What makes poisonous mushrooms so dangerous?


Although the higher fungi are not found in a high proportion in our daily diet, in our country mycology has given popular names to more than 300 common species. Thus, the mushroom harvesting, which in autumn experiences one of the most important moments, becomes a whole gastronomic feast for its followers.

In many places in our country such as Catalonia, it is common in these times to see a large number of mushrooms collected in markets and people walking through the mountains in search of them, however in the world of mushroom gathering they are often committed recklessness, which can be very expensive. Today we explain the most frequent types of poisoning that mushrooms can cause if they are not chosen correctly and end up in our casserole.

What is a mushroom?

Although it seems like an obvious question, many would hesitate when defining a mushroom. Mushrooms are the fruitful parts of some mushrooms. Mushroom-producing fungi are made up of a multitude of interlocking filaments buried under the ground, in a set called mycelium.

When the humidity and temperature conditions are suitable, in some nodes of the mycelium network, the fruiting parts that grow outside in the form of mushrooms are formed.

What are the main causes of poisonings?

Especially in this season of the year it is common to see groups of people in the mountains collecting mushrooms, a risky practice if you do not have extensive knowledge in this field. It is very important to know that there is no rule that can be applied to all of them and of course ignore the traditional sayings such as blackening the silver or garlic teaspoon if it is toxic.

The only way to know if a mushroom is edible or not, is to know perfectly the genus and the species in question. However, it is true that some particular rules can be applied to some genres, but always with the premise of their true and unequivocal identification.

The collection and consumption of wild mushrooms produces a large number of accidental poisonings. These poisonings are mainly due to the consumption of toxic mushrooms confused with other edibles, or ingested after subjecting them to false empirical toxicity tests. This type of poisoning is especially frequent in regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, due to their great tradition in collecting mushrooms.

In general, there is an incidence of 5 - 10 cases per million inhabitants per year, that is, from 200 to 400 cases / year in Spain. Approximately half of these intoxications are not detected in hospitals. The other half, whose symptoms are alarming enough to motivate the transfer of the patient to the emergency room, are distributed as follows: 40% are severe forms (type Amanita phalloides), with a mortality that is currently around 10%. 50% are gastroenteritis, more or less severe, which generally clears up without complications in a couple of days; The remaining 10% are various types of intoxications, generally of low severity.

The presentation of these toxic accidents is typically autumn, as it coincides with the fruiting season of the mushrooms, and important variations in the incidence can be observed in relation to climatic conditions.

Types of poisonings

Poisoning from the consumption of toxic mushrooms has been classified in various ways, according to a wide variety of parameters. From the first decades of this century they began to be classified into two large groups, based on the time that elapses from the moment of ingestion until the appearance of the first discomfort.

This mode of classification has proven extremely useful, and is still valid today. According to this incubation period, poisonings from ingestion of toxic mushrooms can be classified into one or the other of the following two groups:

▪ With a short latency period: Those intoxications in which the interval between ingestion and the appearance of the first discomfort is less than 6 hours, generally ranging between 30 minutes and 3 or 4 hours. They are usually mild intoxications.

▪ Long latency period: Those intoxications in which the interval between ingestion and the appearance of the first discomfort is greater than 6 hours, generally ranging between 9 and 15 hours, and may in some cases reach 10 or 15 days. They are usually serious poisonings, due to toxins that, after being absorbed, directly injure cells of vital organs.

Short-latency poisonings

1. Acute mushroom gastroenteritis

It is undoubtedly the most frequent form of presentation with more than 50%. The responsible species belong to various genera: Lactarius, Russula, Boletus, Tricholoma, Entoloma, Clitocybe, Onphalotus, Scleroderma, Agaricus, Clorophillum, Hebeloma, Nematoloma and others.

These mushrooms present various substances with an irritant effect on the digestive tract.Symptoms appear between 30 minutes and 4 hours after ingestion causing nausea and vomiting, often accompanied by abdominal pain and diarrhea.

In general, they spontaneously evolve towards healing in the course of one or two days, the only possible complication in some cases being dehydration. The treatment is symptomatic, the evolution benign and the mortality null.

2. Delusional syndrome

It is the so-called drunkenness by mushrooms, and it occurs when consuming copies of Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina. The ingestion of these amanitas usually produces a picture of vomiting between half an hour and about two hours after ingestion.

In an inconsistent way there is a picture of agitation, sometimes with fits of rage, accompanied by ataxia. Other times a neurological depression occurs, which can reach a situation close to coma. Some fatal intoxication has been documented throughout history, especially by A. pantherina.

