Eating wild mushrooms a gamble

Rain and humidity on the Northern Rivers create perfect conditions for magic mushrooms to thrive.
Rain and humidity on the Northern Rivers create perfect conditions for magic mushrooms to thrive. Getty

SUNNY days following rain on the North Coast have created perfect conditions for mushrooms but experts have warned that consuming them could be fatal.

With a sub-tropical climate and lots of cow dung fertilising paddocks, the Northern Rivers is considered one of Australia's premier regions for picking wild mushrooms.

This includes so-called "magic mushrooms", which contain hallucinogenic properties and can induce euphoria, insomnia and paranoia.

But pharmacognosist and senior research fellow with Southern Cross University's department of Plant Science, Dr Hans Wohlmuth, said eating wild mushrooms could lead to major health risks or death.

"Unless you are really skilled at mushroom identification it's too risky because mushrooms are hard to identify, so many of the very poisonous ones look edible."

The advice comes after two people died at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital yesterday after eating death cap mushrooms at a New Year's Eve dinner party in Canberra.

It's believed the victims mistook the death caps for an edible Chinese mushroom.

While the death cap is commonly found under oak trees in Canberra and Victoria, Dr Wohlmuth said mushrooms found on the North Coast can also make people sick.

"It (the death cap) is probably the one that has killed the most people over the years but it doesn't mean there aren't others that cause severe harm and there are species in most areas that are poisonous."

Nimbin resident of 30 years and Nimbin Hemp Embassy volunteer Cassie Hall, said weather conditions have led to an abundance of magic mushrooms in recent weeks.

"They're in the paddocks everywhere at the moment because we've had sunny days after rain," she explained.

While magic mushrooms are illegal in Australia she said many backpackers come to the town hoping to buy them.

"I get lots of people coming in asking for magic mushrooms, but we don't sell anything like that because we are purely an information centre."

The effect of consuming the wrong variety can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea and hospitalisation.

Ms Hall said travellers should be cautious not to mistake toxic mushrooms with common varieties they may have picked overseas.

"I always say be sure they are the right ones because it can be like a game of Russian roulette and you really need to be careful what you put in your body."

Fatal funghi

Consuming wild mushrooms could lead to death or irreparable liver damage

There are 20 species of psychotropic mushrooms in Australia and the most common varieties are gold tops, blue meanies and liberty caps

Most magic or psilocybin mushrooms bruise blue when handled

If you eat mushrooms and become ill go to a hospital immediately. If possible, take a sample of your mushroom with you

Topics:  southern cross university

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