You CAN Get Sick from Handling Toxic Mushrooms

This is one of the most illogical myths about mushrooms that I have ever heard. The same people who will caution you about handling toxic plants will tell you it is perfectly fine to handle toxic mushrooms with your bare hands, and even to chew and spit a bit to confirm an ID by taste (something I have NEVER done with a mushroom I cannot identify).

Many people experience harmful effects from it. They just do not connect it up. They say, "Oh, it must have been something other than the mushroom.", or they never even THINK of the mushroom as a potential cause for their illness a day or a week or two later.

I'm willing to bet the majority of avid mushroom foragers HAVE been sickened by handling a mushroom at least once, and did not connect it up, because by the time a person gets sick they blame it on something else. Usually the affects are mild - nausea, stomach cramps, weakness, headache, decreased urine output and a little edema, disorientation or dizziness, or a period of time with an overactive imagination, etc. Enough that you may lose a day of work, or think about going home, but not enough to hospitalize you. And that ONLY because the exposure was very mild.

Remember, effects of deadly Amanitas can be two or three weeks later. C. molybdites occurs 18-24 hours later, with nausea and weakness when exposed through the skin or mucus membranes. Amanita muscaria toxicity through skin starts within minutes - like within 20-30 minutes with stomach and intestinal cramping (sharp cramps). Many occur several days to a week later, or more. Are you really going to remember and connect that up?

My first experience with this was with Chlorophyllum molybdites, and it happened twice within a week, so the combination of symptoms and time to onset allowed me to CORRECTLY attribute the cause to the effect.

I picked and examined a large number of Chlorophyllum molybdites for a research project we were doing for our research farm. Probably 20 specimens from several locations. Picked them, put them in a paper bag, brought them home, laid some out for images and to dehydrate, and take spore prints, and handled perhaps 2 more specimens while examining them to make sure I had a good solid memory for the key identifiers for that species exactly, especially in instances where the gills did not turn colors (we discovered that lawns that have been treated with herbicide may produce C. molybdites mushrooms that retain white gills while fully mature).

About 18 hours later, I had mild digestive upset, and mild diarrhea. Enough to make me not feel hungry or interested in food, and to just feel yucky all day - it lasted less than 24 hours. About one attack of mild diarrhea, not severe. I noticed that I was ill, but did not QUITE make the connection that it was the mushrooms that did it.

Several days later I collected additional specimens from a new location, for further study, and to conduct an experiment regarding edibility (they are in fact edible if cooked in a specific manner). I collected perhaps a dozen specimens this time, again handling them when picking, and when placing them on the drying surface after I got home. I handled FEWER, and less intensively this time.

Again, about 18 hours later, I had mild digestive upset, feeling nauseous and yucky. Did not really have noticeable diarrhea this time, and the digestive upset was a little less severe, did not last all day, but was noticeable enough that I made the connection in having collected the mushrooms the prior day, and that the same thing had happened the last time I had done so. I was monitoring my health fairly closely at the time, because I was having issues with an allergy, and trying to isolate what had caused it, so I was paying attention. Most people do NOT pay attention. If they go foraging one day, and feel a little sick the next day, they put it down to a bug they caught at work, or something else, and rarely connect it with what they were doing.

Given that the symptoms I experienced were a lessened version of the classic poisoning symptoms for C. molybdites, it is entirely reasonable to assume that my reaction was exactly what I said it was.

I had a similar experience later with Amanita muscaria, and it caused a minimized version of the classic symptoms. I had sharp stomach cramps, followed by diarrhea the next day, and that first night had a few hours of VERY vivid and bizarre dreaming while I slept. This was after handling the equivalent of about 3-4 large mushrooms, slicing them to dry for later parboil experiments.

Perhaps I am someone who is just overly sensitive to mushroom toxins? No. I handled several in all instances - enough to get a good exposure on my hands. That is all. Picking one is unlikely to affect someone. Picking several, toting them back for examination and microscopic analysis or preservation, is VERY likely to cause the same reaction, in ANYONE.

Most people NEVER pay attention. In their mind, it could not happen, therefore it never has, even if it HAS happened. Pay attention, and you may discover (as I did), that the unreasonable myth is exactly that... unreasonable.

WHY would it be safe to chew and spit, when SOME of what you put in your mouth WILL BE swallowed whether you intend it or not? Why WOULDN'T mushroom toxins, like any other toxin, be absorbable through the skin? There is nothing magical about mushrooms that exempts them from the same laws of chemistry and biology that plants and animals are subject to! It is entirely reasonable to assume that they CAN absorb through the skin and mouth (or remain in saliva that is swallowed), since that is the case with EVERY OTHER substance on the earth.

I do know it WAS the toxic mushrooms that caused the illness with both species, and since there is ABSOLUTELY NO scientific or medical "rule" that says that mushroom toxins cannot absorb through the skin, and since it has NEVER actually been researched, I'm operating under the rule of caution where handling unknowns are concerned, and where handling known poisonous mushrooms are concerned.

To assume they do NOT cause issues is the unreasonable assumption. And it IS purely a myth.


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