The iconic Amanita muscaria mushroom, the one depicted in the ubiquitous fungus emoji, is enjoying a rollercoaster year. The acceleration began when the owner of a Florida CBD dispensary had something of a brainwave and exploited an apparent loophole in US law: the psychoactive compounds within the mind-altering shroom, also known as fly agaric, are not prohibited (except in Louisiana).
Even though Father Christmas kind of looks like a representation of an amanita, the parts that get people high—muscimol, which engages the same pathways in the brain as alcohol and ibotenic acid—slipped under the radar during the War on Drugs. And so, in August, Chillum, close to downtown Tampa, made waves when it began selling mushroom gummies, capsules, and powders, prompting headlines such as: “This ‘magic’ mushroom dispensary in Florida is selling psychedelics and testing legal boundaries.”
Copycats sprung up, selling amanita products in smoke shops around the country. The media coverage for Chillum, the pioneer, kept coming. Fly agaric was cast as a new legal high. Then, officers from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services arrived in December and put a stop to it all during a mini wave of law enforcement actions in North America that sought to dampen the enthusiasm of the new generation of freewheeling mycopreneurs.
“We have been involved in numerous press releases telling people to consume this mushroom,” Chillum Owner Carlos Hermida wrote on his blog in something of a mea culpa. It turns out that amanita may not be sold as a consumable food product, and he was thus forced to cease or face unwanted consequences. “Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, selling amanitas is not something we will be able to do.”
Not long after, however, he found a loophole to the loophole. And soon enough “magic shrooms” were for sale legally in Tampa again, but, according to the press release, “for education only though” as part of a new brand dubbed Learn Euphoria. “We have learned our lesson and are no longer influencing people to consume Amanita muscaria,” they said, despite, allegedly, selling the products for between $20 to $55 with labels saying they were only for “spiritual” or “educational” consumption.
The amanita products, supplied by a Las Vegas wholesaler that sources from a company which works with mushroom foragers in Lithuania, were on sale again. But then, in April, a member of a Facebook group which features an amanita products vendors list put out a briefing in which they claimed that some products sold by the wholesaler did not contain muscimol and, in fact, included psilocybin, the better known psychedelic compound from shrooms, which is federally illegal.
“We encourage those who know of a business selling amanita gummies to share their press release and lab results with them and ask if their products have been tested for clandestine drugs,” it said. The sheet listed a couple dozen vendors associated with the supplier Psilomart, which recently rebranded as Sweet Amanitas. Was this a malicious hit on a market leader? Or concerned shroomers looking out for each other in the name of care and quality?
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DoubleBlind reached out to Hermida. “It is hard to believe there is psilocybin in these products cause they are often hailed as a milder version of psilocybin,” he said. “Some customers will even complain that the experience isn’t as intense as the illegal psychedelics.” However, he conceded, he had not conducted any independent testing of his own. “We will make sure to do our due diligence at Chillum and Learn Euphoria and we are currently in the process of sending samples from our inventory out to a lab for testing.”
Sweet Amanitas, meanwhile, said it tests all of its products to ensure they do not include psilocybin. “It would be fairly easy for a competitor, negatively affected by a popular business like ours, to send in contaminated samples and say they came from us,” a spokesperson said. All their products are sold online alongside tests which appear to validate their contents.
DoubleBlind received copies of the tests from a member of the Facebook group Amanita Science and Magic, who had received the tests from another member. Flora Research Labs confirmed they were genuine copies. But it is impossible to cross-check the samples they provided: So were they contaminated?
“People are trying to capitalize on the huge growth of interest in Amanita muscaria,” says Kevin Feeney, ph.D., a lecturer at Central Washington University and author of Fly Agaric: A Compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology, & Exploration. Feeney suspects, based on trip reports he has heard, that some suppliers might sometimes be using cannabinoids or psilocybin in place of muscimol, as it can be harder to source. He also warns that some brands, without proper knowledge, recommend extremely large, or small, doses. “It all seems to be pretty sketchy.”
Feeney, a leading expert on the amanita, cautions people to be careful. Amanita isn’t just a legal replacement for psilocybin-containing species. At high doses, some report feeling akin to being drunk and having not enjoyed the experience, especially if they’ve eaten the plant raw since it can trigger vomiting and diarrhea, as well as severe confusion. Advocates say it’s all about each person finding the right dose for them. Muscimol has deliriant, sedative and hallucinogenic properties that can transport people out of reality: This experience is clearly not for everyone.
Even still, business has been booming for Sweet Amanitas. “When we launched psilomart.com back in June 2022, no one was searching Amanita muscaria so we targeted keywords that were being searched at the time that leaned more towards growing magic mushrooms, specific species, mycology, spores, etc,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “As Amanita muscaria began to trend and the online marketplace developed, we launched amanitamushrooms.com in September 2022 to capture that traffic.”
John Michelotti, head of the medicinal mushrooms committee at the North American Mycological Association, told The Tampa Bay Times last month: “The companies are moving faster than the research…It’s the Wild West.” The paper quoted a local magician who is a customer at Chillum and apparently finds relief from anxiety with the gummies. “It was never about getting high,” he said. “It was just about trying something that may be effective.”