Wild mushrooms are tasty, but...


The poisonous mushrooms of the

Amanita family:


  1. Introduction
  2. The Mushrooms:
  3. The Toxins:
  4. The Symptoms
  5. The Cures
  6. Other Mushrooms Containing Amatoxins & Phallotoxins
  7. References
  8. Mushroom Links of Interest

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The Amanita spp. are a genus of mushrooms containing a few species famous for their toxicity. There are many edible amanitas, but eating the wrong one can get you into heaps of trouble, not to mention the delerium, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, liver failure or death you may experience. Most poisonings tend to occur in people from foreign countries who pick Amanitas that look "just like" those yummy ones they ate at home or to overconfident novice mycophagists (people who wild mushrooms) who have not bothered to properly identify their mushrooms. So, if you plan to hunt the wild mushroom, make sure to arm yourself with the proper knowledge and only eat a wild mushroom in a foreign country based upon identification in that country's field guide, not a North American guide. Be sure that you use a guide and don't listen to any old wives' tales about how to tell edible mushrooms from poisonous ones.

As knowledge is your best defense in avoiding Amanita poisoning when practicing wild mushroom gathering, it is wise to become familiar with all the parts of a mushroom. The Amanita are primarily identified by the presence of a universal veil completely covering immature mushrooms, a volva or cup around the base, a partial veil which may be in the form of a ring on the upper stalk, free to slightly attached white/cream colored gills, and a white spore print. Unfortunately, some of these identifying characteristics are delicate and can be removed by rain, wind or animals. This is only a major problem if you are trying to eat the edible Amanitas. It is essential that all the identifying markers be in place to differentiate between deadly Amanitas and edible ones. If after all this, you still insist on eating Amanitas, then you're on your own!

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The Symptoms:

  1. Amatoxins - The symptoms of amatoxin poisoning in humans are a ghoulish series of four phases, beginning with the not-too-alarming latency phase of 6-12 hours. This is followed by the gastrointestinal phase, where the human gets its first inkling that something is not quite right. The gastrointestinal phase consists of diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting and, not surprisingly, abdominal pains. The third phase begins with the patient feeling deceptively better off (another latency period) until the fourth and final phase hits. The final phase consists of the final degradation of the liver and kidney until, between the fourth and eighth day after ingestion, the patient lapses into hepatic coma combined with renal failure, ending in death. All this from a dose of 0.1 mg/kg body weight or even lower. That's not much mushroom to kill a person!
  2. Phallotoxins & Virotoxins
  3. Phallolysins
  4. Ibotenic acid (and possibly its derivative, muscimol)
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The Cures:

  1. The first step in detoxifying amatoxins from the system involves mechanical purification of the blood (hemodialysis, hemoperfusion, or forced diuresis), then interruption of the enterohepatic circulation by insertion of a duodenal tube, silymarin or penicillin.
  2. If the above treatments were not enough, the victim may still have to endure a liver transplant. As this is expensive, painful and not without complications itself, prevention must be emphasized as the best solution to Amanita poisoning.
  3. Antamanide is a nontoxic monocyclopeptide found in A. phalloides that competes with the phallotxins for the membrane proteins involved in the uptake of the phallotoxins. Unfortunately, antamanide only is effective when ingested 1 to 2 hours prior to or within 20 minutes of ingestion of the phallotoxins (at least in mice). So it's a rather ineffective cure at best.
  4. Silymarin, a mixture of components in the milk thistle, also alleviates the toxicity of phallotoxins, but again is hampered by time constraints.
  5. Rifampicin reduces the rate of phallotoxin uptake in the liver, but with the same problems found with silymarin and antamanide.
  6. Bile salts have a great effect in reducing phalloidin uptake in vitro, but, as the phallotoxins cause the cessation of bile flow, this is a really ineffective cure.
  7. Liver-damaging substances, such as carbon tetrachloride, can be used to stop uptake of phallotoxins, but this "cure" is not much better than the affliction.
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Other Mushrooms Containing Amatoxins and Phallotoxins:

  1. Galerina marginata
  2. G. autumnalis
  3. G. venenata
  4. Lepiota brunneoincarnata
  5. L. helveola
  6. L. josserandii
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General Mushroom Links of Interest:

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Jackie Wright