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  • 7/16/2016 Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms

    http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/Lect19.htm 1/12

    Poisonous Mushrooms Introduction

    We have briefly discussed poisonous mushrooms when we covered the eating of wild mushrooms. It was difficult not to since eating wild mushrooms and mushroom poisoning seem to be closely related subjects.  This is a rather important topic since mushrooms have apparently been gathered for eating throughout the world, for thousands of years, and it is also likely that during that time many people became ill or died when they inadvertently consumed poisonous mushrooms. Because some mushrooms were known to cause death when consumed, they were also known to be used by assassins.

    Used as Poison in Assassinations and Murders

    The most famous of all planned murders was that of Emperor Claudius by his fourth wife, Agrippina, The Younger (also his niece!). The story behind this assassination, as well as the political intrigue that was present during this period of the Roman Empire would have made a great mini series or soap opera. Claudius became emperor, in 41 A.D., following the assassination of his nephew Caligula, and married Agrippina, his fourth wife, after disposing of Messalina, his third wife, for adultery. Agrippina came into the marriage with Nero, a son from a previous marriage and wanted him to follow Claudius as emperor. Agrippina persuaded him to adopt her son so that Nero would be in line to become emperor. Once Nero was adopted, Agrippina plotted to kill Claudius, which involved a number of people. Although Claudius had a son, Brittanicus, by Messalina, and should have succeeded him as emperor, Claudius shielded him from the responsibilities as heir to the throne and promoted Nero as his successor. He believed that the political intrigue that was taking place would eventually lead to the beginning of the fall of Rome as it did under Caligula and that Brittanicus would then step in as emperor to save Rome. However, this never occurred

    So that Nero could become emperor, immediately, Agrippina planned Claudius' death by preparing his favorite mushroom,  Amanita caesarea (Fig. 1a), which was also a favorite of the Roman nobility. However, the dish of mushroom was also laced with the juice of Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap (Fig. 1b) by Locusta, Claudius' trusted (or so he thought) servant. The next day the first symptoms of A. phalloides poisoning had appeared and Claudius called Xenophon, his personal physician and another conspirator in the crime. Xenophon used a large dose of colocynth, an extract obtained from Citrullus colocynthis, Bitter Apple, which contains a toxic alkaloid. The

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    poison was administered as an enema so that Claudius would not detect its bitter taste. The enema and mushroom poisoning, together, ensured the death of Claudius and Nero's rise to emperor of Rome.

     Figure 1. Amanita caesarea, an edible species.

    Figure 2. Amanita phalloides is quite different in appearance

    A more recent use took place at the beginning of the 20th. Century, involving a Frenchman by the name of Girard, who was tried and convicted of murder, in 1918. Girard was knowledgeable about insurance and had some acquaintance with mushrooms. With his wife or mistress, he would make friends with other couples who were approximately the age of he and his wife and mistress. He and his wife (or mistress) would then pose as that couple, and take out an insurance policy in their name, naming he and his wife as the beneficiary on the policy. Once the policy was taken out, the couple was then invited to dinner where they were poisoned. The mushrooms used in some of the murders was Amanita phalloides. However, bacteria, such as anthrax and typhoid were also used in their earlier efforts. Unfortunately, for Girard, he became too greedy with one of his victims. He had taken out four different insurance policies on a woman and had collected the insurance money from three of the companies without incident. The fourth company, however, had a suspicious physician who questioned why such a young and healthy woman would suddenly die. When he went to perform the autopsy, the body that he saw was not the woman that he had examined earlier when the insurance policy was taken out. Further investigation revealed the trail of murders that Girard and his accomplices had carried out. Girard was sentence to death, but died of tuberculosis before his execution was carried out. His two accomplices, his wife and mistress were sentenced to life.

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    Mushroom Toxins and Their Symptoms

    It seemed like almost every year, when I lived in California, since I became interested in mushrooms, somebody would inevitably die from mushroom poisoning. The reason for this is not because every other species of mushroom is poisonous nor that mushrooms are that difficult to identify. As I have mentioned previously, relatively few mushrooms are poisonous and of those that are, only a handful will be fatal if consumed. We will go over, in detail, the different types of toxins that are known to occur in mushrooms. These toxins are summarized in the table below, with specific examples of the toxins and some fungi that are known to have these toxins.

