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Amanita muscaria

Category: Actions

Type

Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is a mushroom and basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita.

Despite attempts to link the name with the idea of fly repellants, it is more likely it simply refers to the fact that if you take it, you metaphorically 'fly', with or without a broomstick!

Distribution and habitat

Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine and birch plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.

Conveyed with pine seedlings, Amanita is now  found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America, where it can be found in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná.

Amanita muscaria forms symbiotic relationships with a great variety of trees, including pine, spruce, fir, birch, and cedar. Though generally encountered in autumn, the season can vary in different climates: fruiting occurs in summer and autumn across most of North America, but later in autumn and early winter on the Pacific coast.

The Sacred Mushroom – Andrija Puharich

Amanita muscaria var. formosa sensu Thiers,

southern Oregon Coast

I pointed out to the children that the mushroom was growing in the kind of spot where legend said it would grow. I..... I pointed out to them the queen of this ... forest as being the magnificent white birch that soared over our heads. I told them how in far-off Russia the Russians called birches the maidens of the forest; and how the golden, or red mushroom in Russia (which is the Amanita muscaria) was often found growing in the birch forests. Then I told them how lucky we were to find the king of the forest, the oak; and the queen of the forest, the birch, with their little child growing at their feet, the golden Amanita muscaria.

In time I came to recognize those spots where it was likely that mushrooms in general, and particularly Amanita muscaria, would grow. ….In walking, I always looked first for either oaks, birches, pines or hemlocks. These were the trees most intimately associated with the Amanita muscaria.

Secondly, I looked for the shady side of a hill or ravine where the moisture was ever present, and certain types of rocky outcroppings where humus had collected that appeared to be favourable for the growth of the mushroom

Description

 

Amanita muscaria is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, one of the most recognisable and widely encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies with differing cap colour have been recognised, including the brown regalis (often considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolvata, guessowii, formosa, and the pinkish persicina. Genetic studies published in 2006 and 2008 show several sharply delineated clades that may represent separate species.

Poisoning and delirium

Although it is generally considered poisonous, reports of human deaths resulting from eating it are extremely rare. After parboiling—which removes the mushroom's psychoactive substances—it is eaten in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America.

Amanita muscaria is noted for its 'hallucinogenic properties' - in other words it causes hallucinations, visions, out of body experiences and a small number of rebirth experiences.  

The mushroom was used  by the shamans of Siberia, and there has "been much speculation on possible traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in places other than Siberia, such as the Middle East, India, Eurasia, North America, and Scandinavia".

 

The problem is with all this speculation is that the speculators know little of all the other methods used or the symbolism attached to the toadstool and mushroom, so just because a mushroom sculpture is found outside a temple does not necessarily mean they used mushrooms in their ceremonies, simply that the mushroom had sacred significance of some sort.

Why is the amanita muscaria mushroom on the site?  Being poisoned is, after all, not exactly heavenly.

Firstly, it is yet another substance experimented with by psychologists, sometimes on subjects who were not always aware they were imbibing potentially poisonous mushrooms. 

Perhaps more importantly, the experiences of people who have used the mushroom are really interesting and varied.  This is a mushroom that in 'insensitives'  has succeeded in convincing them of the existence of a spiritual realm of some complexity.  So whilst not advocating it - and you will see we have provided no 'method' for use - it is well worth describing with all its observations, if only to show that even the most intransigent materialist can be convinced of the existence of spirit if you poison him! 

Background

Jacek Yerka [bio on the site]

I have no idea whether the following is true but it makes for interesting reading

Amanita muscaria was widely used as an ‘entheogen’ by many of the indigenous peoples of Siberia. Its use was known among almost all of the Uralic-speaking peoples of western Siberia and the Paleosiberian-speaking peoples of the Russian Far East. However, there are only isolated reports of A. muscaria use among the Tungusic and Turkic peoples of central Siberia and it is believed that use of A. muscaria was largely not a practice of these peoples. In western Siberia, the use of A. muscaria was restricted to shamans, who used it as an alternate method of achieving a trance state. (Normally, Siberian shamans achieve a trance state by prolonged drumming and dancing.) In eastern Siberia, A. muscaria was used by shamans. In eastern Siberia, the shaman would consume the mushrooms, and others would drink his urine [sic]. This urine, still containing psychoactive elements, may actually be more potent than the A. muscaria mushrooms with fewer negative effects, such as sweating and twitching, suggesting that the initial user may act as a screening filter for other components in the mushroom.

