The Nuance

Could the ‘Spirit Molecule’ Cure Your Depression?

DMT — a psychedelic linked to near-death experiences — is the focus of new depression research

Markham Heid
Published in
5 min readMar 9, 2022
Photo: Jr Korpa/Unsplash

In December of 1990, a psychiatrist named Rick Strassman injected two men with N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, a potent hallucinogenic compound better known as DMT.

“I died and went to heaven,” one of the men recounted to Strassman after the drug had worn off. “It was a cosmic blowtorch, a tempest of color.”

At that time, Strassman, was an associate professor at the University of New Mexico. (He still is.) His pioneering work on DMT helped revive the scientific community’s interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic compounds, which some experts are now calling “the most promising treatment approaches in contemporary psychiatry.”

But while DMT, which some call “the spirit molecule,” helped catalyze our current moment’s enthusiasm for psychedelics, some other drug compounds — namely psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ketamine, and MDMA — have hogged most of the spotlight and research dollars.

That may be changing. I recently wrote a feature about DMT for Vice. I learned that psychedelic researchers at both Johns Hopkins and Ohio State University have lately looked at DMT’s effects among people with depression and anxiety, with some encouraging results.

“A lot of depression or anxiety is about feeling disconnected or alone or isolated, or not having a place in the world. One of the core features of DMT is this complete connection to the universe and dissolution of all those thoughts.”

For-profit companies are also working on DMT-based therapies. Last summer, a U.K.-based drug developer called Small Pharma completed one of the first early-stage clinical trials on DMT for the treatment of depression.

The intensity and profundity of the DMT experience (more on that in a minute) have generated lots of excitement about its therapeutic uses. But some say features of the DMT trip may limit its ability to counteract mental…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.