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The Mushroom Identifier

by David Pegler and Brian Spooner

NOTICE: TO ALL CONCERNED Certain text files and messages contained on this site deal with activities and devices which would be in violation of various Federal, State, and local laws if actually carried out or constructed. The webmasters of this site do not advocate the breaking of any law. Our text files and message bases are for informational purposes only. We recommend that you contact your local law enforcement officials before undertaking any project based upon any information obtained from this or any other web site. We do not guarantee that any of the information contained on this system is correct, workable, or factual. We are not responsible for, nor do we assume any liability for, damages resulting from the use of any information on this site.

Warning: Picking mushrooms and eating them can be extremely dangerous. Unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing, DO NOT PICK AND EAT MUSHROOMS. Liver failure, coma and death can result from eating posionous mushrooms.

Poisonous Fungi

Some species affect the central nervous system causing hallucinations and sometimes leading to coma. In the case of muscimol poisoning, also caused by the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) and by others such as The Panther (A. pantherina), the symptoms consist mainly of drowsiness but can be more serious. Some of the Psiocybe species, on the other hand, cause visual hallucinations within 20 minutes of ingestion. Such mushrooms are sometimes deliberately ingested for recreational purposesalthough the legality of such actions varies between countries.

Psilocybe Semilanceata (Stropharia (Strophariaceae)) - Liberty Cap. A well-known species, owing to its reputation as a "magic mushroom" Cap: 3/8-5/8 in(1-1.5cm) in diameter, narrowly conical with a central, pointed projection, not expandinhg, pale yellowish brown, drying to almost white, smooth, sticky, with a darker striated margin. Gills: adnate, grey-brown to blackish brown, broad and crowded. Stem: 2-3 X 1/8 in (5-8X0.2-03 cm), slender, cylindrical, paler than the cap and often bruising bluish green towards the base. Flesh: thin, firm.

Spore deposit: purplish black.

Habitat: very common, solitary or in very large numbers, in open grassland.

Edibility: toxic, causing psychotropic poisoning, and consequently has been used as a hallucinogen.

Season: Autumn

Similar species: There are numerous species of Psilocybe, and many are small and similar in appearance. The Bluing Psilocybe (P. cyanescens) lacks a point on the cap, while P. fimetaria grows on dung; both poisonous.

Amanita Muscaria (Amanita (Amanitaceae)) - Fly Agaric.

Perhaps the best-known wild mushroom, having a large, scarlet cap with small white scales, and a membranous ring on the stem.

Cap: 2-9 in (5-25 cm) in diameter, strongly rounded the expanding to flat and platelike, moist and shiny, with concentric rings of small white scales which may become washed away by the rain.

Gills: free, white to pale yellow, broad and rounded.

Stem: 4-9 X 3/8-1 in (10-25 X 1-2.5 cm), tall, cylindrical with as swollen base.

Flesh: thick, white, yellowish under cap cuticle.

Spore deposit: white.

Habitat: in small groups, under pine or birch.

Edibility: poisonous, containing both sweat-inducing and mild hallucinogenic poisons, which can cause delerium and coma.

Season: Autumn

Similar species: The variety regalis is yellowish brown with yellow scales, and in North America, the variety formosa is orange-yellow; both poisonous.

The Encyclopedia of Mushrooms - Colin Dickinson & John Lucas

Mushroom Poisoning - The nerve poisons.

Apart from the cell poisons, the most dangerous species are those which contain substances that affect the nervous system. Strictly speaking the hallucinogenic species also affect the nervous system, but the disturbances in this case are usually restricted to sensory distortion. Mushrooms containing nerve poisons can cause more serious symptoms such as convulsions, irregular breathing and, in severe cases, death through heart failure. Two types of toxin have been implicated in this type of poisoning - muscarine and ibotenic acid.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The principal toxins in Amanita muscaria have now been identified as ibotenic acid, and the closely related compound, muscimol. The Panther Cap (A. pantherina) causes similar symptoms, also attributed to these poisons but while this latter species is rightly regarded as dangerous, the status of Fly Agaric as a deadly mushroom has been questioned. It has traditionally been used as a ritual halluginogen in certain cultures and attitudes to this mushroom would appear to be more to do with cultural background than with any scientific assessment of it's toxicity.

