Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium are potent depressant drugs that interact with the GABA neurotransmitter system and are effective anxiolytics. “Benzos” can be some of the most useful medications at interrupting an acute panic attack or even psychotic episodes, and overall have a great safety profile when used sparingly in the sense that risk of death from overdose is low unless combined with other substances. They may be used as a sedative, to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawals, muscle spasms and even epilepsy. (1)
Unfortunately benzodiazepines are some of the most chemically addictive substances known. For this reason the FDA has classified benzos as a controlled substance and recommended that they only be used for up to four weeks to prevent physical dependency, although it can take even less time for the dependency to develop. Often people are prescribed benzos for years or even decades.
Side effects may vary greatly depending on duration, dosage, and other factors, but can include memory loss and general cognitive decline and can greatly degrade a person’s quality of life. Long term use can lead to symptoms of dementia. (2)
Benzodiazepine dependence can be devastating. It can be a much more difficult addiction to overcome than even meth or heroin, with withdrawal symptoms including rebound anxiety, insomnia, and poor concentration. More acute symptoms may include muscle aches and spasms which may be quite severe, hyperventilation, nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, and even grand mal seizures. These symptoms are often described as “living hell” by those experiencing them and make breaking the cycle of dependency a particularly difficult challenge.
Abrupt cessation of benzodiazepine in someone with a severe dependency can be lethal.
However, when someone finds themselves having acquired a dependency to benzos, whether originally prescribed to treat panic attacks, epilepsy, or used illicitly, people suddenly find themselves deep in a hole in which they may witness their cognitive function slipping away before them, even as their tolerance and dependency increases. This can tear someone’s life apart as they lose interest in activities and relationships they were once passionate about and the symptoms of long-term benzo use begin to converge with dementia. Furthermore any attempt to cease using the drug leads to some of the most difficult withdrawals of any substance.
Not only that, although acute withdrawals usually last between 5-28 days, for some the symptoms may last much longer. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can last for 12 months or longer and may include loss of libido, depression, mood swings and other symptoms that can severely affect a person’s quality of life. (3)
Methods of detoxing from benzodiazepines generally require a comprehensive treatment plan including a medically supervised tapering protocol. Inpatient rehab programs may last weeks or months and may include dietary changes, behavioral therapies, counseling, and other medications to control some of the worst symptoms. Even with these strategies, for some the process is just too painful. Some believe they have permanently damaged themselves and feel as if they have no choice but to surrender to the oblivion of the addiction.
If only there was a miracle solution… Something like Ibogaine is to opioid dependency.
Well it’s not quite so simple, but as it turns out Nature has provided us with certain tools that may be able to assist people in their journey to freedom from benzo dependency. Oddly enough, one of the most useful of these tools is one of the most iconic yet misunderstood entheogens on the planet, the famous red mushroom with white spots known as Amanita Muscaria.
Enter Amanita Muscaria
Amanita Muscaria contains some very unique bioactive compounds including Ibotenic Acid and Muscimol. (Other mushrooms such as Amanita Pantherina, Regalis, and other related toadstools are also active, but for simplicity in this article I will be referring to Amanita Muscaria or AM since it is the most well known of the varieties.)
Amanita Muscaria is perhaps the oldest entheogen consumed by humanity, universally recognized as the “Alice in Wonderland” or “Mario” mushroom, yet is tragically misunderstood. It has a reputation as simply being “poisonous.” Improperly prepared and taken at unsafe dosages, it can lead to stomach pain, nausea, terrifying fully-immersive realistic hallucinations, convulsions and seizures. It is closely related to Amanita Phalloides, the “Deathcap,” which is one of the deadliest mushrooms in the world, accounting for 50% of all mushroom-poisoning fatalities. Add to that the fact that Ibotenic Acid has historically been used as a “brain-lesioning” agent in medical research, it’s no wonder people are scared of it!
Let’s clear up a couple of misconceptions about AM before we begin discussing its potential therapeutic uses!
