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What is Mushroom Poisoning?

By Steve R.
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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Mycetism, more commonly known as mushroom poisoning, is a bad reaction to eating toxic substances found in certain mushrooms. While most times mushroom poisoning often includes gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea, the condition may be life threatening. Treatment of mycetism involves inducing vomiting. More than 90 percent of mushroom poisoning cases occur by accident when a person mistakenly identifies and then ingests a mushroom.

Of the thousands of species of mushrooms, approximately 100 types of mushrooms are toxic to humans. Of those 100 species, about 20 are lethal when consumed by humans. Cooking or boiling a mushroom does not change its toxic properties. A person may experience symptoms soon after consuming a poisonous mushroom or even days or weeks later. The severity of symptoms depend on the type of toxin ingested, and mushrooms that produce symptoms within two hours are less dangerous than those that produce symptoms much later.

One of the most deadly toxins found in mushrooms is orellanine, which may cause kidney failure three weeks after being ingested. Another potentially deadly toxin includes muscarine, which may cause respiratory failure. In addition, alpha-amanitin is a deadly toxin that can cause liver damage within a day of being consumed. Some mushrooms contain ibotenic acid or psilocybin, which can produce hallucinogenic effects and cause a person to experience agitation, fear, and confusion. Hallucinogenic mushrooms may require treatment in an intensive care unit.

When a person suffers from mushroom poisoning, she should seek medical attention immediately. In order to make a diagnosis, the doctor will want to identify the consumed mushroom, as well as find out when the mushrooms were consumed and how soon after consumption symptoms appeared. Other helpful information may include if any other individuals also ate the same mushrooms, and if they are also experiencing symptoms of mushroom poisoning. Often times, the doctor may consult with a local mushroom expert.

Many times, a person can tell if a mushroom is poisonous based on how it looks. A mushroom may be poisonous if it contains warts or scales on top, or if there is a ring around the upper part of the stem. Stems that are shaped like bulbs are also indications that a mushroom might be poisonous.

During treatment for mushroom poisoning, a person will often be given activated charcoal to generate vomiting. In most cases involving mushroom poisoning, once a person throws up, he will be in the clear. During treatment, a patient's temperature, heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored. Children and older adults may experience the most severe symptoms.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jul 04, 2014

@bythewell - The destroying angel mushrooms scare me to death and are one of the reasons I just can't bring myself to collect mushrooms from the wild. They look very similar to puffballs when they are young and to field mushrooms when they are a bit older. There are definitely differences, but if you are collecting a lot of field mushrooms, you might easily slip one of these into your bag instead and even one can kill you in less than a day.

I'd rather just get my mushrooms from the supermarket than risk it, especially if I'm feeding other people.

By bythewell — On Jul 03, 2014

@KoiwiGal - Actually, there are some people who think that the fly agaric becomes completely safe once you boil it and discard the water. And it's not that toxic compared with others, like the death cap or the mushrooms that are known as "destroying angels".

It has a bad reputation because it contains a psychoactive chemical and sometimes people manage to overdose on it (or children eat it, because it looks like red fruit).

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 03, 2014

It might seem like only 20 lethal species out of thousands of different types of mushrooms are fairly good odds, but it's really not. A lot of mushrooms are very very rare and several of the poisonous mushroom types are fairly common.

The fly agaric, for example, is relatively widespread and can be found all over the world. Most people would recognize that it's dangerous, because it is red and has white spots, and is often used as an example of a poisonous mushroom.

But there are others that are just as common and look very similar to edible mushrooms. If you are in any doubt at all, I wouldn't try them.

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