OPEN Foundation

R. Dinis-Oliveira

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


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.

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Toxicokinetics and Toxicodynamics of Ayahuasca Alkaloids N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine: Clinical and Forensic Impact


Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic botanical beverage originally used by indigenous Amazonian tribes in religious ceremonies and therapeutic practices. While ethnobotanical surveys still indicate its spiritual and medicinal uses, consumption of ayahuasca has been progressively related with a recreational purpose, particularly in Western societies. The ayahuasca aqueous concoction is typically prepared from the leaves of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing Psychotria viridis, and the stem and bark of Banisteriopsis caapi, the plant source of harmala alkaloids. Herein, the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of the psychoactive DMT and harmala alkaloids harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, are comprehensively covered, particularly emphasizing the psychological, physiological, and toxic effects deriving from their concomitant intake. Potential therapeutic utility, particularly in mental and psychiatric disorders, and forensic aspects of DMT and ayahuasca are also reviewed and discussed. Following administration of ayahuasca, DMT is rapidly absorbed and distributed. Harmala alkaloids act as potent inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), preventing extensive first-pass degradation of DMT into 3-indole-acetic acid (3-IAA), and enabling sufficient amounts of DMT to reach the brain. DMT has affinity for a variety of serotonergic and non-serotonergic receptors, though its psychotropic effects are mainly related with the activation of serotonin receptors type 2A (5-HT2A). Mildly to rarely severe psychedelic adverse effects are reported for ayahuasca or its alkaloids individually, but abuse does not lead to dependence or tolerance. For a long time, the evidence has pointed to potential psychotherapeutic benefits in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders; and although misuse of ayahuasca has been diverting attention away from such clinical potential, research onto its therapeutic effects has now strongly resurged.

Brito-da-Costa, A. M., Dias-da-Silva, D., Gomes, N., Dinis-Oliveira, R. J., & Madureira-Carvalho, Á. (2020). Toxicokinetics and Toxicodynamics of Ayahuasca Alkaloids N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Harmine, Harmaline and Tetrahydroharmine: Clinical and Forensic Impact. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 13(11), 334.

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Pharmacokinetic And Pharmacodynamic Aspects Of Peyote And Mescaline: Clinical And Forensic Repercussions



Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine), mainly found in the Peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), is one of the oldest known hallucinogenic agents that influence human and animal behavior, but its psychoactive mechanisms remain poorly understood.


This article aims to fully review pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of mescaline, focusing on the in vivo and in vitro metabolic profile of the drug and its implications for the variability of response.


Mescaline pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic aspects were searched in books and in PubMed (U.S. National Library of Medicine) without a limiting period. Biological effects of other compounds found in peyote were also reviewed.


Although its illicit administration is less common, in comparison with cocaine and Cannabis, it has been extensively described in adolescents and young adults, and licit consumption often occurs in religious and therapeutic rituals practiced by the Native American Church. Its pharmacodynamic mechanisms of action are primarily attributed to the interaction with the serotonergic 5-HT2A-C receptors, and therefore clinical effects are similar to those elicited by other psychoactive substances, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, which include euphoria, hallucinations, depersonalization and psychoses. Moreover, as a phenethylamine derivative, signs and symptoms are consistent with a sympathomimetic effect. Mescaline is mainly metabolized into trimethoxyphenylacetic acid by oxidative deamination but several minor metabolites with possible clinical and forensic repercussions have also been reported.


Most reports concerning mescaline were described in a complete absence of exposure confirmation, since toxicological analysis is not widely available. Addiction and dependence are practically absent and it is clear that most intoxications appear to be mild and are unlikely to produce life-threatening symptoms, which favors the contemporary interest in the therapeutic potential of the drugs of the class.

Dinis-Oliveira, R. J., Pereira, C. L., & Da Silva, D. D., (2018). Pharmacokinetic And Pharmacodynamic Aspects Of Peyote And Mescaline: Clinical And Forensic Repercussions. Current molecular pharmacology., 10.2174/1874467211666181010154139
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Metabolism of psilocybin and psilocin: clinical and forensic toxicological relevance


Psilocybin and psilocin are controlled substances in many countries. These are the two main hallucinogenic compounds of the “magic mushrooms” and both act as agonists or partial agonists at 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)2A subtype receptors. During the last few years, psilocybin and psilocin have gained therapeutic relevance but considerable physiological variability between individuals that can influence dose-response and toxicological profile has been reported. This review aims to discuss metabolism of psilocybin and psilocin, by presenting all major and minor psychoactive metabolites. Psilocybin is primarily a pro-drug that is dephosphorylated by alkaline phosphatase to active metabolite psilocin. This last is then further metabolized, psilocin-O-glucuronide being the main urinary metabolite with clinical and forensic relevance in diagnosis.

Dinis-Oliveira, R. J. (2016). METABOLISM OF PSILOCYBIN AND PSILOCIN: CLINICAL AND FORENSIC TOXICOLOGICAL RELEVANCE. Drug Metabolism Reviews, (just-accepted), 1-21. 10.1080/03602532.2016.1278228
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27 June - Spiritual & Existential Dimensions in Psychedelic Care: Challenges & Insights