Fly away on the fly agaric - An Amanita muscaria experience
Three large fly agarics lie on the table. One is clearly missing a bite. Did I just walk into a fairy tale? Alice in Wonderland? Looking around I spot many smaller mushrooms drying on the wood-stove. Some friends are already spacing out on mattresses on the floor.
In our environment Amanita muscaria, the famous toadstool – red with white dots – occurs naturally in the forest. She likes birch and pine trees best. The first mushrooms can be found as early as July, but in autumn you have the most chance running into them.
The fly agaric, often pictured in fairy tales and folk culture, is associated with goblins, fairies and other spirits of the forest.
Fancy a bite?
I take a bite from the fresh Amanita in front of me – just because I can. Its flesh is spongy and the taste freshly sour. I get a bit nauseous. A cup of mushroom tea is better. I lie down in the warm, comfortable room. After a while, I drift off into a dreamy state of being. The trip is not super strong, but certainly different from psychedelics I’ve encountered before: slightly unpredictable and quite heavy on the stomach.
Heat or dry
The main alkaloids in Amanita muscaria are ibotenic acid and muscimol. Both have a psychoactive effect. Ibotenic acid binds to the same receptors as the neurotransmitter glutamate and has a subtle stimulating effect. Ibotenic acid is the main cause of unpleasant effects the fly agaric is known for nausea, vomiting, confusion and amnesia. It may also provoke euphoria and visual and auditive distortions.
In the body ibotenic acid is partially converted into muscimol. The same conversion takes place while drying or heating the mushroom. Muscimol binds to GABA-receptors and is the main psychedelic component in the fly agaric. It also has a narcotic and analgesic effect. By drying or heating the mushrooms the muscimol levels rise, so their potency increases.
A young Amanita is egg-shaped. Only in a later phase, the cap will spread out.
So, actually, it’s not such a good idea to eat the fly agaric fresh! Even more, since that would require a lot of chewing...Making tea is a better option: the main alkaloids dissolve in water. To dry the fungus is even smarter. As the alkaloid concentration may vary from mushroom to mushroom, it’s wise to grind and mix different caps together for stable dosing. The fleeces are the most potent parts. Smoking Amanita muscaria is less efficient. Some psychonauts love it. We tried but didn’t really notice any effect. Slightly euphoric and… cleansing?
In general, the effects come up within 30 to 90 minutes. The peak is around 3 hours and the trip fades out slowly. Depending on the dose a slight disorientation and haziness may last for a full day.
Personally, I feel the effects pretty quick, but I do not space out completely. My mind gets clear and empty: fewer thoughts than usual. I feel a bit hazy, but with a general sense of peace. In the background, I even feel slightly euphoric. Colours are bright and it’s lovely to watch the forest through the windows. A squirrel enters the room through a crack in the ceiling. We observe it silently. It fascinates me and I try to imagine its world.
A joint passes. I take a few tokes. A friend next to me complains she is very nauseous. Unconsciously it hits me – and I get sucked into it completely! Nausea overwhelms and overtakes me. I have difficulty finding my balance and I’m able to find the exit right in time. On the porch, I grasp for a bucket and vomit.
Together with the vomit a lot of sadness comes up. A love affair that turned out to be an illusion. It’s all flushing out of me. I feel miserable and alone. But also strong. In a way, it’s healing to see the situation for what it is. I’m going to clean my own dirt.
The vomiting itself feels – well – cleansing? The funny thing is I never vomit much on ayahuasca, but that is what it reminds me of most. I feel relieved. The fresh air brings me back to earth. I take a stroll through the beautiful pine forest and realise how special it is to take psychedelics from the very soil you’re living on. I feel strongly connected to the place and thank Amanita muscaria for her being and her teachings.
A full-grown Amanita muscaria. Mushrooms that have been eaten by worms or other animals you’d better not pick.
A visit from Amanita muscaria
One year later – it’s autumn again – a friend comes by. A few weeks before he found fly agarics in the forest. He harvested about ten of them and dried them in his oven at 50°C. He tried a little and is enthusiastic about the effect: now he wants to share the mushrooms with me and another fried. Because we have no idea about the potency we start with a low dose: we all take half a teaspoon. Soaked in hot water, the black powder transforms back into little pieces of mushroom. It has a foresty smell and tastes just like mushroom soup.
