Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: How do they Compare and Contrast

By Mike Colagrossi

Ayahuasca vs. mushrooms: what are the similarities and differences is between them?

Both ayahuasca and mushrooms are psychedelic substances that share the chemical realm of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and inhabit a world of transcendental experience.

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

With this renewed resurgence, it's important to understand the differences of ayahuasca and mushrooms to understand how and when they should each be used. This blog post will explore chemical makeup, their effects, and the role that cultural history has played in their use and development.
Table of Contents
Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Chemical Makeup
Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Consumption and Ceremonial Usage
Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: The Effects
Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Therapeutic and Recreational Applications
Ayahuasca vs 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 of these substances produce psychedelic effects, they differ in their:

  • Chemical makeup
  • Consumption and usage
  • Physical and cognitive effects
  • Therapeutic and recreational applications.
  • History

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Chemical Makeup

Ayahuasca and psilocybin both produce chemical similarities when ingested.

They differ in the fact that ayahuasca is a mixture of different substances and chemical compounds, while the main psychoactive compound of magic mushrooms 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

B. caapi contains β-carboline alkaloid, which includes the compounds of either harmaline, harmine or d-tetrahydroharmine. At the same time, the shrubs of P. viridis or D. caberana contains the powerful psychoactive compound N, N-Dimethyltryptamine.

When ingested orally, 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, ushering in 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, is a much different experience than Ayahuasca. This is also detailed in the fantastic book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

Chemical Makeup of Magic 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 it from dissolving too quickly in the stomach.

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

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Consumption and Ceremonial Usage

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

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

Consumption and Usage: Ayahuasca

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. This includes 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.

Consumption and Usage: Magic Mushrooms

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 either dried without much preparation or brewed in a tea.
Your body does not build a tolerance to Ayahuasca. Your body can build up 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 drunk in a liquid mixture.

Setting an intention and integrating your experience.

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

Intentions can also 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 ayahuasca and mushrooms.

Your thoughts can only absorb so much information after a psychedelic voyage. The thoughts and emotions you choose to recognize will come to define the experience in the moment and after your integration.

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: The Effects

Each Ayahuasca or mushroom experience will be different. Both of these psychedelics interact with your biochemistry, personal essence, environment, and mood in unique ways. 

Psychedelic pioneers, Dr. Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner, paved the way in their studies at Harvard. Their experiments in the counterculture era of the 1960s established the fundamentals of set and setting when consuming psychedelic.

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

While all psychedelic experiences are unique, there are a number of recurring motifs, visions and scientifically documented physiological and psychological effects that are inherent in each experience.


The Effects of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca results in a “purge,” which includes vomiting, sweating, shaking, crying, or frequent bathroom trips. Many practitioners believe this is a cleansing activity that must be endured to get the right insights from experience.

Everyone has a different experience with Ayahuasca and no one ceremony is the same. That is why it’s difficult to explain what specific effects Ayahuasca will take on each person. Some may have visions for hours, and some may 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 you return back to the baseline of your normal perception.

Initial physical experiences of Ayahuasca may consist of:

  • Increased heart rate, body temperature and a tingling sensation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Euphoria and a sense of leaving your body.


Ayahuasca has been known to induce intense mental experiences and can affect people in the following ways:


Subjectively, Ayahuasca also seems to induce visions and mental states that are tied to the forest and natives of South America. Users report seeing similar cultural imagery, even if they had no previous experience with them beforehand.

The Effects of Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin mushrooms are much easier to dose than ayahuasca. Standard doses of dried mushrooms are around 1-1.5g, while 2-5g will give you much stronger hallucinations. The effects of a mushroom experience can last anywhere up to 6 hours or more, depending on your dosage.

Information from 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.”

Initial physical experiences of mushrooms may consist of:

  • Increased heart rate, body temperature and tingling sensation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Euphoria and a sense of leaving your body.


Psilocybin mushrooms are also known to help with and elicit emotions that include:

Therapeutic and Recreational Applications of Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms

Ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms are some of the most potent psychedelic substances. They overlap in the distinct visual effects they share as well as the altered physical and mental perceptions.

A number of studies suggest they can provide emotional insight and spiritual growth for certain individuals, especially in a controlled, ceremonial environment (like at an ayahuasca retreat or psilocybin retreat):

  • The Global Ayahuasca Survey connected with 4,000 people from around the world who tried ayahuasca and found that 85% of them experienced profound life changes.
  • Users reported that it helped resolve long-standing personal issues.
  • Increased awareness of social and ecological issues.
  • It also seems like these profound insights stay integrated in a person's personality for many years to come.
Lower doses or microdoses of magic mushroom will not produce the same type of subjective spiritual journey as Ayahuasca. But their therapeutic potential is just as impactful.

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Cultural History

There are three major components to the psychedelic experience that are inherently different between Ayahuasca and mushrooms.

We’ve gone over the chemical makeup and effects of both, now let’s look at the history of these psychedelic.

Ancient History: Ayahuasca

There is a lot of archeological evidence through pottery, figurines, trays, cups, and more that shows plant hallucinogens have been used in the Ecuadorian Amazon for thousands of years.

Dennis Mckenna notes in an excerpt from his book, The Ayahuasca Experience, that there is a little data in pre-Colombian culture to show just how far back the use of Ayahuasca goes. Although, many users and natives believe that the history of its use spans thousands of years.

Ancient History: Magic Mushrooms

There is a lot of historical evidence for the use of psilocybin mushrooms. In 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 thousands of years.

Archeologists have also found a wide range of ethnographic evidence for psychedelic use in ancient Mesoamerica. This includes substances like 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.
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 started to pay attention to the undeniable influence these substances have had on human culture.

Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Modern Research

Before many psychedelics were made illegal in the US, and across many developed countries, there was an open community of scientists, anthropologists, and explorers dedicated to 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. Wasson also introduced these mushrooms to chemist Albert Hoffman who was the first to synthesize psilocybin and psilocin.

These pills would go on to influence Timothy Leary and many of his peers at Harvard. Leary would go on to make the following famous remark, much to the dismay of psychologists:

“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. This kicked off a broader conversation about ayahuasca in mainstream culture.

Current psychedelic research and experiences have inspired many theories:

  • Either a psilocybin mushrooms, or other related psychedelics, were central to the ancient Elysian Mysteries – a staple cultural event in Ancient Europe.
  • Terrence Mckenna’s Stoned Ape Theory posits that human evolution, and language development, stemmed from adding psychedelic mushrooms to our diets.
  • Indigenous tribes believe that ayahuasca is a true gateway for speaking with the spirits of those who have passed. Some contemporaries believe they are a portal to speaking with aliens or tap into other theoretical dimensions.
  • Scholar John M. Allegro argued in his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross that Jesus was an allegory for psychedelic mushrooms.


And the list goes on.


Ayahuasca vs Mushrooms: Two Psychedelic Medicines for Healing & Growth

Ayahuasca and mushrooms may differ in their makeup and how they are used, but in terms of experience and rich cultural histories, the two substances are alike in many ways.

Subjective experience and the many reports out there indicate that you’ll have some profound insights from both substances. Ayahuasca seems to take more of an initial, yet brief, physical toll on the body through purging. With mushrooms, slight nausea may occur initially.

There is no way to qualify one being 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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