A study in rats conducted by the scholars of Michigan Medical University has found out the presence of popular psychedelic compound ‘DMT’ in normal brains.
The Ayahuasca retreat centers in South America are well famous where people partake in a brewed concoction made from the caapi plant. Indigenous people use Ayahuasca for their sacred religious ceremonies. DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is one of the main active compounds in Ayahuasca, which is one of the most powerful and potent hallucinogens around. For centuries, Humans have a close relationship with this substance. Humans are not the only lovers of DMT though, animals have also seen engaging with the substance.
For several decades, it was hypothesized that DMT is endogenously produced in the human body because this hallucinogenic substance is found in a variety of body fluids. But where DMT is produced in the body and why it’s produced still stayed unresolved.
A notable study about this topic is conducted by a scientist named Rick Strassman in the early 90’s. He ended up in the hypothesis that DMT is produced in the pineal gland and released into the body during dream and death states. He also speculated that the substance is flushed into the human body during death. Neuroscientist Jimo Borjigin came across Starssman’s research while doing research on melatonin production in the pineal gland.
“I said to myself, ‘wait, I’ve worked on the pineal gland for years and have never heard of this. I thought if DMT is an endogenous monoamine, it should be very easy to detect using a fluorescence detector.” says Borjigin. She contacted Strassman to know the source of his work and he admitted that it was just a hypothesis and they agreed to work on this topic together to find the traces of DMT in the mammalian brain. The study resulted in the release of a paper published in 2013 which found out the direct traces of DMT in the pineal gland of the rat for the first time. But the study raised a lot of unanswered questions. How does the rat brain synthesize DMT? Does this process happen just in the pineal gland?
A new study from Borjigin and Strassman and a number of other researchers found out the answers to some of these queries. They set up an experiment using ‘in situ hybridization’ technique. “With this technique, we found brain neurons with the two enzymes required to make DMT,” says Borjigin. “They are also found in other parts of the brain, including the neocortex and hippocampus that are important for higher-order brain functions including learning and memory.”
While the study remarkably sheds light on how DMT is produced in the mammalian brain, the question of why it is being produced in the brain is still mystery. “We don’t know what it’s doing in the brain. All we’re saying is we discovered the neurons that make this chemical in the brain, and they do so at levels similar to other monoamine neurotransmitters” says Borjigin.