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Nicholas Evans Survived Accidental Mushroom Poisoning


Nicholas Evans has survived mushroom poisoning to write his fifth novel, The Brave.

Evan, 60, along with his wife suffered mushroom poisoning by accidentally eating the wrong wild mushroom in 2008. Failure to double check their field guide lead to eating one they felt was safe but turned out to be a Cortinarius speciosissimus.

The Cortinarius speciosissimus is more commonly known as the “deathly webcap.” This mushroom is considered one of the ten most deadly mushrooms. It is widely distributed across Europe. Since it happens to resemble several edible species it is commonly responsible for accidental human poisoning. The principal toxic constituent is amanitin which damages the liver and kidneys. The damage is often fatal. No antidote is known.

Evans and his wife survived the accidental mushroom poisoning, but their kidneys were damaged. Both require regular dialysis. Evans is on the transplant list in Great Britain.

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Wild mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are a mushroom expert and are sure of it’s identity. Of the more than 5000 species of mushrooms in the United States, approximately 100 are poisonous, and less than a dozen are deadly.

Most fatalities resulting from mushroom ingestion are associated with amatoxins within the mushrooms. Amatoxins are associated with mortality rates ranging from 10-60%. Ingestion of a single Amanita phalloides mushroom can be lethal.

The most frequent form of mushroom poisoning is caused by a wide variety of gastrointestinal irritants. The symptoms usually appear within 20 minutes to 4 hours of ingesting the mushrooms, and include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, which normally pass after the irritant had been expelled. Severe cases may require hospitalization. Treatment is largely supportive - helping the patient's body to eliminate what it's not equipped to handle.

With amatoxins, there may be a delay in symptoms of 6 to 24 hours after the mushroom ingestion. Amanitins are a group of complex cyclic polypeptides which damage tissues by inhibiting RNA synthesis within each individual cell. Onset of symptoms manifests itself in four stages:

  1. First stage is a latency period of 6 to 24 hours after ingestion, in which the toxins are actively destroying the victim's kidneys and liver, but the victim experiences no discomfort.
  2. Second stage is a period of about 24 hours characterized by violent vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and severe abdominal cramps.
  3. Third stage is a period of 24 hours during which the victim appears to recover (if hospitalized, the patient is sometimes released!)
  4. Fourth stage is a relapse, during which kidney and liver failure often occurs, leading to death. Patients may also “bleed out” and die due to the destruction of clotting factors in the blood. There may be more than one relapse.

It is important to never eat a mushroom that hasn’t been properly identified. If mushroom poisoning is suspected, contact a physician, or your local poison control center. Try to get a sample of the same mushroom or mushrooms from where they were found as this will help aid in identification. Place any available mushroom material in a paper bag or waxed paper.

Diane Rehms Show
Nicholas Evans website
North American Mycological Association



Cortinarius speciosissimus does not contain amatoxins. The toxin in this mushroom is orellanine. This is a rather unusual type of poisoning. I can't think of any sought-after species that this resembles. It is a rather unimpressive brown mushroom. Onset of symptoms is generally 36 hours to 14 days. The first organs affected are the kidneys, and the symptoms are those seen in kidney failure. They were confused with ceps, aka porcinis. It is difficult to see how this could happen. Ceps have a spongy "pore" surface on the underside of the cap, while the Cort has gills. The two men who were poisoned are on the kidney transplant list. One of the women is continuing dialysis, but will probably need a transplant at some time in the future. A similar type of poisoning is caused by allenic norleucine found in Amanita smithiana and closely related species. These large white mushrooms are common in the NW US and can be confused with the highly desirable matsutake, the Japanese pine mushroom.