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Psilocybin Mushrooms vs. Ayahuasca: What Medicine Is Best for You?

Written by: Fae Chubin and Mushroom Tao team

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Psilocybin Mushrooms vs. Ayahuasca: What Medicine Is Best for You?

Written by: Fae Chubin and Mushroom Tao team

The article discusses the differences between psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca. It explains how these substances impact the body and mind, and how to prepare for each experience. The article also provides an overview of each substance. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which contains the potent hallucinogenic compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

Psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca share many similar healing properties. However, they differ significantly in both experience and context for their use.

Are you seeking a healing experience with earth medicines but don’t know which is right for you? Read on to learn the important differences between ayahuasca and magic mushrooms. By the end of this blog, you’ll know:

  • what psilocybin and ayahuasca are
  • how these substances impact our body and mind
  • the ideal setting for experiencing each medicine
  • how to prepare yourself for each experience
  • the differences between psilocybin and ayahuasca when it comes to safety and consistency of effects

First, let’s begin with an overview of each of these medicines.

What Are Psilocybin Mushrooms?

Psilocybin mushrooms are a group of fungi that contain psychoactive compounds such as psilocybin and psilocin. These compounds are responsible for the mushrooms' hallucinogenic effects.

The use of psilocybin mushrooms traces back thousands of years. Magic mushrooms had ceremonial and spiritual significance in various indigenous cultures around the world. Ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs and the Maya, revered these mushrooms as sacred sacraments. They used them in religious rituals, healing ceremonies, and divination practices.1

In contemporary Western society, psilocybin mushrooms gained prominence during the counterculture movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. These mushrooms symbolized the psychedelic revolution, influencing art, music, literature, and spirituality.

‍Although they are still classified as Schedule I controlled substances in many countries, interest in the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms has grown in recent years. This has led to renewed scientific research and clinical trials that are finding mushrooms a “breakthrough therapy” for resistant depression and effective for treating a wide range of mental health challenges such as OCD, end-of-life anxiety, and addiction.3

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. This brew is often combined with various admixture plants and contains the potent hallucinogenic compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT).4 This ancient psychedelic concoction has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin for spiritual and healing purposes.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca for the treatment of various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and trauma. Clinical research and anecdotal reports suggest that ayahuasca can facilitate profound healing and personal growth. The medicine allows individuals to confront and integrate unresolved psychological issues, gain new perspectives on their lives, and experience profound spiritual insights.5

The Experience — Psilocybin vs. Ayahuasca

Many argue that describing psychedelic experiences rarely does them justice. However, the experiences of people from diverse cultural backgrounds often share similar patterns.

Many who consume ayahuasca report:

  • Visuals of snakes and jaguars
  • Communicating or seeing entities that guide them through their journey
  • Feeling like a sacred reality has been revealed to them

Many also feel a feminine or mother-like energy guiding their journey. In indigenous traditions, shamans believe that ayahuasca vines, similar to other plants, embody a spirit that’s wise and all-knowing. That’s why this medicine is often referred to as “mother ayahuasca.”6

Psilocybin experiences are often deeply mystical ones. Magic mushrooms are known for dissolving the boundaries between self and others. This can lead to a profound and spiritual sense of connectedness with nature, humanity, and the larger universe. Just like ayahuasca, there are typical psychedelic visuals that create awe and, at times, fear. The intensification of visuals can break one’s sense of reality and open the door to other states of consciousness.

Ego-dissolution is an experience that some refer to as “lifting the veil” — when a person no longer feels like a separate individual and becomes one with a field of awareness. Both ayahuasca and psilocybin can create the profoundly mystical experience of ego dissolution.

Both medicines can also facilitate a journey inward to uncover emotional and psychological patterns and barriers that require healing. Yet, the experience with ayahuasca feels more outer-worldly and supernatural, which can make the experience more intense and challenging. Psilocybin experiences can also feel intense and challenging, yet they often produce more intimate inner journeys.7  

The Effects — Psilocybin vs. Ayahuasca

Another significant difference is the physical impact of the medicine on the body. Ayahuasca typically produces a strong “body load.” These physical sensations can feel challenging and include nausea, vomiting, changes in body temperature, and sometimes diarrhea. These effects, while unfavorable, are known as “purging” and are a necessary part of the psychedelic healing experience. In indigenous traditions, purging is essential for releasing the dark energies and emotions that one has carried for a long time.

In comparison, psilocybin mushrooms are easier on the body. Some do feel nausea when digested, and some may vomit, but the body load is far less intense.

