muscaria Compared to Alcohol
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) has a long and
interesting history with some strange theories attached to it. In
this article I plunge into the muddy waters surrounding this mushroom,
and with the help from old Yukagirs, Yakuts, Chuchi et al. in eastern
Siberia, and modern shamans and scientists, I try to find out how
this old style drug compares with modern alcohol.
muscaria used to be the choice of the day for many eastern Siberian
tribes when it came to recreational drugs. Later it received competition
from tobacco, and was finally ousted by cheap Russian vodka. Gordon
Wasson "rediscovered" the red capped mushroom and the
prehistoric, world wide Amanita muscaria cults. According to him
it was the ingredient of the mythical soma-drink in India, and the
forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. John Allegro argued that
Jesus had in fact been an Amanita muscaria, and the holy Bible the
secret papers of a fertility cult centered round the mushroom. The
mushroom was seen as a woman straddling a penis, later symbolized
by the cross.
To Start With..
Ibotenic Acid and Muscimol
and Long Lasting Detrimental Effects
to Expect During an Amanita Muscaria Intoxication
Case Descriptions of Effects
To Start With..
My intention is to try to find facts about the
toxicity and the pros and cons when it comes to the effects, and
based on those findings discuss the mushrooms usefulness as a competitor
to alcohol. To discuss why people are interested in mind-altering
substances in the first place, if it's good or bad and the politics
surrounding it, are not an objective of this article.
At least since the 13th century, Amanita muscaria
has been considered poisonous due to its ability to kill flies,
which is not exactly true, it just make them comatose for a while,
but in the 1800's something changed. Beginning in France, the common
assumption of Amanita muscaria being poisonous was challenged. The
mushroom was assumed dangerous in some parts of the world, but not
everywhere. The Russians ate it, and some French mycologists had
evidently consumed large quantities without getting sick. These
thoughts naturally also reached Sweden, and in the 1930's it reached
the heights of its culinary recognition when it appeared in mushroom
guides as delicious after the red cap is removed and the mushroom
parboiled. This point of view didn't go unchallenged though, and
it seems that Amanita muscaria wasn't widely trusted or commonly
These days in Sweden, the mushroom is back were it came from, in
the bad company of other poisonous toadstools. But something has
changed. Now it's potential as a hallucinogen has earned it some
fame and renewed interest.
There are some recorded cases of young calves dying after, possibly,
eating Amanita muscaria, some observations of older cows vomiting,
and of course doctor Krombholtz experiments with a variety of animals
in 1832. Some of the research subjects survived, some didn't, and
the conclusion was that the mushroom is deadly poisonous for all
vertebrates, it's only a matter of dose. Count Achilles de Ville
showed a few years later that it is also true for humans after eating
two dozens of them for breakfast. Krombholtz also discovered that
the white spots on the cap were twice as potent as the red skin.
A piece of information I can't recall ever seeing anywhere else.
Maybe recent day Amanita users haven't red their Krumbholtz?
Amanita muscaria contain muscarine in accordance
with its name, but only in such small quantities that we may as
well leave it out of the equation. The mushroom may contain different
levels of substances depending on...well, nobody seem to know for
sure, but the Poison Information Center in Sweden suggested that
the mushrooms picked in spring and summer would be more powerful
than ones picked in autumn. Different years could also yield different
results. The main ingredients in the mixture of entheogenic constituents
are, according to resent scientific knowledge, ibotenic acid, muscimol
and muscazon. Following description of the symptoms can be read
in Giftsvampar och Svampgifter (Persson et al. 1990).
"The symptoms of poisoning develop in short time, usually between
half an hour and four hours. Vomiting and nausea occur in the beginning,
while diarrhea is unusual. Development of symptoms on the central
nervous system, like confusion, dizziness, uneasiness, agitation,
muscle spasms, visual disorder and hallucinations are typical. The
intoxicated person may also behave completely psychotic and have
a distorted sense of time and space. Unconsciousness and cramps
may occur in severe cases. Peripheral anticholinergic symptoms (atropine
like) like heart beating, wide pupils, dryness of mouth and difficulties
to urinate, also occur in typical cases."
Muscarine poisoning is treated with atropine, so the atropine like
effects that occur when eating Amanita muscaria strongly suggest
that muscarine is not a major player among the constituents in the
mushroom. But then again, at www.erowid.org,
increased salivation and perspiration is listed as one of the negative
effects of Amanita muscaria, and those are symptoms of muscarine
Hans Persson from the Swedish Poison Information Center also tell
about many cases with symptoms of muscarine poisoning, and suggests
that it may be that different substances are absorbed at different
times, and that may give muscarine a change to make an impact even
though the levels are low.
