The Science of DMT Visuals
Classic psychedelics, like DMT, psilocybin, and LSD, work primarily through activity at the 5-HT2A receptors.
The 5-HT2A receptor is a subtype of serotonin receptors found in the brain, particularly in regions associated with mood, perception, and cognition. 5-HT2A activation leads to changes in various brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, thalamus, visual cortex, and the default mode network.
These changes can “increase global hyper-connectivity in the brain, collapsed hierarchical organization, and reduced intra-network integrity,” according to a recent DMT study led by psychedelic researcher Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris.
The thalamus and visual cortex may be particularly salient to DMT’s fascinating visuals.
The thalamus acts as a relay station for the body’s sensory information, aside from smell. In a normal waking state, the thalamus receives information from various parts of the body and passes it along to the appropriate areas in the brain for further processing.
For example, when a person touches something hot, sensory signals from the skin travel to the thalamus, which relays that information to the part of the brain responsible for processing touch sensations. This process integrates different sensory inputs, enabling humans to perceive, react, and make sense of reality.
When psychedelics enter the brain, they disrupt the thalamus’s normal filtering role, causing a flood of uninhibited sensory input to reach the rest of the brain. This allows people to touch, see, hear, and taste in entirely novel and mysterious ways.
Primary visual cortex
Researchers theorize that the primary visual cortex, responsible for visual-stimuli processing, plays an essential role in psychedelic visions.
This lower-level brain region also helps translate uninhibited sensory information into a more complex and profound snapshot of the world.
Enhanced visual cortex processing and cross-communication with other brain regions during DMT experiences can lead to:
Common vivid visuals, including geometric patterns, colors, and textures.
Blending of sensory experiences, where individuals might “see” sounds or “hear” colors (synesthesia)
Distortion of shapes, sizes, and proportions of objects.
Altered time perception and a sense of timelessness.