Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita. 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 plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.
The quintessential toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, one of the most recognizable and widely encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies with differing cap color have been recognized, including the brown regalis (considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolvata, guessowii, formosa, and the pinkish persicina.
It is generally common and numerous where it grows, and is often found in groups with basidiocarps in all stages of development. Fly agaric fruiting bodies emerge from the soil looking like white eggs. After emerging from the ground, the cap is covered with numerous small white to yellow pyramid-shaped warts.
Contemporary authorities recognize up to seven varieties:
var. muscaria, the typical red-and-white spotted variety. Some authorities, such as Rodham Tulloss, only use this name for Eurasian and western Alaskan populations.
var. flavivolvata is red, with yellow to yellowish-white warts. It is found from southern Alaska down through the Rocky Mountains, through Central America, all the way to Andean Colombia. Rodham Tulloss uses this name to describe all "typical" A. muscaria from indigenous New World populations.
var. alba, an uncommon fungus, has a white to a silvery white cap that has white warts but is similar to the usual form of mushroom.
var. formosa, has a yellow to orange-yellow cap with yellowish warts and stem (which may be tan). Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) use the name for all A. muscaria which fit this description worldwide, others (cf. Tulloss) restrict its use to Eurasian populations.
var. guessowii has a yellow to orange cap, with the centre more orange or perhaps even reddish orange. It is found most commonly in northeastern North America, from Newfoundland and Quebec south all the way to the state of Tennessee. Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) treat these populations as A. muscaria var. formosa, while others (cf. Tulloss) recognize them as a distinct variety.
var. persicina is pinkish to orangish, sometimes called "melon"-coloured, with poorly formed, or at times absent remnants of universal veil on the stem and vassal bulb; it is known from the southeastern coastal areas of the United States, and was described in 1977. Recent DNA sequencing suggests this may be a separate species which may require naming.
var. regalis, from Scandinavia and Alaska. is liver-brown and has yellow warts. It appears to be distinctive, and some authorities (cf. Tulloss) treat it as a separate species, while others (cf. Jenkins) treat it as a variety of the A. muscaria.
Amanita muscaria poisoning has occurred in young children and in people who ingested the mushrooms in order to have a hallucinogenic experience. Occasionally it has been ingested in error, because immature button forms resemble puffballs. The white spots sometimes wash away during heavy rain and the mushrooms then may appear to be the edible A. caesarea.
Amanita muscaria contains several biologically active agents, at least one of which, muscimol, is known to be psychoactive. Ibotenic acid, a neurotoxin, serves as a prodrug to muscimol, with approximately 10-20% converting to muscimol after ingestion. A toxic dose in adults is approximately 6 mg muscimol or 30 to 60 mg ibotenic acid; this is typically about the amount found in one cap of Amanita muscaria. The amount and ratio of chemical compounds per mushroom varies widely from region to region and season to season, which can further confuse the issue. Spring and summer mushrooms have been reported to contain up to 10 times more ibotenic acid and muscimol than autumn fruitings.
A fatal dose has been calculated as 15 caps.Deaths from this fungus A. muscaria have been reported in historical journal articles and newspaper reports but with modern medical treatment, fatal poisoning from ingesting this mushroom is extremely rare. Many older books list Amanita muscaria as "deadly", but this is an error that implies the mushroom is more toxic than it is. The North American Mycological Association has stated there were no reliably documented fatalities from eating this mushroom during the 20th century. The vast majority (90% or more) of mushroom poisoning deaths are from eating the greenish to yellowish "death cap", (A. phalloides) or perhaps even one of the several white Amanita species which are known as destroying angels.
The active constituents of this species are water soluble, and boiling and then discarding the cooking water at least partly detoxifies A. muscaria. Drying may increase potency, as the process facilitates the conversion of ibotenic acid to the more potent muscimol. According to some sources, once detoxified, the mushroom becomes edible.
Unlike psilocybin mushrooms, Amanita muscaria has rarely been consumed because of its toxicity and unpredictable psychological effects. Following the outlawing of psilocybin mushrooms in the United Kingdom, an increased quantity of legal A. muscaria mushrooms began to be sold for recreational and entheogenic use.
Professor Marija Gimbutas, a renowned Lithuanian historian, reported to R. Gordon Wasson on the use of this mushroom in Lithuania. In remote areas of Lithuania Amanita muscaria has been consumed at wedding feasts, in which mushrooms were mixed with vodka. The professor also reported that the Lithuanians used to export A. muscaria to the Lapps in the Far North for use in shamanic rituals. The Lithuanian festivities are the only report that Wasson received of ingestion of fly agaric for recreational use in Eastern Europe.
