The unregulated sale of Amanita muscaria mushrooms needs a public health response

Amanita muscaria mushrooms have significant pharmacological properties. They contain muscimol, which is psychotropic, and ibotenic acid, which is not psychotropic. However, both compounds are toxic and can be fatal at high doses.

Despite this, none of them feature in the 1970 Controlled Substance Act in the United States or similar laws in other countries.

A recent American Journal of Preventive Medicine study discussed the legal status, safety, and availability of Amanita muscaria, to motivate the case for its improved regulation.

Study: Need for a Public Health Response to the Unregulated Sales of Amanita muscaria Mushrooms. Image Credit: ON-Photography Germany/Shutterstock.comStudy: Need for a Public Health Response to the Unregulated Sales of Amanita muscaria Mushrooms. Image Credit: ON-Photography Germany/Shutterstock.com

History and current availability of Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria can be widely found in multiple continents within the Northern Hemisphere. Their use in Siberia by the old-world shamans predates crossing the Bering Straits into North America. Post this, the new world shamans preferred the use of Psilocybe spp. Mushrooms and the use of Amanita muscaria waned off.

Online access to Amanita muscaria and muscimol products is a relatively new phenomenon. The muscimol products include dessert-flavored vapes, candy-flavored gummies, and pre-rolls blended with muscimol and hemp flower.

The online demand seems to be growing, as evidenced by the rise in the number of online advertisements. For example, between 2022 and 2023, the number of Amanita muscaria Google searches rose by 114%.

Safety issues concerning the use of Amanita muscaria

As mentioned above, muscimol, ibotenic acid, and muscarine contained in Amanita muscaria are toxic and can be fatal in high doses.

Concerning the acute toxicities of ibotenic acid and muscimol, research showed that these are higher than most commonly used psychotropic drugs, such as cocaine, fentanyl, and phencyclidine.

Human studies have analyzed the impacts of raw Amanita muscaria mushroom intake. While death is rare, the effects include agitation, ataxia, visual hallucinations, dizziness, seizures, dysphoria, muscle fasciculation, and coma.

Amanita muscaria’s psychotropic properties are due to muscimol and not ibotenic acid. Muscimol primarily affects the forebrain regions, leading to nausea, dizziness, tiredness, weightlessness, space distortion, visual and auditory hypersensitivity, hallucinations, and so on.

“Classical psychedelics” like psilocybin could also lead to similar effects, but the main difference is that, unlike classical psychedelics, muscimol does not engage with serotonin 5-HT2A receptors.

In the United Kingdom, the first reported hospitalization was in 2023 when a 46-year-old woman, following a “microdosing” regimen, consumed 0.5 grams of the dried mushroom daily for two weeks.

The aim was to reduce anxiety by inducing psychotropic properties. The lady had purchased the mushroom via social media. Such cases highlight the easy availability of the mushroom and the need for proper regulation.

Current regulatory status and consumer protection

The Netherlands and some other countries recognize Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina as controlled substances. Here, websites often contain interpretations of controlled substance laws in order to provide legal guidance to consumers.

In the context of the United States, Amanita muscaria and muscimol are included in a list of prohibited hallucinogenic substances only in the state of Louisiana.

Sevaral muscimol and Amanita muscaria products are disguised and sold as food products. No NDI (New Dietary Ingredient) or GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) notifications exist for these ingredients.

It could be that manufacturers have self-affirmed GRAS, but that seems inconsistent with the safety data reported in the current study. Based on this, the muscimol and Amanita muscaria products in the market violate Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

Consumer protection is the key issue, which might be at risk given how Amanita muscaria products are sold. The current regulatory approach has no age restriction or mandatory child protection.

Marketing using means that appeal to children (e.g., cartoons) should be banned. Currently, manufacturers claim to test for the quantities of active constituents and contaminants, but there are no universally accepted testing standards for muscimol for potency, leading to inaccurately labeled products.

Conclusions

Considering the easy availability and the safety concerns around the use of Amanita muscaria, a new regulatory approach should be developed.

A clear stand from regulators is essential concerning the legality of the manufacture and distribution of such products. If legal, more information should be provided about the age and marketing restrictions, maximum dosage, and childproofing.

