Learn the Difference Between Ayahuasca and DMT

What is the Difference Between Ayahuasca and DMT?

The difference between ayahuasca and DMT is significant. While ayahuasca does have DMT content, the experience of smoking DMT vs an ayahuasca trip is very different.

In this article, learn the difference between ayahuasca and DMT, how long they last and what the experience is like.

What is the Difference Between DMT and Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca and DMT are different in terms of their chemical makeup and experiential effects. A quick breakdown:

  • DMT or N,N-DMT is known for its powerful experiential and fast-acting effects, often from smoking or vaping it in crystal form.


  • Ayahuasca is an ancient tradition, brewed by combining various plants containing many different compounds and is often combined with the ceremony. 

What is DMT?

DMT or N, N-dimethyltryptamine is a naturally occurring compound found in many plants and the human body. It has been called the “Spirit Molecule” documentary after being investigated by Rick Strassman in the 90s. 

DMT’s function in plants and animals is still unknown, and is speculated to be a neurotransmitter. Its association with out-of-the-body and spiritual experiences, along with meeting entities some call “DMT elves,” has made DMT a popular topic of speculation.

Typically, DMT is not orally active in the human body. Compounds in our digestive system known as monoamine oxidase breakdown DMT rapidly. This means if you ate DMT crystals, it would not have any effect.

How Long Does DMT Last?

However, synthetic DMT created in a lab can be smoked. With this delivery method, DMT is absorbed into the bloodstream very rapidly. The peak effects last about 5-20 minutes, and usual consciousness returns around about an hour. The experience is often complete disassociation from one’s body, with extremely colourful and strange visuals. 

Recent research suggests DMT may have effects on mental health and stroke treatment by contributing to new neurological growth.

What is Ayahuasca?

A dried ayahuasca vine
The ayahuasca vine grows in the Amazon rainforest.

Ayahuasca is a plant medicine brew of typically two different plants. The plants are boiled into thick red or brown tea and are often infused with the intentions and prayers of shamans. 

The two plants ayahuasca is most commonly brewed from are the ayahuasca vine (baanisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna bush (psychotropia viridis.) In Colombia, chaliponga (Diplopterys cabrerana) is used in the preperation known as yagé.

The ayahuasca vine contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors that prevent your body from rapidly breaking down DMT. The leaves of the chacruna bush contain DMT that becomes bioavailable. The DMT content of an ayahuasca brew varies across studies. A recent review of the chemical composition is about 1.3 mg/ml. Different brewing methods and plants are sometimes used to create unique effects.

While it’s clear the N, N-DMT is a significant part of the ayahuasca experience, there are thousands of compounds in any one brew. Notably, various harmala alkaloids of the ayahuasca vine are not only MAOIs but produce their own psychoactive effects. In fact, in some traditions, ayahuasca without DMT-containing plants is taken.

Why Does Ayahuasca Last Longer than Smoked DMT?

When brewed over a long period, the combination of compounds allows the DMT to be available orally. When drunk, the DMT in ayahuasca is absorbed into the digestive system and can last for 4 – 12 hours. 

The experience comes on slower than smoked DMT. This is because of the MAOI. An ayahuasca trip often includes visions, insights, old memories, strong emotions, and spiritual or mystical experiences. Usually, ayahuasca is drunk under the guidance of a shaman who will direct the ceremony with music, prayers, and blessings. 

Ayahuasca is also known for creating nausea, sweating, shaking, vomiting, and diarrhea. While this can be challenging, the purge is seen as a cleansing of physical, mental, and spiritual sickness from a shamanic perspective.

​Ayahausca vs. DMT Metabolization

The question of how long DMT stays in your system is a concern many have before taking the trip to an ayahuasca retreat. Standard drug panels do not check for DMT. However, it is theoretically possible to check for DMT. 

Studies show that the byproducts of the body processing smoked DMT can be detected in urine 24 hours after administration. There is also a case of hair samples testing for DMT 90 days after use. One would need to be regularly consuming DMT for it to show up in hair samples.

Because ayahuasca is a plant mixture containing MAOI there are more byproducts that can be detected in the urine or blood. These are also not typical for drug tests but can be detected at least a few hours after use in blood. Recent studies also suggest the body processes DMT in more ways than previously thought, and more data is needed.

The ayahuasca brew makes the body process DMT slower, but whether smoking synthetic DMT or drinking ayahuasca tea, the body processes DMT quite rapidly, and it is very difficult to detect after 24 hours.

Why Would I Want to Take Ayahuasca vs. DMT

Choosing between the compounds is more than just the experience. The setting, legality, and personal health concerns are all to be considered. N, N-DMT is notably illegal around the world, with ayahuasca having different legal statuses throughout various countries. 

For most people, legal access can be found at ayahuasca retreats in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Mexico. These retreats can administer ayahuasca safely in comfortable settings and skilled facilitators Check out our retreat listings for trusted psychedelic retreats.

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About the Author

Patrick is a freelance writer and blogger at AdjustableNormal. Since his youth, he has been fascinated with psychedelics and altered states, experimenting with them on and off the page. His drive to explore consciousness has brought him around the world and down many rabbit holes to yogis, plant nerds, and alternative communities. Originally Canadian, he lives in the Peruvian Andes with his wife and cat.

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