Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Similarities, Differences & Effects

By Mike Colagrossi

Are you curious to know the difference between Ayahuasca and magic mushrooms?

These two psychedelic substances both inhabit the worlds of transcendental experience and the shared chemical realm of dimethyltryptamine.

Used for millennia for healing, sacramental ritual, and mystical experience – now both mushrooms and ayahuasca have found a resurgence in modern medical research and culture.

So what’s the difference between ayahuasca vs mushrooms, and how do they compare?

We’ll answer that question in this article through research between the psychedelics’ difference in chemistry, effects and the role that cultural history has played in their use and development.

Article Guide:
Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Chemical Makeup
Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Consumption and Ceremonial Usage
Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Effects
Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Therapeutic and Recreational Applications
Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Cultural History

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms

Ayahuasca is a sacred psychedelic tea, brewed from the banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of chacruna.

Psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms” are a type of fungi of the psilocybe variety that produces a psychoactive effect.

While both produce psychedelic effects, they differ in their:
  • Chemical makeup
  • Consumption and usage
  • Physical and cognitive effects
  • Therapeutic and recreational applications.
  • History

Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Chemical Makeup

Ayahuasca and psilocybin both produce internal chemical similarities when ingested.

They differ in the fact that ayahuasca is a mixture of different substances and chemical compounds, while magic mushrooms’ main psychoactive compound stems from one source. Both consist of active forms of tryptamines.

Chemical Makeup of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is brewed with the following plants:
  • Banisteriopsis caapi vine
  • Psychotria viridis 
  • Diplopterys cabrerana
The vine of B. caapi contains β-carboline alkaloid[*], which includes the compounds of either harmaline, harmine or d-tetrahydroharmine, while the shrubs of P. viridis or D. caberana contains the powerful psychoactive compound N, N-Dimethyltryptamine[*].

Orally ingested DMT by itself breaks down too quickly to have any psychoactive effect without a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The alkaloids in the B. caapi inhibit the enzymes and allow DMT to work its magic and usher in the hours-long Ayahuasca experience.

Note that smoking DMT in its pure form[*] or taken as an intravenous injection as was done in Rick Strassman’s seminal study[*] – also detailed in the fantastic book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, is a much different experience than Ayahuasca.

Chemical Makeup of Psilocybin Mushrooms

There are nearly 200 mushrooms that contain the psychoactive compounds that can result in a psycedelic trip[*]. Mushrooms with the highest concentration of these compounds come from the fungi genus Psilocybe.

The two main chemicals in these mushrooms are:

  • Psilocybin: 0-phosphoryl-4 hydroxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine[*]
  • Psilocin: 4-hydroxy-N-dimethyltriptamine[*]

Once ingested, the psilocybin breaks down and is transformed into psilocin. From a layman chemist perspective, psilocin is like a cousin to DMT, as the only difference in chemical structure is the 4-hydroxy. This also allows the molecule to process in the brain without needing an MAOI to stop quick dissolution in the stomach.

Both psychedelics contain tryptamines as active compounds, but Ayahuasca requires a round of alkaloids to usher in the experience.

Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Consumption and Ceremonial Usage

Indigenous tribes in South America have used Ayahuasca for hundreds, possibly thousands of years[*]. Modern users tend to also experience Ayahuasca in its native and ceremonial setting.

In the past, the consumption of magic mushrooms has a similar ceremonial basis as Ayahuasca does. Curanderos in Mexico originally led ceremonies. But due to the prevalence of the fungus worldwide and usage from different cultures, there is no longer a central ceremony.

Ayahuasca Consumption and Usage

Ayahuasca is typically experienced during traditional ceremonies led by a shaman. The brew is drunk during ceremonies at night so that visions are easier seen. The liquid has the consistency of molasses and most find the taste to be bitter and unpleasant. Ceremonies are overseen by a shaman and other facilitators or helpers.

There are no known cases of overdose on ayahuasca, and it is suggested that it’s not possible.