More education is needed for mental health professionals to enable them to guide their patients effectively and explain the differences between toxic substances like Amanita muscaria, and psilocybin, which is being researched for its potential role in treating depression.

A public health response should come immediately because delayed enforcement is profitable for manufacturers in this “buyer beware” marketplace.

Journal reference:
Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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Comments

  1. Mike Owczarzak Mike Owczarzak United States says:

    As a well studied amateur mycologist of 45+ years, i feel the need to comment that there has never once been a documented death from the consumption and use of A. muscaria, or any of the other related species. They are frankly a good edible species after a short boil and discard the water. They are regularly harvested and consumed and preserved in eastern Europe and Russia. Please do actual research on such matters and leave the propagation of mistruths and fear at the door step of the realm of facts. You are exponentially more likely to be poisoned by a plant than any fungi.

  2. Joan Horton Joan Horton United States says:

    I think someone an editorial needs to review this article. There are a number of claims in here that are not clearly laid out.

    When comparing the toxicities of Amanita and fentanyl, what exactly are you saying here? Are you saying that Amanita has a higher rate of death pers usage? Because I would say that that seems unlikely, but it certainly would need a citation.

    At a moment when psychoactive mushrooms are being deregulated in the united states, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to regulate a substance that isn't particularly psychoactive.

    Hospitalizations for cannabis use among inexperienced users doesn't mean the Cannabis is toxic, it means that sometimes people hospitalize themselves for anxiety. The person that is being described in this article is trying to treat her anxiety with amanita, got anxious, went to the hospital. I hardly think that this means Amanita needs to be more regulated. It probably means that women with anxiety need to get better attention and more appropriate guidance from their doctors. Especially in the United states.

  3. Brooks Park Brooks Park United States says:

    Amanita muscaria has served humans seeking psycho-spiritual exploration, evidenced by shamanic use of the mushrooms by the Koryak of Siberia. Reports of reindeer consumption of amanita exist, which indicates use of psychoactive substances does not fall exclusively into the realm of human behavior. Images of the amanita have been used in cartoons, paintings, and other artistic mediums. Artistic expression has used the bright red, white spotted mushroom to represent a connection to otherworldly entities such as fairies. This iconic mushroom is not as widely recognized for its psychoactive properties as the psilocybin mushrooms, but recent reports indicate a rise in this recognition. With this rising awareness by the public, inherent  curiosity correlates with increased use.
    Entheogenic experiences can be unsettling for the unprepared, and may lead to disturbing insights. Without the necessary integration, these experiences can have a detrimental impact on such individuals.
    That said, much of society has forsaken freedom for the illusion of safety. By regulating human behavior we risk discarding personal liberty.
    Humans have always had a relationship with psychoactive substances. At no point in human history, and most likely in prehistory, have humans not ingested psychoactive substances. Early societies primarily used these substances for religious purposes, and these uses continue to provide entheogenic experiences, and are indispensable in such environments.
    To regulate human involvement with entheogens is to limit human access to the psycho-spiritual realm. This realm can be awe-inspiring, blissful, and ecstatic. It can also be frightening, especially for the uninitiated or conflicted. If properly integrated these experiences can deliver the individual to a way of being free from the confusion and chaos of the world. Unintegrated these experiences can have a detrimental, even tragic, impact on the psycho-spiritual condition. Even so such substances offer far more benefit to the world than harm.

  4. Chaim Bochner Chaim Bochner United States says:

    I can't believe that they are even talking about regulation. This has helped MANY get off Benzos - which is much worse than Amanita; Fact.

    FDA and other regulatory bodies have this wrong again. Of course macro doses can be extremely dangerous - so are most psych meds; see antipsychotics and benzos, of course. Many antidepressant classes can be dangerous too if not used carefully; see MAO inhibitors and food.

    Amanita - when dried and dehydrated properly has "some" Ibo but most is converted to Muscimol which is mild and when taken in microdose, hospitalization is rare. I DON'tT believe the report that this woman was just microdosing - you can microdose 500mg capsules 6 times a day too; plus - you never know what else was going on.

    Personally: I suffer from depression AND anxiety and when it works (if not taken daily; in my experience), it worked wonders. Most people will feel - either not well after just one or two doses - but many will feel great after one or two doses. Those not feeling good, stop taking it. Simple as that. I've tried psilo and I didn't feel good so I stopped; big deal...

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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