Amanita muscaria, commonly known as Fly Agaric, is a potent hallucinogenic fungus that has been utilized in sacred rituals throughout the globe and ingested as food (with specific preparation methods). The current scientific knowledge has advanced our understanding of its effects on the human body and psyche.
The Fly Agaric contains two fundamental compounds – ibotenic acid and muscimol – which are of particular importance. Although muscarine and muscazone are also present, research implies that they are not as crucial. Let’s take a closer look at pharmacology and the potential health benefits of these compounds.
What is Muscimol
Muscimol is a strong psychoactive substance that can be found in various mushroom species of the Amanita genus. Unlike psilocybin, which is a tryptamine, muscimol is a potent agonist of the GABAA receptor. It is believed that muscimol is up to five times more potent than ibotenic acid, which is converted to muscimol through a simple chemical reaction called decarboxylation. This reaction can happen during storage, processing, or even in the human body itself.
Muscimol is a potent agonist of GABAA, a receptor for the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA. Unlike other GABA agonist drugs such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, muscimol binds to the same site on the GABAA receptor complex as GABA itself. This receptor is widely spread throughout the brain, so when muscimol is administered, it modifies neuronal activity in several regions, including the cerebellum, hippocampus, and cerebral cortex.
The psychoactive dose of muscimol for an average person is around 10-15 mg. Some scientific reports claim that 1g of dried Amanita muscaria is enough to produce strong psychoactive effects, while others suggest that 5-10g is necessary. Determining the correct dosage can be challenging because the potency varies significantly from one mushroom to another.
When consumed, a considerable portion of muscimol remains unmetabolized and is excreted in the urine, a phenomenon that traditional practitioners of Amanita muscaria have exploited for entheogenic use.
What Are the Effects of Muscimol
Muscimol’s effects start around an hour after ingestion, reach their peak after three hours, and may persist for a total of 10 to 24 hours. Euphoria, a dreamlike or lucid state of mind, out-of-body encounters, and synesthesia are some of the effects people describe experiencing while under the influence of this fungi. Muscimol can have side effects as well, including mild to moderate nausea, stomach pain, increased salivation, and twitching or trembling of the muscles. Additionally, strong dissociation or delirium may be experienced with higher dosages.
Surprisingly, muscimol’s pharmacology as a GABAA receptor agonist is congruent with many of its effects. This presents many depressant or sedative-hypnotic effects. Muscimol can alter perception in a psychedelic manner, unlike conventional sedatives. Researchers suggest that the hallucinogenic effects produced by muscimol are closely comparable to the hallucinogenic side effects produced by drugs that affect GABA receptors like zolpidem.
What is Ibotenic Acid?
Similarly to muscimol, ibotenic acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in mushrooms, specifically Fly Agaric and other Amanita species. Ibotenic acid is a prodrug of muscimol, meaning that when decarboxylated ibotenic acid transforms into muscimol.
Structurally similar to the neurotransmitter glutamate, ibotenic acid acts as a non-selective glutamate receptor agonist. In high doses, it can be a powerful neurotoxin and is even employed as a “brain-lesioning agent” in scientific research. However, the risks associated with consuming ibotenic-acid-containing fungi are unclear and are thought to be negligible in small doses.
Ibotenic Acid Pharmacology
As we already mentioned, Ibotenic acid is a chemical compound that acts as a potent agonist of several glutamate receptors. When ibotenic acid is broken down into muscimol in vivo, it indirectly acts as a potent GABAA and GABAA-ρ receptor agonist. It also acts as a weak agonist of AMPA and kainate receptors.
Unlike muscimol, which causes sedation and delirium, the psychoactive effects of ibotenic acid are not well understood without its conversion into muscimol. However, there are speculations that ibotenic acid could potentially act as a stimulant.
Fly Agaric Benefits on Physical and Mental Health
Fly agaric is not only used for its psychedelic effects, there are some health conditions that the compounds present in this fungi tend to improve. Here are some of the ailments that can potentially be alleviated with fly agaric:
- Anxiety: Due to the anxiolytic and sedative properties of muscimol, this mushroom could be used in the treatment of anxiety and high levels of stress.
- Pain: Researchers suggest that muscimol possesses analgesic properties especially when it comes to Neuropathic pain, which can occur after spinal cord injury.
- Sleep: The sedative effects of muscimol may make it a useful treatment for multiple sleep disorders including insomnia.
- Addiction: There is some evidence suggesting that muscimol may be beneficial in the treatment of addiction, although more research is needed.
Risks Involving Fly Agaric
The most common cause of intoxication stems from the ingestion of Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina mushrooms, often resulting from misidentification and disregard for their poisonous nature. These particular mushrooms are sometimes consumed for their psychedelic properties, specifically for the purpose of augmenting or distorting one’s space-time perception.
While instances of death by these mushrooms are rare, it’s important to be cautious since there are other side effects, including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, muscle weakness, dizziness, delirium, and even seizures. Therefore, consuming these mushrooms without experience, would be unwise as the toxicity of their complex and highly variable toxins remains under the veil of mystery.
Additionally, Fly Agaric can be easily mistaken for other highly toxic mushroom species, such as the deadly galerina mushroom (Galerina marginata) or the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). When ingested, these mushrooms cause severe liver damage or even death.
The Bottom Line
Research suggests that Muscimol, the active compound in Fly Agaric, is a GABAA receptor agonist and a potent hallucinogenic. Due to its effects, scientists believe that it has potential therapeutic benefits for anxiety, pain, addiction, and sleep.
While Fly Agaric has potential health benefits, it is important to be cautious when consuming it due to the significant variation in potency among different mushrooms.