However, it’s important to undergo ayahuasca preparation before you partake in a ceremony, including following a preparation diet for the weeks leading up to and following an ayahuasca experience. Generally, this means to avoid any and all processed foods, red meat including pork and dairy and fermented foods.

Preparation and consumption consists of:
  • Followed dietary guidelines and food restrictions.
  • Abstaining from eating 4-5 hours beforehand.
  • Mental preparation through meditation
  • Setting an intention
Shamanic preparation consists of:
  • Ayahuasca vines are broken up into a pot to simmer.
  • Finely shredded alkaloid leaves are ground and boiled with the vine.
  • Ayahuasca brew is ready to drink.

    It can take anywhere from 0-40 minutes for Ayahuasca’s effects to kick in.

Magic Mushrooms Consumption and Usage

Mushrooms, or psilocybin, are on a different side of the same psychedelic coin. Often taken at lower doses, many people believe that there is a subjectively less intense experience compared to Ayahuasca.

However, at “heroic doses” of 5g or more (depending on the person ingesting the dose) they pack a powerful punch.

Like Ayahuasca, it is also suggested that you can not overdose on mushrooms.

Preparation and consumption consist of:
  • Abstaining from eating two and half hours beforehand.
  • Preparing the dosage by either chopping up the mushrooms or boiling them in a liquid tea.
  • Consume the mushrooms.

It takes 30-60 minutes for the effects of psilocybin to kick in.

Ayahuasca  Mushrooms
Drank in a ceremonial brew. Mushrooms are eaten dried without any further preparation or brewed in a tea.
Your body does not build a tolerance to Ayahuasca. Your body develops a tolerance to mushrooms quickly.
No known cases of overdose: Lethal Dose LD50 estimated to be around 50 times a regular dose. No known cases of overdose: Lethal Dose LD50, estimated to be around 1000 times a regular dose. 
Takes 20-40 minutes to kick in. Takes 30-60 minutes to kick in.
Can only be drunk in a liquid form. Can be eaten or drank in a liquid mixture.

Setting an intention and integrating your experience.

When working with ancient plant medicine, the experience can take you to places beyond words that are overwhelming. Setting an intention grounds you in what you want to take out of the experience. Ultimately, intentions are the most important reason you have for taking this medicine.

Intentions can then help you integrate the experience back into your everyday life. Through thoughtful meditation, new changes in your daily routine, and further research into plant medicine – you can create long lasting changes in your life and personality.

Integration is important for working with both medicines.

Your thoughts can only settle on so much information after a psychedelic voyage has passed. Intentions help filter through this discordance of thoughts. The thoughts and emotions you choose to recognize will come to define the experience both at the moment and afterward during integration.

Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Effects

No two Ayahuasca or mushroom trips will be alike. These psychedelics act in ways unique to your biochemistry, personal essence, place, mood and company.

Psychedelic pioneers, Dr. Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner, paved the way in their studies at Harvard and experimentation in the 1960s counterculture era in establishing the fundamentals of set and setting[*].

How you’re feeling, where you are and who you are with will drastically alter your psychedelic experience.

While there is no universal psychedelic experience, there are a number of recurring motifs, visions and scientifically documented physiological and psychological effects inherent in each experience.

Physical and Mental Effects of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca results in a “purge,” which includes vomiting, sweating, shaking, crying, or going to the bathroom. Many practitioners believe this is a cleansing activity and they must endure to gain proper insight from the[*].

Everyone experiences Ayahuasca differently, and no one ceremony is the same, which is why it’s difficult to explain the effects that Ayahuasca can take. Some may have visions for hours, and some have none. Some participants purge, and some don’t. Some can go into their mind and “rewire” thought patterns, and some blast up into the universe. Some experience healing from past emotional trauma and some may have a physical experience of healing. Some visit their ancestors or past loved ones, and some may experience an immense feeling of gratitude and love for the world.

