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Observations placeholder

A. Hoffer and H. Osmond - Amanita muscaria - from The Hallucinogens



Type of Spiritual Experience

Inter composer communication

Number of hallucinations: 1


A description of the experience

Excerpt on Amanita muscaria - from "The Hallucinogens" -
Academic, 1967, pp. 443-454  by A. Hoffer and H. Osmond

Wieland _et al_ (1953) extracted bufotenine from the poisonous mushrooms _Amanita mappa, Amanita muscaria_, and _Amanita pantherina_. Bufotenine was first found in the skin of several toad species and the dried secretion (Ch'an Su) of the Chinese toad has been known to be biologically active for centuries but there are no records of toad skin or its extract being used as hallucinogenic material. This suggests that there is too little bufotenine or that other substances which potentiate the effect of bufotenine are lacking in frog skin. We do not believe that Man has not sampled toad skin. Primitive man has been very adept at selecting those species of plants and animals which contained hallucinogenic compounds.

The fly-agaric mushrooms are the only other natural source of bufotenine. But they also contain three other main constituents (Buck, 1961). Muscarin which is a parasympathomimetic substance is present. It acts directly on effector organs, smooth muscle, and glandular cells. Atropine prevents most of the effects. Also present in some species of _Amanita_ is a substance called pilzatropin which may be l-hyoscyamine. dl-hyoscyamine is atropine. Finally a pilztoxin is present because even after the muscarine present is prevented from acting by pretreatment with atropine, there remains a psychological effect. Narcoticlike intoxication, convulsions, and death have followed in spite of adequate treatment with atropine.

Lewin (1931) described the use of the fly-agaric by the native tribes of North East Asia in Siberia. Lewin discussed briefly the suggestion Berserkers consumed this mushroom to produce their great rages. The fly-agaric was in constant demand and there was a well-established trade between Kamchatka where it did grow to the Taigonos Peninsula where it did not grow at all. The Koryaks paid for them with reindeer and Lewin reported one animal was sometimes exchanged for one mushroom.

The Kamchadales and Koryaks consumed from 1 to 3 dried mushrooms. They believed the smaller mushrooms with a large quantity of small warts were more active than the pale red and less spotted ones. Among the Koryaks, their women chewed the dried agaric and rolled the masticated material into small sausages which were swallowed by the men. Lewin does not report whether the women got some of the psychological response.

The Siberians discovered the active principle was excreted in the urine and could be passed through the body once more. As soon as the Koryak noted his experience was passing, he would drink his own urine which he had saved for this purpose. The same mushrooms could thus give one person several experiences or several people one experience. After several passages the urine no longer was able to produce the desired effect.

The response to the mushrooms varied from person to person and in the same person at different times. The mushrooms varied in potency and sometimes one mushroom was effective; at other times ineffective. The first response occurred in 1 to 2 hours beginning with twitching and trembling. Consciousness was maintained and during this induction phase the subjects were euphoric and contented. Then the visions came on. The subjects spoke to their visionary people and discussed various matters with them. They were quite calm but appeared entranced with a glassy stare.

Other subjects became very jolly or sad, jumped about, danced, sang or gave way to great fright. Their pupils were enlarged. Lewin believed this was responsible for the distortions in size which occurred. Small objects appeared much too large. This "deceptive perception is apt to influence his action" ... "on the basis of his illusions the conclusion which he arrives at is very reasonable."

In large quantities more severe hallucinations and rages occurred. The initial excitation could become more and more severe leading to attacks of raving madness. In some cases motor excitation was dominant. The eyes became savage, the face bloated and red, the hands trembled and the individual danced or rushed about until exhausted when he apparently slept. But he then experienced more hallucinations. This could then be replaced by another spasm of overactivity followed by more hallucinations and fantasy.

Ramsbottom (1953) described in more detail the use of these mushrooms by the Berserkers. According to him, fly-agaric or bug-agaric were poisonous but not deadly and did not kill healthy people. The potency varied with district. In some districts of France these mushrooms are regularly eaten. S. Odman, in 1784, first suggested that Vikings used fly-agaric to produce their berserk rages. Ramsbottom cited 12 authors who referred to the use of these mushrooms by the Siberian tribes already mentioned. The Koryaks believed a person drugged obeyed the wishes of spirits residing in them.

Fabing (1956) and Fabing and Hawkins (1956) was convinced the Berserkers did, indeed, use fly-agaric. It is a very plausible explanation. Going berserk occurred as follows. The Norse took the mushrooms so that the effect came on during the heat of battle or while at work. During the berserk rage they performed deeds which otherwise were impossible. The rage started with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and a chill. Their faces became swollen and changed color. A great rage developed in which they howled like wild animals and cut down anyone in their way, friend or foe alike. Afterward their mind became dulled and feeble for several days. In 1123 AD a law was passed making anyone going berserk liable for several years in jail. It was not heard of since.

Fabing quoted Drew who described a modern reaction to _Amanita muscaria._ A patient ate some of the mushrooms at 10:00 PM. Two hours later he developed diarrhea, sweating, vertigo, and salivation. He fell asleep but was awake at 2:00 AM disoriented, irrational, and violent. ON admission to hospital he was cyanotic, responded to pinpricks but not to deep pain. He was disoriented in all three spheres. Somnolence alternated with excitement. He thought he was in hell. He spoke continually and irrationally of religious matters. A physician was misidentified as Christ. When not in hell he was convinced he was in Eden. That evening his mental state cleared and next morning he was normal.


The source of the experience

Siberian shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items


Activities and commonsteps



Buck, R. W. (1961). _New Engl. J. Med._, 265:681
Fabing, H. D. (1956). _Am. J. Psychiat._, 113:409
Fabing, H. D., and Hawkins, J. R. (1956). _Science_, 123:886
Fish, M. S., and Horning, E. C. (1956). _J. Nervous Mental Disease_, 124:33
Fish, M. S., Johnson, N. M., and Horning, E. C. (1955a). _J. Am. Chem. Soc._, 77:5892
Fish, M. S., Johnson, N. M., Lawrence, E. P., and Horning, E. C. (1955b), _Biochim. Biophys. Acta_,18:564
Fish, M. S., Johnson, N. M., and Horning, E. C. (1956). _J. Am. Chem. Soc._, 78:3668
Jensen, H., and Chen, K. K. (1936). _J. Biol. Chem._, 116:87
Lewin, L. (1931). "Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs: Their Use and Abuse." Kegan Paul, London.
Ramsbottom, J. (1953). "Mushrooms and Toadstools. A Study of theActivities of Fungi." Collins, London.
Safford, W. E. (1916). _J. Wash. Acad. Sci._, 6:547
Wieland, T., Motzel, W., and Merz, H. (1953). _Ann. Chem._, 581:10