All tryptamines share the core structure of a double ring system attached to an amino group (-NH2) via an ethyl (-CH2CH3) side chain. Simply add two methyl groups (-CH3) to the amino group of tryptamine, and the result is dimethyltryptamine.
Of all the psychedelics, DMT has the simplest chemical structure. It has a molecular weight just barely heavier than glucose, the simplest sugar the body uses for energy. For this reason, it is able to readily cross the blood-brain barrier via active transport. Its chemical structure closely resembles the endogenous neurotransmitter serotonin as well as melatonin, the “hormone of darkness.” In addition, it has many structural analogs that are also psychedelic, including 4-AcO-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 5-HO-DMT (bufotenin), and 4-PO-DMT (psilocybin).
In pure form, DMT is a white, crystalline solid that’s usually found as its fumarate salt. Given that the DMT molecule contains no stereocenters, it has no isomers. It’s insoluble in water but soluble in aqueous acids and organic solvents. Various extraction methods utilize this characteristic.
How to Extract DMT
DMT is most commonly extracted from natural sources rather than synthetically synthesized. This is due to the higher availability of the starting materials. A wide variety of plants contain DMT, but it is commonly extracted from either Mimosa hostilis or Acacia confusa.
DMT is extracted from the plant material using two different techniques. The first is the acid/base extraction and the second is the straight-to-base extraction. Owing to its simplicity, we will overview the second method, which can be completed in the kitchen within a couple of days. Essentially, the procedure involves extracting DMT into an aqueous solution, then gathering DMT freebase in a nonpolar hydrocarbon solvent, and finally recovering the freebase as a solid once it precipitates under cold temperature.
Step1: Extract the DMT from the Plant Material
First, pulverize the root bark of Mimosa hostilis or Acacia confusa with a coffee grinder. Slowly dissolve sodium hydroxide (lye) in a glass jar of water, making a highly alkaline solution with a pH of around 13. Then add the root bark powder to the solution, shake it, and allow to sit for an hour. The lye physically breaks down the bark and allows the DMT to be exposed to the nonpolar solvent.
Given that lye can cause chemical burns, use gloves as well as face and eye protection for this step.
Step 2: Add the Nonpolar Solvent to the Base Solution
In this step, recover DMT freebase in a nonpolar solvent via the addition of naphtha to the mixing jar. After a few gentle swirls, the mixture will separate into polar (aqueous) and nonpolar layers, the latter of which floats and contains the DMT. Separate the layers with a pipette by moving the naphtha (top) layer to a collection jar. Repeat this process three more times, each time with a new collection jar, to fully extract the DMT from the base solution.
Once all four collection jars are filled, move them to the freezer and leave them overnight. Optionally, at this point, some individuals wash the nonpolar solution multiple times with dilute sodium carbonate, which will create an aqueous layer that is then discarded.
Step 3: Crystallize the DMT by Freezing
The freezing temperature will precipitate DMT crystals. Collect them from the naphtha jars by pouring each jar through a coffee filter with the help of a funnel. Over a period of 10 hours, the DMT crystals will dry on the coffee filters. The dried DMT powder will be ready to smoke, but an optional recrystallization step with hot naphtha will further purify the product.
Step 4: Recrystallization
Recrystallize the DMT by adding a small volume of hot naptha to the powder from the previous step. Once the solution cools, transfer it to the refrigerator for a few hours, and then the freezer. The refined DMT crystals will precipitate out, and can be collected with a coffee filter and dried for use.
How to Make DMT Synthetically: Key Procedures Explained
One of the most common synthetic routes to making DMT is the Speeter-Anthony synthesis. Alexander Shulgin, who outlined the process in his book PIKHAL, employed this process. This synthesis will be overviewed below. DMT can also be made synthetically starting from tryptamine, which is dimethylated with formaldehyde and then reduced with sodium borohydride.
Step 1: React Indole with Oxalyl Chloride
First, slowly add the highly reactive oxalyl chloride to a solution of indole and diethyl ether. After continuous stirring, the intermediate product, indole oxalyl chloride, precipitates as it is formed into a yellow crystalline solid.
Step 2: React Indole Oxalyl Chloride with Dimethylamine
Next, dissolve dimethylamine in cold diethyl ether. React this with indole oxalyl chloride to form an amide called indol-3-yl N,N-dimethylglyoxylamide. After vigorous stirring, the amide precipitates as a white solid. Filter it, wash it with ether and water, and leave it to dry.
Step 3: Reduce Amide with Lithium Aluminium Hydride to Form the Amine
Add the solid amide from the previous step to a solution of lithium aluminum hydride (ALH) dissolved in tetrahydrofuran (THF). ALH reacts with the carbonyl groups of the amide, forming an intermediate iminium ion that is reduced to a tertiary amine.
Reflux this reaction mixture for several hours, then cool to room temperature. Add dioxane to destroy any excess hydride. The reaction forms a white precipitate, which is impure DMT. Filter this, wash it with THF, and dry with anhydrous magnesium sulfate.
Step 4: Form the Salt and Recystallize the DMT
Dissolve the impure DMT in hot petroleum ether, then cool to form the DMT crystals. Air-dry these crystals, then add to anhydrous diethyl ether and anhydrous hydrogen chloride to form the salt. Finally, recrystallize the crystals with methanol or benzene to form N,N-dimethyltryptamine hydrochloride.
Disclaimer: DMT is potentially categorized as an illegal drug. Reality Sandwich is not encouraging the use or making of this drug where it is prohibited. However, we believe that providing information is imperative for the safety of those who choose to explore this substance. This guide is intended to give educational content and should in no way be viewed as medical recommendations.
RS Contributing Author: Dylan Beard
Dylan Beard is a freelance science writer and editor based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. After finishing his physics degree and dabbling in neuroscience research at UC Santa Barbara in 2017, he returned to his first love: writing. As a long-term fan of the human brain, he loves exploring the latest research on psychedelics, nootropics, psychology, consciousness, meditation, and more. When not writing, you can probably find him on hiking trails around Oregon and Washington or listening to podcasts. Feel free to follow him on Insta @dylancb88.