You’ve seen them in Mario, it’s been referenced in Alice in Wonderland and various Cheech and Chong skits, and most recently, a plot device in Midsommar, but are magic mushrooms actually real?
One type of psychoactive mushroom called Amanita Muscaria is as real as shiitakes and chanterelles, albeit with a lot more going on than just as a tasty snack. Also known as Fly Agaric or Fly Amanita, has an unmistakable profile, with a sturdy stem and a downward cupola bespeckled with bright red-and-white spots.
Usually found under deciduous trees and in-and-around deciduous trees, Amanita Muscaria has a long history as a hallucinogenic fungus that’s been used both for religious rituals and for recreational fun, although the latter isn’t something we’d (officially) recommend. “Body hackers” also claim that fungi like Amanita Muscaria can help them “unlock” more brain power (although this is one of those debunked classic “science” beliefs)
The Magic of Amanita Muscaria: A Trippy History
Native to the subarctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita Muscaria has made its way to the Southern Hemisphere, with the mushroom finding its way in elevated highlands of the Mediterranean, Central America, and the Hindu Kush.
Considered toxic to humans, Amanita Muscaria was originally used as an insecticide, which is how it gets its scientific name: the specific epithet muscaria is derived from the Latin root musca, meaning “fly”, because it was historically used as a fly-repellant on milk, with the mushroom being dried and sprinkled on top of milk cans.
While generally considered toxic to humans, indigenous people across Siberia, particularly the Sámi, have been using Amanita Muscaria as both an intoxicant and as an entheogen for religious rituals for millennia. However, even in modern times, human deaths caused by Amanita Muscaria, while not unheard of, are extremely rare. Animals, however, are very susceptible to Amanita poisoning, so if your dog likes to eat grass and you live in a coniferous and/or deciduous area, take note.
Amanita Muscaria’s main psychoactive compound, muscimol, mimics GABA, a brain-signaling chemical that inhibits neuronal activity, lessening anxiety and increasing feelings of relaxation. The Sámi people were one of the first to stumble upon Amanita Muscaria’s psychoactive and entheogenic properties by parboiling the fungus twice before ingesting it. The mushroom, despite now being used as part of recreational drug use, has very important religious significance for indigenous peoples in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Magic of Amanita Muscaria: A Magic Carpet Ride
As a hallucinogen and psychostimulant, Amanita Muscaria has a wide array of psychoactive effects that have been carefully documented by shamans, psychonauts, and tie-dye-shirt-wearing hippies everywhere.
While the effects may vary from person-to-person, some of the most common effects can include, but are not limited to:
- Euphoria and elevated body temperatures
- A general feeling of relaxation and ease, with most users reporting a stark absence of negative emotions like fear and anxiety
- Psychedelic and dissociative episodes
- Diaphoresis, or excessive sweating
- Synesthesia and visual perception changes
- Dysmetropsia, otherwise known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, which is a perceptual delusion marked by visual disproportions
- Lucid dreams
Paradoxical effects, however, have also been reported, such as some users reporting Amanita Muscaria becoming a stimulant, with some users claiming that a ‘bad trip’ (i.e. a negative reaction to the hallucinogen) induced nightmarish images and feelings of overwhelming dread and fear.
The Magic of Amanita Muscaria: It’s Not The Magic Mushroom We Think It Is
While considered a hallucinogenic, Amanita Muscaria is distinct and markedly different from the ‘magic mushroom’ banned by governments around the world called Psilocybin, scientific name Psilocybe cubensis. Although their effects are similar, the psychoactive chemical present in magic mushrooms is Psilocybin, which is where it gets it name from. Psilocybin’s effects, while similar, are a lot more concentrated than Amanita Muscaria’s; as such, the chances of having a ‘bad trip’ or an adverse reaction, is remarkably higher. That being said, both Amanita Muscaria and Psilocybin are being studied by various neurologists and psychiatrists as possible, “natural” anti-depressants, thanks to their significant effect on brain activity.
Despite their similarities, Amanita Muscaria enjoys widespread legality around the world, with the cultivation, use, and sale of Fly Agarica being legal in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Take note, however, that if you do encounter Amanita Muscaria in the wild, there are certain precautions you need to follow:
First, eating Fly Agarica raw is not recommended, as the high concentrations of muscimol and ibotenic acid within the fungus can wreak havoc in your organs, your liver especially. Traditional preparations of Fly Agarica include slicing the cap thinly and boiling in salted water twice, with the second boiling requiring fresh water. This is to allow a majority of the other toxins to leach out of the mushroom and to dilute the presence of muscimol and ibotenic acid. After the toxins have been leached out, it is then safe to ingest. However, many Fly Agarica users suggest eating the mushroom raw, as cooking can deactivate the muscimol, leaving you with a non-psychoactive (albeit still tasty) fungus.
Again, if you want to experiment with Amanita Muscaria, be our guest: just do so safely and, ideally, in the presence of an experienced psychonauts/hippie. Preferably someone who showers regularly.