Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric) has always been one of those wonder mushrooms for me. I’ve been fascinated with its beauty ever since I was a kid growing up in Lithuania. While not considered to be an edible mushroom, I’ve heard plenty of stories of using it as medicine (joint inflamation) or people pickling them for winter after careful preparation like boiling and pouring out the “toxic” water. Personally, I was interested in one thing only – can this queen of the forest help me sleep better tonight.
There are stories of shamanic use in Siberia, stories of inner journeys and strange dreams, stories of finding peace and tranquility, healing insights, etc. Personally, I didn’t experience any of them. The mushroom didn’t speak to me, didn’t provide any insights, all it did was induce massive insomnia for several weeks afterwards.
Why I Felt Amanita Mushroom Can Help With Insomnia
Amanita has two active compouds: muscimol and ibutenic acid. Muscimol is a very strong GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptor agonist. Simply put it help the brain to calm down and relax. This is how various “GABAergic” supplements like L-Theanine, valerian, passioflower, skullcap and many others work – they increase GABA and inhibit the stimulating effects of glutamate and stress.
So muscimol is what got me curious. Muscimol is what made me so hopeful. Muscimol is what got me experimenting. There’s only one problem: muscimol has to be converted by our liver and it has to be converted from ibutenic acid, which is that second psycho-active ingredient of the Amanitas. Ibutenic acid happens to be a very potent neuro stimulant. As wikipedia says “It is a conformationally-restricted analogue of the neurotransmitter glutamate, and due to its structural similarity to this neurotransmitter, acts as a non-selective glutamate receptor agonist. ” Ibutenic acid is the complete opposite of muscimol.
The idea is simple: treat the mushroom by drying it, store it in some cool place for three months and then make tea. This is supposed to help convert ibutenic acid into muscimol. A process, otherwise known as decarboxylation. I figured once the mushroom is decarboxylated I’ll have nothing but pure goodness of GABA rich muscimol and it should knock me out at night real good.
Who Benefits, Who Doesn’t
I’m guessing that one group of people who feel the benefits of the mushroom the most are the ones that have rather turbulent minds. When they first try Amanita they may report a great sense of tranquility. I am guessing this happens because of the stark contrast between their “normal” self and the Amanita induced calmness. However, if one is an avid meditator or QiGong practitioner (induces GABA states), Amanita may do nothing for you other than make you feel a bit sedated.
The second group are the ones that brave high doses. These are the ones that report some wild trips but you don’t hear about the rest of the 90% that either had a sleepless night, felt very sick or ended up in a hospital with symptoms of acute poisoning.
My Painful Experiment and Lessons
My personal experience with Amanita was at 1 gram and 3 grams of dried and cured mushroom. I prepared it like most of the advice you can find on the net today – pick it, dry it, store it for three months, then make tea and drink it.
When I took 1 gram I felt calm and relaxed, there was no restlessness whatsoever, it was easy to just kick back on the sofa and listen to beautiful music witht the need to check the phone, social media or read supplement reviews about insomnia. But honestly, I feel this way after an hour of meditation. There was nothing special about it. The following night I was hot and restless, nothing else.
A couple of months later I made tea with 3 grams. Similar experience – relaxed by the fireplace, chill, enjoy, slightly oozey but nothing special. At bed time I started experiencing more ear ringing and this familiar buzz in my head – kind of like standing near high voltage lines. When it was time to sleep – forget it, I was wide awake and overstimulated. Just when I was able to snooze I would wake up in an hour feeling hot and alert. There was no restlessness or even anger about it but I wasn’t happy about my most treasured asset being impacted in the completely opposite way than it was intended. Now the question was – how long?
Long it was. Next night was the same, the next was the same. This experiment slowly turned into insomnia terror – not again, now now! Luckily, I had done my research about the chemistry of the Amanita mushroom and knew that this could be due to a high glutamate in ibotenic acid. This can only mean one thing – all of this theory about the decarboxylation via curing the Amanitas is just that – a theory. I was certainly feeling the wrath of the ibutenic acid!
My only hope was an antihistamine and thanks goodness it worked. I know it doesn’t make sense – what does histamine have to do with glutamate but apparently the two share receptor sites in our brain and blocking certain histamine receptors reduces stimulation from glutamate as well. If anyone reading this knows more about this I would appreciate your insights in the comments.
Long story short – those of us with glutamate sensitivity should avoid Amanita Muscaria because ibutenic acid is packed with it. If our bodies do not tend to lean towards glutamate rather GABA (muscimol) we will suffer from overstimulation. I honestly feel now that all this drying and treating the mushroom is only somewhat helpful for converting ibutenic acid to muscimol. I feel like it makes the mushroom more tolerable so we don’t purge it out but it is still up to our liver to convert most of the ibutenic acid and if we have issues with our liver like methylation blocks, etc., we will not convert enough ibutenic acid and be left with the brain stimulation. This is the last thing we want with poor sleep.
Another reason I won’t touch Amanita again – found a study that shows Amanita accumulates a lot of metals from the soil, including heavy metals. It does this by playing a vital role of circulating the nutrients in the forest floor – draws them in through mycelium and releases them back by rotting on the surface. More heavy metals is also not what we want on our already overburdened brains and organs.
The lure of the Amanita Muscaria has its good reasons. It is all over the folklore and mythology and the shamanic worlds. But we are not shamans. Shamans use Amanita as a tool to access the spirit world but for them the veils between the material world and the spirit world are so thin that Amanita is enough to open some doors and stay in the spirit world longer. But for us – mortals, Amanita Muscaria seems like a poor man’s magic mushroom at best.
You might say I haven’t experimented with more than 3 grams but I’m not planning to. 3g was enough for me to get a feel for it and suffer the consequences of glutamate sensitivity for several weeks afterwards. Perhaps there is some wisdom and valuable lessons in all of this. It usually is. Time will show.