Psilocybe semilanceata - Liberty Caps.

This small fungus was given the name Liberty Caps because the shape of its cap is like that adopted as the symbol of the first French Republic. It contains the hallucinatory drug psilocybin, and may have been tried by those seeking new drug experiences. In a recent English court case it was judged not to be an offence to possess the fruiting bodies of this species. Cap: pale clay colour, becoming yellowish-olive or dingy brown. 0.5-1cm in diameter, up to 2cm high. Acutely conical, often with a sharp point, never exapnding. Margin inrolled at first, slightly striate. Cutcle slimy, peeling in wet weather. Flesh membranous, white.

Gills: finally purplish brown with white edges, adnate, narrow, crowded. Stipe: slender, usually wavy, up to 7.5 cm long. Whitish at the top, pale clay lower down. Smooth with remnants of viel in young specimins.

Flesh: pliant, tough.

Spores: purple-brown in mass, ellipsoid, smooth, with a germ pore, average size 13.0 X 7.8 microns.

Habitat and distribution: Grows gregariously, often in troops, among grass, in fields, pastures, heaths and along roadsides where animals have grazed. Frequent to common in Europe and North America, it also grows in Australia.

Occurrence: August to November.

Culinary properties: It is said to be poisonous when raw, even fatal is eaten by children. Harmless when cooked.

The Illustrated Book of Mushrooms and Fungi - Dr Mirko Svrcek

Poisonous fungi and the symptoms of poisoning.

Psychotropic poisoning involves serious cases characterized by the irritation of brain tissue. For a long time the intoxication caused by the Fly Agaric was the only form of mushroom poisoning accompanied by psychic disturbances. It was not before the 1950s that other so-called cult fungi, formally used in religious ceremonies and rites, were identified; their ingestion leads to different manifestations of psychic disturbance. Two types of psychotropic poisoning are distinguished: psychotonic poisoning caused by the so-called mycoatropine, and psychodysleptic poisoning caused by psilocybine.

In Europe, poisoning by mycoatropine is caused by three Amanita species. Most common are cases of poisoning after eating the Panther Cap, less frequent are those caused by the Fly Agaric, and practically unknown is poisoning by A. regalis. The poisonous content principles of these amanitas have not yet been exactly identified, and this is why the designation 'mycoatrophine poisoning', though inadequate, is still used nowadays.

The course of poisoning caused by all the three species is substantially the same: nausea is experienced between half an hour and three hours after consumption, accompanied by vomiting, headache, quickened heartbeat, and a persistent dilation of pupils occasionally leading to vision disturbances. Often the condition of the affected person resembles alchoholic intoxication: the patient becomes talkative, shouts obscenities, sometimes laughs or weeps, strikes himself and keeps on running to and fro. The states of excitement may be dangerous for the sick person and must therefore be mitigated. Subsequently the patient faints, recovers from time to time, hallucinates, screams, defends himself against invisable danger, etc, but finally falls into a profound sleep from which he usually awakens into a normal state, without remembering his previous behaviour. This poisoning comes to it's fortunate end on the second or third day. First aid consists in the stimulation of vomiting and in taking the patient to hospital; he must be given neither milk nor alchohol. The treatment starts with a stomach rinse, the excitement is controlled by remidies of the cholpromazine type, physostigmne (never atropine!) is administered as an antidote against mycoatropine.

Psilocybine poisoning occurs after consuming some species of the genus Psilocybe, or fungi belonging to related genera about which, nowadays, abundant literature is available. These fungi are distributed mostly in Mexico and in some Central American countries. They contain so-called hallucinogenic substances thanks to which they had long been used in religious rituals and were kept secret until the twentieth century. Their research is due to the efforts of the American ethnographers Mr and Mrs Wasson who succeeded in aquiring hallucunogenous fungi, which they studied and identified with the help of mycologists. Chemical analysis of these fungi were carried out, and it was even possible to cultivate some of them. The effecttive substance was finally produced artificially, whereby its experimental testing on volunteers and its application for therapeutic purposes was made possible.

