Hallucinogenic compounds are becoming more widely discussed and researched as interest in alternative medical applications continues to rise. Salvia divinorum is highly researched, but not always discussed as much as other hallucinogens like psilocybin or Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
Salvia divinorum, a member of the Laminaceae family, is native to Southwestern Mexico. The plant has been historically used by the local Mazatec shamans for spiritual and medicinal purposes, including everything from insect bites and eczema to depression and alcohol addiction. More recently, the plant has gained global attention due to the potent hallucinogen it contains, salvinorin A.
Salvinorin A, the main active compound in Salvia divinorum, exhibits unique pharmacological properties. Unlike other hallucinogens such as LSD or psilocybin that interact with serotonin receptors, salvinorin A acts on k-opioid receptors (KORs) in the brain. This interaction is responsible for the intense yet short-lasting hallucinogenic experiences reported by users.
The recreational use of Salvia divinorum has been largely facilitated by its legal status in many parts of the world and its accessibility via online botanical companies. Users typically smoke or chew the leaves of the plant to induce a psychedelic experience that can range from laughter and revisiting memories to deeper spiritual experiences.
Therapeutic Potential of Salvia divinorum
Emerging research suggests that Salvia divinorum may have therapeutic benefits beyond its traditional and recreational uses. “S. divinorum can be used as an alternative therapy for inflammatory and neuropathic pain, due in part to the presence of salvinorin A, a powerful KOR agonist and an allosteric modulator of CB1 receptors”. 
In terms of addiction, the activation of KORs by salvinorin A may help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in individuals with substance use disorders. Researchers stated that “salvinorins and their analogues can be a suitable therapeutic alternative without the risk of producing addiction”. 
Similarly, its potential as an analgesic could be beneficial for chronic pain management. The anti-inflammatory action of salvinorin A also suggests possible applications in conditions characterized by inflammation.
This compound is the main psychotropic constituent of Salvia Divinorum and it is considered a dissociative hallucinogen. Differently from other hallucinogenic compounds such as mescaline, psilocybin etc. it doesn’t contain a nitrogen atom in its structure, thus it can’t be considered an alkaloid. Salvinorin A is the first known compound acting as a kappa opioid receptor agonist without being an alkaloid, but a terpenoid.
Once absorbed in the oral mucosa, this compound is efficiently cleared in the gastrointestinal system. For possible therapeutic applications, alternative administration routes should be found.
Salvinorin A is soluble in solvents such as acetone and , but not at the same level in water. This hallucinogenic substance has been reported to have an addiction potential, risk of harm through intoxication, and tendency to increase drug abuse in several countries.
Risks and Further Research
Despite the promising therapeutic potential of Salvia divinorum, its use is not without risks. The intense hallucinogenic effects can induce panic or anxiety in some users, and there is limited knowledge about its long-term effects. The lack of regulation also poses a significant risk, as it allows for widespread recreational use without standardized dosing or safety guidelines.
The authors of the study propose that more comprehensive research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action, potential medical applications, and possible side effects of Salvia divinorum. They emphasize the importance of continued scientific investigation into this unique plant and its potent active compound, salvinorin A.
The potential for Salvia divinorum to contribute to the field of medicine, particularly in areas such as addiction treatment, pain management, and inflammation, provides a compelling case for its further study.
Ultimately, Salvia divinorum is a plant with a rich history of traditional use and a growing body of scientific research. Its unique effects and potential therapeutic applications make it an intriguing subject for the scientific and medical communities. As our understanding of this plant continues to evolve, it exemplifies the vast and largely untapped potential of natural psychoactive substances in both recreational and therapeutic contexts.
- Coffee, U. Et al. Salvia divinorum: from recreational hallucinogenic use to analgesic and anti-inflammatory action. Journal of Pain Research. 2019. 12: 1069–1076. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6434906/ Times Cited: 11 Journal Impact Factor: 2.7
- Lin, Po-Xiang; Li, Jih-Heng; Chen, Su-Hwei; Chang, Hsien-Chang; McKetin, Rebecca (2014). Quantitative determination of salvinorin A, a natural hallucinogen with abuse liability, in Internet-available Salvia divinorum and endemic species of Salvia in Taiwan. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 22(3), 370–378.doi:10.1016/j.jfda.2014.01.017