Mushroom poisoning can range from causing some discomfort and intestinal issues to actual fatality. To make matters more challenging, the effects of mushroom poisoning do not always present themselves immediately. The most common poisoning cases are felt within about six to eleven hours to a day after eating mushrooms. However, some mushroom toxins take effect over the period of twenty days. For these reasons, it is not uncommon for a mushroom poisoning case to become life threatening, even one that would ordinarily be quite treatable.
One reason that some very treatable cases of mushroom poisoning become dangerous or even catastrophic is that the symptoms are often mistaken for the flu, or some other sort of virus or infection, when in fact, the poisoned individual may be headed for kidney failure. Many of the toxins that cause mushroom poisoning or mycetism are family specific. The toxins present in poisonous mushrooms are referred to as active agents (the chemicals that actually do us harm). For example, amatoxins are active agents in the amanita genus of mushrooms.
Amatoxins are the most dangerous and common causes of mushroom poisoning in the world. These are found in the amanita genus of mushrooms. Amanita mushrooms can be found throughout the world. This group includes the notorious and aptly named death cap and destroying angel mushrooms as well as some from other genera as well. Amatoxins attack the liver. The symptoms typically include violent vomiting, diarrhea, and intense abdominal pain. Most people do not feel the symptoms until about 24 hours after they have eaten the mushrooms and there are often relapses after treatment.
There is no cure for this form of poisoning.
The only option is an effective treatment, and diligence when aware of possible ingestion. The treatment usually includes flushing the system in an attempt to remove the toxins from the body, though again, depending on how long the patient has been exposed to the toxin, response to the treatment varies. Another factor to the how a person responds to treatment is the doctor’s awareness and understanding of the poison.
Most of the mushrooms responsible for amatoxin poisoning are very plain looking mushrooms, usually bland and brown in color. They also resemble many edible mushrooms as well as live in similar environments causing mistaken identity as being the number one cause of mushroom poisoning and mushroom related death.
Muscarine is another potentially deadly toxin found in certain mushrooms including the Jack o’ Lantern mushroom as well as a few others. Most often the result of this toxin is impaired vision, excessive sweating, a decrease in blood pressure as well as possible respiratory failure and death. These symptoms are also often accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Treatment for this toxin is almost always Atropine, as it most effectively blocks muscarinic receptors in the brain thus combating the poisoning symptoms. Again, while this toxin can be deadly if treated quickly, approximately 95% of patients recover.
Isoxazole Derivatives (Muscimol, Ibotenic Acid)
These toxins are found in mushrooms such as the lovely fly agaric and the panther. While the effects of poisoning with these substances can be unpleasant, they are luckily only temporary. These toxins primarily affect the central nervous system causing delusions, convulsions, visual issues, confusion, extreme drowsiness, and of course, vomiting and nausea. Recommended treatment is primarily to maintain observation and to reassure the patient that the effects are only temporary. Suggesting that the effects of these shrooms are only temporary is not by any means encouragement to eat the mushrooms that cause these symptoms, but if you accidentally do, ride it out, and make sure someone is there to keep you safe.
Gyromitrin is a formidable and dangerous toxin that is found in mushrooms that are labeled as false morels for their resemblance to the very edible and popular morel mushroom. How symptomatic a person becomes depends on which of the mushrooms containing this toxin they ate as the different species have varying degrees of toxicity. The symptoms are usually nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration (from the vomiting and diarrhea) but can also involve dizziness, lethargy, and other neurological issues. In some cases, this sort of mushroom poisoning has lead to coma and death due to liver and kidney failure.
Treatment usually involves flushing the system with activated charcoal and monitoring blood levels, and kidney and liver functions. If necessary, dialysis, transplants, and transfusions may be necessary. Pyridoxine or vitamin B6 and sometimes benzodiazepines are often used to combat neurological issues resulting from gyromitrin poisoning including seizures. The most common reason that this sort of mushroom poisoning occurs is because of mistaken identity. Thus, if you are thinking about morel hunting, please be on the alert for the potentially deadly false morels!
Problematic Diagnostics of Mushroom Poisoning
Mushroom toxicity is often fatal or near fatal due to the symptoms being misdiagnosed (not only by the doctors) as again, many symptoms can resemble the flu or other common illness. Adding to the confusion is that many symptoms from the poisonous shrooms will not appear for at least a day or two and some take even longer, unlike typical food poisoning which often appears within hours or even minutes of ingestion.
So naturally, if you are feeling a great deal of discomfort in the belly and beyond, it could possibly be those harmless looking mushrooms that you harvested and ate two days ago. If you end up making a journey to the doc’s office, if possible, bring a sample of the mushroom in question for analysis as that will help your healthcare workers know how best to address your illness as well as to report the type and location of the poisoning to the North American Mycological Association.