Amanita Muscaria
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Greg
Posted on: March 17, 2001

I am a psychology student at York University. I am interested in herbs and horticulture, and when I discovered you guys I was extremely excited. Frankly, I was especially enthused by the fact that you guys carried some of the herbs used as hallucinogens by native peoples, that our laws have not yet forbid (e.g. Salvia divinorum, San Pedro cactus), and that are difficult to come by in this country. The realm of mind-alterants has fascinated me for some time, prompting me to write various papers in university, as well as spending much of my free time investigating this subject matter.

I have been to Richters once, and cannot wait to visit again. I have been reading your catalogue (which is fabulous), and I can’t wait to come up there again to wander around with a cup of green tea, while examining and studying your vast collection of herbs.

Anyway, I do have a question: is it possible for you to obtain the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) variety of mushroom? While I have read of its ritual use as a hallucinogen in all parts of the world (i.e. North America, Europe, India, etc.), I have also read that it can be used as a daily tonic (in small doses), providing both an energetic lift and warmth. I am skeptical, however, about using it daily--everything in moderation, right?

Fly agaric, or Amanita muscaria, is mushroom found growing in most of northern Hemisphere. I have seen it growing in Ontario, with its distinctive orange-red toadstools spotted yellow or off-white.

It is true that Amanita muscaria has a long history of ritual use, particularly among shamanic tribes. In Siberia, shamans would ingest the mushrooms to assist in divination and healing, and the villages would drink the shaman’s urine for a similar effect because Amanita’s psychoactive compounds are apparently passed in the urine unaltered.

Gordon Wasson, the great ethnomycologist, wrote a book in which he argues that the Hindu plant god Soma is Amanita muscaria. Soma is perhaps the only plant ever to be venerated as a god, so there has been more than a passing academic interest in identifying the plant. In the Vedic religious literature of Hinduism there are graphic references to a plant that could easily fit the description of a Basidiomycetes mushroom like Amanita.

Because Amanita mushrooms are poisonous they are never seen in commerce. Amanita phalloides, which is also found in Ontario, is extremely poisonous, having caused painful vomiting and deaths.

You could collect your own Amanita muscaria from the wild but there are extreme risks. We do not advise you to collect or experiment with fly agaric on your own without expert assistance. For identification help, the Toronto Mycological Society may be a resource, but for help on how to use it safely, I doubt that you will find anyone who really knows because the ritual practices died long ago.

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