In his 1976 book “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide”, author and Psilocybe mushroom cultivator Peter Stafford notes that a friend of his, a professional mycologist, had remarked to him that the traditional method of preparation used by some natives in using fire to heat stones, then adding water to possibly concentrate the effects of the chemical properties of some species in certain ways, bears resemblance to practices known for other psychotropic mushrooms.
Aminita muscaria has been used by shamans in Siberia, called by them less ambiguously “shaman’s mushroom”, for thousands of years. These mushrooms are associated with magic and can be employed in various recreational pursuits as well as in rituals.
In the US, the first assertion that it was used for this purpose came from an unpublished study by a folklore student named Fabing who read a 1921 paper by anthropologist Clark Wissler on the use of intoxicants among Native Americans. Wissler noted that certain individuals were especially respected within their tribe as a result of their knowledge and use of certain plant drugs, including a “hallucinogenic red powder”. He stated that this was used for religious purposes in connection with a tribal initiation rite. Wissler and his students apparently became aware of the psychoactivity of the mushroom after one student observed its narcotic effects on an individual who had ingested it and published a short report on the subject.
A more complete study of amanita muscaria and its use was done by anthropologist Weston La Barre, who studied this mushroom in the course of his research on Native American usage of psychoactive plants. His paper, “An Inquiry into the Role of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms in Northeastern North America,” suggests that the use of this mushroom in religious rites was widespread and known to many tribes.
Desman: “There is a group of Algonquian-speaking people in Canada and northern United States who call themselves Ojibwe (Chippewa; an Odawa dialect), Odawa, or Ottawawa. They are particularly associated with the Great Lakes region, where they have been established since the seventeenth century, being divided between Canada and the USA. Their traditional territory is around Lake Huron, but they ranged more widely in earlier times.
The Ojibwe believe that amanita muscaria has a spirit as its soul. The mushroom’s spirit is said to bring prosperity and luck, but it can also cause problems. The Ojibwe sometimes refer to the muscaria mushroom as ‘the seven-eyed plant’ or ‘toadstool’. It has been suggested that this may be due to the white spots on its cap; these are called ‘the seven eyes’ of the plant. The spots are supposed to resemble the markings on a toad’s skin.”
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The experience with amanita muscaria varies with mushroom specimens, which may be distinguished by differences in color, size, shape of cap or stem, taste, odor, presence or absence of veil remnants, and other characteristics. These variations make unequivocal identification of a mushroom difficult; even expert mycologists can readily misidentify them.
The effects of the mushrooms depend not only on species or variety, but also on geographical location: specimens from different areas may be “wild” in completely opposite ways (that is, having opposite effect). The impact of the mushroom also varies with season, weather conditions, and other factors. Large amounts may cause nausea; if this is not experienced then typically euphoria sets in, together with lethargy or hyperactivity.
Symptoms may range from twitching to convulsions. Stomach pains and vomiting are common. Recovery can be slow, especially if the stomach has been upset by diarrhoea or copious vomiting. Sometimes weeks or months can pass before normal activities are possible again.
However, there is no evidence of lasting physical damage from amanita muscaria. This is in contrast with psilocybe mushrooms which have been shown to cause temporary changes to the brain chemistry of experimental animals, and there have been suggestions that the active chemicals may accumulate in the brain.