A Guide to Amanita Muscaria - The Sacred Mushroom
With their almost cartoonish appearance, amanita muscaria have long intrigued nature enthusiasts, mycologists, shamans, and “hallucinogenic hobbyists” alike. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide on a variety of topics related to Amanita Muscaria - from what it is and what it does to its history and legal status.
What is Amanita Muscaria?
When you picture a classic mushroom, chances are you envision something straight out of a Mario video game—a big, bright red cap adorned with mysterious white spots. Interestingly enough, this iconic image is deeply rooted in our cultural consciousness. From Alice's adventures in Wonderland to The Smurfs' whimsical homes, amanita muscaria mushrooms have fascinated us for centuries.
Also known as "fly agaric," amanita mushrooms boast a unique cap and stem structure. The cap grows in various colors, including white, yellow, brown, and that iconic red, often embellished with intricate patterns or scales. Some types have flat caps, while others are convex or bell-shaped. One key feature of amanita mushrooms is the presence of gills or pores beneath the cap, which produce spores.
While technically poisonous, fly agaric has been consumed throughout history in a variety of contexts. The name "fly agaric" originates from its use in combating flies - “agaric" refers to the mushroom's fleshy, umbrella-shaped cap, while "fly" denotes its literal purpose in deterring flies.
Shamans in Siberia and Northern Europe consumed the mushroom to induce altered states for spiritual and healing practices. It was also employed medicinally for its analgesic and sedative properties. In recreational contexts, Amanita muscaria provided hallucinogenic experiences, offering glimpses into altered realities. The mushroom remains symbolically significant in folklore, art, and cultural representations, preserving its intriguing connection to human consciousness and spirituality.
The two most notable components of Amanita Muscaria that impact the hallucinogenic effects are muscimol and ibotenic acid.
Muscimol is the main psychoactive compound in Amanita mushrooms, while ibotenic acid plays more of a supporting role. Ibotenic acid acts as a "prodrug" to muscimol, meaning it helps form more muscimol through the process of decarboxylation, which is partially done by drying or boiling the mushrooms. This is important due to the undesired effects of ingesting higher levels of ibotenic acid.
The effects are felt as a result of muscimol’s interaction with certain receptors in the brain, particularly the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which are involved in regulating neurotransmission. These are also the same receptors that alcohol interacts with which may be why some people report a sort of intoxicating effect.
As for ibotenic acid, its psychoactive effects are still being studied. Some speculation suggests that it may also have stimulant properties due to being an amino acid that affects the central nervous system when ingested. Ibotenic acid works with muscimol to create a psychoactive effect, but it is not the star of the show.
In addition to muscimol and ibotenic acid, Amanita mushrooms also contain small amounts of muscarine, which is a toxic compound. Muscarine can activate muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in the body, leading to effects such as increased salivation, sweating, tears, and changes in heart rate. However, the overall impact of muscarine on the hallucinogenic effects of these mushrooms is considered minimal.
How will Amanita make me feel?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how a psychoactive dose of amanita will make you feel as interactions can vary from person to person based on the individual and the dosage. We’ll talk briefly later in the article about dosage, but there are two ends of the spectrum - microdosing or an amanita “trip.”Micro-dosing for Wellness
Micro-dosing is becoming a more common way for people to consume amanita to boost mood, enhance creativity, and restore sleep cycles. Taking smaller doses is a way to harness the potential benefits of Amanita muscaria while minimizing the intensity of its psychoactive effects. When taking a microdose, the feeling will be much more subtle with people often reporting elevated moods, calming states, and lucid dreaming.Psychedelic Experiences
For a muscimol trip, it’s important to note that it’s a far different experience from psilocybin, which is much more intense. The duration and intensity of the trips can also differ. Psilocybin trips tend to last for around 4 to 6 hours, while muscimol trips may be shorter in duration, lasting around 3 to 5 hours.
Muscimol trips are often described as more introspective and contemplative. Users may find themselves traveling deep into their thoughts, emotions, memories, and personal experiences. This introspective journey can bring a heightened awareness of one's inner world, allowing for a closer examination of thoughts, feelings, and personal insights.
The visual effects experienced during a muscimol trip are generally less pronounced compared to psilocybin trips. They are subtle, characterized by mild distortions, shifts in perspective, and a gentle enhancement of patterns and textures. Colors may appear more vibrant, sounds more resonant, and tactile sensations more pronounced.
The hallucinogenic properties of amanita typically present as enhanced dream states, and even lucid dreaming. In a nutshell, it’s believed that there is potentially a connection between “controlling” your dreams and amanita consumption, but the science on this concept is quite limited to date.
Precautions, Risks, and Dosages
Up to this point, we’ve talked almost exclusively about the potential (and often desired) effects of Amanita muscaria, but we can’t ignore the fact that the mushroom is poisonous.
At a basic level, yes, Amanita is poisonous if consumed in large enough proportions or without certain preparations being taken before consumption. The poisonous effects can range from nausea, dizziness, confusion, or gastrointestinal discomfort. These effects can be minimized by boiling or putting the mushrooms through the decarboxylation process, hence, reducing ibotenic acid levels.