The Koryak of eastern Siberia have a story about the fly agaric (wapaq) which enabled Big Raven to carry a whale to its home. In the story, the deity Vahiyinin ("Existence") spat onto earth, and his spittle became the wapaq, and his saliva becomes the warts. After experiencing the power of the wapaq, Raven was so exhilarated that he told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, could learn from it. Among the Koryak, one report held the poor would consume the urine of the wealthy, who could afford to buy the mushrooms.

In Siberia, the mushrooms were rare and extremely valuable –'one mushroom could cost the same as a reindeer'.  The active ingredients of the mushroom concentrate in wine, consequently a number of people often shared the experience by using wine as the base. 

Reindeer also loved to drink the same brew, if a nomad poured it on the ground or urinated, the reindeer would be attracted to the smell.  And this is how our legend of Father Christmas arose – a red suited being with a white fringed cap that had a symbiotic relationship with reindeer and who would 'bring gifts from another world'.

The Amanitas and Amanita Pantherina

Pantherina

The Amanita family contains a number of different species:

  • A. albocreata ·
  • A. crenulata ·
  • A. farinosa ·
  • A. frostiana ·
  • A. gemmata ·
  • A. multisquamosa ·
  • A. muscaria ·
  • A. pantherina ·
  • A. porphyria ·
  • A. regalis ·
  • A. strobiliformis ·
  • A. xanthocephala

One must not make the assumption that the Amanitas as a whole nor Amanita Pantherina in particular can all be considered much the same in their effects.  Each fungi has a different set of chemicals and very different effects.  According to Wikipedia “only A. muscaria and A. pantherina are considered somewhat safe for human consumption”, with the other being far more dangerous.  For example:

Amanita muscaria contains more excitatory ibotenic acid and less depressant muscimol compared to Amanita pantherina. In this study A. muscaria poisoned patients were more often confused (26/32, p = 0.01) and agitated (20/32, p = 0.03) compared to those poisoned with A. pantherina (8/17 and 5/17). Patients poisoned with A. pantherina were more commonly comatose (5/17) compared to those poisoned with A. muscaria (2/32) (p = 0.03). PMID:  25173077

And from a user’s point of view:

Tengu, Japan. 'Entheogenic Amanitas'. The Entheogen Review. Summer Solstice 1998
 I recommend caution if experimenting with … A. pantherina. It turned into a nightmare, as my brain throbbed, right and left. Soon I spun as one would with too much alcohol, but it then doubled, then tripled, then a million-fold. Then astronomically I spun; the room I was in no longer appeared. I clutched the only thing I could feel--a speaker. I remember holding the speaker soaring round and round through space. Time was gone. For many hours it continued. I was convinced that I was in hell.
I was terrified. My body was not with me. Just a spirit among a thousand streaks of [lightning] surging through some fantastically large black-hole like abyss. The spinning non-world continued for what seemed as long as my entire 37 years of life, …I awoke to a ransacked house, food and books strewn about. Things were scribbled on paper. I remember none of that. A twelve-hour plus visit to hell. The next day I ran out in the yard and grabbed plants, hugged trees, and smiled at everyone I saw--happy to be alive.

Phalloides

It also appears that the Amanitas get mixed up and some reports of Amanita muscaria poisoning are not. 

An analysis of patients with mushroom poisoning hospitalized in the Clinic of Toxicology in Cracow revealed that only a small percentage of cases had been caused by the death cap Amanita phalloides (Vaill. ex Fr.) Secr. The most important factors contributing to intoxication are confusion of toxic mushrooms with edible species, and non-specific mushroom poisoning. PMID: 16564061

Amanita phalloides is commonly known as the death cap.  It is a deadly poisonous mushroom that resembles several edible species, most notably caesar's mushroom and the straw mushroom. A. phalloides is one of the most poisonous of all known toadstools. It has been involved in the majority of human deaths from mushroom poisoning, possibly including the deaths of Roman Emperor Claudius in AD 54 and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. The principal toxic constituent is α-amanitin, which damages the liver and kidneys, causing hepatic and renal failure which can be fatal.

