An introduction to Amanita muscaria: Its history, uses and legal status

In the dense woodlands and damp forests of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria grows at the feet of towering birch, pine, and spruce trees. While the mushroom’s distinctive colors may hint of danger, Amanita muscaria in fact holds within it an array of beneficial compounds. 

This iconic scarlet mushroom boasts a long history, hallowed for its diverse spiritual, medicinal and household uses across many cultures. In the last few years, intrepid researchers have also begun exploring the therapeutic potential of this little-understood fungus. Emerging research is pointing to some fascinating applications that could yield diverse benefits for individuals afflicted with insomnia, pain, anxiety, and other health disorders.

What is Amanita muscaria?

Amanita muscaria is a mushroom found in temperate northern climates. With its distinctive bright red or orange cap and snow-white spots, this iconic funguss is famed for its ability to attract and poison flies (thus garnering it the common name fly agaric). However, Amanita muscaria is also capable of initiating perceptual and cognitive changes in those who consume it. 

As a member of Amanita genus which contains more than 600 different species of fungi, Amanita muscaria contains a range of psychoactive compounds, including muscimol, muscarine and ibotenic acid. While ibotenic acid is a toxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and detrimental effects on the central nervous system, muscimol interacts with the certain neurotransmitters in the brain to elicit calming, relaxing and sedating effects. Muscimol is also capable of temporarily increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in processes as varied as mood, sexual function, appetite, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. Finally, muscarine exists in trace amounts and is the weakest psychoactive element in this fungal species. Nonetheless, it can produce notable effects such as salivation and sweating. 

  • A brief history of Amanita muscaria

There’s extensive evidence that the unique hallucinogenic, psychoactive properties of Amanita muscaria were first harnessed thousands of years ago in regions across Europe, Russia, and Siberia. Use of the mushroom has perhaps been most comprehensively documented in Siberia, however,  where it was used by shamans in rituals and ceremonies . There’s also speculation that Amanita muscaria was the principal substance used in a sacred, hallucinogenic drink called Soma in ancient India. From Eurasia, this remarkable mushroom species wove its way into Alaska and onwards into Mesoamerica.

In more recent years, Amanita muscaria appeared in the classic children’s story Alice in Wonderland as the magical mushroom that helps Alice to shrink and enter a fantastical world. Due to the time of year in which fly agaric commonly appears (around winter solstice in the northern hemisphere), Amanita muscaria also featured in many old world Christmas traditions and rituals with people stringing dried fly agaric near the hearth, or decorating their Christmas tree with striking red mushroom ornaments. 

However, in more recent years in the West, Amanita muscaria largely fell into disrepute due to fears surrounding its toxicity. Its use in rituals and ceremonies was often replaced by magic mushrooms containing psilocybin, which could be consumed more easily, were well tolerated, and elicited more intense psychedelic experiences. In contrast, Amanita muscaria tends to deliver a milder, more gentle journey. 

These mushrooms are often referred to as a deliriant rather than psychedelic as they don’t interact with the receptors that trigger a psychedelic state in the body. Instead, they provoke a psychoactive sedative state that is often characterized by lucid, dreamlike imagery. Due to its lack of psychedelic properties, Amanita muscaria is considered legal in the United States, unlike other psychedelic mushrooms which are considered Schedule I controlled substances. We’ll explore the legality of Amanita muscaria in greater depth later in this article.

  • Traditional uses of Amanita muscaria

In Europe and Russia, the primary use of Amanita muscaria was medicinal. The mushroom would typically be soaked in alcohol and blended into tinctures and applied topically. As recently as the 1980s, Russians and Ukrainians in the Sukhodol River Valley relied on home preparations of fly agaric to treat joint ailments. In the 1990s, the Karelian people of Northwest Russia were documented crafting oral remedies from Amanita caps for headaches and stomachaches. 

Nowadays, this potent mushroom still finds its way into creams and ointments for issues as diverse as skin disorders, bruising and injuries. Homeopathic medicine has at different times used Amanita muscaria for issues relating to pain and insomnia, applications that modern scientists and experts are now exploring in greater depth.

