Amanita muscaria is a basidiomycete mushroom of the Amanita genus. A. muscaria var. muscaria, var. flavivolvata, and var. formosa are commonly called Fly Agaric (less often fly mushroom).

Amanita muscaria growing in
autumn Scottish woodland

Table of contents
1 Characteristics
2 Varieties
3 Toxicity and chemistry
4 Uses
5 Mythology and religion


Variety muscaria is a classic mushroom. Fully grown, the cap is usually around 12 cm in diameter (up to 30 cm) with a distinctive blood-red colour (crimson, fades to yellow with age), scattered with white, removable flecks (warts), which are remnants of the universal veil, a membrane that encloses the entire mushroom when it is still very young. The stem is white, 5-20 cm, with a basal bulb that bears a cup (volva), also a velar remnant, in the form of a ragged collar or ruff that circles the base of the stalk (or stipe), where the rest of the universal veil tore away with the cap as it expanded with age.

It grows on the ground in a number of different woodlands, although pine, spruce and fir are common. It is considered poisonous, though rarely fatally so. The name "Fly Agaric" comes from its European use as an insecticide: crushed, dipped, or sprinkled in milk. But it is sometimes consumed for its psychopharmacological effects.


Other varieties have similar appearance to var. muscaria, but differ most conspicuously in cap colour:
  • Var. regalis is liver-brown and has yellow warts.
  • Var. formosa (American fly agaric) is orange-yellow.
  • Var. rosans is pinkish.
  • Var. flavivolvata is red, but has yellow warts
  • Var. guessowii is orange
  • Var. alba is orange

Toxicity and chemistry

It contains a number of entheogenic constituents: ibotenic acid, muscimol, muscazone and muscarine, of which muscimol (3hydroxy-5-aminomethy-1 isoxazole, an unsaturated cyclic hydroxamic acid) is the most significant. Muscarine, discovered in 1869, was long thought to be the hallucinogenic chemical until late 1960s, when scientists recognized it were ibotenic acid and muscimol.

Consuming the mushrooms in doses of over 1 gram can cause nausea but also can cause a number of other effects, depending on dosage, ranging from twitching to drowsiness, cholergenic effects (lower blood pressure, increase sweat and saliva), visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, and hallucinations. In near fatal doses it causes swollen features, high rage and madness, characterised by bouts of mania, followed by periods of quiet hallucination. Effects appear after 60 minutes or so, peak within three hours, but certain effects can last for up to ten hours. The effect per volume consumed is highly variable and individuals can react quite differently to the same dose.

Deaths from A. muscaria are extremely rare. The amount and ratio of chemical compounds per mushroom varies widely from region to region, season to season, further confusing the issue. Many older books list it as deadly, giving the impression that it is far more toxic than it really is. The vast majority of mushroom poisoning fatalities (90+ %) are from having eaten either the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) or one of the Destroying Angels (Amanita virosa), several overall white Amanita species.


This mushroom, like its psychoactive relatives the Psilocybe species, have been used in rituals to communicate to the spirit world, largely in Siberia, with small reported incidents elsewhere in the northern hemisphere. Mesoamericans never consumed fly agaric for religion, but instead use Psilocybe.

The active ingredient is excreted in the urine of those consuming the mushrooms, and it has sometimes been the practice for a shaman to consume the mushrooms, and the rest of the tribe to drink his urine: the shaman, in effect, partially detoxifying the drug (the sweat- and twitch-causing muscarine is absent in the urine). If a fly agaric is eaten, it is usually not fresh, but in its sun-dried form, where the hallucinogenic chemicals are more concentrated (ibotenic acid converted to the more stable muscimol).

It has been suggested that the berserkerss took the fly agaric before battle.

Mythology and religion

Koryak Siberians have a story about the fly agaric (wapaq) which enabled Big Raven to carry a whale to its home. In the story, the deity Vahiyinin ("Existence") spat onto earth, and his spittle became the wapaq, and his saliva becomes the warts. After experiencing the power of the wapaq, Raven was so exhilarated that he told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, can learn from it.

Amanita muscaria is widely thought to be the Soma talked about in the Hindu scriptures, and is less often also thought to be the amrita talked about in Buddhist scriptures.

Garden ornaments, and children's picture books depicting gnomes and fairies very often show fly agaric mushrooms used as seats, or homes; it is rather uncommon for any other mushroom to be shown in this role. How this artistic convention arose is a matter of speculation.