Johns Hopkins team investigates effects of Salvia divinorum

December 14, 2010, 12:44 pm


Human psychopharmacology and dose-effects of salvinorin A, a kappa opioid agonist hallucinogen present in the plant Salvia divinorum. Johnson MW et al.  Drug Alcohol Depend 2010 Dec 3 [Epub ahead of print]


With the viral video of Miley Cyrus smoking what she claims was Salvia Divinorum all over the internet, this paper — released online ahead of print — couldn’t have been more timely.  Unfortunately, it could have been much more informative.  Researchers from johns Hopkins took four medically and psychologically healthy, experienced Salvia users, and over several sessions administered various doses of volatilized salvinorin A as well as placebo.  They monitored physiological parameters, as well as the subjects’ experiences during and after the session.

Although the authors admit that this is just a preliminary trial, the many problems with their research design are apparent:

– the small sample size severely limits the value of the study’s findings

– the fact that all subjects were experienced users who had smoked salvia more than once suggests that each was unlikely to have a negative experience during the trial

– the tightly controlled setting of the study and the extensive testing to rule-out psychiatric dysfunction means that the findings are in no way generalizable

Nevertheless, there were a few interesting nuggets in the data:

1) As has been noted before, the effects of salvia are quite brief.  Drug effect peaked at 2 minutes, and by 20 minutes after inhalation of the volatile salvinorin A effects were rated as only mild.

2) Subjects did not have any significant change in blood pressure or pulse rate.

3) Resting or intentional tremor was not observed.

4) There were no adverse events noted in this highly selected group.

Two interesting items mentioned in passing in the article but not explored:

1) Each of the two male participants was noted to be “unresponsive” during at least one point of the study.

2) During the study, some of the subjects reported “contact with entities” — whatever that is.

As we have noted before, Salvinorin A — the active ingredient in the plant Salvia divinorum –is a unique hallucinogen: it is not an alkaloid, contains no nitrogen, and does not interact with serotonin receptors.  Rather, it is a high-affinity, selective agonist that acts at the kappa opioid receptor.  Many of its effects can be blocked by naloxone. The plant itself is a perennial herb used by the Mazatec Indians in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in religious and healing rituals.

This article from the Baltimore Sun about the Hopkins research is worth reading.

Related post: Salvia Divinorum and YouTube

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