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Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric, is a psychoactive fungi containing the chemicals muscimol, ibotenic acid, and muscarine. These substances act as deliriants, working on both GABA receptors and the muscarnic acytylcholine system. The pharmacology and effects of these mushrooms are significantly different from both the the more well known psilocin/psilocybin containing mushrooms and the traditional deliriants such as tropanes and anticholinergic antihistamines. Many people find the body load associated with consumption of A. muscaria to be highly unpleasant.
Typically the fruiting body (mushroom) is consumed whole, fresh or dried. Drying the mushroom reduces the amount of ibotenic acid (converting it to muscimol), potentially reducing the negative body load associated with the drug. Some sources believe the mushroom is also active when smoked, although considerably less potent. There are reports in both modern and traditional culture of users consuming their own urine (or that of others who have consumed the drug)- this may be because the active ingredient muscimol is secreted in high quantities unchanged into the urine.
decrease in pain, analgesia
creative dream like state
internal dialogue: some people report a strong sense of an internal discussion, a feeling of being able to think through personal issues. Others report a significant reduction of internal dialogue, sense of peacefulness, and internal quiet.
synesthesia: somewhat common, smelling words, tasting colors, etc.
internal focus: difficulty in focusing concentration on external tasks. Increased focus on internal imagination, imagery, day dreams.
sedation or sleepiness. others report excitation and extreme energy bursts.
changes in body perception: effects may include dramatic shifts in body perception and motor skills
including perceived changes in size of body parts, increased strength, dizziness, clumsiness, change in proprioception.
slightly blurred vision, watery eyes, runny nose
loss of equilibrium
pupil dilation, glassy eyed stare
mild to moderate to extreme nausea or stomach discomfort/cramps. increases with dosage.
muscle twitching and trembling (not convulsions)
increased salivation and perspiration
strong dissociation and delirium at high doses
Stages: Some people describe three stages of effects: first the nausea / body effects stage, the second sedated / dreamy state, and the third stage during which the active psychedelic effects predominate.
The primary active chemicals known in Amanita muscaria and A. pantherina are: Muscimol, Ibotenic Acid, Muscazone, and Muscarine. Muscimol is considered the principle psychoactive, with oral dosages of pure muscimol around 10-15 milligrams.1,2 Ibotenic acid is also active orally, but at doses 5-8 times higher than those of muscimol.2,3 The other chemicals are only present in trace amounts in the mushrooms, well below their active levels in humans.
Muscimol: Muscimol's primary action is at GABA receptor sites as a potent GABA-A agonist. Muscimol is commonly used in lab research on the GABA, which is a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Muscimol has been shown to be active in several parts of the brain including the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum.4
Ibotenic Acid: The current view is that some Ibotenic Acid does cross the blood brain barrier unchanged, but some is partially metabolised into muscimol and the rest excreted. Ibotenic acid, however, has been shown to be a potent neurotoxin when injected directly in the brains of mice and rats and is used as a potent brain-lesioning agent. It is structurally similar to glutamate and activates NMDA receptors, but this is not likely to be involved significantly with the effects of A. muscaria.4,5
Muscarine: Muscarine is known to affect acetylcholine levels and acts at muscarinic receptors, named for this chemical. While the levels of muscarine in A. muscaria are quite low (.002% - .003% by dry weight),5 some of the effects of A. muscaria are characteristic of cholinergic involvement.
Muscazone: Muscazone is also a possible breakdown product of Ibotenic Acid and Ott describes it as a possible "artifact of isolation procedures" which is "of dubious psychoactivity". It is not considered to be a substantial part of the psychoactive effects of A. muscaria.
Other Chemicals: Several other chemicals have been reported in A. muscaria, some of them erroneously.
Bufotenin (5-OH-DMT): One paper in 1953 (Wieland & Motzel) claimed to find bufotenin in A. muscaria extract but all subsequent research failed to confirm this result. Bufotenin is also not very potent when taken orally. Bufotenin is not believed to be present in the muscaria-class amanitas.
l-hyoscayamine (isomer of atropine): One paper (Lewis 1955) reported finding l-hyoscayamine in A. muscaria & A. pantherina from South Africa, but subsequent researchers failed to confirm this finding. This mistaken claim was repeated in the movie Altered States, but all current references consider this an error.
Misc: stizolobinic acid, stizolobic acid, methyltetrahydrocarboline carboxylic acid. Isolated by some researchers in some A. muscaria mushrooms, of unknown activity, but not considered to be significant in the psychoactive effects of the muscaria mushrooms.
One of the biggest dangers of harvesting and consuming wild mushrooms of any kind is the possibility of misidentification. This is particularly true of gilled mushrooms, of which A. muscaria and relatives are a variety. The Amanita mushrooms are the single most dangerous fungal tribe- the majority of mushroom poisoning fatalities are represented by a handful of especially dangerous members.
Amanita phalloides, A. virosa, and A bisporigera can all be lethal to humans when consumed in quantities smaller than a single mushroom. In general the deadly poisonous Amanitas are large white mushrooms, easily distinguishable by the experienced mushroom hunter from the typically brightly-coloured Amanita muscaria, but mushrooms vary considerably in size, shape, colour, and even distinguishing features such as the shape of the base and the presence or absence of rings. Do not attempt collecting and consuming Amanita muscaria without good competency in mushroom identification and are competent in hunting wild edibles. Species that could readily be mistaken for A. muscaria include A. flavoconia, A. frostiana, A. crenulata, A. parcivolvata, A. subflavoconia. None of these are seriously toxic but some are poisonous and could prove a very unpleasant surprise.
Although Amanita muscaria is generally considered poisonous by mushroom authorities, there is little physical danger in consumption of correctly identified mushrooms. Psychological disturbances have been noted following consumption, as well as a small risk of seizures. It is occasionally listed as edible and it is possible that some varieties or individuals contain very little of the active constituent. It may combine poorly with alcohol although some users report improved results in combination.
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