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  • Posted June 12, 2024

There's Another 'Magic' Mushroom Being Sold in Gummies -- But It Can Kill

Growing public fascination with “magic” psilocybin mushrooms as a trendy treatment for depression had led to increased interest in another type of psychedelic mushroom, a new study reports.

Unfortunately, this second sort of shroom -- known as Amanita muscaria -- can be more toxic than fentanyl, cocaine and PCP, researchers say.

Marketing the two types of mushrooms as essentially the same is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous, said senior researcher Eric Leas, an assistant professor in the University of California, San Diego's Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science.

“Companies who are making these products are pushing the limits of our regulations. They are getting away with making a buck until someone tells them they can't,” Leas said in a university news release.

“Given the substantial risks associated with using Amanita muscaria products, it is a buyer-beware marketplace where consumers are at risk and are not accurately informed,” Leas added. “The time for a public health first response is now.”

Google searches for Amanita muscaria mushrooms skyrocketed 114% between 2022 and 2023, researchers reported June 10 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Gummies and chocolates containing compounds derived from Amanita muscaria mushrooms -- muscimol and ibotenic acid -- are being marketed as aids to reduce anxiety, depression and other conditions, researchers say. 

Amanita muscaria mushrooms have psychedelic effects similar to psilocybin mushrooms, producing feelings of weightlessness, hypersensitivity to sights and sounds, distortions of space, unawareness of time and colored hallucinations.

But Amanita muscaria mushrooms act upon the brain and body in ways that are very different than psilocybin, researchers said.

Psilocybin is an antidepressant that works on serotonin receptors in the brain, activating pathways that mediate happiness and optimism.

On the other hand, Amanita muscaria is a depressant that suppresses the central nervous system, similar to alcohol and benzodiazepines, researchers said. 

Ingestion of raw Amanita muscaria mushrooms has been known to cause dizziness, muscle spasms, loss of coordination, agitation, seizures, coma, and, in rare cases, death, researchers said.

Last year, a 44-year-old man died after ingesting four dried Amanita muscaria mushroom caps, researchers noted in their paper.

Another case from last year involved a 46-year-old woman who wound up hospitalized after “microdosing” the mushrooms for two weeks in an attempt to treat her anxiety. The woman purchased 20 grams of Amanita muscaria mushrooms online from a website advertised on social media.

An analysis by researchers found that the compounds in these mushrooms can be lethal at lower levels than many illicit and prescription drugs, including diazepam, cocaine, codeine, fentanyl, mescaline and alcohol. 

“In my view, if a manufacturer wanted to develop a dietary supplement from Amanita muscaria, the application probably would not be approved because of muscimol and ibotenic acids' inherent risks,” Leas said. “But right now it is the ‘Wild West,' and companies are profiting from delayed enforcement while putting consumers at risk.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy,” and in 2023 loosened restrictions to allow drug developers and scientists to conduct clinical trials with the psychedelic substance.

But Amanita muscaria mushrooms have had no such FDA support, researchers said.

Nevertheless, some are marketing Amanita muscaria as interchangeable with psilocybin.

“For example, some manufacturers are calling Amanita muscaria products ‘magic mushroom gummies' and not disclosing what mushroom they contain, or not making it clear Amanita muscaria is a different mushroom than psilocybin and has essentially no clinical evidence supporting its use as a therapy,” Leas said.

“There may be some pharmaceutical potential to Amanita muscaria, but muscimol does not have the same effects on the body as psilocybin, so it probably would not have the same treatment applications if it ever went through drug development,” Leas added. “For this reason, it is misleading not to clearly distinguish between muscimol and psilocybin.”

The research team recommended that federal authorities declare Amanita muscaria a controlled substance. Failing that, regulators should restrict the mushroom's use to adults and develop accurate dosing standards.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, June 10, 2024

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