Ayahuasca vs. Other Psychedelics: The Final Showdown

These days, psychedelics are getting rave reviews from all sorts of people.

From mental health professionals to ethical celebrities, these mind-altering substances are endowing people with visual, auditory, and psychological experiences that go beyond this consciousness.

These experiences, or “trips,” alter your normal state of awareness to give you profound insights into who you are as a person. They’re also great for medical and therapeutic purposes, as popularized by Michael Pollan(1)https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2022/01/07/psychedelic-therapy-emerging-mental-health-wellness-trend/9078842002/.

Ayahuasca is one of the most beloved hallucinogens out there. This entheogenic brew is famous for spiritual awakening, emotional clarity, and an overall change in the personality of even one-time users.

So, today, our research is trying to understand the similarities and differences between this brew and other major psychoactive compounds like shrooms, mescaline, and LSD. Let’s get right to it:

Ayahuasca vs. DMT

DMT, or Dimitri, is a psychedelic compound found in our blood and urine, but its production and purpose in the human body are still debated.

In his 2000 book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule,” clinical psychiatrist Rick Strassman(2)https://www.rickstrassman.com/) proposed that the pineal gland produces this compound during birth and death (and even after.

Many believe DMT is secreted by the brain during out-of-body and near-death experiences, but this hasn’t been researched either.

While the jury is still out on the connection between the brain and DMT, the molecule is present in a variety of plant species. You get ayahuasca by brewing one of these plants with another plant that acts as the MAO inhibitor.

This MAOI prevents your body from breaking down the main ingredient, leading to a lengthier and stronger trip. DMT offers a super-quick high of anywhere between a few minutes and 60 minutes, but ayahuasca takes longer to hit and can last for as long as 6 hours.

You drink ayahuasca as a brew or tea, but DMT has to be smoked, vaporized, snorted, or injected (as taking pure DMT by mouth is ineffective due to gut enzymes).

As for choosing which is better between DMT and ayahuasca, it all depends on why you’re considering them in the first place.

While DMT is mostly used for recreational purposes because of its quick and wild hallucinations, ayahuasca is popular in spiritual or therapeutic settings due to its extended introspective journey.

Both deliver a similar trip and can be extremely euphoric or destabilizing. Synesthesia is also common in both psychedelics, with users believing they can hear colors or see sounds.

You’ll end up seeing extraterrestrial entities or spiritual beings, with profound insights and intense hallucinations. Overall, they interfere with your perception, cognition, and emotions, among others.

People who take DMT only have intense hallucinations—meeting gods, elves, guides, and other entities along the way. I remember watching a video of Shane Mauss(3)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHLpB38LNg4, who has a recurring girlfriend in the DMT world.

Dimitri users also see elaborate fractals and geometric patterns that may become sentient and communicate with them. Feeling like you’re floating is a common effect, with an altered sense of space and time.

Ayahuasca comes with all of this, coupled with a lot of cathartic physical effects like purging, vomiting, screaming, and crying.

Depending on your dose, a DMT trip may be more intense than an ayahuasca trip. The latter can be extremely potent too, but it’s harder to take in high doses because of its strong taste and smell.

So, to recap, the differences between these two psychedelics are…

  • How you get them into your body
  • How fast they hit
  • How long they last
  • Their common uses
  • Their physical effects
  • Some of their psychological effects

In addition, DMT is a Schedule I substance while ayahuasca is technically legal (though it’s a bit complicated because it contains DMT).

Some users have been convicted(4)https://chacruna.net/breaking-news-the-first-two-ayahuasca-convictions-united-states/, so keep up with your state laws. This may not be an issue because most people travel to South America for the full ayahuasca experience.

Ayahuasca vs. Ketamine

Ketamine and ayahuasca are two of the most commonly used psychotropics for depression. They’re called psychedelic antidepressants, but the trips differ in many ways.

Both are excessively strong in how they transport you from this state of consciousness to another realm. But that’s where the similarities end.

Tripping on ketamine, or falling into a K-hole as it’s casually known, comes with an intense feeling of dissociation. It’s often described as a state between intoxication and coma, with some users being unable to speak.

Marked confusion is a symptom of ketamine, alongside experiences the user cannot explain. You can have floating sensations and have your mind detached from your body.

Ketamine is more medically-studied than ayahuasca because it started as an anesthetic, plus it’s being used to treat mental health issues (like bipolar disorder and depression) in medical settings.

