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UCSD Researchers Caution Against Unregulated ‘Magic Mushrooms’

UCSD Researchers Caution Against Unregulated ‘Magic Mushrooms’

This photograph shows a fly agaric or fly amanita (Amanita muscaria) in St Philbert-sur-Risle, western France, on November 26, 2023. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

6/10/2024

Updated: 6/11/2024

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SAN DIEGO—A type of “magic mushroom” is gaining interest in the United States, but scientists at the University of California–San Diego (UCSD) warned June 10 it may not be the one people think they are purchasing.
In a paper published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, scientists at the UCSD Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science suggest that the growing market for Amanita muscaria “may be sparked in part by emerging clinical research supporting the safety and efficacy of psilocybin as a treatment for depression,” a university spokesperson wrote.
Like the more famous psilocybin mushrooms, Amanita muscaria mushrooms have psychotropic effects, including a feeling of weightlessness, visual and auditory hypersensitivity, space distortion, unawareness of time, and colored hallucinations.
However, the authors write, the psychotropic compounds can also be more toxic than fentanyl, cocaine, and PCP, according to a review of estimates from mouse studies. Nevertheless, gummies and chocolates containing these compounds are being marketed with health-related claims such as mitigation of anxiety, depression, and other conditions, often by vague references to clinical studies related to psilocybin, which is not as toxic and produces different psychotropic effects.
“There is a lot of interest in the therapeutic potential for psilocybin and for good reason. But at the same time, a growing industry may be trying to capitalize on this interest by marketing other mushrooms,” said Eric Leas assistant professor in the Wertheim School and senior author on the paper. “For example, some manufacturers are calling Amanita muscaria products ’magic mushroom gummies’ and not disclosing what mushroom they contain, or not making it clear Amanita muscaria is a different mushroom than psilocybin and has essentially no clinical evidence supporting its use as a therapy.”
The compounds in the mushrooms work differently. Psilocybin is an antidepressant that primarily binds to serotonin receptors, activating a neural pathway that mediates happiness and optimism. Amanita muscaria, however, is a depressant, similar to alcohol and benzodiazepines, which suppress the central nervous system.
“There may be some pharmaceutical potential to Amanita muscaria, but muscimol does not have the same effects on the body as psilocybin, so it probably would not have the same treatment applications if it ever went through drug development,” Mr. Leas said. “For this reason, it is misleading not to clearly distinguish between muscimol and psilocybin.
“If someone is consenting to a psychedelic experience, they have a right to know what substance they are taking and receive accurate information about its potential health benefits and health risks,” he said.
The problem is compounded by lack of federal regulation of Amanita muscaria, which is not on the Controlled Substances list excepting in Louisiana. Comparatively, psilocybin is a Schedule 1 drug, making its manufacture, distribution, import/export, possession and use illegal. In 2017, the FDA deemed the substance a “breakthrough therapy” and in 2023, loosened restrictions on the substance to allow for clinical trials.
However, according to the authors of the report, it is often marketed as a dietary supplement, products covered by regulations enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.
“We have found that many manufacturers use supplement labeling, including ‘Supplement Facts’ panels,” Mr. Leas said. “However, there is a process for bringing a supplement to market that involves presenting safety data and filing an application, and we cannot find any evidence that any of these manufacturers have gone through this process, and this makes the current products sold in this manner illegal.”
The authors recommend the FDA place Amanita muscaria on the Controlled Substances list or, if failing that, precautions such as setting age restrictions, accurate dosing standards, childproof packaging and marketing aimed at adults rather than children.
The researchers would also like to see mental health professionals help their patients distinguish between psilocybin and Amanita muscaria.
According to the authors, “companies who are making these products are pushing the limits of our regulations,” they write in the report. “They are getting away with making a buck until someone tells them they can’t. Given the substantial risks associated with using Amanita muscaria products, it is a buyer beware marketplace where consumers are at risk and are not accurately informed. The time for a public health first response is now.”
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