Friday, December 4, 2009

Magic Mushrooms?

Here at FOTL Headquarters we're mostly into outdoor fun, good eats, and wild foods that have more than merely survival appeal. True, we've been known to expound on the nutritional benefits of weeds and concoct the occasional tonic, but we leave the wild medicinal trade to those herbalists, shamans, witchdoctors, and other alternative health practitioners who supposedly know what they're doing.

However, like the law, there is a time to take one's own personal health and well-being into one's own hands. And so it is with my ornery lower spine, specifically the troublesome connector at L5-S1. That's the vertebra where your lumbar and sacrum meet, an intersection of misery for many a modern human that has come down from the trees only to sit at a desk or drive a car. Mine's been hassling me for about five years now and I'm looking at drastic measures, though before such measures can be implemented I'm going to try one last crazy off-the-wall treatment...

...a drop of fly agaric for what ails me. Also known by it's scientific name, Amanita muscaria, this totemic toadstool from temperate woodlands around the globe was called "fly agaric" by the Romans for its use to ward off winged pests. It hails from the dreaded Amanita genus, home to the most deadly mushrooms in the world, such as the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera et al).

The fly agaric isn't deadly poisonous except in the largest doses, but it packs a wallop just the same, a hallucinogenic brain warp that is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to send Alice down the rabbit hole. Accounts vary. Some have reported transcendent spiritual experiences, others talk of nightmarish fits and vomiting. A forager friend of mine believes the North American variety doesn't contain enough pyschoactive ingredients to do much at all.

I write about this beautiful mushroom's sketchy history in my book. Quickly: Its psychoactive compounds have been known for millennia and nomadic Siberian tradesman reputedly ate the mushroom for the buzz when their beloved vodka was in short supply. Their reindeer ate it too, and both parties apparently ate the yellow snow around them that contained traces of the excreted drug. More than a few ethnobotanists have suggested that certain forms of Christmas iconography might derive from this behavior: jolly man dressed in red, flying reindeer, and so on.

As for me, my interest was piqued after reading this page on Henriette's Herbal pages. According to Henriette: just rub "2-3 drops of tincture on the spine, when sciatica hits. Relief is pretty much instant." She posits that the tincture "relaxes the muscles around the spine, where the hurt comes from, and when those muscles are finally allowed to relax they stop clamping bone all over the pinched nerve, which means the nerve can finally relax."

I've made my tincture according to the instructions, first chopping up a bunch of nice Amanita muscaria buttons, then packing them into a half-pint canning jar and covering with vodka.

So, dear readers, should I go ahead and try a topical application the next time I feel stabbing pain down my left leg? What do you think?


Ellen Zachos said...

I'm a fan of the magic mushrooms, but if sciatica is your problem, you might try rolfing. It's the only thing that worked for me. Of course, I didn't try an Amanita muscaria tincture.

Langdon Cook said...

Ellen - Please, do tell of your A. muscaria experiences...

gabrielamadeus said...

Sure! Plenty of people consume it for fun, so I can't see how absorbing it in your skin could be harmful. Let us know how it works out!

Also, I read recently that boiling them removes the toxins, and pickled (after boiling) amanita muscaria buttons are a treat on northern japan.

Ra said...

Well I'm just plain interested, and if you're willing to be the guinea pig - great!

Went squidding tonight btw - 3 squid :\ But hey, my first time, some other guys were getting more.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Please do try. If it works, I'm going to ask for a sample for my back ailments.

Farmer de Ville said...

It's actually been a bountiful year for Fly Agaric down here in the valley. Fascinating and beautiful mushrooms. It's also intriguing that in certain areas of Japan they're consumed (after preparing in a detoxifying manner) as a foodstuff.

Happy Holidays -


Tom said...

Hey! Here's the article I mentioned, on the "lost" knowledge about how to eat A. Muscaria. I'd say go for it, the few drops she recommends is not going to hurt you.

Michelle said...

I doubt it would hurt you, but my understanding is that muscarinic receptors are in glands, the brain, cardiac muscle and smooth muscle, so it wouldn't have an effect on skeletal muscle.

speakfreely said...

I vote for giving it a try. And if topical application doesn't do the job, you could probably forget all about the pain for a while by drinking a shot. But that's just hearsay; I've never eaten Amanita muscaria.

Langdon Cook said...

gabrielamadeus - I've heard about various processes to make A. muscaria edible as well: multiple changes of water, peeling, etc. Anyone out there tried these?

Ra - You won't find me out there on the pier next few nights. Gonna be cold!

Ciao Chow Linda - You too? Sorry to hear that.

Farmer - I've heard the French & Italians do as well...

Tom - Here's the broken link:
I just skimmed it, but don't think it talks about lost knowledge regarding A. muscaria.