After half an hour I feel the first effect: I become a bit dreamy, some butterflies in my stomach. And this time I’m not nauseous at all! After an hour we decide to take an extra spoon, slightly bigger. I go for a walk and enter a very peaceful, meditative state of mind. I fully enjoy the sun and the swaying reeds. Again there’s hardly any thoughts, no deep insights either, just silence. Home again I try whether a joint would catalyse the effects. But no: the Amanita seems to inhibit the ordinary effect of the weed. After a couple of hours, we conclude: this was a low dose. I feel like grounding and eat some soup and fruits.
In the evening, two of us try a ‘higher’ dose: a full tablespoon this time. However, the effect isn’t much stronger than before. Again I enter a dreamy, meditative state. We light a fire in the garden, make some music, are super relaxed and go to sleep early. Altogether a pleasant experience that asks for more…
The fly agaric is easy to recognise with her red cap and white dots. Probably you’ve seen her before. Still, it’s important to always remain cautious during wild picking: never ever eat any mushrooms you cannot identify with certainty!
The Amanita muscaria has many brothers and sisters in the Amanita family that look somewhat similar. Take for example Amanita pantherina, which has a comparable effect to the Amanita muscaria. But there’s also Amanita phalloides and Amanita virosa, both known as the most poisonous mushrooms in the world! They partially contain similar alkaloids and amatoxins and phallotoxins that cause severe damage to the liver. Another family member, Amanita caesarea, isn’t psychoactive and edible: this mushroom is known as a delicacy in Italy and Mexico.
The fly agaric is not endangered or protected in The Netherlands. However, in 2008 it’s been put on the Opium List: the possession of 0.5 gram dried mushrooms or 5 gram fresh is nowadays considered a legal offence - in contrast to most other countries in which the Amanita muscaria is unregulated.
Do you want to pick mushrooms yourself? Be careful you don’t damage the mycelium. The mycelium is the underground fungal network that can be seen as the actual organism. The mushrooms themselves are just the ‘fruit bodies’. For the fly agaric, it’s best to slice off the cap with a sharp knife and leave the stem. Pat the cap a few times to make sure some spores fall out. These are the “seeds” of the mushroom that make the mushroom spread. Now the fly agaric can be found again next year! Also, watch out for possible worms in the flesh. You’d better leave fly agarics that have been eaten where they are.
Fly agaric: only for advanced psychonauts
The fly agaric is less accessible than psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Not just because of the heavy bodily effects (which can be diminished by preparing it). But mainly because of her unpredictability. The effects may differ a lot per person, and also per occasion.Furthermore, the alkaloid concentration can be quite variable. It’s dependent on many factors like the season, the weather, the climate and the soil type.
In the famous story, Alice takes several bites of different mushrooms, after which she undergoes a metamorphosis. The story isn’t clear about the specific type of mushroom she consumes. However, it’s known that writer Lewis Carroll had a warm interest in altered states of consciousness.
Fly agaric: what’s in a name?
Why is the fly agaric actually called fly agaric? The most common explanation: because she attracts flies. Grandma’s solution to a flee invasion: let some pieces of Amanita muscaria soak in milk. When the flies come to drink, they will drop dead immediately.
Obviously, ‘flying’ can also refer to the psychedelic experience. Not such a strange idea, considering the hallucinogenic effects of this toadstool. Did you know the fly agaric is mentioned in some Medieval recipes for flying ointment? These witches’ salves also contained plants from the Nightshade family and opium. By smearing it on sensitive skin like the temples or genitals, it gave the user the impression of flying.
Check out our other encyclopedia item on the Amanita muscaria.
- Christian Rätsch - Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. 2005 (1998). Inner Traditions International.
- Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, and Christian Rätsch - Plants of the Gods. Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. 2001 (1992). Healing Arts Press.
- Gerben Hellinga en Hans Plomp - Uit je bol, Gids voor bewust gebruik van drugs. 2013 (1994). Centraal boekhuis.
- Drugsforum on Amanita muscaria
- Mike Jay - ‘Mushrooms in Wonderland’. On the cultural reception of psychoactive mushrooms
- Erowid on Amanita muscaria
- Wikipedia on Amanita muscaria
- Lycaeum information file on Amanita muscaria.