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Scientists dive deep into Reddit data to decode the mysterious familiarity experienced in DMT trips


Imagine a substance that can transport your mind to a realm of unimaginable familiarity, even if you’ve never been there before. A recent study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, delves into the mysterious world of DMT (dimethyltryptamine) experiences reported on Reddit. Researchers sought to understand the profound sense of familiarity that some users encounter during DMT-induced experiences and the potential implications of this enigmatic phenomenon.

DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in various plants and animals. It is known for inducing intense, short-lived altered states of consciousness when consumed. Users commonly describe encounters with entities, otherworldly landscapes, and a profound sense of insight. While DMT has intrigued scientists, its effects remain enigmatic, and little is known about why some users experience this deep familiarity.

The authors behind the new study were particularly captivated by the reports of familiarity in DMT experiences. They set out to explore this phenomenon in depth, driven by curiosity about its nature and potential implications.

“The DMT experience is fundamentally non-ordinary and bizarre but can still enduringly impact beliefs concerning the nature of reality and ontological worldviews,” explained study author David Lawrence (@davidwlawrence1), an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and medical director of the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic. “It’s both paradoxical and intriguing that some individuals report a sense of familiarity during a DMT journey, despite its otherworldly nature. This particular aspect has not been previously explored in a dedicated study and we felt it warranted more attention.”

To conduct their investigation, the researchers employed a mixed-methods qualitative analysis of DMT experiences posted on Reddit between 2009 and 2018. They began by manually screening the titles of over 30,000 posts, narrowing down to 3,778 unique experiences. Within this subset, they identified 227 instances that mentioned a sense of familiarity. Among these, 56 were from users trying DMT for the first time, classifying them as “DMT-naïve.”

The research team then conducted a grounded theory inductive qualitative analysis, identifying meaningful units related to familiarity within these 227 experiences. Additional themes associated with the DMT experience were also documented, using established questionnaires like the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) and the Ego Dissolution Inventory (EDI). This comprehensive approach allowed the researchers to gain deeper insights into the sense of familiarity reported by DMT users.

The study revealed that 24.7% of the DMT experiences involving familiarity were from first-time users, dispelling the notion that prior psychedelic exposure was responsible for this sensation.

“Interestingly, none of these experiences attributed the sense of familiarity to prior psychedelic or DMT experiences,” Lawrence noted. “This was an important step to further our understanding the phenomenological feature.”

Despite the intense familiarity, these DMT experiences often coexisted with non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as mysticism, transcendence of space and time, ineffability, and ego dissolution. In essence, the sense of familiarity was not tied to typical, everyday experiences but rather existed in parallel with these extraordinary phenomena.

To better understand this intriguing phenomenon, the researchers developed the Sense of Familiarity Questionnaire (SOF-Q). This 19-item questionnaire, organized into five thematic categories, aimed to capture the various facets of DMT-induced familiarity. It covered areas like the familiarity with emotions, places, the act of going through the experience, transcendent features, and familiarity imparted by entity encounters.

Using an exploratory Bayesian latent class analysis, the researchers identified two distinct classes of individuals within the study sample who shared similar responses to the SOF-Q items. Class 2, comprising most participants (76%), displayed a response pattern suggesting a strong sense of familiarity related to many aspects of the DMT experience. Class 1, representing approximately one-quarter of participants (24%), showed a slightly different pattern.

“Using the newly introduced Sense of Familiarity Questionnaire (SOF-Q), we were able to identify distinct participant groups based on their experiences, especially around entity encounters and emotions,” Lawrence explained. “This unique sense of familiarity during DMT experiences presents an enigma that paves the way for future research into this captivating phenomenon.”

Both Class 1 and Class 2 participants had similar responses in terms of the place, space, state, environment, the act of going through the experience, and transcendent features during their DMT trips, but Class 1 participants stood out by reporting a greater sense of familiarity when it came to encounters with entities and the feelings, emotions, or knowledge they acquired during their experiences.

“The finding that some participants felt familiarity imparted by an ‘entity encounter’ is surprising,” Lawrence told PsyPost. “Encountering seemingly autonomous sentient beings during DMT experiences is a widely reported phenomenon, but the aspect of these entities conveying a sense of familiarity adds depth to the intrigue surrounding such encounters.”

“I would encourage readers to delve into the source material and explore the quoted passages firsthand. The veridicality of the sense of familiarity not-withstanding, the passion and conviction expressed by some individuals were truly remarkable.”

For example, one DMT user wrote: “Before I knew it, I was in a seemingly infinite emerald fractal forest. As I was examining the landscape around me, from out of the shadows of the trees and bushes stepped these little forest sprites. They welcomed me with open arms saying, ‘Why have you been away so long?’ The feeling I got from these beings was that they were ancestral. They knew me and I knew them, and I just hadn’t seen them in ages.”

This study has shed light on the elusive nature of familiarity during DMT experiences. Importantly, it debunked the notion that prior exposure to DMT or other psychedelics triggers this sensation. Instead, familiarity appears to be a unique aspect of DMT journeys, coexisting with profound alterations in consciousness.

While the exact mechanisms behind DMT-induced familiarity remain uncertain, the researchers offered some intriguing possibilities. The brain’s medial temporal lobe (MTL) is known to play a role in memory processes, and the amygdala is associated with familiarity. However, DMT seems to induce familiarity without recollection, challenging conventional memory models.

The study’s findings also align with the concept of the brain entering a highly flexible state under the influence of psychedelics, known as the Relaxed Beliefs Under Psychedelics (REBUS) model. As the acute effects of DMT subside, the brain returns to a state reminiscent of previous encounters, potentially triggering a sense of familiarity.

Although this study offers valuable insights, it’s important to note its limitations. The findings are based on self-reported experiences shared on Reddit, which may not fully represent the diversity of DMT users. Additionally, the study’s correlational nature means causality cannot be inferred, and further research is needed to validate these findings.

“Given this is the first study into this phenomenon, future prospective controlled studies are needed to validate the findings,” Lawrence said.

Future research may explore the role of endogenous DMT in consciousness and compare the phenomenological features of DMT experiences with non-substance induced states of consciousness. This could help unravel the mystery of DMT-induced familiarity and its implications for our understanding of consciousness and memory.

The study, “N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-Occasioned Familiarity and the Sense of Familiarity Questionnaire (SOF-Q)“, was authored by David Wyndham Lawrence, Alex P DiBattista, and Christopher Timmermann.


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