OPEN Foundation

Salvia / Salvinorin A

Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Salvinorin A and Salvia divinorum: Clinical and Forensic Aspects

Abstract

Salvia divinorum Epling and Játiva is a perennial mint from the Lamiaceae family, endemic to Mexico, predominantly from the state of Oaxaca. Due to its psychoactive properties, S. divinorum had been used for centuries by Mazatecans for divinatory, religious, and medicinal purposes. In recent years, its use for recreational purposes, especially among adolescents and young adults, has progressively increased. The main bioactive compound underlying the hallucinogenic effects, salvinorin A, is a non-nitrogenous diterpenoid with high affinity and selectivity for the k-opioid receptor. The aim of this work is to comprehensively review and discuss the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of S. divinorum and salvinorin A, highlighting their psychological, physiological, and toxic effects. Potential therapeutic applications and forensic aspects are also covered in this review. The leaves of S. divinorum can be chewed, drunk as an infusion, smoked, or vaporised. Absorption of salvinorin A occurs through the oral mucosa or the respiratory tract, being rapidly broken down in the gastrointestinal system to its major inactive metabolite, salvinorin B, when swallowed. Salvinorin A is rapidly distributed, with accumulation in the brain, and quickly eliminated. Its pharmacokinetic parameters parallel well with the short-lived psychoactive and physiological effects. No reports on toxicity or serious adverse outcomes were found. A variety of therapeutic applications have been proposed for S. divinorum which includes the treatment of chronic pain, gastrointestinal and mood disorders, neurological diseases, and treatment of drug dependence. Notwithstanding, there is still limited knowledge regarding the pharmacology and toxicology features of S. divinorum and salvinorin A, and this is needed due to its widespread use. Additionally, the clinical acceptance of salvinorin A has been hampered, especially due to the psychotropic side effects and misuse, turning the scientific community to the development of analogues with better pharmacological profiles.

Brito-da-Costa, A. M., Dias-da-Silva, D., Gomes, N., Dinis-Oliveira, R. J., & Madureira-Carvalho, Á. (2021). Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Salvinorin A and Salvia divinorum: Clinical and Forensic Aspects. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 14(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph14020116

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DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Salvinorin A

Abstract

Salvinorin A is the main bioactive compound in Salvia divinorum, an endemic plant with ancestral use by the inhabitants of the Mazateca mountain range (Sierra Mazateca) in Oaxaca, México. The main use of la pastora, as locally known, is in spiritual rites due to its extraordinary hallucinogenic effects. Being the first known nonalkaloidal opioid-mediated psychotropic molecule, salvinorin A set new research areas in neuroscience. The absence of a protonated amine group, common to all previously known opioids, results in a fast metabolism with the concomitant fast elimination and swift loss of activity. The worldwide spread and psychotropic effects of salvinorin A account for its misuse and classification as a drug of abuse. Consequently, salvinorin A and Salvia divinorum are now banned in many countries. Several synthetic efforts have been focused on the improvement of physicochemical and biological properties of salvinorin A: from total synthesis to hundreds of analogues. In this Review, we discuss the impact of salvinorin A in chemistry and neuroscience covering the historical relevance, isolation from natural sources, synthetic efforts, and pharmacological and safety profiles. Altogether, the chemistry behind and the taboo that encloses salvinorin A makes it one of the most exquisite naturally occurring drugs.

Hernández-Alvarado, R. B., Madariaga-Mazón, A., Ortega, A., & Martinez-Mayorga, K. (2020). DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Salvinorin A. ACS chemical neuroscience, 10.1021/acschemneuro.0c00608. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1021/acschemneuro.0c00608

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The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain

Abstract

Salvinorin A (SA) is a κ-opioid receptor agonist and atypical dissociative hallucinogen found in Salvia divinorum. Despite the resurgence of hallucinogen studies, the effects of κ-opioid agonists on human brain function are not well-understood. This placebo-controlled, within-subject study used functional magnetic resonance imaging for the first time to explore the effects of inhaled SA on strength, variability, and entropy of functional connectivity (static, dynamic, and entropic functional connectivity, respectively, or sFC, dFC, and eFC). SA tended to decrease within-network sFC but increase between-network sFC, with the most prominent effect being attenuation of the default mode network (DMN) during the first half of a 20-min scan (i.e., during peak effects). SA reduced brainwide dFC but increased brainwide eFC, though only the former effect survived multiple comparison corrections. Finally, using connectome-based classification, most models trained on dFC network interactions could accurately classify the first half of SA scans. In contrast, few models trained on within- or between-network sFC and eFC performed above chance. Notably, models trained on within-DMN sFC and eFC performed better than models trained on other network interactions. This pattern of SA effects on human brain function is strikingly similar to that of other hallucinogens, necessitating studies of direct comparisons.