Michelle - Interesting point. Thanks for sharing.

speakfreely - Yeah, Plan B, as they say.

Anonymous said...

try it! if it doesn't work--use my time honored method for curing back pain:

get yourself stuffed into one of those old timey metal garbage cans and roll down E. John street.

r. hurd said...

I love mushrooms.

Joannie Stangeland said...

Interesting that the tincture is in vodka--because when my back is hurting (often) I'm tempted to apply alcohol directly, as though that might work.

I hope this works for you!

PJ said...

Fly agaric, while not fatal, is poisonous and advising people to eat it is a poor choice. Perhaps you should be starting them out on mild dung psilocybe such as P. coprophila. They are widespread throughout the continental states and mild in toxicity. Remember to give the warning tirade about LBMs.

Langdon Cook said...

PJ - Are you talking to me, other commenters, or just rhetorically? Because I don't think anyone is advising people to eat A. muscaria. I'm interested in its medicinal benefits and peripherally in its uses as food, which means sorting a lot of fact from fiction.

Anonymous - If you here a racket it may be me rolling down E. John.

r. hurd - Me too!

Joannie - Will let ya know. Haven't used the tincture yet.

PJ said...

All the above? I recently had to talk two foolhardy friends out of eating some fly a. I was just worried that people would go right out and try to eat some. No insult or harm meant, just being the mushroom mommy.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Love the skull and crossbones on the label.

You have nothing to lose by trying the tincture. My guess is it won't do much, but I am a grump about most herbal remedies -- I've tried scores of them and only a few are better than store-bought drugs.

A thought: Maybe steep them in rubbing alcohol? At least that will make your back feel good.

Whatever happens, definitely let us know what happens. I am intrigued.

Deana Sidney said...

Delightful post... it is the Alice in wonderland mushroom. I feel like I learned a good deal and look forward to visiting often!

Tamar said...

Since I'm a food writer who wrote a book (on the side, for money) about low-back pain, I'm delighted to read a post that finds an intersection between the two. I never thought there'd be one!

The simple rule of back-pain remedies is to try absolutely anything that won't hurt you. This falls into that category, so I'd definitely have at it!

The Veggie Queen said...

Last month I heard David Arora speak about how you can eat Amanita Muscaria if it's boiled for 15 minutes, water discarded and then you cook the flesh at high temperature to eat.

If you can't trust the guy who wrote the book Mushrooms Demystified, then who can you trust? I haven't found any yet to try this out but I don't see why applying your concoction should be any problem at all. Good luck.

Gaile said...

interesting solution - I can't wait to hear what you report back if you try it. For my sciatica and other lumbar spine issues, I found an Applied Kinesiologist, and he combined his technique with hip strengtheners in yoga, (rather than flexibility improvements in yoga), and that was the only thing that worked for me after years of pain. Best of luck to you. Back problems are not not not fun.

marielskit said...

I just found your post via the "Menu for Hope" where I was tempted by your offering. Luv the mushrooms but not sure they will help your problem. You might look into 'Alexander Technique' before you do something drastic, there's a great teacher here in Seattle... changed my life. best wishes,

Amanitarita said...

Even well known mycologists and authors can show bias.

Amanita muscaria is a toxic mushroom, although only very rarely deadly. Poisonings with Amanita muscaria, serious enough for hospitalization, are the number two cause of reported mushroom poisonings nationwide(number one is Chlorophyllum molybdites, the green spored parasol).

But, unlike with the truly deadly Amanita phalloides or "Death Cap" and Amanita bisporigera, the "Destroying Angel," muscaria has toxins that are water soluble.

So, if you slice them at just the right thickness and boil them in just enough water, and then boil them again and then what the hey add some vinegar too, just to cover your ass, well, then you can eat them and they won't poison you!

On the other hand...why bother?

Muscaria unboiled is a truly delicous mushroom, with scads of umami...until the whole mess comes back up on ya. I also hear that phalloides and ocreata taste great, too...

And yes, a very small segment of a very small place in the Nagano region of Japan does indeed eat muscaria...bugs, too, since they are cut off from the sea and are protein deprived.

And in combing historical documents, Wm. Rubel discovered that former slaves in the Washington DC area marketed and ate muscaria...around the same time of our most famous American muscaria death, that of a visiting and Amanita-loving (A. caesarea) Italian Count.

Although the long-ago marketing of muscaria was cited as reason to treat it as an edible by the authors of the Economic Botany paper, I can't help but think that muscaria unboiled was primarily used during times of slavery as a way to make life more palatable for the slaves themselves. Muscaria is a known mood elevator and giver of strength...two important attributes that an enslaved person might well want to obtain, through any means necessary. Its use as an edible at the time was no doubt highly restricted, and popular sentiment had all muscaria removed from local markets within a few years of the Count's poisoning.

