Psychedelic DMT discovery hints at widespread presence in brain

Popular psychedelic DMT has been found naturally occurring in a mammalian brain, researchers have announced. The findings come from the University of Michigan's Michigan Medicine, where scientists discovered the presence of dimethyltryptamine in the brain of rats. The psychedelic compound is also found in some plants.

Dimethyltryptamine, more commonly called DMT, is the psychedelic compound found in Ayahuasca, a popular brewed beverage offered by a number of retreats primarily in South America. The psychedelic has proven wildly popular over the last few years; a large number of people who have partaken in these retreats report a vast number of positive benefits, though the substance comes with risks (one being that it is illegal in many countries).

Though there's a popular notion that DMT is produced by the pineal gland, that hadn't been proven until now. Researchers with Michigan Medicine have demonstrated for the first time that this psychedelic compound is naturally occurring in rat brains.

The pineal gland is a small organ located in the center of the brain; it is known to control the production of melatonin, the hormone popularly known for making people sleepy. The University's Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., was studying the pineal gland's role in melatonin production before her work with DMT, according to the university.

Borjigin and colleagues worked on unraveling the pineal gland mystery and determining whether it truly does produce DMT. Their findings were profound: DMT was present in the pineal gland of a rat brain, and there's also evidence that it can be produced by other parts of the brain, as well, including the hippocampus and neocortex.

Of note, the team found that some rats experiencing cardiac arrest also showed an increase in DMT, leading to speculation that the compound produces what are popularly known as near-death experiences. It's unclear whether DMT has a role in normal brain functions; its role is currently unknown.