However, an overdose can cause utter brain damage. Falling into an intense K-hole can be so terrifying that you’ll feel dissociated for a very long time (or for life). It can trigger persistent psychosis, which is also a possibility with too much ayahuasca.

But while ayahuasca doesn’t seem to be physically addictive, many users develop ketamine addiction and end up with a fried brain filled with seizures and cognitive difficulties.

Ketamine can be both beneficial and dangerous, much like any psychedelic. But this one takes everything to the extreme, as the visual illusions and euphoria can be unmatchable. Likewise, the physical and psychological danger can be extremely disturbing.

Ayahuasca seems to be a much safer option because ayahuasca is often used supervised, with days or weeks of preparation beforehand.

People who have used both recommend ketamine for quick relief from depression and suicidal thoughts, as it offers a delightful escape from reality (when used in the right amount).

In my personal experience, I find that ketamine works wonders for this immediate relief while ayahuasca is more of a long-term journey into discovering yourself.

The choice is yours, but we have to go with ayahuasca here. Ketamine doesn’t have its spiritual benefits either, and it’s trickier to cure any psychological problems with it without becoming addicted (unless you use it in a controlled medical setting).

A single ayahuasca trip is worth more than a hundred ketamine trips because of the prolonged journey and long-term aftereffects. This is a personal opinion, by the way. Ketamine is for relief; ayahuasca is for healing.

Ayahuasca vs. Mescaline

A mescaline trip is even longer than an ayahuasca trip, lasting up to 12 whole hours.

Here’s an analogy a friend of mine used regarding the two: ayahuasca is like an old wise grandmother who’s trying to teach you how to live your life, while mescaline is like an intelligent grandfather who explains yourself to yourself.

Still, ayahuasca is more favored in the plant medicine community because it’s more potent and intense. Plus, the healing properties are more effective.

Both enhance the user’s introspection, resulting in conceptual thinking. Tactile and bodily sensations are often greater with mescaline, however.

Mescaline is found in cacti like the Peruvian torch cactus, Peyote, and San Pedro. While it can be taken dried or raw, it’s often made into a tea or a brew like ayahuasca, and the effects include rich and vivid hallucinations (with open or closed eyes).

But it doesn’t offer geometric visualizations like ayahuasca. It does trigger synesthesia and euphoria (leading to more laughter than its counterpart). It also puts you in a dream-like state and alters your perception of space-time.

Peyote’s mescaline is quite similar to ayahuasca, it’s been used for centuries in religious rituals by native tribes. It takes longer to kick in (about an hour) but as stated earlier, it lasts a long time (8-12 hours).

But unlike ayahuasca, you may need higher doses to get the same kick as the first time. It can also lead to amnesia and suicidal ideation(5)https://www.drugs.com/illicit/mescaline.html (though this is very rare).

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Ayahuasca vs. LSD

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was at the forefront of the counterculture movement in the ‘60s. It was combined with psychotherapy to treat alcohol addiction and depression, leading to its nationwide popularity.

You take acid—as it’s commonly known—orally as a capsule, blotting paper, colorless liquid, or white powder. The effects include a sense of bliss and peace, lasting up to 15 hours in high doses.

In addition to visual and auditory hallucinations, an LSD trip can show you moving patterns and bright colors. Your self-awareness will also peak as a result.

This is why people with deadly illnesses like cancer love LSD. It brings them peace and heightens their last days on earth.

Acid also aids anxiety, much like DMT or ayahuasca. But unlike the psychedelic champion, it’s not naturally occurring as it’s synthetically made in the lab.

Still, LSD has been used for treating Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, cluster headaches, and Tourette’s syndrome. But despite all the positives, it’s another win for ayahuasca in my book.

They both have their places in my heart but if I had to choose, I’d pick ayahuasca over and over again. The experience is different and better in my opinion.

LSD is great for blissful recreation and performance enhancement, but I don’t use ayahuasca casually. It requires blocks of time to prepare, take in, and fully understand. The trip is also way more intense and rewarding.

LSD feels like you’re looking at the room with a new and improved pair of glasses, while ayahuasca feels like you’ve been transported to another room entirely.

When you have a bad ayahuasca trip, it’s actually good for your psyche long-term because of the spiritual richness. A bad LSD trip is just that – a bad trip.