Doss, M. K., May, D. G., Johnson, M. W., Clifton, J. M., Hedrick, S. L., Prisinzano, T. E., Griffiths, R. R., & Barrett, F. S. (2020). The Acute Effects of the Atypical Dissociative Hallucinogen Salvinorin A on Functional Connectivity in the Human Brain. Scientific reports, 10(1), 16392. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73216-8

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Spotlight commentary: REBUS and the anarchic brain

Abstract

In ‘REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Towards a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics’, Carhart-Harris and Friston offer an important analysis of what the predictive processing framework has to offer our understanding of psychedelic experiences, providing an invaluable ground for psychedelic psychiatry. While applauding this, we encourage paying greater attention to contextual factors shaping extreme experiences and their sequalae, and suggest that the authors’ comparisons with certain non-psychedelic altered states may overlook more informative parallels that can be drawn elsewhere. Addressing both points will prove fruitful, ultimately, in identifying the mechanisms of action of greatest interest in psychedelic experiences.
Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Friston, K. J. (2019). REBUS and the anarchic brain: toward a unified model of the brain action of psychedelics. Pharmacological reviews71(3), 316-344., https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niaa007
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Mystical Experiences in Retrospective Reports of First Times Using a Psychedelic in Finland

Abstract

Despite their acutely inebriating and sometimes unpleasant effects, some people report positive changes in life satisfaction, well-being, or mental health after taking psychedelic drugs. One explanation may be the ability of psychedelics to trigger mystical-type experiences. We examined the validity, reliability, and factor structure of a novel Finnish translation of the Revised Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ30) among 288 people retrospectively reporting on their first time using a psychedelic. We found evidence for internal consistency reliability and preliminary evidence for criterion and discriminant validity of the Finnish MEQ30. A four-factor structure with factors for mystical qualities, positive mood, transcendence, and ineffability had the best, fair to reasonable fit to the data. MEQ30 scores and having a full mystical experience were highly associated with describing the experience as mystical, spiritual, or religious, and as personally significant, and somewhat associated with the experience being sad or difficult. Mystical experiences were especially associated with positive changes in relationships with nature and oneself and in creativity. Mystical experiences were more common with larger doses. Increasing research suggests mystical-type experiences to relate to positive changes after taking psychedelics. The Finnish MEQ30 is able to tap into relevant information about this aspect of people’s psychedelic experiences.
Kangaslampi, S., Hausen, A., & Rauteenmaa, T. (2020). Mystical Experiences in Retrospective Reports of First Times Using a Psychedelic in Finland. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1767321
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Salvinorin A Does Not Affect Seizure Threshold in Mice

Abstract

The κ-opioid receptor has recently gained attention as a new molecular target in the treatment of many psychiatric and neurological disorders including epilepsy. Salvinorin A is a potent plant-derived hallucinogen that acts as a highly selective κ-opioid receptor agonist. It has unique structure and pharmacological properties, but its influence on seizure susceptibility has not been studied so far. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of salvinorin A on seizure thresholds in three acute seizure tests in mice. We also examined its effect on muscular strength and motor coordination. The obtained results showed that salvinorin A (0.1-10 mg/kg, i.p.) did not significantly affect the thresholds for the first myoclonic twitch, generalized clonic seizure, or forelimb tonus in the intravenous pentylenetetrazole seizure threshold test in mice. Likewise, it failed to affect the thresholds for tonic hindlimb extension and psychomotor seizures in the maximal electroshock- and 6 Hz-induced seizure threshold tests, respectively. Moreover, no changes in motor coordination (assessed in the chimney test) or muscular strength (assessed in the grip-strength test) were observed. This is a preliminary report only, and further studies are warranted to better characterize the effects of salvinorin A on seizure and epilepsy.

Socała, K., Doboszewska, U., & Wlaź, P. (2020). Salvinorin A Does Not Affect Seizure Threshold in Mice. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(5), 1204. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25051204

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Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory

Abstract

Background: Psychedelic therapy is gaining recognition and the nature of the psychedelic experience itself has been found to mediate subsequent long-term psychological changes. Much emphasis has been placed on the occurrence of mystical-type experiences in determining long-term responses to psychedelics yet here we demonstrate the importance of another component, namely: emotional breakthrough.
Methods: Three hundred and seventy-nine participants completed online surveys before and after a planned psychedelic experience. Items pertaining to emotional breakthrough were completed one day after the psychedelic experience, as were items comprising the already validated Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores were used to predict changes in well-being (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) in a subsample of 75 participants with low well-being baseline scores (⩽45).
Results: Factor analyses revealed six emotional breakthrough items with high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha=0.932) and supported our prior hypothesis that emotional breakthrough is a distinct component of the psychedelic experience. Emotional breakthrough scores behaved dose-dependently, and were higher if the psychedelic was taken with therapeutic planning and intent. Emotional breakthrough, Mystical Experience Questionnaire and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores combined, significantly predicted subsequent changes in well-being (r=0.45, p=0.0005, n=75), with each scale contributing significant predictive value. Emotional breakthrough and Mystical Experience Questionnaire scores predicted increases in well-being and Challenging Experience Questionnaire scores predicted less increases.
Conclusions: Here we validate a six-item ‘Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Emotional breakthrough is an important and distinct component of the acute psychedelic experience that appears to be a key mediator of subsequent longer-term psychological changes. Implications for psychedelic therapy are discussed.

