Psychedelics Science

Recurring Themes of DMT Trips: A Thematic Analysis

Written by Petar Petrov

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a.k.a. the spirit molecule, ayahuasca’s driving force, has people of virtually every walk of life in complete awe, taking even the wildest psychedelic dreams to a whole new level. The afterlife, God, aliens, the mechanism of the Universe – few human beings would dismiss the chance at a glimpse into that and much more in just a couple of puffs.

While some studies manage to provide some structure and system to the otherwise unfathomable ocean of secrets that is the DMT dreamland, they can be significantly limited in a number of important ways, from small sample sizes, to relying on narratives or fixed answers rather than interviews, retrospective reports that can be influenced by memory bias, a lack of monitoring of set and setting, other substances potentially factoring in, and respondents’ self-selection.

This is why a team of researchers aimed to address almost all of these limitations by “a large-sample, thematic analysis (including content analysis) of a discrete dataset of breakthrough DMT experiences with purposively sampled participants, extracting rich content by in situ semi-structured interviews immediately post-experience.”

The goal was to outline some over-arching, recurring themes and categories of the otherwise deeply personal DMT experience.

They conducted interviews with 36 participants, all experienced DMT users.

Various themes were identified after the trip, with the biggest categories being “other beings” (94% of reports) – unknown entities (which have been speculated in the past to even be alien life forms) that are a staple of the DMT trip and often even its culmination, and “other worlds” (100% of reports) – the environment, the scene in which it all took place in.

The “other beings” fell into one or more of three “personality types”: Showing or Communing (17 out of 36 reports, 10 of which described them as “presenters), Helping or Nurturing (19 reports), where they acted as “playmates” and “soothers”, or Manipulating and Controlling (6 reports), where the other beings were reminiscent of the trickster archetype but could also have a nurturing side.

However, instead of clear personifications, 6% of participants described more of a sensed presence with no defined imagery, like an omnipresence, akin to the Shiva principle and tantric philosophy.

The visual manifestation and appearance are where the other beings took the most varied forms: clowns, jesters, “silhouette and featureless, but humanoid” figures, entities with “insectoid proportions,” and more.

Other noteworthy themes included giant geometrical structures and mechanisms in a constant state of flux, characterizing these other worlds, and a sort of telepathic, intuitive communication with the other beings or even the DMT itself, in which complex ideas like all-concurring, all-encompassing love, letting go of suffering, and the Universe being a “vast interconnected playground for beings to simply enjoy” in a “Cosmic Game” were somehow boiled down and burned into the participants’ minds and souls, perhaps like a dormant instinct that needed to be woken up, as if by nature itself.

How does a bird know how to fly? The short answer is instincts, nature. And that’s where DMT comes from, at the end of the day. As do we.



[1] Michael P, Luke D, Robinson O. An encounter with the other: A thematic and content analysis of DMT experiences from a naturalistic field study. Front Psychol. 2021;12:720717. Published 2021 Dec 16. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.720717 [journal impact factor = 2.99; times cited = 1]


Image Credits: Activedia / pixabay

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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