    Mushroom Toxins, Symptoms and Where They May Occur Toxin Groups Symptoms Fungi

    I. Cyclopeptides, e.g., Amanitoxins and Phallotoxins

    Violent vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, approximately 12 hours after consumption, which last for days. Remission of symptoms, followed by failure of kidney and liver function, coma and usually death.

    Species of Amanita in Section: Phalloideae, e.g. A. phalloides, A. verna, A. virosa, Galerina autumnalis, G. marginata and Conocybe filaris

    II. Gyromitrin, e.g., Monomethylhydrazine (MMH)

    Bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and may feel dizzy dizzy, lethargic and exhausted, typically 6-12 hours after consumption of mushroom.  In more severe cases, signs of liver toxicity occurs 36-48 hours after consumption, and death may occur.

    Species of Gyromitra, e.g., G. esculenta, G. infula, and species of Helvella and Paxina

    III. Orellanine

    Nausea, vomiting, and anorexia present in most patient 12 hours to 3 days after consumption. Evidence of renal damage

    Some species of Cortinarius, e.g., C. orellanus, C. speciosissimus, C.

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    occurs (burning thirst, frequent urination) after a lag period of 3-15 days


    IV. Muscarine

    “PSL” Syndrome (perspiration, salivation, lachrimation) develops rapidly, within 15 to 30 minutes of consumption. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, blurred vision and urge to urinate.

    "Little white or brown mushrooms" that grow in grassy areas. Two common genera are Clitocybe and Inocybe. Also Omphalotus species

    V. Ibotenic Acid, Muscimol

    Victim exhibits symptoms of alcohol intoxication, i.e., unable to walk or walk with drunken gait, confusion between 30 and 120 minutes of consumption. Alternation between lethargy and hyperactivity. Nausea and vomiting may also occur if too many mushrooms have been consumed. This is followed by a deep sleep with dreams, lasting about two hours

    Species of Amanita, e.g. A. cokeri, A. gemmata, A. muscaria and A. pantherina and Panaeolus campanulatus.

    VI. Coprine (Anabuse-like

    Symptoms identical to those produced by disulfiram (Antabuse). Hot flushes of the face and neck, metallic taste in mouth, tingling sensation in limbs, numbness in hands, palpitations, a throbbing headache, nausea and vomiting. Although

    Most commonly known from Coprinus atramentarius.

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    Reaction) unpleasant, consumption of mushroom is not fatal. A rather unique toxin in that symptoms occur only if mushroom is consumed with a drink containing alcohol. Symptoms begin approximately 30-60 minutes after consumption and will continue as long as there is alcohol in the system.

    but also known from C. insignis, C. quadrifidus and C. variegatus.

    VII. Psilocybin and Psilocin

    Variable, affecting the senses. Some of the common symptoms include uncontrollable laughter, hallucinations, euphoria and disembodied experience. Symptoms begin approximately 10-30 minutes after consumption.

    Species from four agaric genera, Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Conocybe and Gymnopilus.

    VIII. Gastrointestinal irritant, composed of a number of unrelated compounds, which produce similar effects

    Digestive upset within 30-90 minutes of consuming mushroom. Commonest symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, with abdominal cramps. Symptoms clear up within 3-4 hours and complete recovery a day or so later.

    Many species involved; Agaricus, Amanita, Boletus, Chlorophyllum, Entoloma, Hebeloma, Lactarius, Marasmius, Naematoloma, Russula, Scleroderma, Tricholoma and many others.

    You may noticed that there is are a number of redundant symptoms, i.e. vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Thus, these symptoms are not that useful, but do provide an indicator that some sort of poisoning has occurred.

    Group I. Phallotoxins and Amatoxins: This group of toxins is responsible for most fatalities in mushroom poisonings. Fortunately, they occurs in only a few