Ibotenic acid becomes muscimol over time, specially when drying
the mushroom, and it may actually be that fresh specimen doesn't
contain any muscimol at all, i.e. the actual hallucinogen.
Ibotenic Acid and Muscimol
The relationship between ibotenic acid and muscimol
is explained in Pharmacotheon (Jonathan Ott, 1993).
"It would appear that muscimol is the psychoactive constituent,
and that following ingestion of ibotenic acid, a fraction of the
material decarboxylates to muscimol, which then produces the inebriation.
After oral ingestion of ibotenic acid, a substantial percentage
of the drug is excreted unaltered in the urine, but small amounts
of muscimol are also excreted (Chilton, unpublished). This mechanism
would potentially explain the Siberian urinary drug recycling practice.
After ingestion of the mushroom, the celebrant would excrete substantial
amounts of ibotenic acid in his urine. A second user ingesting the
urine of the first, would cause some of the ibotenic acid to be
decarboxylated to muscimol during digestion, producing inebriation
when the muscimol was absorbed; and the bulk of the ibotenic acid
would be re-excreted in his urine in turn. Thus a 100 mg dose of
ibotenic acid might potentially represent four or five 10-15 mg
doses of muscimol, and Steller's 1774 report that one dose of mushrooms
could be recycled through four or five persons is certainly feasible.
Muscimol itself probably does not play a significant role in urinary
drug recycling, since it was found that only a small percentage
of injected muscimol was excreted in the urine of mice (Ott et al.
1975a). This hypothesis has yet to be verified quantitatively in
human beings, though it has been demonstrated qualitatively in preliminary
experiments (Chilton 1979)."
and Long Lasting Detrimental Effects
According to the Swedish Poison Information Center,
only one reported case exist of a flashback after eating Amanita
muscaria. A man in Slovenia mistakenly ate the mushroom, started
to vomit and fell asleep, and was found comatose. "Ten hours
after ingestion, he awoke and was completely oriented; 18 hours
after ingestion his condition deteriorated again and he became confused
and uncooperative. Afterwards paranoid psychosis with visual and
auditory hallucinations appeared and persisted for five days."
(2005, Poison Control Center, University Medical Center Ljubljana,
There are no reported cases of long lasting detrimental effects.
to Expect During an Amanita Muscaria Intoxication
Ole Högberg takes us through a typical Amanita
muscaria intoxication among the Siberian tribes in his book Flugsvampen
och Människan, as described by Bogoras in the beginning
Fresh / raw mushrooms were considered poisonous and three Amanitas
lethal. To use dried mushrooms was the usual way to go. These were
also supposed to give a deeper level of intoxication. The usual
amount was between one and four mushrooms, sometimes more.
According to Bogoras the experience could be divided into three
The first phase start from anywhere between zero to several hours,
but usually after fifteen minutes. The hands begin to shake, and
arms and legs twitch involuntary. The eyes are starry. This phase
is experienced as something positive, and people become talkative
and noisy with lots of laughter, dancing and singing. Sudden changes
of mood are possible. This is also the time when the intoxicated
feels unusually energetic and strong.
During the second stage the spasms may turn into cramps. It becomes
difficult to focus and everything float. The smallest movements
can result in such large consequences that supervision becomes necessary.
During this phase, the intoxicated may experience small things as
huge, a bucket of water may seem like a deep lake. It is still possible
to have a conversation with the subject. This is also the time when
the person may have to deal with the nasty "mushroom spirits".
These encounters belong to the domains of experienced shamans, but
even he/she need to be careful.
During the third and last stage, the intoxicated person isn't part
of this world anymore and can't be contacted. He is now traveling
with the spirits to faraway places and shown strange people and
some people have described a similar set of three stages: "first
the nausea / body effects stage, the second sedated / dreamy state,
and the third stage during which the active psychedelic effects
predominate." At Erowid the effects of Amanita muscaria have
been categorized as "positive", "neutral" and
"negative", but there are no mentions of unpleasant hallucinations.
See further below under negative effects.
