Across our planet grows a vast realm of plants and herbs that affect the human mind. Many of these are poorly understood and are just recently being rediscovered by modern medicine. Amanita muscaria is an iconic mushroom which falls within this realm, and which has intrigued researchers, shamans, and medical professionals alike. Amanita muscaria contains two primary naturally occurring psychoactive compounds: muscimol and ibotenic acid. In this blog we explore muscimol more fully, explaining what it is, its effects, and its cultural significance.
A word of caution: Amanita muscaria mushrooms also contain ibotenic acid, which is considered toxic by the Food and Drug Association. Ibotenic acid in Amanita muscaria can largely be converted to muscimol through a process called decarboxylation. Wild Forest Herbs believes in sharing the growing scientific understanding of Amanitas, while noting that our blogs are for educational and scientific study purposes only and are not an endorsement of eating or ingesting Amanita muscaria or muscimol.
A High Level Overview of Muscimol
Muscimol is a psychoactive compound that has been described as resulting in a feeling of floating, enhanced sensory experiences, dream-like states and introspection. Muscimol was first isolated and identified in the mid-20th century. Unlike psilocybin-containing mushrooms or psychedelic compounds that can be energizing and induce vivid hallucinations, muscimol tends to evoke calmer, dream-like states. Generally speaking, compared to psilocybin, muscimol is more nuanced and relaxed—though at higher doses it can cause altered perceptions and a sense of dissociation.
How Does Muscimol Calm the Brain?
How does muscimol work? First, it’s necessary to understand GABA. GABA (or gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a brain neurotransmitter that sends calming signals to the brain’s neurons. GABA’s signals help to “quiet” the brain, keep it balanced, and regulate mood, anxiety and sleep.
Muscimol is a GABA agonist (activator). In plain English this means muscimol increases the calming signals GABA sends to the brain. Muscimol does this by binding to GABA receptors and helping open chloride channels so that calming chloride ions can more easily reach the brain’s neurons. Think of it like muscimol helping to hold open a gate (the chloride channels) so that GABA’s calming signals (the chloride ions) can reach the brain’s neurons more easily.
The increase in calming signals results in reduced central nervous system activity— promoting a sense of tranquility, relaxation, and anxiety-reducing effects. Although muscimol is a natural compound, researchers believe it works similarly to benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax), which are also GABA agonists.
Dosage and the Effects of Muscimol
The effects of muscimol vary by individual and by the amount ingested. Lower doses are reported to produce mild sedation and relaxation, while higher doses can lead to more significant alterations in consciousness that can be very overwhelming. In her book “Microdosing with Amanita Muscaria,” Dr. Masha, M.D., documents the experiences of over 3,000 volunteers who microdosed with Amanita. Microdoses are generally considered to be small amounts of muscimol (1-2 milligrams) that, for most people, result in some calming effects without mind-altering effects. Microdosing was reported to result in reduced anxiety, increased feelings of peace and euphoria, pain relief, and improved sleep and dreams.
At higher doses such as 5-15 milligrams, muscimol is reported to cause more psychoactive effects such as out-of-body experiences; a dream-like state of mind; altered vision and perceptions; altered hearing and taste; altered colors, shapes and patterns; deep tranquility and vivid dreams. Note that Dr. Masha cautions against large doses of Amanita due to the mushroom’s strong sensory deprivation and dissociative properties, including amnesia.
One challenge with amanita muscaria is that levels of muscimol and ibotenic acid vary from mushroom to mushroom, making it difficult to determine dosage. For example, two lab tests of Wild Forest Herbs dried amanitas showed muscimol levels of about 1.1 mg per dried 1 gram of caps, but the ibotenic acid varied from 2.6 mg per 1 gram of dried caps in one test to 4.2 mg per 1 gram of dried caps in a second test. Since ibotenic acid converts to muscimol at approximately a 1:1 ratio when decarbed, the resulting muscimol could be 3.7 mg per 1 gram of dried Amanita caps in the first sample and 5.3 mg per 1 gram of dried Amanita in the second sample. Decarbing a larger amount of dried amanitas helps achieve more consistency and an “averaging effect” across the batch—though muscimol levels will still vary from batch to batch meaning new batches of decarbed Amanitas might have higher concentrations of muscimol than a previous batch.
Challenges and Cautions
While muscimol presents many possible opportunities for exploration, it’s not without its cautions and safety considerations. For more information read our blog on ibotenic acid, which is also found in Amanita muscaria, and which is considered toxic by the FDA. Also, because the amount of muscimol and ibotenic acid vary from mushroom to mushroom, Amanitas can pose a risk for people seeking predictable and consistent effects. Being aware of the potential dangers associated with muscimol-containing mushrooms is essential.
Muscimol’s Historical and Cultural Significance
Despite its challenges, Amanita muscaria has a rich cultural history, often associated with shamanic practices and ancient rituals dating back thousands of years. In Siberian and indigenous North American cultures, the consumption of Amanita muscaria was believed to facilitate communication with the spirit world. Shamans, revered as mediators between the physical and spiritual realms, would ingest the mushroom to induce altered states of consciousness during ceremonies. In contemporary times, muscimol has found its way into discussions about consciousness exploration and alternative therapies for depression, anxiety, insomnia and more. However, mushrooms such as Amanitas are still only newly being studied in the Western world, so there are few robust medical studies.
Muscimol stands as a captivating organic compound, weaving together threads of ancient traditions, modern medical exploration, and scientific inquiry. As our understanding of muscimol deepens, so too does the potential for unlocking new insights into the mysteries of the human mind. Amanita muscaria and muscimol warrant further study and understanding given their potential for therapeutic and other healing medical use. Whether approached from a scientific, cultural, or medical perspective, muscimol invites researchers to embark on a journey of discovery.