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The Fly Agaric

Amanita muscaria

The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, is a hallucinogen and must be considered poisonous. These attractive fungi often appear in groups and are a common sight in all kinds of woodlands.

Fly Agaric
The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria


Usually recurring in the same place for several years, Amanita muscaria is found frequently throughout the northern hemisphere, including Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, Asia, the USA, and Canada.

The common name Fly Agaric is a reference to the tradition of using this mushroom as an insecticide. In some European countries caps of Amanita muscaria are crumbled up and placed in saucers of milk to attract house flies. The flies drink the milk, which contains ibotenic acid that not only attracts flies but also poisons them. (Ibotenic acid is soluble in water and hence in milk also, and so the ibotenic acid is dissolved from within the mushroom.) As the flies drink the milk they become drowsy, collapse and die (or perhap they simply drown in their spiked milk drink!). The specific epithet muscaria comes from the Latin word musca, meaning ‘a fly’.

Psychoactive alkaloid content of Amanita muscaria

The Fly Agaric can contain the psychoactive chemical compounds muscimol and the c losely related ibotenic acid as well as muscazone and muscarine (but they may not always be in significant concentrations). These are not the same as the psychoactive chemicals associated with the Liberty Cap, Psilocybe semilanceata, which is the most common (in Britain) of the so-called Magic Mushrooms; that little grassland mushroom gets (gives!) its kicks from quite different psychoactive compounds: psilocybin and baeocystin. Nevertheless, some people do still insist on referring to the Fly Agaric as a magic mushroom.

The psychoactive compounds contained in Fly Agarics are also toxins, and that means that this is a poisonous mushroom, at least to some degree. Eating dried Fly Agarics can cause a range of symptoms ranging from drowsiness, nausea and sweating to distorted sight and sounds, euphoria and dizziness. These effects are very variable not only from person to person but also with the quantity consumed and the (equally variable) strength of the toxins in individual specimens of the Fly Agaric.