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. There are only isolated reports of A. muscaria use among the Tungusic and Turkic peoples of central Siberia and it is believed that entheogenic use of A. muscaria was largely not practiced by these peoples. In western Siberia, the use of A. muscaria was restricted to shamans, who used it as an alternative method of achieving a trance state. (Normally, Siberian shamans achieve trance by prolonged drumming and dancing.) In eastern Siberia, A. muscaria was used by both shamans and laypeople alike, and was used recreationally as well as religiously. In eastern Siberia, the shaman would take the mushrooms, and others would drink his urine. This urine, still containing psychoactive elements, may 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 Koryaks, one report said that the poor would consume the urine of the wealthy, who could afford to buy the mushrooms.
Beyond Siberia, there are only isolated and unconfirmed reports of the entheogenic use of A. muscaria. The Finnish historian T. I. Itkonen mentions that it was once used among the Sami people: sorcerers in Inari would consume fly agarics with seven spots. In 1979, Said Gholam Mochtar and Hartmut Geerken published an article in which they claim to have discovered a tradition of medicinal and recreational use of this mushroom among a Parachi-speaking group in Afghanistan. There are also unconfirmed reports of religious use of A. muscaria among two Subarctic Native American tribes. Ojibwa ethnobotanist Keewaydinoquay Peschel reported its use among her people, where it was known as the miskwedo. This information was enthusiastically received by Wasson, although evidence from other sources was lacking. There is also one account of a Euro-American who claims to have been initiated into traditional Tlicho use of Amanita muscaria.
In 1968, R. Gordon Wasson proposed that A. muscaria was the Soma talked about in the Rig Veda of India, a claim which received widespread publicity and popular support at the time. He noted that descriptions of Soma omitted any description of roots, stems or seeds, which suggested a mushroom, and used the adjective hári "dazzling" or "flaming" which the author interprets as meaning red. One line described men urinating Soma; this recalled the practice of recycling urine in Siberia. Soma is mentioned as coming "from the mountains", which Wasson interpreted as the mushroom having being brought in with the Aryan invaders from the north. Indian scholars Santosh Kumar Dash and Sachinanda Padhy pointed out that both eating of mushrooms and drinking of urine were proscribed, using as a source the Manusmṛti.In 1971, Vedic scholar John Brough from Cambridge University rejected Wasson's theory and noted that the language was too vague to determine a description of Soma. In his 1976 survey, Hallucinogens and Culture, anthropologist Peter T. Furst evaluated the evidence for and against the identification of the fly agaric mushroom as the Vedic Soma, concluding cautiously in its favour.
The notion that Vikings used A. muscaria to produce their berserker rages was first suggested by the Swedish professor Samuel Ödmann in 1784. Ödmann based his theories on reports about the use of fly agaric among Siberian shamans. The notion has become widespread since the 19th century, but no contemporary sources mention this use or anything similar in their description of berserkers. Today, this idea is generally considered to be an urban legend, or at best speculation that cannot be proven. Muscimol is generally a mild relaxant, but it can create a range of different reactions within a group of people. It is possible that it could make a person angry, or cause them to be "very jolly or sad, jump about, dance, sing or give way to great fright".
Biblical scholar John Marco Allegro proposed that early Christian theology was derived from a sex and psychedelic mushroom cult in his 1970 book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, but his theory has found little support by scholars outside the field of ethnomycology. The book was roundly discredited by academics and theologians, including ar, Emeritus Professor of Semitic Philology at Oxford University, and Henry Chadwick, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Christian author John C. King wrote a detailed rebuttal of Allegro's theory in the 1970 book A Christian View of the Mushroom Myth; he notes that neither fly agarics nor their host trees are found in the Middle East, even though cedars and pines are found there, and highlights the tenuous nature of the links between biblical and Sumerian names coined by Allegro. He concludes that if the theory was true, the use of the mushroom must have been "the best kept secret in the world" as it was so well concealed for two thousand years.
In Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy (formerly called Strange Fruit), Clark Heinrich suggests A. muscaria usage by Adam and Eve, Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Jesus and his disciples, and John of Patmos. In the book Apples of Apollo, the mushroom is identified in a wide range of mythological tales such as those involving Perseus, Prometheus, Heracles, Jason and the Argonauts, Jesus and the Holy Grail.
An account of the journeys of Philip von Strahlenberg to Siberia and his descriptions of the use of the mukhomor there was published in English in 1736. The drinking of urine of those who had consumed the mushroom was commented on by Anglo-Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith in his widely read 1762 novel, Citizen of the World. The mushroom had been identified as the fly agaric by this time. Other authors recorded the distortions of the size of perceived objects while intoxicated by the fungus, including naturalist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke in his books The Seven Sisters of Sleep and A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi. This observation is thought to have formed the basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A hallucinogenic "scarlet toadstool" from Lappland is featured as a plot element in Charles Kingsley's 1866 novel Hereward the Wake based on the medieval figure of the same name. Fly agaric shamanism is explored in the 2003 novel Thursbitch by Alan Garner.