First of all, the idea that one of the active chemicals is a “brain-leisoning” agent is understandably off-putting and yet requires some important context. Ibotenic Acid (IBO) has been used to induce brain lesions in mice specifically by injecting the chemical directly into the brain. In fact the reason it’s so useful for this purpose is specifically because the chemical is actually processed by the brain very quickly so that the effect is extremely localized. Other chemicals that are more neurotoxic would be less useful because the induced brain lesions would be larger and less isolated and defined. Ibotenic acid is preferred because the effect is limited to the exact region where it is injected. (4) There is no evidence to suggest that ibotenic acid induces brain lesions when consumed orally. This single misunderstanding is responsible for much of the fear surrounding AM mushrooms.
High levels of ibotenic acid are technically neurotoxic due to its affinity for the glutamate receptors, where it induces an excitatory neuronal response, similarly to MSG and aspartame. This effect can be minimized by proper preparation of the mushroom which converts most of the IBO into Muscimol (MUS). Preparation of the mushroom involves a simple water extract which is then boiled at low pH (between 2.5 and 3) for about three hours which decarboxylates the majority of the IBO into MUS. (5) It is Muscimol which functions as a highly selective agonist of the GABA neurotransmitter receptor site and has the potentially useful applications for treating benzo withdrawals we are interested in.
Now that we’ve cleared up the issue of Ibotenic Acid, let’s talk about the issue of dosing. The biggest issue is the variance of potency of the mushrooms. Depending on season, host tree (the mushroom is mycorrhizal, which means it only grows symbiotically with the root systems of living trees, making cultivation nearly impossible), and a variety of other factors, the potency of individual mushrooms can vary wildly. 5 grams of one batch of mushrooms may be equivalent to 30 grams from another batch. Even within the same batch, one particular cap might be several times more potent than the rest. Amanita Pantherinas may be 5-9x more potent than Amanita Muscaria. That means five grams of Amanita Muscaria may cause a very pleasant experience, while five grams of Amanita Pantherina may be extraordinarily overwhelming.
The only way to safely work with AM is to create a standardized extract. What that means is making an extraction out of a large batch of mushrooms, properly decarboxylating, and test the potency of each batch very carefully, working your way up to the desired effect.
The full blown “breakthrough” Amanita experience is spectacular and can be absolutely terrifying and overwhelming, leading to a complete loss of body awareness and sensory input so that a person who takes it that far may believe that they are dead or in a coma while experiencing massive time dilation, thought loops, etc. Meanwhile their body might be doing its own thing, thrashing about, smashing their apartment, etc. When the person finally returns to their body, they may wake up in the hospital and then, when released, return home to a very traumatized pet.
(Note: This is a Master Teacher Plant, similar to Ayahuasca or Iboga, and is known to impart deep wisdom, spiritual courage, and esoteric teachings, but it must be researched thoroughly and approached with absolute respect. The visionary states can be very enlightening although taking it too far is simply dangerous and irresponsible.)
So this is the other issue that scares people away from the mushroom. Maybe someone ate ten grams once, and twenty grams another time, to little effect. Then another time they try twenty grams yet again from a different batch and end up being completely overwhelmed and devastated by the experience. So again: the only truly responsible way to dose AM is to make a standardized extract from a larger quantity, then gradually work your way up to an appropriate dose as you figure out the strength of that particular extract.
So now that we’ve cleared up some of the dangers and misconceptions, let’s talk about the potential benefits!
Amanita Muscaria to Treat Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
Muscimol, which interacts with the GABA receptor system like benzos, has varied effects depending on the dose. Threshold doses act as an anxiolytic and can also help aid in sleep. There is some evidence that MUS may reduce essential tremors and applications in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease are being explored. (6) Many people use decarbed AM extracts to self-medicate for stress, anxiety, and insomnia, similarly to how benzos are used.
There is mounting anecdotal evidence that properly prepared Amanita Muscaria extracts containing Muscimol can negate the effects of benzo withdrawals, such as rebound anxiety, muscle tension, and insomnia.
WARNING: Do NOT simply quit benzos and use AM as a substitution therapy. Proper tapering protocols are absolutely necessary. Abrupt cessation of benzos can lead to seizures and be potentially life-threatening! Also do NOT combine AM and benzos as these substances may “stack” and dangerously potentiate each other. Again, this article is NOT meant to constitute advice or instructions on protocols for quitting benzos, only to elucidate some of the modalities that some individuals are exploring.
