Amanita muscaria, commonly known as Fly agaric, is a potent psychedelic mushroom that has been used in sacred ceremonies in different parts of the world and also consumed as a food (with specific preparation methods). Modern scientific knowledge has enhanced our understanding of its effects on the human body and mind.
Amanita muscaria contains two primary compounds – ibotenic acid and muscimol – which are of particular interest. Although muscarine and muscazone are also present, research suggests they are not as significant. While deadly amatoxins found in other Amanita species are absent in Amanita muscaria, there have been reports of lethal poisoning from the consumption of this mushroom in the past.
Chemical Structure of Amanita Muscaria
Ibotenic acid, a compound found in select Amanita mushroom species was originally called alpha-toxin, it was later named premuscimol before settling on its current name. Ibotenic acid is an unstable compound, which can result in large losses during extraction and processing. In dried mushrooms, the ibotenic acid content gradually decreases. However, preliminary investigations suggest that summer mushrooms may have a higher concentration than autumn mushrooms. The highest concentration of ibotenic acid is suspected to be in the yellow tissue of the cap just below the skin.
Siberian mushroom eaters reportedly used 1-4 dried mushrooms for moderate effects, while 5-10 mushrooms were considered immoderate. Ibotenic acid, or its transformation product muscimol, is suspected to play a role in Amanita muscaria intoxications, as it is one of the most important active substances isolated with regard to concentration.
The presence of ibotenic acid in Amanita Muscaria is uncertain, as some reports have found it while others have not. A thorough and systematic investigation is needed to clarify this situation. The isolation and identification procedures for ibotenic acid have been well-documented, and it is an acidic, optically inactive, alpha-amino acid with a heterocyclic substituent. It is not known how the water of hydration is bound to the compound. Pure ibotenic acid is difficult to dissolve in cold water, but water-free esters and derivatives can be prepared. However, the easy decarboxylation of ibotenic acid makes it unlikely that a cooked meal of the fly-agaric can contain sufficient amounts to be the true active component.
Muscimol is a powerful psychoactive compound found in many mushroom species of the Amanita genus. Unlike active substances in regular magic mushrooms, which are a tryptamine, muscimol selectively activates the GABAA receptor with high potency. Muscimol is produced by the decarboxylation or drying of ibotenic acid and is believed to be up to five times more potent than ibotenic acid.
This creates an interesting scenario where a simple chemical reaction (decarboxylation), which can occur during storage, processing, or in the body itself, generates a compound that is significantly more powerful than the original form.
The Effects of Amanita Muscaria
While both muscimol and ibotenic acid have psychoactive properties, the onset of these effects can be quite slow. After ingeting Fly Agaric orally, it usually takes 2 hours to reach the “peak” or the maximum intensity. Usually, the effects can last anywhere from 4 to 10 hours, depending on the dose and potency of the mushroom. The effects it produces can be divided into three separate phases:
1st Phase – Feelings of increased energy and stimulation, with a slight presence of euphoria.
2nd Phase – In this phase, people often feel slight drowsiness and are somewhat sedated and tranquilized.
3rd Phase – This is the point where psychedelic effects start to kick in. The experiences can be described as mystical in nature, with increased awareness of non-ordinary realities, followed by a dreamlike state which can be either blissful or terrifying.
The nature of these effects can be highly variable, depending on the specific dose, variety of mushroom, and individual differences. The effects may include:
- Visual distortions
- Loss of balance
- Muscle spasms
- Dream-like experiences
- Visual and auditory impairment
- Difficulty concentrating on external tasks
- Sensation of macropsia and/or micropsia (perceiving objects as very large or very small)
- Nausea and vomiting
The Bottom Line
While Amanita muscaria has been used for its psychoactive effects for ages, caution should be taken as its effects can be unpredictable, and consumption can lead to severe poisoning. The mushroom contains ibotenic acid and muscimol, which are the primary compounds of interest.
While the deadly amatoxins found in other Amanita species are absent in Amanita muscaria, there have been reports of lethal poisoning from its consumption, that’s why these fungi should be approached with extreme caution.