Meanwhile, mushroom journeys are shorter, lasting between four and six hours, compared to ayahuasca journeys which can last up to eight hours.

The Ideal Setting for Psilocybin Mushroom and Ayahuasca

The setting of a psychedelic experience is essential to the quality and nature of the journey. Historically, ayahuasca is consumed in a group ceremonial setting. These ceremonies are led by shamans or curanderos who have extensively worked with plant medicine in the jungle. Shamans learn to work with ayahuasca through an apprenticeship while also learning from direct interaction with the plants and their spirits.

The shamans guide the ayahuasca ceremony with their icaros. These are healing songs sung by the shamans yet delivered by the plant spirits. Shamans also work with other healing plants, such as tobacco. Their presence and expertise are essential for helping those who have challenging experiences.

Ayahuasca is a powerful plant medicine and should not be taken lightly. A reputable retreat that respects and honors indigenous healing practices led by experienced shamans is the best setting for an ayahuasca journey.

Currently, psilocybin mushrooms are used in a variety of contexts. In many indigenous cultures, magic mushrooms are also consumed in group ceremonial settings. Many modern practitioners still administer psilocybin mushrooms in group ceremonies with an approach informed by indigenous practices.8

However, the contemporary, evidence-based therapeutic models resemble traditional one-on-one therapy settings. Psilocybin-assisted therapy now informs the use of psilocybin mushrooms in a variety of settings. Many psilocybin retreats blend group ceremonial experiences with clinical approaches, guiding clients through preparation and integration. Some retreats have clinicians on staff to help facilitate a therapeutic journey.

Safety and Preparation

Both psilocybin and ayahuasca are powerful tools for growth and transformation. That’s why it’s so important to find reputable retreats that prioritize the safety of journeyers.

Psilocybin is generating hope for treating a wide range of mental health conditions. But, more research is still needed to assess the safety of the medicine for certain groups. For instance, psilocybin might not be safe for those with a history of psychosis or a diagnosis such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.9

Ayahuasca contains multiple active compounds, such as DMT, harmine, and harmaline. These compounds can fatally interact with certain medications and medical conditions. You can read about drugs, medications, and health conditions that can be dangerous when combined with ayahuasca here.

Both psilocybin and ayahuasca act on serotonin receptors. So it’s important to be off of medications that act on this system. This includes anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor​s (SSRI​​s). Please note that you should consult with healthcare professionals before discontinuing the use of any medication.

Unlike psilocybin, consuming ayahuasca requires following a strict dietary restriction, known as the dieta, at least two weeks before the journey.10 That includes refraining from or minimizing the consumption of animal products, salt, sugar, alcohol, and foods containing tryptophan. You also have to abstain from sex. Given the heavy impact of ayahuasca on the body, not complying with the ayahuasca diet can cause serious bodily harm.

Whichever experience you choose, entering psychedelic journeys requires preparation and becoming informed of their safety protocols.

Which Medicine Is Right for You?

Now that you know the similarities and differences between psilocybin and ayahuasca, you can decide which is the right medicine for you. But we always encourage consultation with professionals when weighing your options.

It might be helpful to ask yourself:

  • What are my intentions for partaking in this experience? What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Am I more comfortable with spiritual and ceremonial experiences led by shamans or therapeutic and wellness retreats led by experienced facilitators?
  • What medicine is safe for me, given my current state of physical and mental health?

Please keep in mind that regardless of the medicine, benefiting from psychedelic experiences depends on your commitment to the process of preparation and integration. Psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca alone don’t create life-changing experiences. Yet, they are powerful tools that can help resolve traumas, change your emotional landscape, and pave new paths in life that are better aligned with your desires and intentions.

References:

  1. Mazatec Shamanic Knowledge and Psilocybin Mushrooms
  2. From Medicine to Poison: The Magic Mushroom in 1960s America
  3. Psychedelics: Threshold of a Therapeutic Revolution
  4. Ayahuasca: Psychological and Physiologic Effects, Pharmacology and Potential Uses in Addiction and Mental Illness
  5. What Is Ayahuasca? Experience, Benefits, and Side Effects
  6. How Feminine is Ayahuasca?
  7. Ayahuasca vs. Psilocybin Retreats: What’s the Difference?
  8. Ayahuasca vs. Psilocybin Mushroom Retreats: The Ultimate Guide
  9. Psychedelics Are a Promising Therapy, but They Can Be Dangerous for Some
  10. The Ayahuasca Diet — What to Eat?

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