The North American Mycological Association has stated there are absolutely no reliably documented fatalities in the past century for Amanita Muscaria. The vast majority (90% or more) of mushroom poisoning deaths are from having eaten either the greenish to yellowish death cap (A. phalloides) or one of the several white Amanita species which are known as destroying angels.

There is a growing trade for 'psychedelic' mushrooms purchasable from the Internet.  Given the difficulties of identification and the differences in effect, it should be clear that ingesting mushrooms purchased from an unknown source via the Internet, is not without its risks!

It is interesting that the one we can actually use is so clearly identifiable - bright red and white spots. 

 Chemical constituents

Amanita muscaria var. formosa photo courtesy
of MushroomObserver.org, 2008

Muscimol (Agarin, Pantherine) is the major 'psychoactive' alkaloid present in many mushrooms of the Amanita genus. Muscimol is a potent, selective agonist of the GABAA receptor.  Muscimol is produced naturally in the mushrooms Amanita muscaria, Amanita pantherina, and Amanita gemmata, along with muscarine, muscazone, and ibotenic acid. 

Muscazone is a product of the breakdown of ibotenic acid by ultra-violet radiation, although it is of minor pharmacological activity compared with the other agents.

This mushroom is a chelating agent. And Amanita muscaria and related species are known as effective bioaccumulators of vanadium; some species concentrate vanadium to levels of up to 400 times those typically found in plants. Vanadium is present in fruit-bodies as an organometallic compound called amavadine.

Muscarine, discovered in 1869, was long thought to be the active hallucinogenic agent in A. muscaria, but it isn't.  Although muscarine could be shown to have direct action on the nervous system (it is a potent parasympathomimetic), it could not possibly be responsible for the reputed psychotropic actions of this mushroom. This conclusion was substantiated by the fact that the total muscarine content in A. muscaria is extremely low (0.0002 per cent on a fresh weight basis).

 

Muscimol is the product of the decarboxylation (usually by drying) of ibotenic acid.  Muscimol and Ibotenic acid are not distributed uniformly in the mushroom. Most are detected in the cap of the fruit, rather than in the base, with the smallest amount in the stalk. Ibotenic acid and muscimol are structurally related to each other and to two major neurotransmitters of the central nervous system: glutamic acid and GABA respectively. Ibotenic acid and muscimol act like these neurotransmitters, muscimol being a potent GABAA agonist, while ibotenic acid is an agonist of NMDA glutamate receptors.

But the chemical composition of these mushrooms is very hard to pin down, as it is dependent on sub-species, growing conditions and location, for example:

The constituents of seven mushrooms sold as Amanita muscaria or Amanita pantherina (five A. muscaria and two A. pantherina) and four "extracts purported to contain A. muscaria" products that are currently circulated in Japan were determined. All mushroom samples were identified as A. muscaria or A. pantherina by macroscopic and microscopic observation. The dissociative constituents, ibotenic acid (IBO) and muscimol (MUS), were extracted with 70% methanol twice and determined by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The IBO (as the hydrate)/MUS contents were in the range of <10-2845ppm/46-1052ppm in the cap of A. muscaria and 188-269ppm/1554-1880ppm in the cap of A. pantherina. In the caps, these compounds had a tendency to be more concentrated in the flesh than in the cuticle. On the other hand, the IBO/MUS contents in the stem were far lower than in the caps. In the "extracts purported to contain A. muscaria" products, IBO/MUS were detected below the lower limit of calibration curve (<10ppm/<25ppm) or not detected. However, these samples contained other psychoactive compounds, such as psychoactive tryptamines (5-methoxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine and 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine), reversible monoamine oxidase inhibitors (harmine and harmaline) and tropane alkaloids (atropine and scopolamine), which were not quantified. This is the first report of the chemical analysis of Amanita mushrooms that are circulated in the drug market.  PMID:  16464551

 

One presumes that it is the totality of all of these that is key to its effects.  It would be meaningless to extract any chemical.  Furthermore it is potluck what you get.  For many so called psychonauts this is half the attraction - risk, thrill, danger!

