The Surprising Truth About Mushroom Poisoning

Posted by Eric Troy on 02 Dec 2013 22:15

The following are some general myths concerning mushroom poisoning from ingesting unidentified wild gathered mushrooms. Please do not take this as medical advice! What you eat or do not eat is up to you, and caution is the rule when eating any wild gathered plants or fungi. However, there are a number of common claims about mushroom poisoning that are a bit exaggerated.

Myth 1: If You Eat a Poisonous Mushroom, You're As Good as Dead

It is an almost universal believe that ingesting a "poisonous" mushroom means almost certain death and that there is nothing that can be done to save you. This is not true. There are many, many different species of mushrooms with many different toxins. Some may just give you a stomach ache. Others may make you a bit ill. Some may attack your nervous system and prove fatal, or almost fatal. However, something can always be done to help in a case of mushroom poisoning. Since in most cases the particular species of mushroom that caused the poisoning is unknown, supportive care is given according to the symptoms being displayed. All mushroom poisonings can be treated and they can usually be treated successfully.

Myth 2: If You Get Mushroom Poisoning, You Have to Get the Antidote Immediately

This is easy to prove as untrue. You see, for most types of mushroom poisonings, there are no antidotes. For muscarine poisoning, atropine is used, but other than that, as mentioned above, the treatment for mushroom poisoning is based on supportive care for the symptoms, and there is no medication that must be given right away in order to survive. Identifying the specific type of mushroom poisoning can be a big help, but not because an antidote can be given against that specific poison. Knowing the specific mushroom involved can help to predict how severe the symptoms might become, what is likely to happen, and avoiding misunderstanding the symptoms. But it is not essential to identify the specific culprit.

Amanita muscaria mushroom

Amanita muscaria contains the nerve toxin muscarine.

Amanita muscaria mushroom

Amanita muscaria contains the nerve toxin muscarine.

This is related to the myth that you must get treatment almost immediately in order to stand a chance of survival. However, even in cases of potentially fatal poisoning, it can take days for the illness to progress, and there is time to seek treatment.

Myth 3: If You Eat a Poisonous Mushroom, Say Your Prayers, Death is a Few Minutes Away

This one is, of course, related to all the myths above, and is the belief that mushrooms can kill in a matter of minutes and that seeking treatment is futile. Not true. Of the mushrooms that are poisonous, very few will actually cause serious illness or death. Even if the mushroom is deadly, death will not occur in minutes.

Myth 4: Mushroom Poisoning is Common

A lot of people seem to believe that mushroom poisoning happens a lot. It doesn't, when you consider how many people actually sample wild mushrooms. Most mushrooms are not poisonous. In fact, out of over 10,000 species of mushrooms, only 50 to 100 are toxic, or have the potential to be toxic. And this brings us to another point. There is a difference between ingesting a toxin and being poisoned. If you ingest a very tiny amount of a potential toxin, and it is not enough to do you any harm, you are not poisoned. One problem with mushroom poisoning statistics is that those who experience poisoning symptoms are lumped in with those who experience no toxic effects…which is most of those who are exposed to potentially poisonous mushrooms. See the problem? Of those who are exposed to mushroom toxins, over half are children younger than six years old.

Even when a mushroom species does contain a poisonous compound, individual mushrooms may contain varying amounts. For instance, Amanita muscaria, pictured above, contains the nervous system toxin muscarine, for which the aforementioned atropine is given as treatment. However, even if you eat one of these mushrooms, you are not likely to be poisoned, as they contain very low amounts of muscarine. Other species can contain more. Don't go eating one of these mushrooms, though!

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