Keywords: Psychedelics; catharsis; emotion; therapy.
Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Idialu-Ikato, K., Kaelen, M., Watts, R., & Carhart-Harris, R. (2019). Emotional breakthrough and psychedelics: validation of the emotional breakthrough inventory. Journal of Psychopharmacology33(9), 1076-1087., https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119855974
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Classic psychedelics: the special role of the visual system

Abstract

Here, we briefly overview the various aspects of classic serotonergic hallucinogens reported by a number of studies. One of the key hypotheses of our paper is that the visual effects of psychedelics might play a key role in resetting fears. Namely, we especially focus on visual processes because they are among the most prominent features of hallucinogen-induced hallucinations. We hypothesize that our brain has an ancient visual-based (preverbal) intrinsic cognitive process that, during the transient inhibition of top-down convergent and abstract thinking (mediated by the prefrontal cortex) by psychedelics, can neutralize emotional fears of unconscious and conscious life experiences from the past. In these processes, the decreased functional integrity of the self-referencing processes of the default mode network, the modified multisensory integration (linked to bodily self-consciousness and self-awareness), and the modified amygdala activity may also play key roles. Moreover, the emotional reset (elimination of stress-related emotions) by psychedelics may induce psychological changes and overwrite the stress-related neuroepigenetic information of past unconscious and conscious emotional fears.

Császár-Nagy, N., Kapócs, G., & Bókkon, I. (2019). Classic psychedelics: the special role of the visual system. Reviews in the neurosciences.,  10.1515/revneuro-2018-0092
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Salvia divinorum: from recreational hallucinogenic use to analgesic and anti-inflammatory action

Abstract

Salvia divinorum is a herbal plant native to the southwest region of Mexico. Traditional preparations of this plant have been used in illness treatments that converge with inflammatory conditions and pain. Currently, S. divinorum extracts have become popular in several countries as a recreational drug due to its hallucinogenic effects. Its main active component is a diterpene named salvinorin A (SA), a potent naturally occurring hallucinogen with a great affinity to the κ opioid receptors and with allosteric modulation of cannabinoid type 1 receptors. Recent biochemical research has revealed the mechanism of action of the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect of SA at the cellular and molecular level. Nevertheless, because of their short-lasting and hallucinogenic effect, the research has focused on discovering a new analogue of SA that is able to induce analgesia and reduce inflammation with a long-lasting effect but without the hallucinatory component. In this review, we explore the role of S. divinorum, SA and its analogues. We focus mainly on their analgesic and anti-inflammatory roles but also mention their psychoactive properties.

Coffeen, U., & Pellicer, F. (2019). Salvia divinorum: from recreational hallucinogenic use to analgesic and anti-inflammatory action. Journal of pain research12, 1069., 10.2147/JPR.S188619

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Predicting Responses to Psychedelics: A Prospective Study

Abstract

Responses to psychedelics are notoriously difficult to predict, yet significant work is currently underway to assess their therapeutic potential and the level of interest in psychedelics among the general public appears to be increasing. We aimed to collect prospective data in order to improve our ability to predict acute- and longer-term responses to psychedelics. Individuals who planned to take a psychedelic through their own initiative participated in an online survey (www.psychedelicsurvey.com). Traits and variables relating to set, setting and the acute psychedelic experience were measured at five different time points before and after the experience. Principle component and regression methods were used to analyse the data. Sample sizes for the five time points were N = 654, N = 535, N = 379, N = 315, and N = 212 respectively. Psychological well-being was increased 2 weeks after a psychedelic experience and remained at this level after 4 weeks. Higher ratings of a “mystical-type experience” had a positive effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience, whereas the other acute psychedelic experience measures, i.e., “challenging experience” and “visual effects”, did not influence the change in well-being after the psychedelic experience. Having “clear intentions” for the experience was conducive to mystical-type experiences. Having a positive “set” as well as having the experience with intentions related to “recreation” were both found to decrease the likelihood of having a challenging experience. The baseline trait “absorption” and higher drug doses promoted all aspects of the acute experience, i.e., mystical-type and challenging experiences, as well as visual effects. When comparing the relative contribution of different types of variables in explaining the variance in the change in well-being, it seemed that baseline trait variables had the strongest effect on the change in well-being after a psychedelic experience. These results confirm the importance of extra-pharmacological factors in determining responses to a psychedelic. We view this study as an early step towards the development of empirical guidelines that can evolve and improve iteratively with the ultimate purpose of guiding crucial clinical decisions about whether, when, where and how to dose with a psychedelic, thus helping to mitigate risks while maximizing potential benefits in an evidence-based manner.

Haijen, E. C. H. M., Kaelen, M., Roseman, L., Timmermann, C., Russ, S., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2018). Predicting responses to psychedelics: a prospective study. Frontiers in pharmacology9, 897., 10.3389/fphar.2018.00897
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