The tropane alkaloids help explain the delirium experienced, these are anticholinergics.  But one somewhat extraordinary finding, if these results are representative is that amanita contains 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine), which puts a whole new slant on the experiences.

The compexity and the diversity of this mushroom is further emplified by this paper which comes from Poland

The main toxins of these two mushrooms [muscaria and pantherena] are ibotenic acid (pantherine, agarine), muscimol, muscazone and muscaridine. The other bioactive substances are stizolobic and stizolobinic acids and aminodicarboxyethylthiopropanoic acids. All these compounds are responsible for diverse picture of intoxication. PMID:  22010435

 Effects

Extract of Mushrooms, Ibotenic Acid - Dr Anthony S Manoguerra

 Toxicokinetics
The symptoms of intoxication seen after ingestion of this mushroom appear B1 h after  ingestion. Ibotenic acid is converted to muscimol by decarboxylation. Ibotenic acid and muscimol can both be detected unchanged in the urine. Other metabolites found in the urine include pantherin, tricholomic acid, and solitaric acid. Intoxication with this mushroom peaks at B5 h after ingestion and lasts for up to 10 h with a hangover effect the next day.

Mechanism of Toxicity
Ibotenic acid is structurally similar to glutamic acid, whereas muscimol closely resembles  gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Muscimol has an affinity for GABA receptors in the central nervous system, functioning as a false neurotransmitter, and appears to mimic the effects of GABA.

Acute and Short-Term Toxicity - Human
Following the ingestion of a single mushroom, symptoms of intoxication typically appear within an hour. Nausea and vomiting are common. Users describe a typical experience where they can ‘‘view themselves from outside their own bodies along with a sense of being freed from gravity.’’ Small objects appear large. The appearance of the user during this time may resemble someone with ethanol intoxication. On occasion, users appear to have the desire to carry out extreme physical activity followed by a deep, ‘deathlike’ sleep from which arousal is difficult. Upon wakening, users describe vivid visions during this dream period. Severe poisoning is rare, but seizures have been reported to occur in children.

Clinical Management
Most patients who ingest these mushrooms require no treatment other than observation. In recent, accidental ingestions, activated charcoal may be administered, although the efficacy of this treatment is unknown. In severe cases, when seizures occur, therapy may be required. Long-term anticonvulsant therapy should not be required because the effects of the mushroom are short-lived. All other treatment is  supportive and symptomatic in nature.

 

References and further reading

Amanita muscaria var. guessowii has a yellow cap surface.
Middlesex Fells, Massachusetts

Toxicon. 2014 Nov;90:269-72. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2014.08.067. Epub 2014 Aug 27.  Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina poisoning: two syndromes.  Vendramin A1, Brvar M2.  1Poison Control Centre, Division of Internal Medicine, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Zaloška cesta 7, Slovenia.

Wiad Lek. 1996;49(1-6):66-71.  [Poisoning with spotted and red mushrooms--pathogenesis, symptoms, treatment].  [Article in Polish] Tupalska-Wilczyńska K1, Ignatowicz R, Poziemski A, Wójcik H, Wilczyński G. 1Oddziału Dzieciecego Szpitala Rejonowego w Mińsku Mazowieckim. “The treatment is only symptomatic, and the prognosis is usually good”.  PMID: 9173659

Mycol Res. 2003 Feb;107(Pt 2):131-46.  Amanita muscaria: chemistry, biology, toxicology, and ethnomycology. Michelot D, Melendez-Howell LM.   Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Institut Régulation et Développement, Diversité Moléculaire, Chimie et Biochimie des Substances Naturelles, USM 502 UMR 8041 C.N.R.S., 63 rue de Buffon, F-75005 Paris, France. michelot@mnhn.fr

Analysis of hallucinogenic constituents in Amanita mushrooms circulated in Japan. Tsujikawa K, Mohri H, Kuwayama K, Miyaguchi H, Iwata Y, Gohda A, Fukushima S, Inoue H, Kishi T.  National Research Institute of Police Science, First Chemistry Section, 6-3-1, Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan. tujikawa@nrips.go.jp

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