Author: Jarret Morgan
Editor: Brentsen Wolf, PharmD
Have you ever known someone who’s had a near-death experience (NDE)? Have you ever had one? A near-death experience can be a frightening wake-up call that often induces spirituality and allows hibernated thoughts to transcend the subconscious to the conscious mind. Unfortunately, this topic is not well understood, and many hypotheses exist. I will briefly mention the broad range of pertinent theories and then focus on my favorite hypothesis centered around DMT, also known as dimethyltryptamine or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine.
First, what is a near-death experience? Well… it's exactly what it sounds like. At the end of your rope or a close encounter with it, you may experience the infamous white light, a warm sensation, an out-of-body experience such as levitation, a hand reaching out to you, or being met with a familiar someone like relatives, friends, or religious figures. While NDEs are often pleasant, they can be negative, scary, and outright distressing, but what might cause these supernatural experiences?
Many explanatory models exist regarding NDEs, but major models include the spiritual/transcendental theory, which suggests that transcendence from the physical world to the spiritual is taking place by the emission of the mind and soul from the body, or by physiologic means such as cerebral hypoxia or anoxia (low or no oxygen), hypercapnia (high CO2), drug-induced from resuscitation procedures (ketamine), or chemically mediated neurobiological factors like endorphins and enkephalins. One of the most curious hypotheses includes a chemically induced neuroprotective state which is my favorite among the physiologic explanations.
Familiar to Joe Rogan enthusiasts, DMT is a powerful and short-acting hallucinogen found in nearly all living organisms, which interestingly enough is only two enzymatic reactions away from tryptophan, an amino acid. Thought to be primarily produced by the pineal gland (though also present in rats without a pineal gland), DMT production is proposed to be most notably increased at two specific points in life: birth and death. Both entering life and leaving it are major transitional periods, and the endogenous (within the body) production of DMT may be indicative of a neuroprotective mechanism that eases the individual through those transitions. While I think the proposition of DMT being meant for “easing” the transitional states of being very interesting, I’m not sure I’m completely convinced that it isn’t a combination of DMT and other hypotheses. Still, it appears that "passing over to the other side" might be a peaceful experience. Fingers crossed!
Author Bio: Jarret Morgan is a 1st-year pharmacy student at the Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville and a part-time inpatient pharmacy technician at a local hospital. He aspires to one day attain a fellowship in the pharmaceutical industry where he can broaden his skillset and make a difference at the macro scale. In his free time, Jarret enjoys exercising, playing sports/video games with his wife, and spending time with his grandfather.