When you think of a visitation by aliens, what do you envision?
Most of us imagine a scenario familiar from science fiction films: a UFO landing in a field and disgorging its crew, who ask to be taken to our leader, if we're optimistic - or a series of ships destroying major cities with coordinated explosions if we're not.
But there are other possibilities. Long-distance space travel is inefficient, and spacetime is... flexible. Our understanding of the physics of higher dimensions is in its infancy. And there's an increasing number of people - including scientists - who believe that aliens may have already made contact...
by hiding inside a molecule that helps us dream.
Ancient History in Modern Labs
The molecule itself is called N,N-dimethyltryptamine - or DMT for short. First synthesized in the lab by the Canadian chemist Richard Manske in 1931, and first extracted from a plant source in 1946 by Brazilian chemist Oswaldo Gonçalves de Lima, its effects as a potent hallucinogen were not discovered until the 1950s, when Hungarian scientist Stephen Szara injected DMT into his own arm to see what it would do. (The 1950s were rife with this kind of psychedelic-substance experimentation.) It turned out that DMT is a very, very powerful psychedelic, generating deeply spiritual hallucinations in its users.
The effects of DMT might have been news to lab scientists, but there is evidence that the molecule has been used by indigenous peoples in South America to create spiritual visions for at least a thousand years. Ayahuasca, a tea brewed from a combination of two plants that deliver naturally-occurring DMT efficiently to the nervous system, is a traditional component of Indigenous religious ceremonies: the Maya, Inca, Huichol and Yanomano peoples used ayahuasca religiously. The Shuar people of Ecuador, in fact, believe that ayahuasca is not a hallucinogen but the gateway to "true" reality; everyday life, they believe, is the illusion.
Wired for Dreaming
One of the major surprises for scientists studying DMT in recent years is just how prevalent the molecule seems to be, not only in plants but also in animals: it has been found in a variety of "normal" mammalian brains - including human brains. It exists in small amounts in human cerebrospinal fluid, along with rats, rabbits and many other mammals.
Although it's not clear whether this naturally-occurring DMT has any kind of psychoactive effect, what is clear is that our bodies make this stuff, as well as metabolize it. We're literally wired for it.
Some might say, in fact, that DMT functions like a door in our psyches, through which other entities can enter - whether gods or otherwise.
The "God Molecule"
In April 2020, a group of researchers led by a team at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine published a pioneering study on the spiritual and other-worldly effects of DMT. They surveyed more than 2,500 people who had taken DMT and encountered an "entity" of some kind while under its influence. The majority of respondents (60%) described these entities as "beings", and 96% believed they were conscious; more than a third (39%) described them as "aliens" or "spirits". The vast majority, nearly 80%, of respondents identified the entities as benevolent, describing feelings of love, joy and peace. The majority of respondents also described their experiences on DMT as feeling "more real" than normal reality, just as the Shuar people do.
After taking DMT, 22% of respondents who had previously identified as atheists now identified as believing in some kind of divinity or spiritual existence.
This perspective isn't new, even in science. Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna argued in his 1992 book Food of the Gods that hallucinogenic substances were a primary factor in generating human consciousness and spirituality - that is, these substances were so mind-expanding that they were the catalyst for the development of higher-order thinking, language, empathy, culture, philosophy and religion. McKenna's experiments with DMT, in particular, were profound. He called the entities he encountered "machine elves" and believed that they were from another dimension. Szara's experiments in the 1950s had similar results; many of his experimental subjects saw and communicated with entities, though not all were benevolent.
The sheer commonality of the "entity" experience among those who take DMT remains a real puzzle for scientists. In 2017, University of Greenwich psychology professor Dr. David Luke held a symposium for some of the world's leading researchers in hallucinogenic psychopharmacology, focusing on the entity-encounter phenomenon.
The results? The mechanism by which the brain metabolizes DMT is fairly well-understood. So is the mechanism by which visions are generated by the brain. But in reviewing more than 60 years of reported entity "sightings", the sheer similarity of these encounters, the fact that so many people see and communicate with these entities... that part is unexplained by our current science.
Perhaps that's how they want it.
Are you fascinated by the idea of extradimensional entities tucked within the manifold hiding places of our world? Try HASTUR, our crown-jewel experience. (Fair warning: these entities are not nearly as benevolent as the DMT elves seem to be...)
If you'd prefer a lower-stakes mystery of mistaken identity, try Post-Mortem LA: Lucha Muerte.