BTW, the toxins in muscaria are absorbed throught the skin, but a small application would probably not cause any serious side affects.
I'd be curious to hear your results if you do attempt using it as a pain reliever.

For sciatica pain in general I'd try accupuncture and chiropractic over muscaria poultices, if it were me.

Debbie Viess
Bay Area Mycological Society

Anonymous said...

I would assume that along with most lower back problems, yours has been caused by years of strain through poor core stability. This means that your body does not have strength in the correct muscles designed to engage with particular movements. As a result other stronger muscles engage to take up the slack but although stronger, are not efficient to move in that particular way. I have tried many methods to cure my lower back issues and as someone mentioned earlier, all that worked is core strengthening exercises. Pilates yoga gym etc . To rub a solution topically in any event will only be temporary relief. Another cause (somewhat related) is poor posture. Arching your back when doing almost all you do is common place in today's society however is not a natural movement. All this can be prevented through core strengthening. That said,you are stuck with lower back problems for the rest of your life so you need to stay on top of your exercises for ever. Try it, it works, leave the shrooms for tripping, that works too.

Anonymous said...

These people obviously have no experience with or knowledge of Amanita muscaria. I have used it many times for pain, to help sleep, and recreationly to induce abstract lucid dreams. There are indeed many varieties of deadly amanitas, but the dosage for amanitas would be more then one person can eat. Many mushrooms are toxic, a harmless little orange brown mushroom can be a deadly galerina autumnalis. Don't spout superstition as fact if you have not done your research. Ibotenic acid is what causes the nausea and is converted to muscimole by dehydration and low heating. People should be relaying FACTs here, not spreading rumors that have no basis. By researching, they would have known the Amanita deaths reported have been for other species in the amanita genus, not the muscaria.

Anonymous said...

Your choice to ingest muscaria for whatever reason (boiled as food, as a soporific, pain-reliever, what have you) is certainly your own business.

But you are completely wrong about the potential dangers of muscaria ingestion, esp. in an unboiled state.

Yes, drying or heating muscaria converts (but does not remove)most of the sickening toxins (ibotenic acid) to the more benign and psychoactive muscimol.

But eating enough muscaria to fall into a swoon, or as the medical profession calls it, a coma, can and has resulted in death...four times, documented in the last handful of years, all kids trying to get high. One froze to death, unable to help himself. Another aspirated his own vomit and suffocated, another was Tased while in the violent, excitable phase, and forgive me, I forget the details of the last one, which I just heard about this past week while hunting for mushrooms in the PNW with Dr. Denis Benjamin, author of "Mushrooms, Poisons and Panaceas."

NONE of these deaths would have occured if the unfortunate victims hadn't eaten muscaria. And these are just the deaths where someone thought to look for an extenuating factor. Who knows how many others may have occured? It's not like the average coroner would think to test for muscimol in the cadaver tissues when the cause of death is obviously from something else...

And let's not forget the famous muscaria poisoning of Count De Vecchi, who died in the throes of a greed-fueled, muscaria overdose over a hundred years ago...his convulsions were strong enough to break the Washington, D.C. hotel bed in which he spent his final hours.

Debbie Viess
Bay Area Mycological Society

Anonymous said...

Witness accounts record Count De Vecchi ate 24 Amanita muscaria mushrooms, and when a person indulges to the same extreme with another substance like alcohol for example, they can die just as easily.This link had a good view on "use" of amanita muscaria,, Note:"Use" no abuse. This is how I use it myself and would recommend others as well, considering the number of times I've been "poisoned" by consuming these so called "toxic or deadly" mushrooms, I seem to be rather healthy,

Debbie Viess said...

Well "Anonymous," as I stated before, what you do with your own body is your own business.

Yup, the late Count got greedy, but greed wouldn't have KILLED him if the mushrooms weren't already toxic. I can eat 24 Amanita velosa caps (an edible amanita that contains no toxins, whether fresh, fried or boiled) no problem, except for maybe a few digestibility issues...but that's more of a trehalose issue (a unique, highly stable mushroom sugar that some lack the enzymes to digest) than a toxic one. Over-eating any mushroom is a bad idea, but better a bellyache than a last goodbye...

Wholesale recommendation of a toxic mushroom for the table is both foolish and irresponsible, IMO.

Best keep it within that very small cult of muscaria munchers...whatever the reason for their munching.

BTW, I have tried muscaria both boiled and unboiled, but have no compulsion to do so again. There are plenty of GREAT, non-toxic edible amanitas out there to munch on if I am so inclined...
altho amanita eating is not for beginners, since the potential for ID errors can be deadly.

The Shroomery is an interesting site with lots of firsthand fungal experiences, but it is also skewed towards mushrooms as drugs, ie muscaria is getting ingested precisely because the toxins are (hopefully) producing desired changes in brain chemistry. And certainly the toxins in muscaria can produce some interesting and sometimes quite unpleasant effects in the body, even at sub-lethal doses.

