What does it feels like to die? Psychedelic drug might hold the answers
The researchers displayed results derived from a questionnaire that showed a "striking similarity" between people describing a near-death experiences and those who had taken DMT.
From this, the researchers concluded that near-death or "complex subjective" experiences had been caused by physical changes in the brain.
The discovery has led to hopes that studying DMT can lead to a better understanding of what happens to the brain as it dies.
DMT is a psychoactive compound in ayahuasca, a drink made from vines and used in certain tribal ceremonies in South and Central America. The drug is also popular amongst tourists who are permitted to take part in said ceremonies. Those who take it often note the feeling that they transcend their body and enter another realm.
The Imperial College London team gave DMT intravenously to 13 volunteers before asking them to fill in a questionnaire used to assess near-death experiences. Questions included: “Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light?,” “Did scenes from your past come back to you?”
In an earlier session, the same volunteers were given an intravenous placebo, and they did not know which session would involve the genuine drug.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, who oversaw the study, said: “These findings are important as they remind us that near-death experiences occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain.
“DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying.”
A better understanding of the psychology and neurobiology of dying "may have implications for how we view this most inevitable and universal phenomenon, potentially promoting a greater familiarity with and healthy acceptance of it,” the study argued.
Slight differences between near-death experiences and DMT were noted by the study’s authors. Namely that those who took DMT associated it with feelings of "entering an unearthly realm," while those with near-death experiences had stronger feelings of “coming to a point of no return.”
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