So, the big question! Can Amanita Muscaria really help with Benzo dependency? There is mounting evidence that the answer is yes.
First of all, AM has anecdotally been used by a growing number of people as a substitution therapy during tapering protocols. (Such as the “Ashton Method”) As someone is reducing their intake of benzos over time, many people have stated that taking light doses of decarboxylated AM can alleviate many of the worst withdrawal symptoms, reducing muscle spasms, anxiety, and helping to get a restful night’s sleep.
Benzos are known to alter the morphology of the GABA receptor sites over time, causing long-term synaptic changes which may be responsible for the post-acute withdrawal symptoms. (7) Some have suggested (though clinical research is still lacking) that Muscimol may help restore the morphology of the GABA receptor sites and actually heal the damage caused by long-term benzo use in the first place.
There are anecdotal reports of people taking larger amounts of AM and experiencing lasting relief from withdrawal symptoms after only a single dose. Generally speaking though, the “proper” way to use AM to transition off of benzos seems to be to follow a medical professional’s approved tapering protocol, slowly weaning the dose down, and using AM to treat the withdrawal symptoms. In these cases, a person would want to take the benzos and AM at different times of the day. For example, someone might work their way down to a low dose of a particular benzo which they take in the morning, then use AM later in the day as the withdrawal symptoms become noticeable.
AM does not seem to have any addictive potential on its own, nor does it develop a significant tolerance over time. Some people take a dose of an AM tincture several times a day to control the worst of the symptoms, but – again – it is not recommended to take AM at the same time as a benzo to avoid “stacking.” Eventually, when someone manages to wean off of the benzo completely, they might still use AM to treat the post-acute withdrawal symptoms for a while longer.
AM, properly prepared and dosed, may be one of the most effective natural anxiolytics in nature and appears to have potential to be genuinely healing to those suffering from benzo withdrawals. There is hardly any research into the use of AM and Muscimol for this purpose but no shortage of people who consider this mushroom to be an absolute miracle that has saved their life from benzo addiction.
There is a lot more to discuss when it comes to overcoming benzo dependency than is covered in the scope of this article. For one thing, not all benzos are created equal. It can be helpful to ask your doctor to help switch to diazepam (Valium) from some of the more short-acting benzos like Xanax. High doses of B12 and Magnesium may be very useful, as well as dietary changes that promote production of the neurotransmitter GABA.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that this mushroom is a Master Teacher entheogen and has great wisdom to impart for those who approach it respectfully. There are many who respect it for its spiritual qualities. At entheogenic doses it imparts teachings and spiritual courage. It is the stuff of legends and ancient magic, hidden in plain view yet completely misunderstood. It seems you can hardly go anywhere without seeing the mushroom depicted. Something about it resonates within the depths of our collective human psyche. In fact the word “Shaman” is a misnomer when applied to Ayahuasceros and Iboga practitioners. The true Shaman were the ancient Siberian practitioners of the magic of Amanita Muscaria.
Thank you for reading. I hope this article was informative. If you feel called to working with this mushroom, all I can say is do extensive research first because it demands absolute respect. That said, it is absolutely worthy of that respect.
And if you or someone you know is struggling with benzo addiction… Don’t give up hope.
(Join our Zoom meeting to discuss Amanita Muscaria to treat Benzo Dependency 4/24/2023 at 5:30pm Mountain Time: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/78203117062?pwd=PhEk7yxqkBM5ByJAPH5nWngJyPkH86.1
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to endorse the use of any substance or protocol to treat or cure any addiction or disease, nor is it meant to replace the consultation of a medical doctor. This article is for informational purposes only and to bring attention to the anecdotal evidence that some people have recently accumulated regarding the use of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom’s use in relieving benzodiazepine withdrawals. Please consult a medical professional – and an experienced mycologist – before considering any protocol using Amanita Muscaria to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This is an exceptionally nuanced subject and there is no way to cover all of the information in this article. Safety first!
Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in