Beyond medicine and healing, traditional cultures have also relied upon Amanita muscaria for its perception-altering, mood-changing qualities. The Khanty people of Siberia have long upheld traditions of singing heroic epic songs, consuming Amanita muscaria extract before their performance to help elicit courage, reduce inhibition, and lower anxiety. The release of inhibition also appears to be an important factor in shamanic use of this mushroom. Khanty shamans traditionally consumed Amanita muscaria to help facilitate otherworldly journeys, but also to overcome fears or anxiety about meeting spiritual entities.

Can Amanita muscaria help with any health issues?

As outlined above, cultures across time and space have turned to Amanita muscaria to heal and ease conditions afflicting the mind and body.  

Modern-day pharmacological studies and anecdotal reports from users suggest that the mushroom has analgesic (pain-relieving), anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic (anxiety-soothing), neuroprotective, and stimulant properties. A new generation of researchers now recognize that the mushroom holds an array of potentially therapeutic benefits, with one team of mycologists recently reflecting:

“A. muscaria offers а great versatility of beneficial effects in cell protection and especially in neuroprotection, cardio protection, hepatoprotection, inflammation process, oxidative stress, and may even contribute to development of new drugs.”

One of the most promising recent studies of Amanita muscaria is a 2023 systematic review of the effects of muscimol, the mushroom’s principal psychoactive compound, on neuropathic pain. 

Neuropathic pain arises as a result of nerve damage or a malfunctioning nervous system and is extremely common. Between 3 percent and 17 percent of the general population will experience neuropathic pain at any given time. According to the review which analyzed the findings of 22 different studies, muscimol present in Amanita muscaria can effectively ease different forms of neuropathic pain and discomfort. Most fascinatingly, muscimol exerts these pain-relieving effects in as few as 15 minutes, and can last for at least three hours. 

Such findings confirm what the Evensk and Koryak peoples of Russia have long known: these peoples used to pound Amanita muscaria into a poultice to manage pain associated with their vigorous physical lifestyles.

Can Amanita muscaria be harmful?

Like many natural compounds, Amanita muscaria contains elements that are both toxic and therapeutic. Many individuals who experiment with the mushroom dried or raw report a mixed bag of effects, highlighting unpleasant physical sensations that are coupled with relaxing, perception-altering effects.

The key to harnessing the potential benefits hidden within this iconic mushroom is to remove the harmful elements that can cause adverse side effects such as nausea, vomiting and lethargy. 

With an acute awareness of the potent therapeutic potential of Amanita muscaria, the Psyched Wellness research team set out to create a unique natural extract that contained the sedating, calming, pain-relieving properties of the mushroom, but without the presence of any harmful toxins. They  succeeded, with AME-1 Amanita muscaria extract proven to be safe for adult use in beverage powders, ready-to-drink beverages and as a food supplement, with no adverse toxicological outcomes when consumed according to the recommended serving size.

The legality of Amanita muscaria

In the United States, Amanita muscaria mushrooms are not categorized under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Unlike psilocybin mushrooms which have psychedelic effects and are designated as Schedule I drugs, Amanita muscaria has not been scheduled

At a federal level, Amanita muscaria can be considered unregulated and therefore legal, and it is possible to manufacture, distribute and sell products created from Amanita muscaria mushrooms. However, there is one state that makes an exception to Amanita muscaria, which is Louisiana. In Louisiana, it is illegal to grow, sell, possess Amanita muscaria according to Louisiana State Act 159,  and the mushroom can only legally be used for decorative purposes.

Throughout the rest of the United States, Amanita muscaria products are still subject to FDA tests and regulations that ensure consumer safety, such as the GRAS certification process (GRAS is an acronym that stands for Generally Recognized as Safe). 

Psyched Wellness has subjected the AME-1 extract used in our Calm Tincture to extensive toxicological testing, with the extract earning GRAS certification. A panel of independent experts found it to be safe for adult consumption, which means it can be legally sold in the United States. 

If you’ve been thinking about experimenting with this sacred mushroom, the safety and legality of other Amanita muscaria products is questionable. CALM is the only Amanita muscaria product in the United States that has attained coveted GRAS certification status.