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Peyote vs. Ayahuasca: Differences & Similarities

Peyote vs Ayahuasca

Peyote and ayahuasca are both plant-based psychedelic drugs that alter a person’s thinking, sense of time, and emotions. They can also produce hallucinations, such as seeing or hearing things that aren’t real. Both substances are mainly used recreationally, and users often claim they give them spiritual enlightenment and increased self-awareness. Below is an in-depth peyote vs. ayahuasca guide to better understand these two peculiar substances.

Ayahuasca vs. Peyote

In this section, we will provide a comprehensive overview of peyote and ayahuasca, detailing their distinctive botanical origins, chemical compositions, and cultural significance within the realm of psychoactive substances.

What Is Peyote?

Peyote is a small cactus that contains a psychoactive alkaloid called mescaline. Parts of the peyote cactus may be chewed or soaked in water and drunk as tea for recreational use.

Despite being illegal to possess in the United States, peyote is often used in religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. In addition to recreational use, people may use peyote to experience hallucinations and treat conditions like fever, wounds, and joint pain. However, there’s no substantial evidence to support these uses.

Side Effects

The psychoactive ingredient in peyote mescaline, also known as 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, belongs to a drug class called phenethylamines. When peyote is ingested, mescaline is absorbed into the intestinal tract and then processed through the liver, kidneys, and spleen. Finally, it produces its side effects by binding to serotonin receptors in the central nervous system.

Within two hours, the effects of peyote kick in. These side effects may vary depending on the dosage taken and whether the person has eaten or used any other substances.

Individuals with underlying mental health problems are more likely to experience adverse psychoactive effects, such as paranoia and anxiety. Generally, however, peyote side effects include:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushed or red skin
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Altered perception of vision and colors
  • Altered perception of body in space and time
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of touch with reality
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

In some cases, the user may experience a negative peyote experience referred to as a “bad trip,” during which side effects like extreme paranoia and anxiety, intense fear, confusion, terrifying hallucinations, and panic may occur.

Despite its casual uses, its active ingredient, mescaline, makes peyote addictive. Due to its impact on serotonin and other chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug that’s derived from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub. It’s a concentrated liquid that’s made by boiling these two plants together.

Psychedelics such as ayahuasca alter all of the user’s senses, including their ability to think and their perception of vision, time, and space. The active chemical in ayahuasca is DMT (dimethyltryptamine). The drug also contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), known to be the first kind of antidepressants on the market, which have since been replaced by safer formulations.

DMT is another naturally occurring psychoactive drug, specifically of the tryptamine drug class. It’s also used for recreational purposes on its own and thus contributes to ayahuasca’s side effects.

Side Effects

Ayahuasca causes an altered state of consciousness, usually referred to as a “high.” An ayahuasca high is characterized by side effects like:

  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic

Those with a history of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, should avoid using ayahuasca, as it could exacerbate symptoms of mania. It’s also imperative to avoid taking ayahuasca with other medications or if you’re taking other medications, including antidepressants, medication for Parkinson’s disease, cough medicines, weight loss medications, and more.1

What’s more, ayahuasca is usually taken on retreats led by shamans. They’re usually in charge of how much of what is brewed to create ayahuasca, as well as determining the appropriate dosing. In this way, you’re putting your health and life in the shaman’s hands, which is risky.

What Is the Difference Between Peyote and Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca and peyote are both psychoactive substances used in traditional and spiritual practices. They have distinct differences and some similarities, particularly in their effects and cultural contexts.

The main difference between peyote and ayahuasca is their ingredients, peyote being a cactus and ayahuasca being made from a combination of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub. Peyote is also more likely to be used recreationally than ayahuasca, as the latter is most often used on ayahuasca retreats led by shamans.

Below is a more in-depth comparison of peyote vs. ayahuasca that details their similarities and differences based on factors such as chemical composition, origin, cultural significance, administration, legality, and side effects.

Chemical Composition

  • Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca is a brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis plant. The active compound in ayahuasca is a potent hallucinogen called DMT (dimethyltryptamine).
  • Peyote: Peyote is a small, spineless cactus native to North America that contains a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid called mescaline.

Origin and Cultural Significance

  • Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca has its roots in indigenous Amazonian cultures, particularly among the Shipibo-Conibo, and is used in shamanic rituals for healing, divination, and spiritual exploration.
  • Peyote: Peyote has been used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies and rituals by Native American tribes, including the Huichol and Navajo tribes.

Preparation and Administration

  • Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca is prepared as a brew by combining the ayahuasca vine and the Psychotria viridis leaves. The brew is ingested orally and is often accompanied by specific dietary restrictions and rituals.
  • Peyote: Peyote is typically consumed by chewing the fresh or dried buttons of the cactus but can also be brewed into a tea.

Duration and Effects

  • Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca side effects can last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Side effects include vivid hallucinations, introspection, emotional purging, and a sense of connection with nature.
  • Peyote: The effects of peyote can last up to 12 hours or more, during which users may experience altered perceptions, visual hallucinations, increased sensory awareness, and a profound sense of connection with the universe.


The legality of ayahuasca and peyote varies by country and region. In some places, they’re considered illegal controlled substances, while in others, they may be legal for religious or ceremonial use.

Ayahuasca is illegal everywhere except:

  • Brazil
  • Costa Rica
  • Mexico
  • Latvia (for cultivation only)
  • Peru

It’s considered a controlled substance in Chile and Spain. On the other hand, peyote is legal everywhere except in:

  • Brazil
  • Denmark
  • France
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Romania
  • Russia

Peyote is also legal in the United States, but only for religious use.

Risks and Side Effects

Both substances come with side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and psychological distress. There are also potential risks associated with interactions with other substances or medical conditions.

In summary, ayahuasca and peyote are diverse plant-based hallucinogens with unique cultural histories and chemical compositions. While they share some similarities in their psychoactive effects, individuals interested in experimenting with them should first consider their cultural contexts, legal status, and physical and psychological side effects.

Generally, it’s best to avoid the use of psychoactive substances such as peyote and ayahuasca altogether, as they can worsen underlying mental illnesses, contribute to the onset of psychological symptoms, and produce a variety of physical side effects that could be unpredictable. What’s more, ayahuasca and peyote may also be considered gateway drugs, as they may open the user’s curiosity about other, more intense drugs that provide “spiritual” experiences like LSD or MDMA.

If you or someone you care about has developed a dependence on drugs or alcohol, we’re here to help. With addiction treatment facilities across the nation, Banyan’s services are designed to support individuals of all backgrounds and experiences with more severe substance use and mental health disorders.

For more information about our addiction treatment services, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 or contact us online and speak to an admission specialist.

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.