Debbie Viess
Bay Area Mycological Society

Anonymous said...

"altho amanita eating is not for beginners, since the potential for ID errors can be deadly."
The errors of identification are what is deadly. Toxins are not always deadly, for example caffeine, nicotine (we short term). This is taken from the top of the article"The fly agaric isn't deadly poisonous except in the largest doses,"
then here "But you are completely wrong about the potential dangers of muscaria ingestion, esp. in an unboiled state. "
and in the next post (with the Debbie Viess
Bay Area Mycological Society signature"BTW, I have tried muscaria both boiled and unboiled, but have no compulsion to do so again. "
Why would any right minded individual intentionally eat (especially unboiled) something they know is going to kill them.
So my Question is;
Is the Amanita muscaria deadly at a moderate dose (moderate being a general consensus of 10-20 dry grams properly prepared)?
Please note:Deadly, not to be confused with containing toxins, a can of Coke contains toxins, but is not deadly in moderation.)
And pertaining to the article,
Should or should this mushroom be employed to alleviate a persons pain?
And finally, responsable or no, would the FDA allow a vendor to sell any product that is deadly for the purposes of consumption?

debbie viess said...

Well "Anonymous", I suggest that you read a bit more carefully.

A toxic mushroom like muscaria (that frequently poisons experimenters in the PNW and in the Rocky Mountain region, at least according to Poison Control folks that actually keep records on this sort of thing), but usually doesn't kill them (with several recent and unfortunate exceptions) is not in the same league as a deadly mushroom like Amanita phalloides, that has caused more deaths than any other wild mushroom worldwide.

Having a slice of unboiled muscaria (delicious!) did not put my life in danger, and I was curious about its taste; there were no effects, positive or negative, at that dose; my par-boiled slice was served to me over a decade ago by Arora and his staff, and I, like most of the rest present at that foray, succumbed to peer pressure and a bit of curiousity...again, nothing happened other than I ingested a rather tasteless bit of slimy mushroom flesh. I mentioned it merely because you or perhaps another "Anonymous" claimed that folks writing here had zero experience with muscaria...another not true assumption.

I fear there's a bit of troll-feeding going on with this, buh bye, and happy trails! ;)


Anonymous said...

Lovely as that is, you managed to avoid my every question. Could this be just an over site, or would it have bearing on the topic?
They really are quite simple.
A)Is amanita muscaria deadly at a moderate dose?
Should it be employed to alleviate pain?
And finally, responsible or no, would the FDA allow a vendor to sell any product that is deadly for the purposes of consumption?
If you know better then the FDA, then by all means take them on.
If you have more knowledge then the last several hundred years (and then some) of people who have used it with success, then you are just arrogant,
though, with your troll statement, you've already proven your arrogance.
I simply stated my "experience and opinion" for the OP
no need for you to be a cunt about it.

Simpler Thomas said...

I discovered this mushroom a couple of years ago, and have been using it ever since. The hype about its danger is just that: hype. In small daily doses I find that it acts like a gentle general antibiotic (but with all antibiotics, don't forget to alternate with probiotics! Its easy to make this life saving medicine, just dry the shroom well (I smoke them first to kill any bugs) and use sparingly, when needed. I made a cream using coconut oil only and Amanita Muscaria, and it seems to do wonders for itching from poison oak (dried it right up once applied topically) My cousin tried it on his insect bites and it seemed to sooth them. Of course, its infamy comes from its historic use as a 'knock out' drug. Ancient shamans and medics used it to bring deep and restful sleep to their patients that needed it to recover. In moderate amounts it can present considerable novelties in perception, particularly in the realms of sound and movement. It is not dangerous. I even asked Paul Stamets, a mushroom authority if there ever was one, if it did harm to the liver (as is often repeated, but never with any real knowledge!) and he assured me that it did not. This mushroom is exceedingly safe for foragers, particularly because it is almost impossible to confuse with a poisonous variety. It's almost as if nature was advertising so that even the practically blind could find medicine for themselves. Anyway, I think the most important thing is to be responsible foragers! Pull foreign invasives out while you hunt for your goodies! Don't take them all! Spread them around! Leave some for the animals!

My Meditations said...

Oh please do keep us posted I am also working with the amanita muscaria

Unknown said...

I am currently conducting a study on the therapeutic use of the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom and am searching for potential participants who have prior experience using this mushroom for therapeutic purposes (either externally or internally). I am conducting short online surveys to gather information about the growing interest in the use of this mushroom as a “medicinal” mushroom with the aim of better understanding this trend and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support any of its reported therapeutic applications.

If you are interested in participating in this study, you can access the survey here:

Thank you,

Kevin Feeney