During ceremony, there is usually an opportunity to have a second or third cup. The amount of medicine ingested also impacts your experience. The experience can last a 4-6 hours before returning back to a baseline of your normal perception.

Initial physical experiences may consist of:
  • Increased heart rate, body temperature and tingling sensation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Euphoria and a sense of leaving your body.
Ayahuasca has been known to induce common mental experiences and affect people in the following ways:
  • Spiritual encounters and the ultimate oneness and reality of being[*].
  • Insights into various psychiatric disorders and addictions[*].
  • Conveyed spiritual teachings from plant spirits[*].

Subjectively, Ayahuasca also seems to induce similar visions and states which are tied directly to the forest and peoples of South America. Users report seeing this type of imagery even without any preconceived notions of the experience or having researched anything beforehand.

The experience blasts through cultural preconceptions and resonates on a universal level with people of all different backgrounds.

Physical and Mental Effects of Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin mushrooms are easier to dose than ayahuasca, as the latter is drank in cups that vary in size.

Standard doses of dried mushrooms come in the form of 1-1.5g, while 2-5g will produce stronger sensory hallucinations. The effects of a mushroom experience can last anywhere up to 6 hours or more, also dependent on the dosage.

A roundup review of multiple scientific studies found that “...Psilocybin dose-dependently induced profound changes in mood, perception, thought and self-experience, most subjects described the experience as pleasurable, enriching and non-threatening[*].”

Only in the instance of higher dose conditions did any anxiety or panic strike in this cohort.

Initial physical experiences may consist of:
  • Increased heart rate, body temperature and tingling sensation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Euphoria and a sense of leaving your body.
Psilocybin has been known to help with and elicit emotions that include:
  • Demonstrated potential in helping to address a wide range of mental conditions such as OCD, depression and substance abuse[*].
  • Feeling of oneness with a spiritual connection to the spiritual world[*]
  • Beneficial changes in a positive personality structure[*].

The majority of studies suggest that there may be clinical potential for both Ayahuasca and mushrooms in treating a wide range of ailments and mental illnesses and promoting wellbeing.

Therapeutic and Recreational Applications of Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms

Ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms are among the most potent psychedelic substances. They share an overlap in distinct visual effects and altered physical and mental perceptions.

A number of studies suggest that they may provide emotional insight and spiritual growth in certain individuals, especially in controlled, ceremonial environments (like ayahuasca or psilocybin retreats).

  • The Global Ayahuasca Survey found that 85% of 4,000 ayahuasca drinkers from all over the world found profound life changes[*].
  • Users report resolving long-standing personal issues.
  • Increased awareness of social and ecological issues.
  • These profound insights also seem to stay integrated into a person’s personality for years afterward [*].
Lower magic mushroom doses or microdoses may not produce the same type of subjective spiritual journey of Ayahuasca. But their therapeutic potential is equally great.

  • Ability to break an individual's habitual patterns of negative thought[*].
  • Creates a feeling of connectedness to other people, the world and the self[*].
  • Found improved abstinence in alcohol after "post-psilocybin administration.[*]"

Ayahuasca vs Magic Mushrooms: Cultural History

There are three major components to the psychedelic experience inherent in the differences between Ayahuasca and mushrooms to explore. We’ve gone over the chemical makeup and effects.

Now let’s look at the history of these psychedelic compounds.

Ancient History: Ayahuasca

There is archeological evidence in the form of pottery, figurines, trays, cups, etc. that show that there were thousands of years of plant hallucinogen use in the Ecuadorian Amazon.[*]

As for specific evidence reaching back into prehistory, Dennis Mckenna notes in an excerpt from his book[*], The Ayahuasca Experience, that there is a lack of data in pre-Colombian culture to show just how far back Ayahuasca use stems. This is an unfortunate loss for the cultural record.

Although many users and natives still believe that the history stretches back thousands of years.

Ancient History: Magic Mushrooms

There is numerous historical evidence for the use of psilocybin mushrooms. The 16th century, Florentine Codex, explains how The Aztecs used “teonanácatl”, or “food of the gods” as a sacrament [*].

