Mushrooms are great. There are over 50,000 species, and more are being discovered constantly. Living somewhere in the dark and mysterious world between plants and animals, fungi have captured human curiosity for thousands of years. Our ancestors have cooked them, eaten them, used them as medicines and narcotics, and explored their purposes across generations and continents. Still, few mushrooms have had as far-reaching influence as the gorgeous, red-and-white spotted Amanita muscaria, whose striking appearance has permeated both human consciousness and modern pop culture.
What is it?
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric mushroom, is a large, red-hatted mushroom with white spots that are the remnants of a membrane or “universal veil” that covered it when it first began growing. They can sometimes be washed away by the rain, rendering the mushroom completely scarlet. It can be found growing in the Pacific Northwest, parts of England, Siberia, the Himalayas, and even Central America. It’s quite a large species, growing anywhere from five to 20 centimeters across.
Despite its celebrity status in the shroom world, it’s not the only one in the amanita family– its siblings include the Amanita pantherina, a sepia-toned version of the shroom, and the extremely poisonous Amanita phalloides, also known as the “death cap.” It is a psychoactive mushroom, but unlike your go-to idea of magic mushrooms, it doesn’t contain any psilocybin. The active hallucinogenic in Amanita is muscimol, just like the lesser-used Amanita pantherina.
The fly agaric is arguably one of the world’s best-known mushrooms, with its likeness being used to represent the entire fungi kingdom in emojis, as a power-up in Super Mario, and as a home for the Smurfs. In the legendary children’s book The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, the protagonist Alice eats a mushroom whose effects are thought to be based on the feelings given by consuming the fly agaric– one side of it makes her smaller, while the other makes her large.
How was it used and how does it feel?
Unlike the trip reports of psilocybin users, those with experience with Amanita’s muscimol high can describe the experience as decidedly “dream-like.” While psilocybin trips happen when you’re awake, consuming the Amanita can lead to falling asleep and experiencing weird, intense, and sometimes distressing, chaotic dreams. It can function as a sedative and can lead to lucid dreaming, with users falling asleep around two to three hours after consumption. Its effects can last anywhere from six to 12 hours. Amanita is usually consumed in tea form or eaten, and its effects can take two to three hours to appear in full.
Some people consider the fly agaric a deliriant, which is a type of drug that makes hallucinations seem and feel real. For the most part, the effects of the Amanita tend to be unpredictable. Though few trip reports exist in the wild, most tend to report different experiences, with some people being deeply affected by the mushroom and others only feeling a bit off for a few hours. Alice’s experiences in Wonderland are echoed in the sensations proffered by the Amanita – it’s not unusual for those who have taken it to experience feelings of being very large or very small.
Amanita has been used across cultures for thousands of years, with its influence reaching all the way back to ancient times. It’s been known by different names. In 1968, mushroom explorer R. Gordon Wasson offered a theory that the “soma” beverage that the ancient Hindu text the Rigveda talked about was actually the fly agaric, and that this was the same drink as the ancient Greek ambrosia. This claim received popular support at the time.
The Amanita has a place in the mystic histories of various cultures worldwide. Its use is notable in ancient Siberia, where it was consumed as a narcotic by the indigenous people of the land. In the Russian Far East, shamans and laypeople would eat it to reach a trance-like state, both for ceremony and for fun. In western parts of Siberia, consumption of the Amanita was restricted only to shamans. Sometimes, in eastern Siberia, a shaman would eat the Amanita while others would drink his urine, leading to a more potent experience. Urine drinking after consumption of “soma” was also mentioned in the Rigveda texts, furthering Wasson’s claim that the two were one and the same.
The Sami indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, and Finland were said to have experimented with the mushroom– sorcerers consumed Amanitas to heighten visions and mystical experiences.
Vikings, known for their “berserker” rages, were thought to have used the Amanita muscaria to set off those rages, but given the sedative effects of the shroom, it’s now thought to be an inaccurate theory– it’s possible the Vikings used henbane instead.
The Amanita muscaria is not only psychoactive, but is also poisonous. Though some people consume it purely for culinary reasons, this generally involves a multi-step boiling down process to make sure the toxicity is gone from it and is not really recommended unless you’re very familiar with the proper way to cook these mushrooms.
If not consumed properly, the Amanita can lead to some pretty intense stomach upset, increased salivation, diarrhoea, sweating, nausea, delirium, and more.
Is it legal and can I still get it today?
Some folks have caught on to the marketing potential of a “legal magic mushroom” and have begun selling capsules online and in shops in the United States and other parts of the world, but it’s not sure how long the fun will last. So far, foraging for, buying, selling, and consuming the Amanita is legal in most countries except the UK, Thailand, the Netherlands, Romania, and Australia. In America, it’s legal everywhere except Louisiana, the state with the strictest psychedelic laws, where it’s banned save for ornamental purposes.
Of course, if you find it in the wild, that’s pretty much free game– do whatever you want with it, just carefully. Make sure you boil the shroom down before consuming to rid it of toxins (and yourself of potential stomach aches) and don’t eat the stems.
The Amanita muscaria is arguably one of the best-known fungi in the world. Its distinct red cap, white spots, and large size have captured the hearts of mycologists, artists, and creatives worldwide, with pop culture referencing the Amanita across dozens of platforms and mediums. Its use for mystic purposes spans thousands of years, from inducing trance-like states in Siberian shamans to enhancing visions in Scandinavian Sami people. It’s even thought to be the source of the magical, hallucinogenic drink ambrosia that was beloved by the Ancient Greeks.
Amanita muscaria is a magic mushroom, but instead of psilocybin, it contains muscimol, which gives a distinct high very different from the one you might be used to. Amanita is known to act like a sedative, with those who have taken it falling asleep within a few hours of consumption and often reporting intense, chaotic, and wild dreams.
Amanita muscaria is legal in almost all US states and all around the world, with the exception of a few countries: The UK, Romania, Australia, the Netherlands, and Thailand. These days, it’s not uncommon to sometimes see Amanita sold and branded as a “legal” magic mushroom in North America. It can be consumed, and many people do take it without any negative effects; however, we’d advise you to be careful and not to munch on either the raw shroom or capsules with its extract alone: Always tell a buddy before tripping.