There’s a lot of talk now about the ‘new’ old mushrooms on the block, Amanita muscaria. And a lot of confusion over whether they’re dangerous or not. Though people aren’t known to die from these mushrooms, a lot of people do get sick. However, once you learn how to prepare Amanita mushrooms correctly, this is no longer an issue. Read on to understand preparation techniques to get high, and to make them as food; all without getting sick.
What are Amanita mushrooms?
The classification of ‘Amanita’ as a genus refers to a wide range of mushrooms. The entire genus of Amanita is considered ‘poisonous’, and this title is apt when dealing with many species, as Amanita mushrooms are responsible for the majority of mushroom deaths. But that doesn’t mean all Amanita mushrooms will kill you, and the one we’re interested in specifically – Amanita muscaria, is not known to cause death, even though it’s still considered poisonous.
Amanita muscaria is a species of the Amanita fungi which is known to cause psychoactive effects, including sensory hallucinations. Imagine that, a mushroom that makes you hallucinate. Sound familiar? When speaking of mushrooms that cause hallucinations, we’re usually talking about psilocybin mushrooms, the standard mushroom when using the term ‘magic mushroom’ or ‘psychedelic mushroom.’ That’s because psilocybin is a psychedelic compound, and the mushrooms have a somewhat similar effect to other psychedelics like LSD, DMT, and mescaline.
However, Amanita muscaria, also known by the name ‘fly agaric’ (for a previous use as an insecticide in history), is not psychedelic. Rather than create a strong serotonergic effect, like psychedelics are known to do, Amanita muscaria relies on a compound called muscimol. This compound’s effects are much more centered on the neurotransmitter GABA, although another compound, ibotenic acid, works a bit in contrast, giving more of an excitatory response.
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So, while psychedelics give you an overall ‘up’ effect because of the serotonin, Amanita muscaria will give more of a ‘down’ effect because of the GABA. This isn’t to say that these compounds only do one thing, or that more aren’t involved. In reality, they’re complicated drugs that effect many different parts of the brain. This simplification is to give an idea of one aspect of the difference in effects.
Amanita muscaria mushrooms aren’t native to the US, and weren’t around much when most drugs were illegalized. As such, the mushrooms, which are native to colder places like Siberia and Northern Europe, remain legal in the US. And the funny thing? Even if you’ve never seen one, you already know what they look like. Think of the mushrooms in Super Mario Brothers. Those are Amanita muscaria. In fact, the picture most associated with ‘magic mushrooms’ isn’t a psilocybin mushroom, but the white-spotted red cap of fly agaric.
What the two mushrooms have in common is that they’ve both been used for millennia in their respective places of origin, for ritualistic, religious, and shamanistic practices, as well as for medicinal healing. That, and that they both do provide some level of a hallucinogenic experience, even if its felt differently with the two different kinds of fungi. Whereas psilocybin mushrooms are considered ‘psychedelic’, fly agaric are considered ‘poisonous.’ In reality, both mushrooms can make a person sick, and neither is associated with death.
Why are people scared of Amanita muscaria mushrooms?
The designation of ‘poisonous’ certainly doesn’t help. People hear that word and they think they’re going to die. Truth is, if certain Amanita mushrooms are consumed, death is coming. However, Amanita muscaria gets the title just for being in a specific genus, even though the term isn’t relevant. The mushrooms were also linked to a story over 100 years ago of an Italian diplomat named Count de Vecchj who died after eating mushrooms. The reality is that we really don’t know which mushrooms actually killed him, and its also quite possible he was that one outlier case. In general, they’re not poisonous.
Or are they? Perhaps the word ‘poisonous’ isn’t completely wrong. If you read internet accounts of people finding and eating Amanita muscaria, there are a lot of stories of them not feeling good at all. No death stories, but stories of discomfort and sickness. Perhaps it should be remembered that the definition of poisonous, is something “very harmful and able to cause illness or death.” Something that can make you sick without killing you, is still poisonous to you. So they are poisonous, just not deadly.
When it comes to these fly agaric mushrooms, there is certainly the capacity for being poisoned, even if the result isn’t death. This happens mainly because of the compound ibotenic acid, which is the compound most related to the sick reaction. Muscimol, the part that effects GABA, won’t make you sick. But ibotenic acid is a neurotoxin which is not only used to create legions in the brain, but “causes profound destruction of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons” when injected directly into the brains of mice, rats, or monkeys. It’s the main cause of stomach issues, nausea, and vomiting from the fungi.
Ibotenic acid acts on glutamate receptors which causes an excitatory effect. In high doses this can lead to dry mouth, dilated pupils, tachycardia, agitation, delirium, and seizures, though its possible that the interaction with muscimol and other compounds also affects this. Ibotenic acid and muscimol function as sort of opposites, one with a more calming effect, and one with a more stimulant effect.