Ancient use of psilocybin mushrooms even stretches back to prehistoric times in Europe and Africa. Hunter-gatherer societies are thought to have used magic mushrooms over seven to nine thousand years ago [*].

Archeologists have also found a wide range of ethnographic evidence of psychedelic medicine use in ancient Mesoamerica[*]. Which includes substances such as peyote, Psilocybe mushrooms, lysergic acid amide, Datura stramonium, and Salvia divinorum.

The researchers looked into “a group of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms effigies are represented repeatedly.”

Ayahuasca  Mushrooms
Long and ancient history associated with indigenous Amazon rituals. Documented as an Aztec sacrament.
Ayahuasca originated from and is originally found only in the Amazon. Psilocybin mushrooms are found all over the world.
Nicknames: Caapi., Soul Vine, Mother Ayahuasca, Aya Medre, Yagé, Yajé,  Nicknames: Food of the Gods, teonanácatl

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Western scientists and intellectuals got wise to the undeniable influence these substances have had on human culture.

Ayahuasca and Magic Mushrooms: Modern Research

Before many psychedelics were made illegal in the US and across many developed countries, there existed an open community of scientists, anthropologists, and explorers studying these substances.

Ayahuasca  Mushrooms
The psychoactive compound is Dimethyltryptamine. The psychoactive compound is Psilocybin.
Experience lasts 4-7 hours on average. Experience lasts 3-6 hours on average.
Legal status varies worldwide. Legal status varies worldwide.
DMT was first synthesized in 1931 by Richard Manske. Synthesized by Albert Hoffman in the late 1950s.

Ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson brought knowledge of psilocybin to the mass public, and Wasson introduced chemist Albert Hoffman to the mushrooms. Hoffman first synthesized psilocybin and psilocin[*]

These pills would go on to influence Timothy Leary and many students and peers at Harvard. And much to the dismay of psychologists, made Leary famously remark:

“I learned more about my brain and its possibilities and more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than in the preceding 15 years of study and doing research in psychology." 

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Literary & Artistic Movements

In the 1950s, counterculture literary figures, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs documented their ayahuasca experiences in the Yage Letters, kicking off a broader conversation about ayahuasca in mainstream culture.

Current psychedelic research and experiences have inspired many theories:
  • Either a psilocybin mushroom or other related psychedelic was central to the ancient Elysian Mysteries – the cultural staple event of Ancient Europe.
  • Terrence Mckenna’s Stoned Ape Theory posits that human evolution and language development stemmed from psychedelic mushrooms in our diet.
  • Indigenous tribes believe that ayahuasca is a true gateway to speak with the spirits of the dead. Some contemporaries think it’s a portal to speak with aliens or tap into theoretical other dimensions.
  • Scholar John M. Allegro argued in his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross that Jesus was an allegory for a psychedelic mushroom.
And the list goes on.

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Two Psychedelic Medicines for Healing & Growth

Ayahuasca and mushrooms may differ in the way they are used and what they’re made of. But in terms of experience and rich cultural histories, the two substances are alike in many ways.

Subjective experience and the many trip reports out there indicate that you’ll experience profound insights on both substances. Ayahuasca seems to take more of an initial but brief physical toll on the body in the form of purging. Slight nausea may initially occur with mushrooms.

The jungle motifs and the visionary journey are one of the universal experiences of Ayahuasca. Mushrooms also carry over connotations of nature spirits and equally incredible experiences.

There is no way to qualify one as being either better or more intense than the other as they both offer their own unique qualities. Whatever plant or fungi you choose to explore, may your experience be transformative.

Tags: Psychedelics

Posted by Mike Colagrossi

Mike Colagrossi's writing expertise ranges from the eclectic topics of science & tech to digital marketing. Guerrilla scholar of all things counterculture and psychedelics, Mike’s aims as a writer is to also provide the historical and artistic context to these transcendental domains.



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