Amanita is a genus of fungi, more specifically a genus consisting of agarics - a type of mushroom fungus. The Amanita fungi genus has around 600 different species of agarics. This wide variety of species of fungi includes mushrooms which are the most toxic of the known mushrooms of the world and on the contrary some of the well-regarded edible mushrooms as well. This is because the toxin present in the toxic mushrooms that cause the fatalities of mushroom poisoning is ɑ-amanitin.
Introduction of Amanita
Amanita is the genus of mushrooms that comes under the family of Amanitaceae, a family of mushroom-forming fungi.
The Classification of This Genus Follows the Levels as Follows -
The genus contains both poisonous as well as edible mushrooms. The fungi of this genus and falling under the larger umbrella of the family are mostly found in the woodlands. The majority of the fungi that belong to the family of Amanitaceae are characteristic ones that emerge from an egg-like structure formed by the universal veil.
Naming of Amanita
Possible sources of the word Amanita is the word Amanus from Ancient Greek. The word amanus comes from a mountain in Cilicia or from the ancient city of Amantia which was present at the transboundary region between Epirus or southern Illyria in ancient times. The name Amanita was first published in its present form with its current meaning by a German mycologist Christian Hendrik Persoon in 1797. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature accepted Persoon’s concept of Amanita and officially conserved Amanita muscaria (L.) Pers. as a type of species instead of Amanita Boehm, a synonym for Agaricus L.
The Toxicity and Edibility of Amanita
The fungi that belong to this genus are known mostly for their toxic nature and the health risk they carry. Although most of them are known to be toxic, some of them are also edible and are used by people for such purposes, but experts say to do so under proper guidance and knowledge.
On the toxic side, the species of mushrooms that belong to this genus are responsible for 95% of the mushroom poisoning incidents across the world. Especially the death cap, the umbrella-like caps on certain species such as Amanita phalloides, is on its own responsible for almost 50% of the fatalities occurring in the world. Many of the members of the Phalloidieae are known for their toxicity as they have significant amounts of amatoxins that lead to the cause of liver failure and death. Other species also include the death cap A. phalloides, species that are known as destroying angels which include A. virosa, A. bisporigera, and A. ocreata, and the mushroom known as fool’s mushroom, A. verna. An image is given below of the death cap A. phalloides.
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Some of the deadly poisonous species that can also kill people include Amanita abrupta, Amanita arocheae, Amanita exitialis which is known as Guangzhou destroying angel, Amanita magnivelaris, Amanita ocreata which is the western NA destroying angel, Amanita subjunquillea which is called the East Asian death cap, European destroying angel such as Amanita virosa, etc.
The toxicity of most of the gunig in this genus is driven by the presence of compounds like amatoxins, phalloidines, etc. Such and other components of these fungi can cause serious ill-effects of health due to severe damaging conditions such as liver cell necrosis i.e. the destruction of the liver cells. The death cap can lead to the killing of human beings in amounts of a single gram and in smaller doses also it can be fatal to dogs. The amatoxin is known to be responsible in particular for bad health conditions like a hepatocellular injury. The popularity of these fungi is such that the toxin phalloidin was one of the first cyclic peptides to be discovered.
On the edible side, there are many edible mushrooms, but mycologists who study them actually discourage people from hunting such mushrooms because of the high risk of finding the poisonous ones. Another reason for such caution is that many of the species that belong to the Amanita fungi genus have unknown data about their edibility. Even then it's popular in some cultures where the edible mushrooms are locally grown and are also the main market products during the growing season. Such edible samples include Amanita zambiana, some species in central Africa such as Amanita basii, species in Mexico include Amanita caesarea, the “Blusher” or Amanita rubescens in Europe, and the Amanita jacksonii species of red colour found in the area ranging from eastern Canada to eastern Mexico.
Different Characteristics of Amanita Species
The Amanita fungi species are widely known for being poisonous. They are known for causing ill effects on health and also some of the species can be life-threatening. They are also known for their psychoactive qualities. Amanita muscaria is one such species. It is used as an entheogen. Entheogens are psychoactive substances that are known to cause a change in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition or any behaviour. Hence, these fungi have been used for various purposes such as religious, magical, shamanic, or spiritual in many distinct parts of the world.
These fungi have been known to be used as entheogens by the indigenous people of Siberia. The use of these genus of fungi is also known to be popular amongst the Uralic speaking people that lived in Western Siberia and the Paleosiberian speaking people that lived in the areas of the Russian Far East. Some isolated reports are also obtained that state the use of A. muscaria, a picture of which is given below, amongst the people who speak the Tungusic language and the Trukic people of central Siberia. Although it was used by the people in these regions, it wasn't used on a very large scale and the practice remained always self-restricted due to the possible ill effects.
Another one of the Amanita genus of fungi is Amanita pantherina that consists of psychoactive compounds like muscimol. Some of the other species with similar properties include A. citrina, A. gemmata, etc. Many of the species of this mushroom genus have moderate to strong anticholinergic effects because of significant concentrations of ibotenic acid, muscazone, and muscimol. The medical effects of the intoxication of these mushrooms result in agitation, muscle spasms, ataxia, mydriasis and sometimes even convulsions.
