Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Many are edible, but a few are deadly. Knowing which are which is an important part of surviving and thriving in the wild.
Amanita muscaria is commonly thought to be one of the first mind-altering substances humans encountered
While we’ll dive into the edible and deadly mushrooms that you may encounter on a trip to the woods, we’re also diving into the psychoactive mushrooms that have shaped the way cultures see the world. One of the most recognizable of these is the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) shown here. These bright red mushrooms with white spots appear over and over again in fairy tales and legend. Some believe this is why Santa Claus wears red and white, hinting at the cultural influence of these mushrooms.
Inside these mushrooms is a psychoactive substance known as ibutenic acid, which converts in the body to muscamol. This compound, when metabolized in the body, changes the way the mind sees the world. In many cultures, the shaman would administer it to villagers as a right of passage. While it’s hard to known what to take from this stone-age practice, what seems clear is things were much different then than they are now. Perhaps understanding these substances more may shed light on a past long forgotten.