1971 – DMT Becomes Illegal Internationally Following the Convention on Psychotropic Substances
Representing a pivotal moment in international drug policy and the so-called “war on drugs,” on Feb 21, 1971, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances was passed by the United Nations. It required that all member states control a list of substances, among which is the famed psychedelic molecule, DMT.
Legal restrictions placed on these substances listed them as Schedule 1, reserved for drugs that pose a serious risk to public health and have no recognized therapeutic value. The Convention was passed largely due to the efforts of US president Richard Nixon, who had gotten the Controlled Substances Act passed in the US the year before.
As of 2013, 183 member states are parties to the treaty. National drug laws are based on this treaty, such as the U.S. Psychotropic Substances Act, the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
A country can outlaw more substances than those on the list, but not fewer. But a country can decide not to enforce these laws, and countries that have decriminalized drugs have decided that they will not enforce the Convention.
In 2001, the Schaepe letter clarified that countries are not required to make the ayahuasca legal status identical to DMT legality. This meant that it is up to each country to decide whether the DMT legal status overlaps with ayahuasca legality or not.
DMT also has a rich and complex cultural history, such as when the beatnik writer William Burroughs injected DMT into the muscle of his bum, and when the substance inspired psychedelic musicians, comedians, and others in the 1960s. Regarding the scientific history of DMT, in 1956 the first scientific reports of DMT effects on humans came from Stephen Szára, Hungarian chemist and psychiatrist, who had injected an extract from the plant Mimosa hostilis into his own muscle and performed and published further research using volunteers.
In the 1990s, a psychiatrist named Rick Strassman undertook revolutionary studies on DMT’s biological and psychological effects at the University of New Mexico (US). His famous book DMT: The Spirit Molecule details his experiments of giving 60 people 400 doses of DMT in a research environment. The spawned a generation of researchers and seekers partly because of a popular documentary about the book that was released in 2019.