Earlier this week, Corey, a 33-year-old in New Zealand, was hiking through the woods when he happened upon a familiar toadstool. It was bright red with little white specs, the very funghi he once forced his favorite pixelated Italian plumber to ingest so that he would grow much, much larger.
Officially called Amanita muscaria (and sometimes “fly agaric”), it was also the kind of shroom the Smurfs lived in, Alice hallucinated from in Alice in Wonderland and a proto-Santa used for a whole different kind of trip around the world. To say nothing of its role in myriad religious ceremonies dating back to 1500 B.C.
In other words, how could Corey not give it a try, joining all the shamans and Smurfs who came before him in experiencing Amanita muscaria’s transcendent powers?
“I will be honest, mate, I shit myself — literally shit myself,” he tells me.
As an avid mushroom hunter, Corey was so excited to have found such a rare mushroom for his region that he ingested more than the recommended dose. As such, he says, “I ended up with slight stomach cramps, followed by some defecation. But then I had an amazing sleep. THE THINGS I SAW while sleeping were amazing.”
That’s the thing about Amanita muscaria: Mycologists seem to constantly argue over whether its benefits outweigh the trouble it brings. And that trouble is far more serious than a bout of diarrhea. “These red boiz can be pretty painful,” Corey explains. “They can cause intense euphoria and drowsiness, but they can also cause vomiting, stomach cramps, uncontrolled muscle twitching, nausea, confusion, paranoia and amnesia.”
After all, Amanita muscaria is a poisonous mushroom. Worse yet, it closely resembles its deadlier relatives, the aptly named death cap and destroying angel. “It’s undoubtedly dangerous in large or even moderate amounts,” mycologist David Arora writes in his book Mushrooms Demystified. “The effects vary from person to person, mushroom to mushroom, and from region to region and season to season, so that there is no way to determine in advance what one’s reaction will be.”
That reaction allegedly includes death, but the North American Mycological Association argues that the mushroom has been wrongfully accused, writing on its website that there are “no reliably documented cases of death from toxins in these mushrooms in the past 100 years.” Moreover, Arora says the mushroom’s reputation has swung so far into the danger zone that its benefits have started to become obscured, especially if you properly detoxify it and don’t overdo the dosage.
To that end, YouTuber “A.D.,” short for the name of her channel, Amanita Dreamer, is among Amanita muscaria’s most ardent defenders. After a lifetime of crippling anxiety and daily panic attacks, she found herself in a decade-long struggle to wean off of benzodiazepines. “The pain from my nervous system, not to mention the major panic attacks that ensued every time I’d start to taper down, made life not worth living,” she tells me. “So I decided to end my life. I got my affairs in order, made my will, said my goodbyes and waited for the right moment.”
During that wait, though, she happened upon a “giant, red, almost glowing mushroom.” It piqued her interest, but after an initial round of research about its more poisonous qualities, she shrugged it off. Still, she says, “The mushroom kept appearing in my dreams. As I walked around in different areas of my neighborhood, I kept seeing it. I thought I was going nuts, I was really thinking, ‘Boy, my cheese has slid off the cracker here!’”
To ensure that the cheese stayed atop the cracker, she did a bit more research and discovered how to detoxify the mushroom. In short, the poison in Amanita muscaria is mostly due to a chemical called ibotenic acid. People who regularly eat the mushrooms might argue over the means and how much ibotenic acid needs to be extracted, but most stick to simply boiling them in water for 20 minutes to get enough of the acid out to avoid nausea and gastrointestinal distress.
Better yet, because Amanita muscaria is legal in every state save for Louisiana, most vendors will do the extraction for you — though A.D. says it’s worthwhile to boil or dehydrate them again for good measure.
The first time she tried the mushroom, A.D. tells me she “tripped balls,” but by the next morning, she says, “For the first time in my entire life, I woke up with no anxiety, no nerve pain. Suddenly I didn’t want to leave the planet. I haven’t taken a single benzo since.”
Today, she microdoses about one-eighth of a teaspoon every two weeks and spends the rest of her time advocating on Amanita muscaria’s behalf (hence her YouTube channel). “First of all, we need to stop comparing it to psilocybin, because it’s a completely different species,” she explains. “Talking about Amanita like it’s a psilocybin is like comparing humans to fish, they’re just not the same.”
Along these lines, Bran, a 32-year-old biologist in Alaska, believes 2020 is primed to be Amanita muscaria’s breakout party. “Amanita isn’t as viciously introspective as serotonin-predominant psychedelics and is effective at producing inner quiet with heightened awareness of subconscious emotional rhythms, a kind of ‘psychedelic ketamine,’ if you will,” he tells me, adding that he currently has “hundreds of Amanita muscaria caps,” waiting to be ground up, homogenized and microdosed.
“Ketamine has gained popularity in recent years because people want an escape from their inner angst,” Bran continues, “so I think there’s an opening for Amanita in drug use culture, too.”
Corey is definitely on board. “As much of a literal pain in the ass it was both in stomach cramps and shitting my pants, I’d do it again,” he explains. “It was a spiritual journey. I was asleep, but my mind was awake in another reality. I’d like to try again and consume them properly with a more experienced person.”
Unfortunately for him, though, Amanita muscaria is illegal in New Zealand. So much like Mario fervently maneuvering through the mushroom kingdom, Corey says he’ll “have to wait until I find one of these bad boys in the wild again.”