Is the Mystical Compound DMT the ‘Seat of the Soul’ in the Brain?
For the first time, a team led by Michigan Medicine has discovered the widespread presence of naturally-occurring DMT in the mammalian brain, meaning scientists are ever-closer to discovering what Descartes referred to as the ‘seat of the soul’.
“DMT is not just in plants, but also can be detected in mammals,” says Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology.
In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped organ located deep in the center of the brain, was the seat of the soul.
Since its discovery, the pineal gland, known by some as the ‘third eye’, has been shrouded in mystery.
Scientists now know it controls the production of melatonin, playing an important role in modulating circadian rhythms, or the body’s internal clock.
However, an online search for notes to include in a course she was teaching opened Borjigin’s eyes to a thriving community still convinced of the pineal gland’s mystical power.
“I said to myself, ‘wait, I’ve worked on the pineal gland for years and have never heard of this,'” she said.
Using a process in which microdialysis tubing is inserted into a rat brain through the pineal gland, the researchers collected a sample that was analyzed for — and confirmed — the presence of DMT.
Her team’s next work has also revealed that the levels of DMT increase in some rats experiencing cardiac arrest.
A paper published in 2018 by researchers in the U.K. purported that DMT simulates the near-death experience, wherein people report the sensation of transcending their bodies and entering another realm.
Borjigin hopes to probe further to discover the function of naturally occurring levels of DMT in the brain and discover what, if any, role it plays in normal brain functioning.
“We don’t know what it’s doing in the brain.
“All we’re saying is we discovered the neurons that make this chemical in the brain, and they do so at levels similar to other monoamine neurotransmitters.”