3. Hallucinatory syndrome

The consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, belonging to several genera (Psilocybe, Paneolus, Conocybe, Inocybe, Copelandia, Pluteus) is often voluntary, seeking to obtain from them an alteration of the perception of reality. Today thousands of people in the United States, and possibly elsewhere in America and Europe, regularly consume these types of mushrooms (magic mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms, angels). In many cases the mushrooms are cultivated with homemade means by the consumers themselves.

The onset of symptoms is quite fast, they appear just over half an hour after ingestion, and they can configure a psychotic picture with hallucinations, euphoria, disorientation and muscle weakness, which usually disappear completely after 6-24 hours.

4. Muscarinic syndrome

It is produced by mushrooms with a high content of muscarine, such as numerous Inocybe (I. fastigiata, I. patoullardii) and some small white Clitocybe (C. rivulosa and C. dealvata).

Some species of Inocybe in Mediterranean-type pine forests, which are usually collected by confusion with small Tricholoma edible, such as the bold or mice, which grow precisely in that habitat. To these Inocybe they are sometimes designated as witches.

Symptoms appear very quickly between 15-30 minutes after ingestion, with the presence of sweating, salivation, tearing, pupil constriction, blurred vision, abdominal cramps or diarrhea.

The evolution is benign and the symptoms disappear in 2-4 hours, despite the fact that some deaths from Inocybe patoullardii and Clitocybe dealvata are cited in ancient medical literature.

5. Coprinic syndrome

It is actually a conditioned poisoning, symptoms only appear if the consumption of alcoholic beverages is associated with the ingestion of mushrooms Coprinus atramentarius and Clitocybe clavipes, since they have a substance that blocks the metabolism of alcohol, favoring its accumulation.

Symptoms appear 15 to 30 minutes after drinking any alcoholic beverage and for 4 days after eating the mushrooms. It is characterized by a facial flushing, nausea, vomiting, sweating, metallic taste, tachycardia, and hypotension. The prognosis is mild and the clinical picture resolves in less than 24 hours.

6. Hemolytic syndrome:

Hemolysis from the consumption of mushrooms can be of two types: a slight and a more serious one.

The first is produced by consumption of Ascomycetes raw or undercooked, although there are also in the genres Helvella, Sarcosphaera, Morchella and Mitrophora. These are good species, edible after proper cooking, the best known being the morels, spring mushrooms of great gastronomic value.

There is, however, a serious form of hemolysis, which occurs in some people when repeatedly consuming the mushroom Paxillus involutus. The picture appears between 30 minutes and a few hours after ingestion of the mushrooms, it is a massive hemolysis that can lead to death.

Long-latency intoxications

1. Gyro syndrome

It is practically unknown in our environment, since the custom of drying giromitras prior to consumption has been universally extended, we can consider it an exceptional eventuality. It is produced by the false morel, or bonnet (Gyromitra esculenta). This mushroom can be considered edible if it is dried, or boiled and the cooking water is discarded, prior to consumption.

The clinical symptoms appear 6-12 hours after ingestion, with a digestive picture, to which is added vertigo and severe headache. In severe cases it can be fatal, however the toxicity is almost always limited to the initial symptoms and resolves in 2-6 days.

2. Orellanic syndrome

It is a serious poisoning produced by the ingestion of various species of the genus Cortinarius. Its incubation period is very long (3-17 days) so it is difficult to make a correct diagnosis.

A picture of intense thirst is first presented, which gradually evolves into severe kidney failure, which may in some cases be irreversible. A nonspecific alteration of the general state is often associated with weakness and pain. Because it takes so long for kidney failure to occur, it may not be related to ingestion of mushrooms.

3. Cyclopeptid syndrome

It is undoubtedly the most serious mushroom poisoning, responsible for more than 90% of deaths from mushroom consumption. Its incidence is high. It is estimated that between 30 and 50% of the intoxications that come to hospital Emergency Services are of the cyclopeptid type. All cases appear in autumn, mainly between the months of September and November.

Despite having always been associated with the Amanita phalloides some species of the genera Galerina and Lepiota they have been responsible for serious poisonings, sometimes fatal. In all cases it is the same type of poisoning since toxins are common to all of them.

There are three groups of toxins in mushrooms of the genus Amanita. Only amatoxins are responsible for human poisoning. The lethal dose for humans is very low and a single specimen of 20-30 g can cause the death of a previously healthy adult, if adequate treatment is not mediated.

As you can see, although everyone knows that there are poisonous mushrooms, it does not hurt to remember it especially in these times, so if you like to collect mushrooms, always be accompanied by an expert, be cautious and above all study their characteristics a lot and still if there are doubts, it is better not to risk and leave them in the bush.

Images | Nacho | Nacho | Silvia | Lindsey | AKCCM | Dähncke | Joansfr | Toffel | AK CCM | Aleksey Gnilenkov
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