Ayahuasca vs. Magic Mushrooms

Ayahuasca/DMT, mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms are the 4 classical psychedelics, which is a fancy way of saying they’re the most popular names out there.

Magic mushrooms are found on all continents and the trips can be as mild or as wild as you want. In fact, it’s a trend among professionals and businesspeople to microdose on either LSD or shrooms to clear and heighten their minds for optimal performance. They both increase focus and improve mood.

As for me personally, shrooms and ayahuasca are my favorite psychedelics but I use them for different purposes. Remember how I compared LSD and ayahuasca? Now, think of psilocybin as a better version of LSD.

Ayahuasca will always be more intense and potent, but shrooms thrive in certain scenarios. The effects ultimately depend on the dose, with small doses for productivity and large doses for spirituality.

It’ll heighten your perception, resulting in intricate hallucinations, time distortions, and altered imagery. Shrooms also have a physical feeling that ayahuasca cannot replicate.

Both ayahuasca and mushrooms can transform your life but ayahuasca has proven to be more transformative. The experiences can be very similar but psilocybin is milder than ayahuasca, in my experience.

Ayahuasca vs. MDMA/MDA

Here’s another synthetic psychedelic. MDMA is called the perfect party drug as it makes you more social and euphoric. You’ll be in a good mood, similar to LSD.

Partygoers have been on MDMA for years, especially when mixed with other substances to form ecstasy. This psychedelic is quite mild, compared to ayahuasca.

There are hardly any strong hallucinations but it’s been researched for treating PTSD, ADHD, narcolepsy, obesity, and autism spectrum disorder.

Even when used in high doses, MDMA is rarely intense. It focuses more on love, tenderness, and a feeling of sociability. You’ll feel connected with the universe but not in the way ayahuasca does.

Ayahuasca is an obvious winner here, but MDMA does have its place. It’s pretty great for partying and recreation – a better alternative to alcohol.

Pro-tip: MDMA is molly while MDA is sally. They’re very close but different (MDMA gives a loving high; MDA offers a body high). For the sake of this article, let’s just group them under this section.

Ayahuasca vs. Salvia

Salvia, or Salvia divinorum as it’s scientifically known, is another psychoactive substance that sends you on a powerful journey. Dubbed “sage of the diviners,” you either drink it as tea or smoke/chew the leaves of this herb.

Salvia and DMT/ayahuasca are two of the most potent plant medicines out there, with vivid hallucinations and visual distortions.

While ayahuasca sends you to a world of geometric fractals and otherworldly beings, salvia deals with sensory distortions comprising distinctive patterns and shapes. Users also report seeing bright lights.

The hallucinations here are often cartoonlike, as opposed to geometric. Both can make you euphoric but salvia has a tendency of making people extremely talkative and laugh uncontrollably, ultimately turning them into a laughing bag.

Similar to ayahuasca, the trip can make you believe that you’re in contact with other dimensions and others in those worlds. Some feel their body is being twisted or stretched by something they can’t control.

Another effect is thinking you’re merging with other objects, in addition to other dissociative outcomes like out-of-body and near-death experiences. Some users even believe they’re at different locations at a time.

Now, while both are extremely intense and may trigger schizophrenia, it’s so much easier to lose touch with reality(6)https://figshare.com/ndownloader/files/25990542 on salvia.

It can be pretty dangerous, with heightened paranoia and panic attacks. You may even hurt yourself physically or psychologically. Confusion and slurred speech are other common side effects.

Let’s not forget that ayahuasca is not recommended for people with mental health issues because it can be unsettling for your mental well-being. Users sometimes wander off and disappear when high.

All in all, both are intense and should be taken with proper preparation and guidance. But if we were to pick one, we’ll pick ayahuasca because it has more beneficial effects that can last long-term.

The Sierra Mazateca (of Oaxaca, Mexico) uses salvia in spiritual settings but it doesn’t seem to have a good enough therapeutic effect like its counterpart.

Ayahuasca also has more research and unless you don’t do some digging around, it’s harder to mess up your psyche with it. Salvia is very short-lived, even shorter than DMT. Its effects usually wear off in less than ten minutes.

As for legality(7), the psychedelic drug is mostly legal in the States but some states prohibit it.

Ayahuasca vs. Ibogaine

Ibogaine can last for a whopping 36 hours. The shortest trips can still be as long as 16 hours, compared to ayahuasca’s maximum of 12.

