Amanita Mushrooms

AKA: Amanita muscaria (bolond gomba, fly agaric, Gluckspilz, ha ma chun, mukhomor, Narrenschwamm, tu ying hsin), Amanita pantherina (panther mushroom).

The amanita family of mushrooms can range from those that are harmless (and actually quite delicious) to those that are deadly poisonous; the above are the only two that are psychoactive. The name "fly agaric" is derived from the fact that flies will drop into a helpless stupor after sucking on its juices. It is also noteworthy that the mushroom is believed to have contributed to the frenzied behavior of the Norse Vikings known as Beserkers. The degree of psychoactivity is related to its color — yellow is the weakest, red is the strongest, and orange is in between — on where and when it is grown, and on what trees it grows near. It can be dried and smoked; eaten fresh, cooked, or dried; or it can be brewed in a tea. In reindeer-hunting communities in Siberia, only the shamans were allowed to eat the fly agaric mushrooms, but others found they could participate in the experience by drinking the shaman's urine; supposedly, the unpleasant side effects of nausea and vomiting were lessened in this manner. This is because the kidneys detoxify muscarine, a toxin found in the mushroom, but allow muscimole, the hallucinogen, to pass into the urine largely intact (reindeer, who aggressively seek out this mushroom, will likewise consume the fly agaric-filled waste, and travelers are advised not to urinate in their presence out of fear for the person's safety). Urine can be recycled four or five times in this manner.

In Japan, there is mention in ancient literature of the maitake, or "dancing mushroom," which caused those who ate it to laugh and dance giddily; it has been identified as either Paneolus papilionaceus or Pholiota spectabilis, though the former is also known as waraitake, or the "laughing mushroom," and was once used as a cheap high in the U.S. and allegedly by witches in Portugal. Another "dancing mushroom" is Gymnopilus (Pholiota) spectabilis.

Effects: A pleasant, dreamy intoxication — accompanied by vivid hallucinations and giddiness — that lasts four to eight hours. The main psychoactive ingredients include muscazon, ibotenic acid, muscimole, and bufotenine.

It may work synergistically with the juice of the bog bilberry (Vacinium uliginosum).

Precautions: There are often unpleasant physical symptoms. An overdose can produce twitching, trembling, minor convulsions, numbness of the limbs, delirium, paranoia, aggression, nausea, vomiting and even death. Amanita pantherina has been known to make people sick for up to twelve hours, though these side effects usually start and end quickly. Other varieties of amanita (Amanita phalloides, Amanita verna) and other similar-looking mushrooms can be lethal when ingested, so extreme care must be taken when picking them in the wild.

Any mushroom should probably be sauteed before eating because in its raw state, it may contain methylhydazines, compounds similar to rocket propellants (which are, of course, carcinogenic and potentially deadly). Mushrooms may also accumulate such toxins as arsenic and cesium, though not in dangerous levels; cooking will not remove or deactivate them.

The use of atropine by some medical professionals to treat the negative effects is counterproductive; it intensifies, rather than nullifies, them. Mushrooms should not be combined with alcohol, either.

Dosage: One medium-sized mushroom is taken initally, to determine tolerance, with 1 to 3 mushrooms per dose thereafter. They are thoroughly dried first, and under no circumstances are more than 3 mushrooms taken at any one time.

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