We've all heard the "Amanita mushrooms are poisonous" argument. And if you were to eat them fresh without proper processing, that's true. But once prepared correctly, the risk of toxicity is minimal. So, how do you do that?
Through decarboxylation! Commonly referred to as "decarbing" for easy pronunciation, decarboxylation is the process of removing the carboxyl group of a chemical structure. It's a non-negotiable part of the Amanita mushroom preparation phase and an essential lesson for newbies.
Luckily, we're making the confusing-sounding process simple. Just stick with us, and you'll have the knowledge necessary to conquer Amanita decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation: What Is It?
We'll start by stripping the scientific name right back to basics.
In succinct words, decarboxylation is the chemical process that gets rid of the carboxyl group in a chemical structure by releasing it as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Let's dissect the process's name for a clearer understanding:
- De = remove
- carboxyl = two groups connected to a carbon
- ation = the process of
So, it's the process of removing two groups connected to a carbon. Simpler than you thought, right?
But Why Bother Removing the Carboxyl Group?
Decarbing a chemical makes a wholly new chemical. And in the Amanita world, that means you'll be converting ibotenic acid (the compound that causes the reported adverse effects of consuming the mushroom) into muscimol (the psychoactive compound that causes the purported pleasurable effects).
Remember, decarboxylation releases CO2 (comprised of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms). Conveniently, ibotenic acid (C5H6N2O4) requires one less carbon atom and two fewer oxygen atoms to become muscimol (C4H6N2O2), making decarbing the exact process for the job.
Fresh Amanita mushrooms mainly contain ibotenic acid and little muscimol. Sadly, ibotenic acid has some undesirable side effects, while muscimol has (anecdotally, at least) been shown to produce great healing effects.
So, by decarboxylating ibotenic acid into muscimol, the toxicity of Amanita mushrooms is reduced to very low levels, and the pleasurable reactions are heightened.
Put simply, you have to decarb the mushrooms for safe consumption.
Due to the somewhat "high stakes" nature of decarbing, many people purchase expertly prepared Amanita mushrooms to prevent worry. But the process is entirely possible to do yourself.
The Ongoing Full Decarb Debate
Within the microdosing community, there's an ongoing argument about whether fully decarboxylating Amanita mushrooms is necessary. Some consider a 50/50 decarb fine for microdosing, while others say a 70/30 decarb is great for slightly higher dosages.
People who are against full decarboxylation have the following two debate points:
Unrealistic Evidence Supporting Toxicity of Ibotenic Acid
The main study claiming the high toxicity levels of ibotenic acid is unrealistic — that's the primary argument put forward by those on this side of the fence.
The study they're referring to chose to research the safety of the chemical by dealing with the worst-case scenario. Thus, they injected ibotenic acid into rats' brains. With that in mind, it's clear to see why people argue the unrealistic nature of the evidence.
However, ibotenic acid remains an NMDA antagonist, and other cell-based studies have concluded that overexcitation of certain neurons can cause cells to die.
Therefore, we'd argue that it's best to avoid ibotenic acid and follow proper decarboxylation processes or buy correctly prepared Amanita products for maximum safety. After all, there aren't any benefits to consuming the compound, so why take the risk?
Ibotenic Acid Moves Through the Body Untouched
Some studies, like this 2016 one, show that almost all of the ibotenic acid and one-third of the muscimol content passes through the body without change. Other estimates say it's closer to 90% of muscimol and 90% of ibotenic acid.
This is probably the reason behind the stories of ancient Siberians drinking the urine of the shamans who consumed Amanita mushrooms. And is also likely why some people will remain unaffected after consuming non-fully decarboxylated dried caps.
But there isn't enough evidence to suggest the above is 100% true. So, you may as well convert all the ibotenic acid into muscimol to increase safety and save foraging time or money. Losing between 60% and 90% of muscimol in your urine probably isn't what you signed up for, especially when there are simple decarboxylation procedures to follow!
How to Decarb Amanita Mushrooms
While there are a few sites that will tell you about 50/50 and 70/30 decarboxylation, we're going to look at full decarb methods only for the reasons we've discussed above.
For complete decarboxylation, you have five options:
- Using heat
- Using acid
- Using pressure
- Using all of the above
- Using lactobacillus (i.e., a strain of bacteria)
Regardless of the method, converting ibotenic acid into muscimol (decarboxylation) is actually relatively easy.
Here's how many people quickly fully decarboxylate their Amanita mushrooms:
You Will Need
- Stainless steel pot with lid
- Lemon juice
- pH meter
- Distilled water
- Strainer (e.g., cheesecloth or coffee filters)
- For dried mushrooms, cut them into small pieces but don't grind them into a powder. For fresh mushrooms, remove the dirt and dice them into small cubes.
- Fill the stainless steel pot with tap water, ensuring there's enough to last for the entire simmer.
- Add mushrooms and store.
- Wait for the pH level of the water to adjust.
- Add a tiny amount of lemon juice.
- Measure the water's pH. Add more lemon juice if necessary until the pH value reaches 2.5 to 3.0 (stir between each drop addition).
- Put the lid on the pot and bring it to a boil.
- Once a rolling boil is achieved, lower the heat to simmer.
- Maintain the simmer for three hours while keeping the lid on, only removing it when you need to check inside.
- Measure the water's pH level every half hour to ensure it stays in the correct range.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Strain the mushroom matter, squeezing out any liquids and discarding the remains.
You've decarboxylated your mushrooms and made a muscimol-heavy liquid perfect for Amanita tea!
See? Decarboxylation isn't as tricky as the name suggests.