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Psilocybin mushrooms are fungi that contain psychoactive indole alkaloids. There are multiple colloquial terms for psilocybin mushrooms, the most common being shrooms and magic mushrooms. Biological genera containing psilocybin mushrooms include Agrocybe, Conocybe, Copelandia, Galerina, Gerronema, Gymnopilus, Hypholoma, Inocybe, Mycena, Panaeolus, Pluteus, and Psilocybe. There are approximately 190 species of psilocybin mushrooms and most of them fall in the genus Psilocybe.
Psilocybin mushrooms have likely been used since prehistoric times and may have been depicted in rock art. Many cultures have used these mushrooms in religious rites. In modern Western society they are used recreationally for their psychedelic effects. Recent studies done at Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conclude that when used properly, psilocybin acts as an anti-depressant as suggested by fMRI brain scans.
There is archaeological evidence for the use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms in ancient times. Several mesolithic rock paintings from Tassili n'Ajjer (a prehistoric North African site identified with the Capsian culture) have been identified by author Giorgio Samorini as possibly depicting the shamanic use of mushrooms, possibly Psilocybe.
Hallucinogenic species of Psilocybe have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times up to the present day. Mushroom-shaped statuettes found at archaeological sites seem to indicate that ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is quite ancient. Mushroom stones and motifs have been found in Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala. A statuette dating from ca. 200 AD and depicting a mushroom strongly resembling Psilocybe mexicana was found in a west Mexican shaft and chamber tomb in the state of Colima. Hallucinogenic Psilocybe were known to the Aztecs as teonanácatl (literally "divine mushroom" - agglutinative form of teó (god, sacred) and nanácatl (mushroom) in Náhuatl) and were reportedly served at the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in 1502. Aztecs and Mazatecs referred to psilocybin mushrooms as genius mushrooms, divinatory mushrooms, and wondrous mushrooms, when translated into English. Bernardino de Sahagún reported ritualistic use of teonanácatl by the Aztecs, when he traveled to Central America after the expedition of Hernán Cortés.
After the Spanish conquest, Catholic missionaries campaigned against the "pagan idolatry," and as a result the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms like other pre-Christian traditions were quickly suppressed. The Spanish believed the mushroom allowed the Aztecs and others to communicate with "devils". In converting people to Catholicism, the Spanish pushed for a switch from teonanácatl to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist. Despite this history, in some remote areas, the use of teonanácatl has remained.
The first mention of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Western medicinal literature appeared in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1799: a man had served Psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms that he had picked for breakfast in London's Green Park to his family. The doctor who treated them later described how the youngest child "was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter, nor could the threats of his father or mother refrain him."
In 1955, Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson became the first Westerners to actively participate in an indigenous mushroom ceremony. The Wassons did much to publicize their discovery, even publishing an article on their experiences in Life in 1957. In 1956 Roger Heim identified the psychoactive mushroom that the Wassons had brought back from Mexico as Psilocybe, and in 1958, Albert Hofmann first identified psilocybin and psilocin as the active compounds in these mushrooms.
Inspired by the Wassons' Life article, Timothy Leary traveled to Mexico to experience psilocybin mushrooms firsthand. Upon returning to Harvard in 1960, he and Richard Alpert started the Harvard Psilocybin Project, promoting psychological and religious study of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs. After Leary and Alpert were dismissed by Harvard in 1963, they turned their attention toward promoting the psychedelic experience to the nascent hippie counterculture.
The popularization of entheogens by Wasson, Leary, authors Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson, and others has led to an explosion in the use of psilocybin mushrooms throughout the world. By the early 1970s, many psilocybin mushroom species were described from temperate North America, Europe, and Asia and were widely collected. Books describing methods of cultivating Psilocybe cubensis in large quantities were also published. The availability of psilocybin mushrooms from wild and cultivated sources has made it among the most widely used of the psychedelic drugs.
At present, psilocybin mushroom use has been reported among some groups spanning from central Mexico to Oaxaca, including groups of Nahua, Mixtecs, Mixe, Mazatecs, Zapotecs, and others. An important figure of mushroom usage in Mexico was María Sabina. Occurrence
The effects of psilocybin mushrooms come from psilocybin and psilocin. They create short-term increases in tolerance of users, thus making it difficult to abuse them because the more often they are taken within a short period of time, the weaker the resultant effects are. Poisonous (sometimes lethal) wild picked mushrooms can be easily mistaken for psilocybin mushrooms. When psilocybin is ingested, it is broken down to produce psilocin, which is responsible for the psychedelic effects.
