Much has been said and written about the effects of aminita muscaria on humans. However, little is known about its toxicity and even less about its potential as a medicine. While some cultures hold it in high esteem and use it for traditional rituals and ceremonies, other cultures consider it a dangerous poison unfit to be eaten. Still some others believe that the plant may have some medicinal properties largely unexplored until now.
The red mushroom with white spots is perhaps more famous as an icon than as a delectable dish (luckily so for those who cannot eat them). But some cultures like those of Siberia still consume this mysterious fungus with great politeness and restraint – though not always by choice – at least according to anthropologists Edward and Caroline Odes who have studied the Koryak culture in Siberia. They reveal that among this people amanita muscaria is consumed not only for its chemical effects but also as a form of punishment.
Amanita muscaria is famous by another name – fly-agaric – which refers to the mushroom’s use as an insecticide. More specifically, it was used against flies and other insects by farmers in western Europe during the Middle Ages and even today there are reports of its use in some parts of north India by folk healers against certain types of insect bites, just like neem oil. Apparently, amanita muscaria was also used by professional fly-toxers in Switzerland until the 1950s.
Amanita muscaria is a very unique plant. It contains many different chemicals that have led to many studies of its potential medicinal properties. Among these are ibotenic acid, muscimol, muscazone, muscarine and some closely related derivatives of these compounds called ‘muscimol analogues’. Researchers have shown that there may be medical benefits to using one or more of these chemicals for the treatment of Alzheimer’s diseas, pain relief, epilepsy and muscle spasms associated with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. Though the latter study examined a chemical called muscimol rather than ibotenic acid, it nonetheless shows that amanita muscaria contains chemicals that may be used as medicine.
There is also evidence that amanita muscaria may act as an aphrodisiac in mammals. Other research into its potential psychoactive properties reveals it to be like LSD but weaker, though it is perhaps more potent than cannabis. Amanita muscaria is also well known for inducing hallucinations, but these effects may be short lived and last no more than a few hours.
Though there are many anecdotal reports of the psychoactive properties of amanita muscaria, in which users claim to have hallucinated after ingesting it in some form, not much evidence exists in support of its mind-altering capabilities when eaten raw or even cooked or dried. However, there are various ways in which this mushroom can be prepared that do alter its chemical makeup enough to potentially alter one’s consciousness. Boiling mushrooms in water extracts almost all of the psychoactive chemicals and renders them more potent . Another way to extract these chemicals is through alcohol. By soaking mushrooms in alcohol for up to three weeks, one can extract very significant amounts of the chemicals responsible for the intoxicating effects .
Despite its seemingly magical properties, amanita muscaria was not always held in such high esteem by all peoples. In fact, some considered this mushroom a poison and therefore didn’t eat it. Though we cannot be fully certain about what motivated the ancients to ingest this fungus, we may hypothesize that they were trying to enter some other state of consciousness. The potential side effects are less harsh than those associated with substances like LSD and DMT and it is possible that the effects of amanita muscaria may not be immediately noticeable. That is, they might notice nothing until after a few hours when its chemicals would have sufficiently entered the brain to begin altering one’s perception of reality.
Whether or not amanita muscaria was used for its psychoactive properties, we cannot tell from the archaeological record. However, we do know that this mushroom has been used as medicine by many cultures around the world. It is important to note that each culture prepared and consumed amanita muscaria in different ways and therefore some forms were more likely to evoke psychotropic states than others. Though there is not enough evidence in the archaeological record to support this claim, it seems likely that prehistoric peoples may have used amanita muscaria for its intoxicating effects when other more intense substances were unavailable or impractical.
It does seem reasonable to assume that these mushrooms played an important role in the belief systems of various cultures because shamanistic practice often involves entering an altered state of consciousness with the aid of psychoactive plants. As mentioned earlier, much controversy surrounds claims that certain mushrooms might induce hallucinations and if they did cause such experiences, their use would certainly be consistent with shamanistic tradition. For instance, Wasson et al., proposed that Siberian shamans took a psychedelic mushroom called Amanita muscaria as a way to enter a trance and acquire supernatural abilities. If you are thinking about buying Amanita Muscaria, there are some online services.
Though it is not known for certain that amanita muscaria was the Soma, Wasson et al. noted many similarities between this mushroom and references made in the Hindu texts. It has been proposed that Soma was actually derived from an admixture of bark scrapings or leaves because these parts of the plant do not contain psychoactive chemicals. Yet, a similar argument could be made for amanita muscaria which also does not have psychoactive properties when eaten alone or without proper preparation. Furthermore, though descriptions of Soma did not mention anything about mushrooms being involved in its preparation, there is no way to know if they pl theayed a role in its creation because the methods used to make it have been lost.
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