It’s one of the deadliest options on this list, though, with some reported fatalities(7)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16698188/ even in medical settings.

Heroin addicts often use it to overcome their addiction, but ayahuasca can be a safer alternative. While ayahuasca can also be deadly, no one has been reported dead from drinking the brew because it’s harder to overdose.

Granted, ibogaine is way more effective for substance abuse than ayahuasca. It’s being used around the world by all sorts of clinics to rid people of their addictions.

The hallucinogen is known for being wild and strong, sending users into a trance-like state. It’s used in Gabonian cultures for religious and ritualistic purposes, thanks to its out-of-body and near-death experiences.

Other West Central African cultures use it in small doses to fight hunger, thirst, and fatigue, leading to an energized effect that can last the whole day.

In the Western world, it’s used for addiction and depression but the dosage is quite tricky. You can see why we pick ayahuasca over ibogaine.

Pro-tip: People often confuse ibogaine with iboga. Ibogaine is an alkaloid psychedelic while iboga is a West African plant containing the chemical. Ibogaine is accessible in 5 other plants but iboga is the preferred plant in the spiritual ways of Gabon.

Ayahuasca vs. Cannabis

While cannabis isn’t always included on the list of psychedelics, the main phytocannabinoid THC can be significantly psychoactive in high doses, especially in edibles. This is the recreational choice for a lot of people because you can still function on a cannabis trip.

When it comes to ayahuasca vs. cannabis, there are very few similarities but lots of differences. THC isn’t as therapeutic as ayahuasca but it’s also applicable in spiritual settings.

A classic example is the Rastafarian movement. Jamaicans have been using marijuana for religious rituals since the ‘30s.

Both substances have moments of spiritual insight but again, ayahuasca is way more potent. You’ll need an unreasonable amount of THC to reach the level of ayahuasca, if it’s possible.

Ayahuasca vs. Others

Other common hallucinogens include PCP, N-bomb, ololiuqui (morning glory seeds), PMA/PMMA, GHB, the 2C family, and DXM.

You can visit Wikipedia(8)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_psychedelic_drugs or PsychonautWiki(9)https://psychonautwiki.org/wiki/Psychoactive_substance_index for an extensive list of psychedelic substances.

And when it comes to pitting ayahuasca against these substances, the brew is much safer and more intense than most—if not all—of them.

That’s not to say ayahuasca can’t be extremely disturbing or even deadly. But lots of research has been going into the hallucinogen and it’s been used for over a thousand years.

A Word of Caution

Before you become a full-time psychonaut, there are some important notes to keep in mind.

My advice is to stick with well-known psychedelics, starting with cannabis. The psychoactive compound THC is probably the mildest on this list, so you can start with smoking, vaping, or making it into edibles.

Edible cannabis can be terrifying or overpowering, though, so you want to start that small as well. Once you’ve gone on a few trips, you can upgrade to MDMA, LSD, and shrooms in that order.

Please, research every one of them before you indulge. Psychedelic therapy is great but these substances can be abused, leading to serious psychological problems, a state of unconsciousness, or even death.

To add, pay attention to your set, setting, and dosage. And the most important part is to submit to the psychoactive substance and integrate whatever lessons it shows you.

There’s no point using these chemicals if they won’t change your life for the better.


Whether you’re looking for spiritual truth, emotional clarity, ego death, or you’re not even sure what you’re looking for, psychedelics offer something other compounds and drugs cannot.

The issue of which is the best is still debated because each one has its unique experiences, and how you rate them depends on lots of factors. They all work via serotonin receptors in the brain, alter your consciousness, and cause hallucinations, but that’s where the similarities end.

Each one deserves its place in the hall of psychedelics but ayahuasca is still one of the best options there is.


1 https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2022/01/07/psychedelic-therapy-emerging-mental-health-wellness-trend/9078842002/
2 https://www.rickstrassman.com/) proposed that the pineal gland produces this compound during birth and death (and even after
3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHLpB38LNg4
4 https://chacruna.net/breaking-news-the-first-two-ayahuasca-convictions-united-states/
5 https://www.drugs.com/illicit/mescaline.html
6 https://figshare.com/ndownloader/files/25990542
7 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16698188/
8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_psychedelic_drugs
9 https://psychonautwiki.org/wiki/Psychoactive_substance_index