Fungi containing hallucinogenic substances generally produce small, inconspicuous fruit bodies growing on dung or excrements. They belong to the genera Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Panaelina and Stropharia. The amount of effective substances in the fruit bodies is variable, particularly in the European representatives of the mentioned genera whose effect is substantially smaller in comparison with the Mexican species.

The psychic symptoms following the ingestion of halluginogenic fungi are extremely varied. In some individuals they manifest themselves as euphoria, in others as sight disorders and hallucinations; saometimes they assume the form of the kaleidoscopic effect involving the duplication of objects in inappropriate colours; still other persons, on the contrary, feel anxiety and fear, suffer from terrifying delusions, and these states may lead to delirium and suicide attempts. Thanks to the lower content of effective substances, the European fungi evoke much milder symptoms.

Hallucinogenic fungi contain four active substances; psilocybine, psilocine, baeocystine, and norbaeocystine. Psilocine is considered the main bearer of halluginogenic proprties. However, poisoning by these fungi is exceptional, and there is no danger of misusing European hallucinogenic fungi for intentional intoxication.

Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Cap)

The genus Psilocybe, as well as the related genera Panaeolus and Stropharia, have become better known - and especially more popular - following the discovery of hallucinogenic substances obtained from numerous Mexican species of Psilocybe. Further analyses have also shown that some European species of the genus Psilocybe also contain substances with hallucinogenic effects, even though in substantially smaller quantities so that the symptoms following their ingestion are much milder.

Psilocybe semilanceata is a very small fungus which easily escapes attention. Its cap is 1-2 cm high, always higher than it is wide, markedly and persistently lanceolate-pointed or narrowly conical, often with an abruptly projecting point, thin-fleshed, hygrophanous, shiny or sticky, dark olive grey-brown or yellow-brown when moist, in dry conditions leathery yellow, smooth, glabrous, with greenish spots. The stipe is very long, only 2-3mm thick, firm and tough, tortuous, pallid or brownish, with a silky sheen, often blue-green at the base, attached to the substrate by a bluish green mycelium. The gills are broadly adnate, olive grey or brownish with a lilac tinge, then red-brown to black-brown, with white ciliate edges. The gill edges harbour numerous cheilocystidia. The flesh has no specifiec odour nor taste. The spore print is dark brown.

P. semilanceata grows in grass tufts on pasturelands and forest tracks from August to October. It is not particularly abundant and appears more commonly in upland regions. It is inedible because of the halluginogenic substances it contains.

1. Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric)

The Fly Agaric has been known as a poisonous species since ancient times. Its toxicity is mainly due to the presence of mycoatropine which causes disorders of mental activity. The content of another poisonous principle, muscarine, is relatively small. Recently the identity of the Fly Agaric with the drug called 'soma', venerated by the most ancient Aryan tribes in the time of migrating to and settling in the mountains of Afghanistan, has been established. The migration of peoples contributed to the further spreading of the Fly Agaric cult. Particularly remarkable is the Siberian cult of the Fly Agaric: people were drinking fruit-body decoctions, chewing dry toadstools and washing them down with cold water; or they would prepare a beverage from a micture of the toadstool and leaves of the Bog Whortleberry nad Salix angustifolia. Since the effective substance is secreted with urine, they even drank the urine of intoxicated persons.

The symptoms of swallowing include vomiting, headache, accelerated heartbeat, dilation of pupils; often a state similar to alcoholic intoxication and hallucinations set in, and finally the poisoned person awakes in the morning in a normal condition, without remembering his or her previous behaviour.

2. Amanita regalis, growing in upland spruce stands, is distinguished by a yellowish-brown cap, a yellowish stipe and similarly coloured remnants of the outer veil on the cap, and by a ring. It seems to be as poisonous as the Fly agaric.

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