Near-death experiences are believed to be a psychological event that occur when an individual is close to actual or perceived death.
Only a limited percentage of people have experienced this intense state, but now researchers have discovered that the experience may be more familiar than initially believed.
It turns out, NDEs share many similarities with the effects of a psychedelic compound found in the brew ayahuasca.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, reveals that the potent psychedelic called DMT provides a jarringly similar experience to NDEs. Both events can include out of body experiences, sensations of transitioning to another world, and inner peace.
DMT is the main psychoactive compound of south and central America brew ayahuasca. It is also found in a number of plants and animals.
The study researchers focused on 13 volunteers who were given intravenous doses of DMT. Then, they were asked to complete a standard questionnaire that were answered by NDE survivors to find any overlap between the two experiences.
According to a press release from the Imperial College London, the questionnaire included 16 questions such as "'Did scenes from your past come back to you?" and "Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light?"
Marked Similarities Between DMT, NDE
All of the volunteers who were given DMT scored above the threshold for determining an NDE, revealing that the effects of DMT could mimic a person's experience as one approaches death.
"These findings are important as they remind us that NDE occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain," Robin Carhart-Harris, study supervisor who leads the Psychedelic Research Group, explains in a statement. "DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying."
Of course, there are subtle differences between the two experiences. Subjects given DMT expressed feelings in line with "entering an unearthly realm," while those who have gone through NDE are likely to have feelings of "coming to a point of no return."
The researchers explain that the gap may be due to context, since the DMT-exposed group were screened, prepared, and assured with a safe environment prior to exposure.
Moving forward, the team is planning to conduct further experiments on DMT.
"This, together with other work, will help us to explore not only the effects on the brain, but whether they might possibly be of medicinal benefit in future," Chris Timmerman, a study author from the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial, says.
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