Mike and I walked through the eucalyptus grove on a sunny afternoon, taking a break from the computer induced eyeball fatigue. I saw a large brown mushroom. “Hey, I think that’s a coccoli.” I exclaimed.
Ever since an old Italian had showed me how to identify these delicious mushrooms, I have over the years picked and cooked them. If a vegetable could be a steak, it would be the coccoli mushroom. Sautéed or baked with butter, olive oil, and little garlic, these things are worth writing home about.
Mike was a little skeptical. “It could be an amanita muscaria. Watch out! They can be poisonous.”
For the first time I took a little chance. There was a white spot on top, but I was sure it was just the remnants of the veil, not the white spots that are indicative of the more volatile mushroom. I picked the fleshy beautiful fungus.
To make this a short story: Took it home, sautéed it into an omelet the next morning, and went to my room to rest. It was a clear, sunny Saturday morning by the San Francisco Bay. I turned on the laptop feeding my flat panel TV with music and the iTunes visualizer, the really far out one.
I had just loaded iTunes onto my new laptop and wanted to test it out. I lay down to rest but couldn’t take my eyes off the synchronized multi-colored psychedelic imagery on the monitor. The spheres of light were dancing to the sounds of Native American Church music, the Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and others in the darkened room.
I halfway dozed off and came to in about 30 minutes. The music and imagery were still playing, but it seemed like there was more going in my mind than that. Suspicious, I got up and walked down the stairs and outside to look at the beautiful blue water and the sky.
Oh my God! This mushroom was very psychoactive! I looked at the water and there was tremendous mental and visual activity in my head that could only be the effect of the mushrooms. Yes, I was a little worried.
I called my friend Mike. He was very concerned for me. “Go to the hospital! And make yourself throw up! “
For the next two hours there was a flurry of calls to other mycology experts, including poison control. An MD who lived next door came over to talk to me. “You really ought to go to the hospital to be safe.“ said Dave. I felt not at all sick, and had I known true mushroom symptomology I probably wouldn’t have gone. The really poisonous ones have a severe reaction right away.
“Do you like to go to Las Vegas?” he asked.
I relented. Irma (my ex. – we’re still friends) offered to drive me over to Oakland’s Highland Hospital. I took her up on it.
Prior to leaving for the hospital, I had tried to induce vomiting as suggested. I put my finger down my throat. I massaged all around the back of my mouth and throat, but nothing worked. I couldn’t induce the slightest sense of nausea, in fact it felt good.
We rolled up to Highland Hospital. Since that day I saw a film called The Waiting Room (www.whatruwaitingfor.com) playing at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. It is a raw footage documentary about Highland Hospital, the crowds, the conditions at the Emergency Room, etc….
I could identify with it. As this Saturday night in Oakland slowly unfolded, I saw the gunshot wounds, the patients in handcuffs, the long waits. There was a motorcycle gang there in their leathers waiting for a member that had been hit and had serious head injuries.
The nurse/receptionist checked my vitals and they were “perfect”. They lined me up for a blood test and put me in a room. All this time I am feeling great. I was cracking jokes to all the employees, striking up casual conversation with the gang members, and generally feeling light hearted and lightheaded.
Finally my blood was drawn for tests. I can recall telling the doctor that there was a .7 second impulse in my brain that caused a twitch in my right index finger. When that finally wore off, I was just relaxed.
We left the hospital at 2 am. The waiting room was still crowded. I think I received faster treatment because of the significant dangers of mushroom poisoning.
I did further research on the mushroom in question. Apparently there are two mushrooms of this particular type – Amanita Muscaria and Amanita Pantherina. These mushrooms have a psychoactive ingredient in them called Muscimol.
Muscimol bonds with GABA receptors in the brain, causing the effects I experienced. These mushrooms are used by shamans in Siberia for religious ceremonies. Muscimol is not broken down by metabolic processes and so passes out in the urine. This leads to Siberian shamans chasing antelope that like to eat the mushrooms, trying to catch their urine so they can drink it.
Is this a great world or what! The famous orange-red mushroom that one sees in art is the Amanita Muscaria. Its near cousin Amanita Pantherina, pictured above, is known to have more potent concentration of Muscimol.
That is what I had ingested, the flying panthers as they are known. It seemed that knowledge of this mushroom is hard to find, but thanks to the internet, I was able to read up on it. However there is much speculation even there.
The Flying Panthers are not illegal to possess or ingest. The effects on me were not negative, and certainly interesting, though they may not induce a desire to repeat the experience. Fortunately for me, they were not the deadly kind of mushroom, and I lived to tell the tale.
Here are some excerpts from the Internet:
Although it is generally considered poisonous, deaths from its consumption are extremely rare, and it is eaten as a food in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America after parboiling. Amanita muscaria is noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. It was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has been much speculation on traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in places other than Siberia; however, such traditions are far less well documented. The American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed that the fly agaric was in fact the soma of the ancient Rig Veda texts of India; since its introduction in 1968 this theory has gained both followers and detractors in anthropological literature.
Many of muscimol’s effects are consistent with its pharmacology as a GABAA receptor agonist, presenting many depressant or sedative–hypnotic effects, similar to ethanol. Unlike ethanol however, muscimol can present sensory and psychological effects somewhat reminiscent of a psychedelic drug, including dissociation, synesthesia, auditory and visual distortions and hallucinations, altered thought processes, and perhaps most notably micropsia and or macropsia, as these effects may have provided the inspiration for the effect of Alice eating the mushroom (changing size) in Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The mushrooms that bear muscimol have also been reported to induce lucid dreaming when an individual falls asleep under its influence. Many of muscimol’s hallucinogenic effects would not be regarded as psychedelic in the traditional sense though and bear the strongest resemblance to the hallucinatory effects of similarly-acting drugs like zolpidem, the symptoms of delirium tremens or benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, and hypnagogic hallucinations. Jonathan Ott describes the effects of Amanita pantherina below:
|“||About 90 minutes after ingestion … I noticed that I was experiencing changes in visual perception. These effects became stronger over the next hour or some, and were characterized by sensing an ‘alive quality’ in inanimate objects, wavy motion in the visual field like a Van Gogh canvas … and mild distortion of size, distance and depth perception. Auditory hallucination were also prominent — especially the effect, called ‘anahata sounds’ of yoga, of hearing fine high-pitched sounds like bells and violin strings.|
Muscimol is produced naturally in the mushrooms Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina, along with muscarine, muscazone, and ibotenic acid. A. muscaria and A. pantherina should be eaten with caution and prepared properly to lessen effects of nausea; no official deaths from poisoning have been recorded from A. muscaria and A. pantherina. In A. muscaria, the layer just below the skin of the cap contains the highest amount of muscimol, and is therefore the most psychoactive portion.