So where does this narrative fit relative to the rituals that have been occurring for thousands of years? Or relative to amanita products currently being sold? Like any other psychoactive substance, proper precautions must be taken including understanding potential effects and the correct quantities to consume.
There is varying information around how much amanita to consume in order to have a psychedelic experience with a lot of insight coming from first-hand experience. Some scientific research suggests that as little as 53 mg of muscimol will produce a psychoactive effect. However, the intensity of that effect is likely on the lower end of the spectrum.
Due to a lack of human based scientific studies, there is limited information we can discuss on this topic since results vary so widely.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Amanita muscaria has been historically associated with several indigenous and traditional religious practices with a primary intersection around the concept of “soma” - which was essentially a “drink of the gods.”
There is speculation that Amanita muscaria played a role in Norse mythology in relation to the god Odin where some theories suggest that the mythical drink "Soma" mentioned in ancient Norse texts could be fly agaric. Indigenous cultures of Siberia have also used Amanita muscaria in their shamanic rituals as it was believed to facilitate communication with spirits. Even one of the oldest texts in Hinduism, The Rigveda, references Soma with some scholars believing it to be the same mushroom.
In the same vein as the Stoned Ape Hypothesis where our consciousness was derived from psilocybin, it’s been argued that Amanita may be the source of another historically significant story - Saint Nicholas.
The connection between Christmas mythology, Santa Claus, and Amanita muscaria mushrooms has been a topic of speculation and debate among scholars and enthusiasts for quite some time. And honestly…it’s a stronger connection than you might guess.
Researchers propose that certain elements of the modern-day Santa Claus mythos, such as the iconic red and white suit similar to the red and white caps, may have origins in Siberian shamanic practices involving Amanita muscaria.
To be even more literal, shamans in Asia wore distinctive attire for collecting fly agaric mushrooms. They wore red coats and pants embellished with white fur on the collar and cuffs, complemented by black boots. Equipped with a special sack, the shaman would gather the mushrooms and return to the village.
The shaman would then enter the communal yurt, a portable tent dwelling, through the smoke hole - the smoke hole being essentially a chimney for the yurt. During the ceremonial ritual, the shaman and participants would consume and share the sacred mushrooms.
Fly agaric mushrooms were even thought to have brought about mild hallucinations that involved the sensation of flying. Reindeer conveniently also absolutely love to eat amanita. Is this all sounding mildly familiar yet? Just imagine Shaman Santa Clause delivering a package of shrooms instead of your Sega Dreamcast.
How is Amanita Consumed?
Before we explore this next topic, it’s important for you to know that we are not suggesting you should try eating amanita mushrooms from your own preparation. This can be dangerous and we highly recommend against that.
Similar to psilocybin mushrooms, amanita can potentially be dried and eaten or infused in a tea. The potency of the mushrooms and the corresponding tea are impacted by a variety of unpredictable factors such as age, size, and growing habitat.
More recently, companies have found methods to extract muscimol and ibotenic acid from amanita mushrooms to create an extract. The extract can then be infused into a variety of form factors such as gummies and chocolate. This has become a popular medium for ingesting as it allows for more control and safety around the experience.
Amanita Muscaria Habitat
Yes, we totally get where you’re coming from - it is tempting to go out in the woods and eat things that we aren’t familiar with like we’re Christopher McCandless in 2007’s dramatic hit Into the Wild (spoiler alert: he dies).
To be clear, it is not recommended that anyone attempts to find, process, and consume their own amanita without thorough research. That said, where would one find Amanita in the wild?
These fungi can be found across the globe in many different locales. Mushroom guides describe it as native to coniferous and deciduous woodlands, thriving in temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Interestingly, this mushroom also adapts to higher elevations of warmer latitudes, making appearances in regions like the Hindu Kush, the Mediterranean, and even parts of Central America. This cosmopolitan nature allows Amanita Muscaria to establish its presence in diverse geographical locations.
The most common place to find amanita is in “leaf litter” - or decomposing leaves that bleed nutrients into the forest floor. From here, young fruit bodies of the Fly Agaric mushroom emerge likely covered in pointed white warts.
As the caps grow larger, the underlying red skin becomes visible and the cap transforms into a predominantly red appearance with white warts spread evenly across its surface. Occasionally, heavy rain or contact with animals can cause the white flakes to be partially or completely removed from the cap, resulting in some specimens appearing "bald."
Legal Status and Regulations
Amanita muscaria is considered legal in the United States except in Louisiana. Besides using it for ornamental purposes, amanita cannot be grown or possessed in the state.
When using this mushroom, it is important to exercise caution and be mindful of its potential to alter the mind. The compounds found within, such as muscimol, can have a significant impact on one's perception and consciousness. The rich cultural history and importance surrounding this mushroom only add to its allure. While experiences with Amanita muscaria may differ, those curious about exploring the world of psychedelics should consider adding it to their list.