One more excerpt from the erowid.org site:
"The Amanita intoxication can be quite variable, from nausea,
sweating, and salivation produced from a high level of muscarine
in the mushroom, to the more desirous effects of euphoria, elevated
mood, auditory and visual hallucinations, and increased strength
and stamina produced by the muscimol, or the best of all, to feel
the desire to dance and sing. But it must be understood that within
this mushroom is heaven and hell. While with one experiment you
can find bliss, within the next you may find terror."
notes, 1997 (Michael S. Smith)
Below are some experiments, and experiences, of mainly Swedish Amanita
muscaria intoxications recorded by Raul Keskküla in his series
of articles in the membership publication from the Swedish Mycology
Association, Jordstjärnan 20 (3), 1999, and some additional
cases from the book Flugsvampen och Människan by Ole
The list of positive and negative effects below is done with the
mushroom user perspective in mind. I assume the effects listed as
positive are desired effects, or experienced as positive.
It is also interesting to note that some people who have prepared
Amanita muscaria as food never felt any kind of effects what so
ever. Two such cases are described by Raul Keskküla. In both
cases the informants had peeled of the red cap.
Case Descriptions of Effects
• Pleasant hallucinations
• Increased physical energy
• Meditative well-being and
unity with cosmos
• Distorted sense of time and place
• Visions of geometrical
• Unrestrained feeling
• Unpleasant hallucinations
• Eye smarting
• Encounters with nasty
"In less than a second, I flew thru a shining pipe, from the
bottom and up to the light!" A man, after eating 1 dl of dried
A story passed on by Cristine Karlson Stiber working for the Swedish
Poison Information Center (Giftinformationscentralen) during a lecture
in Umeå 2006.
A man consume three dried mushrooms together with juice and has
a better experience than with LSD, mescaline or similar. According
to him the mushroom produced nicer experiences.
A number of informants tell about visions and dreams comprising
of all kinds of various things combined in unexpected, unnatural
ways. It is possible to see these dreams as hallucinations while
you are awake and close your eyes. Three persons tell of erotic
visions or feeling.
A young man wanted to explore the hallucinogen effects of the mushroom,
and ate five to six red, raw caps of Amanita muscaria. In the beginning
he's body felt heavy, but 1 - 1.5 hours after eating the skins,
he experienced a feeling of great physical power, and used the energy
to chop wood.
In Siberia, a man took of his snow shoes and walked in deep snow
beside his dog sledge for ours and enjoyed it, and an old woman
is said to have run for thirty kilometers after eating the mushroom.
and Unity With Cosmos
Two neo shamans wanted to explore the effects and shared two or
three mushrooms after drying chopped, small pieces. The ordinary
shamanic experiences were enhanced but no visions appeared.
Several other informants describe a relaxing, contemplative feeling.
Distorted Sense of Time and
A beer brewed with Amanita muscaria made the participants able to
reach distant walls without the need of actually going there. Distances
seemed shorter. One person also described a loss of sense of time.
A person got tunnel-vision after eating half of a cap of a dried
mushroom, and could see faraway objects very clearly.
One more account of persons tasting Amanita-beer, tells us about
distorted sense of time and space.
Visions of Geometrical
There are a number of accounts of people seeing visions of a variety
of different geometrical figures. Hairy balls, figures resembling
runes, triangles, pyramids, circles, pillars etc.
Beer made of Amanita muscaria resulted in an unrestrained feeling.
A man experienced a match as a large log.
A couple picked and prepared a meal of what they believed to be
Puff-balls, but probably picked young Amanita muscaria by mistake.
Both fell ill and the husband became unconscious. The husband was
thought to have alcohol poisoning. He behaved as if drunk, and saw
ants creeping all over the walls and the floor.
A person interested in shamanism consumes about six dried mushrooms
during a six week period, and also smokes some of it. He had some
terrifying nightmares with chopped up human bodies, and experienced
being pushed thru a meat-grinder.
Another person experienced a nightmare with, among other things,
fire and still alive pieces of cats.
A young man experienced strong hallucinations after consuming eight
dried Amanita muscaria. He felt strong and broke his bicycle chain.
When he tried to call his wife the telephone transformed into a
banana. Finally back home, he couldn't keep his balance and had
difficulties understanding spoken words. He established eye contact
with the star he had come from, his skeleton seemed luminous and
he called a friend to tell him that he had turned into a mushroom.
According to him, the Amanita muscaria is way worse than LSD.
Pain in the eyes
A five year old shrubed his eyes after handling the mushroom.
There are many reported cases of nausea and fatigue, most of the
cases reported by persons who ate the mushroom by mistake.