As with many psychedelic substances, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms are subjective and can vary considerably among individual users. The mind-altering effects of psilocybin-containing mushrooms typically last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending on dosage, preparation method, and personal metabolism. However, the effects can seem to last much longer to the user because of psilocybin's ability to alter time perception.
Some users suffer from hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, although this is uncommon. Perceptual disturbances causing discomfort are rarely reported after using psilocybin mushrooms, but they may be more likely if the drug is mixed with cannabis. There have been reports of such disturbances lasting months or years. Nevertheless, magic mushrooms were rated as causing some of the least damage in the UK compared to other recreational drugs by experts in a study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Other researchers have said that psilocybin is "remarkably non-toxic to the body's organ systems", explaining that the risks are indirect: higher dosages are more likely to cause fear and may result in dangerous behavior.
One study found that the most desirable results may come from starting with very low doses first, and trying slightly higher doses over months. The researchers explain that the peak experiences occur at quantities that are only slightly lower than a sort of anxiety threshold. Although risks of experiencing fear and anxiety increased somewhat consistently along with dosage and overall quality of experience, at dosages exceeding the individual's threshold, there was suddenly greater increases in anxiety than before. In other words, after finding the optimum dose, there are diminishing returns for using more (since risks of anxiety now increase at a greater rate).
Noticeable changes to the audio, visual, and tactile senses may become apparent around thirty minutes to an hour after ingestion. These shifts in perception visually include enhancement and contrasting of colors, strange light phenomena (such as auras or "halos" around light sources), increased visual acuity, surfaces that seem to ripple, shimmer, or breathe; complex open and closed eye visuals of form constants or images, objects that warp, morph, or change solid colours; a sense of melting into the environment, and trails behind moving objects. Sounds seem to be heard with increased clarity; music, for example, can often take on a profound sense of cadence and depth. Some users experience synesthesia, wherein they perceive, for example, a visualization of color upon hearing a particular sound.
As with other psychedelics such as LSD, the experience, or "trip," is strongly dependent upon set and setting. A negative environment could likely induce a bad trip, whereas a comfortable and familiar environment would allow for a pleasant experience. Many users find it preferable to ingest the mushrooms with friends, people they are familiar with, or people who are also 'tripping'.
In 2006, the United States government funded a randomized and double-blinded study by Johns Hopkins University which studied the spiritual effects of psilocybin in particular. That is, they did not use mushrooms specifically (in fact, each individual mushroom piece can vary widely in psilocybin and psilocin content). The study involved 36 college-educated adults (average age of 46) who had never tried psilocybin nor had a history of drug use, and who had religious or spiritual interests. The participants were closely observed for eight-hour intervals in a laboratory while under the influence of psilocybin.
One-third of the participants reported that the experience was the single most spiritually significant moment of their lives and more than two-thirds reported it was among the top five most spiritually significant experiences. Two months after the study, 79% of the participants reported increased well-being or satisfaction; friends, relatives, and associates confirmed this. They also reported anxiety and depression symptoms to be decreased or completely gone. Fourteen months after the study 64% of participants said they still experienced an increase in well-being or life satisfaction.
Despite highly controlled conditions to minimize adverse effects, 22% of subjects (8 of 36) had notable experiences of fear, some with paranoia. The authors, however, reported that all these instances were "readily managed with reassurance."
Some people have been asking for medical investigation of the use of synthetic and mushroom-derived psilocybin for the development of improved treatments of various mental conditions, including chronic cluster headaches, following numerous anecdotal reports of benefits. There are also studies which include reports of psilocybin mushrooms sending both obsessive-compulsive disorders ("OCD") and OCD-related clinical depression (both being widespread and debilitating mental health conditions) into complete remission immediately and for up to months at a time, compared to current medications which often have both limited efficacy and frequent undesirable side-effects.
Dosage of mushrooms containing psilocybin depends on the potency of the mushroom (the total psilocybin and psilocin content of the mushrooms), which varies significantly both between species and within the same species, but is typically around 0.5–2% of the dried weight of the mushroom. A typical dose of the rather common species, Psilocybe cubensis, is approximately 2 to 3.5 grams, while about 4 to 7.5 grams dried mushroom material is considered a strong dose. Above 8 dried grams is often considered a heavy dose.
The concentration of active psilocybin mushroom compounds varies not only from species to species, but also from mushroom to mushroom inside a given species, subspecies or variety. The same holds true even for different parts of the same mushroom. In the species Psilocybe samuiensis Guzmán, Bandala and Allen, the dried cap of the mushroom contains the most psilocybin at about 0.23%–0.90%.The mycelia contain about 0.24%–0.32%.