Many people mentally lump all psychedelics under the same heading. Certainly, ayahuasca and DMT can expand your consciousness and create mind and mood-altering effects.
But there are significant differences when it comes to a straight comparison of ayahuasca vs DMT. Even to a cursory glance…
A brief overview of ayahuasca and DMT
Ayahuasca is a human-made brew with a history of use stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years in South America. Taking it can lead to spending your next few hours in a deeply introspective modified state of consciousness, full of sometimes supernatural visual elements.
DMT is a chemical substance which is found naturally in hundreds of organisms. In fact, it’s the psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca. But when synthetic DMT is smoked, it leads to a completely different experience.
Where ayahuasca might be imagined as a rolling ride on an old-fashioned steam locomotive which lasts for hours, smoking DMT is more like being on a crashing diesel-electric express for about 20 minutes.
The deeper science behind the differences
What is ayahuasca?
For hundreds (some argue thousands) of years, ayahuasca has been brewed by various peoples in South America.
On its most basic level, it is a brew made out of several different types of plant. The specific plants vary depending on the geographic region and traditions. But they always include:
- A DMT-containing plant – the most common of these is P. viridis. Many plants and animals (likely including humans) naturally produce DMT. But P. viridis has it in large quantities. Normally, the monoamine oxidase in your stomach would prevent the DMT from reaching your bloodstream, negating any psychoactive effect when consumed orally. However, ayahuasca also contains…
- A monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) – most popularly the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. This prevents your stomach from breaking down the DMT, allowing it to reach your bloodstream. It’s also the reason drinking ayahuasca usually leads to a “purging” effect.
In the Spirit Vine retreat Center we only prepare the traditional ayahuasca brew with only two ingredients, psychotria viridis and banisteriopsis caapi or chakruna and mariri, both grown organically in our land. No additives. We only used the ayahuasca brew in ceremonies during our retreats and under a strict diet. The goal in these ceremonies is mainly to confront inner demons, come to terms with deeper memories or reconnect with the power within and the source. It is intended to be a spiritual experience.
What is DMT?
DMT – dimethyltryptamine – is a naturally-occurring chemical substance called a tryptamine. It’s found in around 400 kinds of plants and fungi as well as in the brains of some mammals in small quantities. In fact:
- DMT can be found in a huge number of places in the natural world. We naturally eat foods which contain it all the time.
- The only reason we don’t spend most of our days having visions is because the monoamine oxidase in our stomachs breaks it down.
Almost all tryptamines have a chemical structure similar to DMT, meaning it’s often said to be a “core tryptamine”. All psychoactive tryptamines – such as psilocybin share similar effects because they share the same “tryptamine backbone”.
It’s suspected that endogenous (internal, natural) DMT is even produced in tiny amounts in the bodies of many mammals – even by the human body. It’s also been suggested that it might be partly responsible for humans having dreams or out-of-body experiences – as well as being something the body releases during near-death experiences, which is part of the reason they can be so life-changing.
In modern times, although illegal synthetic DMT is commonly taken without being part of ayahuasca. Most users tend to smoke it. This creates a sometimes-said-to-be harshly quick, stunningly intense psychedelic experience which lasts for around 15-20 minutes.
(Smoking) DMT vs ayahuasca: the differences
On top of the fact that one is an ancient ritual brew and the other a blast of psychedelic smoke, a straight-up comparison of smoked DMT vs ayahuasca will show some significant differences:
1) Effect duration
The effects of ayahuasca last for several hours. DMT, only a few minutes – twenty at most.
The difference appears to be caused by the fact that the ayahuasca, which is absorbed through the stomach lining, only passes into your bloodstream slowly and gradually.
When smoked, DMT goes directly into your bloodstream via the lungs and reaches your brain fast.
2) Effect intensity
Both ayahuasca and DMT present you with intense experiences.
Yet DMT is usually better described as an extreme experience. It can be enlightening for some people, but rarely in the way that ayahuasca’s much longer introspective experience is.
3) Difficulty of acquisition and use DMT
DMT is generally harder to obtain. But it makes up for this by requiring only some basic smoking paraphernalia in order to use.
There is no ceremony when using DMT and it is very common people do it without supervision which makes it very dangerous, some people reported terrifying experiences with traumatic effects.
Overall, DMT could be characterized as a harsher experience which can be shocking due to the sheer intensity of the short-lived effect.
Ayahuasca is easier to acquire on the Internet however it is illegal to buy ayahuasca. You really don’t know the source of the easy-to-obtain versions, are not made in the traditional way, sometimes may contain dangerous additives and will not come with the careful supervision which such a deep and intensely powerful experience calls for.
For this reason, people who want to have a true and safe ayahuasca experience need to spend time in a retreat Center undertaking a special diet and proper instruction and supervision. There are plenty of options so it will not be difficult to find the right one. Some are more ritualistic, some more therapeutic and some more new age.
Silvia Polivoy, the founder of the Spirit Vine retreat Center, was practicing clinical psychology for more than 30 years when she started training with ayahuasca in the Amazon long before ayahuasca became popular with people from all walks of life. Most recently, some high profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have started promoting the benefits of their experiences.
In the Spirit Vine retreat Center, newcomers and experienced ayahuasca drinkers alike are presented with professional supervision and take the brew as it was traditionally intended to be taken.
In this setting and with all proper precautions taken, the effects of ayahuasca are usually highly enlightening. Silvia had designed workshops with a variety of techniques that help participants to integrate their experiences.
4) Studies on therapeutic use
The ayahuasca brew has a range of beneficial effects when used to address a wide variety of conditions, ranging from repressed memories to PTSD to depression, anxiety and different types of addictive patterns of behavior. In Spirit Vine Center the purpose of the retreats is spiritual development, meaning that the causes of obstacles and bad habits in everyday life are in the spiritual realm that’s why in the workshops Silvia teaches techniques to go to subtle modifications of consciousness learning to discover the blockages.
There are a number of scientific studies focusing on ayahuasca’s therapeutic properties.