Two persons looking forward a cheap intoxication ate both raw and
dried (in room temperature) mushrooms. One of them ate one raw and
two dried, the other one one raw and five dried. The first person
experienced his own heartbeats as extremely painful, alienation
to his own body and voice, and balance problems. But the second
person who ate one raw and five dried had an even worse night. His
legs didn't carry him, he vomited and fell unconscious, and traveled
thru a tunnel of death towards a light.
One informant became aggressive after sharing a 75 cl bottle of
Amanita-beer with a friend. Before she went berserk, she had had
an argument with skinheads and been insulted in a bar. She had felt
good while the aggressive feeling lasted.
Mushroom spirits can be very demanding and evil. In Siberia a man
was commanded to sleep outside with his dogs, a terrifying thing
to ask, considering it was one of the ways for the Chukchi to dispose
of dead bodies.
An other man was commanded to cut his stomach. His friends kept
him from doing so.
Yet another one was forced to confess previous misdeeds, much to
the joy of his comrades.
In 1897 Count Achilles de Vecchi died after having two dozen Amanita
muscaria for breakfast. His friend who only had one dozen survived.
Well then, could Amanita muscaria be used instead
of the more traditional alcohol? Descriptions of euphoria, unrestrained
behavior, meditative well-being, increased physical energy and distorted
sense of time and place fit with both Amanita muscaria and alcohol,
as well as some of the negative effects like nausea, aggressiveness
and death. And I'm positive it would be a very painful experience
to pour alcohol in your eyes. The mushroom's effects are a bit haphazard,
but couldn't we say the same also about alcohol? Some people become
aggressive, others sleepy, sometimes people become talkative and
sing and dance. And the same persons can get totally different experiences
from alcohol at different occasions, in accordance with the mushroom.
And as with the mushroom, there are zillions of myths, beliefs,
stories and half-truths about alcohol. People have personal preferences,
some brands are better than others, and everyone has his/hers tolerance
levels. Which may vary depending on a number of constantly changing
parameters. It is reasonable to assume that it also true for the
mushrooms. And as with Amanita muscaria, the dose is as important
with alcohol. Drink a little and you won't experience anything particularly
exciting, but too large a doze will kill you. Many of us who do
have experience of drinking alcohol, probably don't recall the first
couple of times as very pleasant memories. Everything tasted like
poison and we always drunk too much and always become sick. Until
we found how to deal with it personally. Many of the advices from
more experienced friends didn't really work for us. An echo of the
Amanita muscaria scene as it seems to me.
The similarities are many, but there are also some major differences.
With the mushrooms, the physical reactions are different and can
be more severe compared to alcohol, and more difficult to predict.
There are no labels clearly describing the amount and strength of
the mushroom content. If you prefer a particular brand of whisky
you always get the same stuff, with mushrooms it is different. You
can never be really sure what you get. You start more or less from
zero every time. With alcoholic brand beverages we know all the
active ingredients and how they work, a situation quite different
from Amanita muscaria.
But the biggest difference is maybe the hallucinogen nature of the
mushroom, something that most clearly put it apart from alcohol.
Finally I would like to cite a few lines by Francesco Festi and
"Obviously the personality of the single person, his motivation,
attitude, mood and past experience are important in all psychedelic
experiences. In fact, people who are interested in "meditative"
or introspective experiences have found the Amanita muscaria closer
to this feeling, while people interested only in a "trip"
have found it "too unpleasant.""
Outline and Personal Experience, 2001 (Francesco Festi,
This very much suggests how the mushroom may be best used.
Amanita muscaria could be seen as useful in its capacity to produce
hallucinations, suitable for people looking for introspective experiences,
while alcohol is best used for its capability to produce a more
predictable, unrestrained and relaxed social atmosphere.
Case report: Department of Clinical Toxicology,
Poison Information Center, Collegium Medicum, Jagiellonian University,
Krakow, Poland, 2004 (Dorota Pach, Beata Butryn, Piotr Hydzik, Barbara
Case report: Poison Control Center, University Medical Center Ljubljana,
Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2005
Flugsvampen och Människan, 2003 (Ole Högberg)
Giftinformationscentralen, (a telephone conversation with the Swedish
Poison Information Center), late spring 2007
Giftsvampar och Svampgifter, 1990 (Hans Persson, Pelle
Holmberg, Hans Marklund, Siw Muskos)
Jordstjärnan 20 (3), 1999 (Raul Keskküla), a
membership publication from the Swedish Mycology Association, page
Outline and Personal Experience, 2001 (Francesco Festi, Antonio
Bianchi, June 2007)
Pharmacotheon,1993 (Jonathan Ott)
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