Psychedelic Choices Ayahuasca vs. Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin)

Comparing psilocybin (found in psychedelic mushrooms) and ayahuasca (a South American plant based
brew) is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Both are powerful psychedelics, but they have different chemical structures, effects, durations, traditions, and therapeutic potentials. Whether one is a “better” choice than the other depends on the context and the desired outcomes.

Chemical Components & Duration

Psilocybin: The active compound in “magic mushrooms” is psilocybin, which the body metabolizes into psilocin and affects the serotonin system in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known for its role in regulating mood, emotion, and perception. Psilocybin’s chemical structure is apparently quite similar to serotonin, allowing it to bind to serotonin receptors in the brain.
One of the most intriguing effects of psilocybin is its ability to disrupt the activity of the Default Mode Network, a brain network associated with self-referencing thoughts also known as the ego. Psilocybin dampens the DMN’s activity, leading to a temporary eradication of the boundaries between self and everything else. This is often referred to as a state of ego dissolution.
Simultaneously, psilocybin enhances connectivity between different regions of the brain, fostering communication between areas that don’t typically interact. This has been referred to as Brain Hemisphere Synchronization and may contribute to the vivid sensory experiences and the feeling of understanding the“big picture.”A psilocybin experience usually lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.
Ayahuasca: This brew is made from the combination of two plants: the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis. The latter contains DMT, a powerful psychedelic. DMT is known for inducing profound and often otherworldly experiences.
DMT is not only found in certain plants but also occurs naturally in the human body. It is believed to be produced in the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain, and may play a role in dreaming, near-death experiences, and other altered states of consciousness. However, the exact physiological function of endogenous DMT is still a subject of scientific investigation. Ayahuasca experiences typically last from 4 to 6 hours.

Cultural & Traditional Context

Psilocybin: Magic mushrooms have been used in rituals by various indigenous cultures and they have a long history of use among various groups in Central and South America. In Mesoamerica, there’s evidence that the Aztecs and the Mazatec people of modern-day Mexico used these mushrooms in religious and shamanic ceremonies. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) term for the mushrooms, “teonanácatl,” translates to “flesh of the gods.”

Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca has a deep-rooted tradition in the Amazon basin, where indigenous tribes have used it for spiritual and medicinal purposes for centuries. Participating in an ayahuasca ceremony often involves guidance from a trained shaman.
However, since the Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the allowance of the use of the medicine(as it is known) during religious ceremonies by the church, Uniao do Vegetal, whose membership included members living abroad in the United States, many churches and organizations offer ceremonies weekly in numerous U.S. cities, where a shaman may or may not be present.

Effects & Experience

Psilocybin: Effects can range from feelings of euphoria, profound existential insights, and an altered perception of time. Physically, psilocin can cause the pupils to dilate and some users may experience a mild to moderate increase in both heart rate and blood pressure.Further, coordination might be slightly impaired while under its influence.Psilocybin doesn’t just alter perception; it can induce profound mystical experiences. Research at institutions like Johns Hopkins University has shown that a high dose of psilocybin can lead to deeply spiritual and transcendent experience. These mystical experiences are characterized by a sense of unity, being devoid of time and space and ultimately feelings of profound insight and understanding.
Ayahuasca: Beyond the hallucinations and altered perceptions common to many psychedelics, ayahuasca often induces intense emotional and introspective experiences. Some users report revisiting past traumas or gaining insights into personal issues. It’s also known for causing nausea and vomiting, which is considered a cleansing part of the process in traditional contexts.
Many people seek out these substances for purely spiritual reasons, as they have each been utilized in rituals and ceremonies over time. Most do report profound personal and spiritual insights.The content and nature of these experiences can vary widely among individuals.
Historically, spiritual retreats were often sought when people were physically ill as the illness was considered simply a symptom of spiritual malaise.

Therapeutic Use

Both psilocybin and ayahuasca have garnered interest for their potential therapeutic benefits. Over the last two decades, there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of government sanctioned research in the United States and the findings have been outstanding.
Psilocybin: Current research suggests potential benefits for conditions like depression, anxiety and addiction, particularly alcohol use disorder and cigarette use.

Ayahuasca: Preliminary studies and anecdotal reports suggest potential benefits for depression, addiction, and PTSD.

Legality & Safety

Psilocybin: Currently in the United States, psilocybin is only legalin Oregon state. All use must be therapeutic and pursued in regulated, certified clinics. In Colorado, people are allowed to both grow and consume psilocybin for personal use, although they can also be shared, but never sold.

Ayahuasca:There are only two churches that are legally sanctioned to use Ayahuasca in religious ceremonies; Uniao de Vegetal and Santo Daime. Each of these entities have secured legal protection for sacramental use in the United States.

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