One of The Best Amanita Species: Amanita Muscaria
These are the common species of mushrooms belonging to the Amanita genus and are commonly known as fly agaric, or fly amanita. It contains muscimol and has been known for its use as an entheogen. Commonly found in the regions of temperate climate and boreal ecosystems found in the Northern atmosphere, especially the ancestral origin regions of the Siberian-Beringian territory, it has been unintentionally introduced into regions of the Southern Hemisphere as well. In the southern hemisphere, this species of mushroom is generally found as a symbiont along with the plantations of pine, birch trees, oak, spruce, fir and cedar, etc and has now become one of the most common mushroom fungi across the world that belong to the Amanita genus. Currently, it is found in the cold climates of the Hindu Kush in Asia, the Mediterranean in Europe, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Brazilian states of Parana, and the Rio Grande do Sul, etc. An image is shown below:
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From the given image, it is clear that Amanita muscaria is large and white-gilled, white-spotted, with red-coloured mushroom umbrellas which makes it easily recognizable. Because of it, being cosmopolitan species i.e. being present all across the globe, it has become integrated with popular cultures. The best example of this mushroom being a part of popular culture is its abundant use in the video game SuperMario of the Mario franchise in which this mushroom is used to power up the titular character of the game. Although commonly recognised forms have the red umbrella on top of their mushroom bodies there are subspecies such as Amanita muscaria var. guessowii have yellow heads instead of red ones. An image of this subspecies is given below:
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It has been classified as a poisonous mushroom. Even then it is consumed in popular culture after semi-boiling or parboiling it twice with draining water which leads to the weakening of its toxicity and psychoactive substances because these active substances are soluble in water. After such treatments, the local varieties of these mushrooms are used as an intoxicant and as an entheogen by the indigenous people living in Siberia and the Sámi group of people with this mushroom having an important part in their cultures. From its common occurrence around the world, there has been speculation that it has been used for religious purposes in other places as well such as the Middle East, Eurasia, North America, and Scandinavian countries. Its psychoactive effects range includes its use as depressants, sedative-hypnotic, psychedelic, dissociative or deliriants in many cases. There are many phenomena that are related to the use of this mushroom that can alter perceptions such as synesthesia, macropsia and micropsia. The latter of the two effects is seen in Alice in Wonderland syndrome and the effects may occur together or one after the other. Some of the users have also reported having experienced lucid dreaming when under the influence of muscaria which can occur due to its hypnotic effects. Its use as a psychoactive substance is also observed in wedding functions in Lithuania, where there is a certain practice of sometimes mixing mushrooms with vodka in order to increase its intoxication effects.
Biological effects arising from the consumption of these substances are unpredictable. These effects are influenced by the habitat and the ingested amount per body weight. Depending on these factors, the effects of muscaria can range from nausea, twitching, drowsiness to cholinergic crisis-like effects like low blood pressure, sweating and salivation. It can also cause auditory and visual distortions, changes in the consumer’s mood, euphorias, relaxation, loss of equilibrium as in the case of tetanus. It is also known as a bioaccumulator of vanadium i.e. concentrating vanadium in their body parts, although the significance of this process or effect is not known. In circumstances involving cases of serious poisoning, the mushroom is known to cause delirium and is characterized by short periods of agitation, along with confusion, hallucinations, and periods of irritability followed by the depression of the central nervous system. In severe cases, seizures and coma are also induced in the patient. Usually, the effects kick in after 30 to 90 minutes of ingestion and can last up to 12 to 24 hours. After 12 - 24 hours complete recovery is observed but certain effects can last for long hours or even days. In some instances, retrograde amnesia and somnolence also result after recovery.
Whenever there is any suspected case of poisoning, medical attention should be sought. Typically whenever the duration of delay in-between ingestion and treatment is less than four hours, activated charcoal is given for treatment and reducing the treatment effects. When this delay is of one hour the poison of the ingested food is removed by the procedure of stomach pumping. Although the incidences of poisoning from ingestion are rare, (with very few cases being reported of A. muscaria poisoning in the last 100 years according to the North American Mycological Association), supportive medical care and the above-mentioned methods can be effectively used in cases of poisoning from this mushroom species. As such, there is no antidote and with supportive care, the effects are allowed to wear off and the person becomes normal after a certain period of time. In the event of a patient being agitated or delirious, it is typically treated by reassurance, and in extreme cases by the use of physical restraints. In cases of control combativeness, agitation, muscular overactivity and seizures, benzodiazepine-like diazepam, or lorazepam is used in small doses. Whenever in severe cases of poisoning there is loss of consciousness or a coma stage, they are treated by intubation and artificial ventilation. With the help of modern medical technology and medical treatment, the prognosis is typically good and with the help of supportive treatment, the patient can be saved and recovered.
From the given detailed account of Amanita muscaria, it is clear that it belongs to the Amanita genus of mushrooms and the typical characteristics of the mushroom fungi that belong to this genus are also well represented by the given example. Many of the mushrooms that are classified under the genus Amanita are extremely poisonous and can be life-threatening which may not be the case with Amanita muscaria.