N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT, is a powerful psychedelic that occurs naturally in almost all living creatures on Earth. It’s one of the many drugs that make you hallucinate, and it usually causes users to see beautiful fractal patterns for around 15 minutes. However, user sometimes undergo an experience that can be beyond their ability to describe.
Many claim to enter separate dimensions, where time and space warp around them. Some have even said they’ve encountered horrific entities while tripping on DMT. Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna called them "machine elves" after he first encountered them during a hallucinogenic journey brought on by a shamanistic medicine called ayahuasca, or “the vine of the dead.” The main ingredient in ayahuasca is DMT, which can be ingested directly when extracted correctly.
But what are machine elves? Where do machine elves come from? Are they friendly, or are they out to get us? Some of the world's bravest psychonauts have attempted to answer these questions, and their stories are equal parts chilling and fascinating.
When ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna was studying the effects of DMT on humans' minds, he noted that it was incredibly difficult to remember his trip. He compared the task to attempting to remember specific details from a dream, saying: “...the way a dream melts away is the way a DMT trip melts away.”
After it was discovered that human brains exude DMT naturally, Dr. Rick Strassman, author of the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, hypothesized that our bodies secrete large amounts of DMT when we dream, are dying, or are close to death. From Dr. Strassman's work:
Japanese scientists discovered that the brain actively transports DMT across the blood-brain barrier into its tissues. I know of no other psychedelic drug that the brain treats with such eagerness. This is a startling fact that we should keep in mind when we recall how readily biological psychiatrists dismissed a vital role for DMT in our lives. If DMT were only an insignificant, irrelevant by-product of our metabolism, why does the brain go out of its way to draw it into its confines?
After the death of their mother in the early '70s, Terrance McKenna and his brother traveled to the Amazon basin to study the link between hallucinogens and the mind. There, they learned that shamans used a medicine called ayahuasca as a means to emotionally heal, speak with the dead, and see the future for hundreds of years.
When they tried the medicine, their lives — and their minds— changed forever. Together, they dosed ayahuasca and studied the brew's effects for 11 whole days. When extracted DMT is smoked, the effects only last for a few minutes. However, ayahuasca is a drinkable substance brewed from the leaves of plants that contain DMT, and a single dose can produce anywhere from six to 14 hours of hallucinations. Naturally, higher doses yield longer trips.
At the end of their 11-day binge, the brothers walked away with an altered perception of reality that helped them form theses about the natural world. Notably, the brothers spoke heavily of a "raging a universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien." They dubbed these transhuman creatures "self-transforming machine elves," and claimed to have had numerous interactions with the entities during their trip.
Some people who use DMT claim the drug takes them to another dimension. Ethnobotanist Terrance McKenna noted reality itself is layered with all sorts of dimensions, and DMT simply allows its user to see some of them. In a lecture called "Psychedelics Before and After History," McKenna went on to describe how the machine elves came into view and welcomed him into a dimension of their own creation:
I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope’s private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I’ve never actually gotten over it. These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!
This went on for two or three minutes, this situation of [discontinuous] orthogonal dimensions to reality just engulfing me. As I came out of it and the room reassembled itself, I said, ‘I can’t believe it, it’s impossible.’ To call that a drug is ridiculous; that just means that you just don’t have a word for it and so you putter around and you come upon this sloppy concept [that] something goes into your body and there’s a change. It’s not like that; it’s like being struck by noetic lightning.
When smoking DMT extract, trips are typically extremely brief; effects last anywhere between five to 20 minutes, depending on the potency of the extract. However, many who undergo the trip say it feels far longer than that, and some have said it felt like hours before they were done.
Once DMT smoke has been ingested, everything else peels away. The world melts into beautiful fractals, and users often feel their stomachs drop as though they were on a roller coaster. One neuroscientist described the her experience with the drug:
There was a distortion of the reality there. What I was seeing was no longer a 3D world. It became like a 4D world. It was like time and space was bending and then I had this sensation of starting to fall, which was really interesting. It should have been terrifying.