Chapter 12 : Gnosis Potency : DMT Breakthroughs and Paragnosis, Graham St John, 2018

Chapter 12 : Gnosis Potency : DMT Breakthroughs and Paragnosis

Graham St John

in B. C. Labate, C. Cavnar (eds.), “Plant Medicines, Healing and Psychedelic Science”,

Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

doi : 10.1007/978-3-319-76720-8_12



DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful tryptamine that has experienced growing appeal in the last decade, independent from ayahuasca, the Amazonian visionary brew in which it is an integral ingredient. Investigating user reports available from literary and online sources, this chapter focuses on the gnosis potency associated with the DMT “breakthrough” experience. I explore the parameters of the tryptaminal state and, in particular, the extraordinary paragnosis associated with the DMT event, perceived contact with “entities,” and the transmission of visual language. As the reports discussed illustrate, for milieus of the disenchanted, among other entheogens, DMT is venerated as a gift that enables connection to a reality (nature, the universe, divinity) from which modern humanity is imagined to have grown alienated. Through an exploration of the legacy of principal actors, including Terence McKenna, Jonathan Ott, Jim DeKorne, and Nick Sand, the chapter navigates the significance of DMT in modern Western esotericism.


Known to produce out-of-body states and profound changes in sensory perception, mood, and thought, DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a potent short-lasting tryptamine. While DMT has been outlawed in most nations following the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, recent surveys have shown that this relatively harmless tryptamine compound has grown increasingly desirable (Sledge
& Grim, 2013; Winstock et al., 2013). Independent from ayahuasca, the Amazonian visionary brew in which DMT is integral, the modern usage of DMT followed the discovery of its psychopharmacological actions in the 1950s. The promotional tours of psychedelic raconteur Terence McKenna in the 1980s and 1990s were integral to its underground appeal, as was the Internet. Users typically participate in an
informed networked milieu where knowledge of chemical synthesis, botanica identification, extraction techniques, and methods of administration circulate. DMT is today commonly smoked using crystal-vaporizing methods or blended with other herbs, as in “changa” (St John, 2017a). While sociocultural research on this phenomenon remains scarce, a circumstance hampered by criminalization, evidence builds on familiarity with the effects of DMT, as evidenced in clinical research (Strassman, 2001), and through research using interviews (Tramacchi, 2006), surveying (Cott & Roc, 2008), ontology (Luke 2008, 2011) and cultural history (Gallimore & Luke, 2015; St John, 2015).

While dependent on broad variables commonly recognized as “set” (i.e., the mood, expectations, and attentions affecting the individual’s state of being) and “setting” (i.e., social and environmental context), as well as source (i.e., botanical or synthetic), technique of administration, and dose, the DMT event typically involves the rapid onset of an out-of-body experience of brief duration (i.e., its effects typically last about 15 min), with a sensation of transit common to the experience. While distortions in space and time, complex geometric patterns, energetic light sources, and veridical encounters with sentient entities are reported features of this visionary space, the experience possesses phenomenological diversity, as found in Strassman’s clinical trials (2001). The wide parameters of the DMT “world”—its hyper-liminality—are to be addressed in a future publication.

Examining user experiences in literary sources, from existing research and in anonymous reports archived on the Internet, including those found on Erowid and DMT-Nexus, this chapter navigates the gnosis potency of the DMT event. It therefore addresses the profile of DMT, among other tryptamine sources, within one of three interconnected modalities of use: gnosis, therapeutic, and recreational (St John, 2015, pp. 305–307). While there are diverse “events” shaped by a spectrum of variables, the user reports presented illustrate DMT events are extraordinary “breakthrough” experiences that not uncommonly facilitate outcomes that bear the stamp of gnosis—i.e., access to the truth of one’s connectivity with nature—including one’s divine self, as well as the natural world, or more generally the cosmos or universe from which humanity is understood to have grown alienated. Not uncommonly received as a gift, experients will act upon such knowledge in various ways. An exploration of the ontology of the DMT breakthrough experience is undertaken in three sections. The first explores the tryptaminal paragnosis of DMT hyperspace. The second addresses the profile of DMT within the development Wouter Hanegraaff names “entheogenic esotericism” (Hanegraaff, 2013), a profile elevated through the prodigious commitment of Terence McKenna. Drawing largely on the examples of three figures, William Burroughs, Jim DeKorne, and Nick Sand, the third section navigates the wide parameters of entheogenesis.