Even if you’re not immersed in the drug culture yourself, you’ve probably at least heard someone on television refer to being on shrooms or magic mushrooms. The technical name for these is psilocybin mushrooms, and they are a type of fungus that contains psychedelic compounds. Like LSD and mescaline, they trigger a psychedelic experience, commonly called a trip, which is a temporarily altered state of consciousness. There are more than 180 species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin, all of which are categorized as Schedule I controlled substances in the United States. Despite that, they are considered one of the safest types of drugs to use, because they aren’t terribly addictive and they’re very difficult to overdose on. These mushrooms tend to grow in a highly fertile and moist atmosphere, and they’re common in the Southern United States. There are plenty of guides online with pictures of the different varieties, telling you how to recognize and pick them. But what happens if you get it wrong and consume a different type of mushroom entirely?

There are so many types of mushrooms that it would require an encyclopedia to list them all. According to the North American Mycological Association (mycology is a branch of biology that is concerned with the study of fungi), there are 14 distinct types of mushroom poisoning and 10 distinctive patterns of reactions to mycotoxins, the toxic compounds that are produced by fungi. The most common type of mushroom poisoning is caused by gastrointestinal irritants and the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Usually the effects will pass after all of the toxin is out of your system without any medical intervention.

Another type of toxin is isoxazole derivatives, which can also cause nausea and vomiting but also lead to drowsiness, confusion, visual distortion, a feeling of greater strength, delusions, and convulsions. Sometimes patients will fall into a coma-like state that can last for more than 24 hours, but there have been no reported deaths as a result of ingestion.

Amanitin, or amatoxins, are extremely dangerous. In places with less reliable medical treatment, the fatality rate is 50 percent, but in the United States and other first world countries, it’s about 10 percent. One of the reasons it’s so dangerous is that it can take 24 hours for the symptoms to kick in, at which point the toxin has already wreaked havoc on the body. Kidney and liver failure are common, and because the toxin affects the body’s clotting factor, it’s also possible to bleed to death.

MUSHROOMS: PSYCHEDELIC OR POISONOUS?

There are a couple of ways to recognize poisonous mushrooms. They might have off-colored patches or raised dots, an umbrella-shaped cap, a bulbous cap around the base, a ring around the stem, and thin white gills (a papery structure that hangs under the cap). If you aren’t an expert, however, it’s best not to risk it, because not all poisonous mushrooms are identifiable without a microscope.

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