If the mushrooms are eaten raw and have a high level of ibotenic acid, the result probably won’t be good. But luckily, we know of some ways to get rid of both the ibotenic acid and muscimol, and for turning the ibotenic acid into muscimol. And this means using the mushrooms without getting sick. Which is great for consuming them as food, or for getting high.
Prepare Amanita mushrooms with parboiling
If you’re a weed person, you probably already understand the concept of decarboxylation. THCA, through light and heat, is converted to THC. This happens all the time in biology and chemistry, and its relevant to Amanita muscaria mushrooms as well. Ibotenic acid converts to muscimol in the body, but if there’s a lot of it, you’re pretty sure to get sick. However, there is also the option of removing both compounds before the mushrooms are eaten, thus making the mushrooms edible, and creating a way to get high without getting sick.
The way to prepare these Amanita mushrooms is through a process called parboiling. Parboiling something means boiling it to cook or partially cook it. The difference between boiling and parboiling is only in how long something is boiled, and how thoroughly its cooked through.
It should be noted that this process to prepare Amanita muscaria mushrooms, won’t necessarily work with other Amanita mushrooms that contain a different poison, since that poison won’t get removed with boiling. Ibotenic acid and muscimol can be boiled out, because they’re water soluble.
In terms of a process, boiling is pretty easy, but those who don’t do it, will have a very different idea of the mushrooms. I’ve seen people who credit themselves as mushroom experts, post experiences on message boards where they clearly didn’t know to do this step, and then walked away with a negative perception of the fungi. Don’t be one of those people. If you want to use these mushrooms, make sure to boil them first, or use another preparation method to get rid of the poisonous aspect.
In terms of how long to boil, there isn’t a specific answer. Most sources say about 15 minutes, while other sources say to boil for as long as 150 minutes for total decarboxylation. In one publication, the writer explained that he cut the mushrooms into thin slices and then boiled in salted water for 15 minutes. Another source added in a cup of apple cider vinegar to help with the leaching, as both that and salt are said to help get the compounds out. Most sources point out that you want a lot of water, so as to leach out as much of the compounds as possible. You can go through sources and pick your preferred method.
What about getting high?
Parboiling is all you have to do if you want to eat the mushrooms as food. But that also means not getting high, as the muscimol is leached out as well. Back in the day, when the Siberians used these mushrooms, they boiled them in the same way, and then drank the water the mushrooms were boiled in to get high. This is one of the best ways to do it. In this way, its not about eating the mushrooms, but the tea you’ve made by boiling them.
Remember that ibotenic acid decarboxylates to muscimol in heat, and they’re both water soluble. Both compounds are leached out with boiling, and the ibotenic acid decarboxylate to muscimol. Muscimol doesn’t melt until about 175º C, and is thermostable, so boiling it doesn’t hurt it. The boiling process therefore creates a tea without the ibotenic acid.
By tradition, this isn’t the only way to get high off these mushrooms. Apparently, it wasn’t just human folk that figured out the mushrooms can make you feel good, some animals did as well. The mushrooms are already attached to the Santa story, and this aspect promotes that connection; because reindeer used to eat the mushrooms too. What’s more, the other way of humans getting high from the mushrooms back then, was to drink the urine of the reindeer after they ate the mushrooms.
Why? Why would anyone do this? Once again, the ibotenic acid breaks down to muscimol in a body. And the muscimol is excreted without being broken down. Which means the reindeer urine didn’t have ibotenic acid, but was rich in muscimol. This made a good way for the people to get high, without dealing with getting sick, and could apparently be done with six passes through a body.
Want even weirder? The reindeer were also attracted to the urine of people who ate the mushrooms or drank other muscimol-containing urine, and tribesmen would then carry around the urine to attract back reindeer that strayed off. Personally, I’d prefer to just boil the mushrooms and drink the tea.
One last option to more safely get high, is to eat the dried version instead of the fresh version. Since ibotenic acid is unstable and decarboxylates to muscimol, a dried mushroom will have a lower ibotenic acid content than a fresh one, and a higher muscimol content. This makes it less sick-inducing, and more high-inducing. Having said that, even dried mushrooms are often made into a tea, which then decarboxylates more of the ibotenic acid.
Amanita muscaria mushrooms present a great alternate way to have a spiritual and hallucinatory experience, but they aren’t as simple as picking and eating. Make sure to prepare your Amanita mushrooms properly to ensure a great eating, or getting high, experience; and without getting sick.
Special final note: As an industry starts to grow around these mushrooms, it comes with the benefit of providing processing techniques before a product ever reaches market. In this way, you won’t have to prepare Amanita mushroom products, as they can be made and sold to the public without ibotenic acid. This isn’t necessary for psilocybin mushrooms, which are safer to simply pick and eat.
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