Controversial halluclinogen Salvia study shows intense, novel effects in humans

Dec 10, 2010

In what is believed to be the first controlled human study of the effects of salvinorin A, the active ingredient in Salvia divinorum, a controversial new hallucinogen featured widely on You Tube and other internet sites, Johns Hopkins researchers report that the effects are surprisingly strong, brief, and intensely disorienting, but without apparent short-term adverse effects in healthy people.

Since the NIH-funded research was done with four mentally and physically healthy hallucinogen-experienced volunteers in a safe medical environment, researchers say they are limited in their conclusions about the compound’s safety, according to Matthew W. Johnson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author.

Johnson and the Hopkins team say they undertook the research to try and put some rigorous scientific information into current concerns over the growing recreational use of Salvia divinorum, which is an herb in mint family. The plant, which has been used for centuries by shamans in Mexico for spiritual healing, is the target of increased nationwide legal efforts to restrict its availability and use. Though little is known about the compound’s effects in humans, some legislators have been spurred to action after watching one of thousands of online videos chronicling the uncontrolled behavior that sometimes follows its use. However, because animal studies show that salvinorin A has unique effects in the brain, some scientists believe that the drug or a modified version of it may lead to medical advances in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain and drug addiction.

Salvia leaves are typically smoked. Often the quantity of salvinorin A in the leaves has been boosted by the addition of a concentrated extract of the compound. The drug is available online or in “head shops” and is legal in most states. More than a dozen states have outright bans on the product and eight others have restrictions such as prohibitions for minors. About a dozen nations have also outlawed it. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration has included it in their list of “drugs and chemicals of concern,” but to date there is no federal prohibition against it.

The findings of the Hopkins study are published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Everything we knew up to this point about the effects of this drug in humans, other than a few surveys or anecdotal case reports, comes from accounts on websites or YouTube videos,” Johnson says. “Those are hardly scientific sources enabling a rigorous understanding of the effects of the drug. Even though the sample size in this study is small, we used an extremely well-controlled methodology, which provided a clear picture of the drug’s basic effects.”

Johnson and his team say this is not just a first step toward greater understanding of the unique compound and its effects, but of the kappa opioid receptors in the brain, which animal studies have suggested salvinorin A targets. Researchers see potential in kappa opioid receptors — which are different from the receptors targeted by other hallucinogens or opiates like morphine and heroin — for the development of therapeutic medications.

“We’re opening the door for systematic study of this class of compounds, about which we know precious little,” says Roland R. Griffiths, Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s senior investigator.

The study found that salvia’s effects begin almost immediately after inhaled, are very short acting — with a peak of strength after two minutes and very little effect remaining after 20 — and get more powerful as more of the drug is administered. Salvinorin A produced no significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure, no tremors and no adverse events were reported. But, Johnson cautions, the sample size was small and only healthy and hallucinogen-experienced volunteers participated, so conclusions of safety are limited.

The study was conducted on four healthy, paid subjects — two men and two women — who had taken hallucinogens in the past. Each participant completed 20 sessions over the course of two-to-three months. They inhaled a wide range of doses of the drug in its pure form. At some sessions, they were given a placebo. Participants were asked to rate the strength of peak drug effect on a scale of 1 to 10. Participants were allowed to drop out of the study at any time if they felt they could not tolerate a stronger dose on the following visit. No one withdrew.

Researchers say they were struck by the reaction of two participants who rated the strength of a high dose a 10, or “as strong as imaginable for this drug.” It is unusual, the investigators said, for volunteers with prior hallucinogen experience to report such intensity. Despite these strong experiences, heart rate and blood pressure were unaffected.

While no were noted in the controlled laboratory environment, Johnson says, the drug’s effects could be disastrous if a person were, for example, driving a car while on salvia. Few emergency room visits have been linked to its use, which researchers believe is because it wears off so quickly.

He says subjects in the study reported very different experiences from those caused by hallucinogens like LSD and so-called “magic mushrooms.” Those drugs, Johnson says, tend to have powerful effects, but the person is typically still aware of the external world and can interact with it . “With salvia, the subjects described leaving this reality completely and going to other worlds or dimensions and interacting with entities,” Johnson says. “These are very powerful, very intense experiences.”

Animal data suggests the drug is not addictive, Griffiths says, and its intensity could keep people from returning to the drug again and again. “Many people take it once and it produces such profound dysphoria that they don’t want to do it again,” he says.

Explore further: Stem cells faulty in Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Related Stories

Broken bones and medication

Oct 05, 2010

Although one in four women over 50 develops osteoporosis, most are unaware they have the disease — something Professor Suzanne Cadarette would like to change.

Study finds sick kids have fewer friends

Dec 07, 2010

A new study reveals that sick teens are more isolated than other kids, but they do not necessarily realize it and often think their friendships are stronger than they actually are.

Busting drug law fears

Nov 25, 2010

Portugal's decision to decriminalise all drug use did not lead to dramatic increases in drug abuse or drug-related harm, a joint Australian and UK study has found.

Exploring new drug treatment for addictions

Oct 27, 2010

South Dakota State University researchers have demonstrated for the first time that a plant-derived compound used to treat nicotine addiction also has significant effects against alcohol addiction.

Recommended for you

User comments : 33

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Raveon
3.2 / 5 (6) Dec 10, 2010
That stuff sucks. Just another reaction to pot being illegal and not easily obtainable. Don't waste your time with Salvia, it isn't pleasant to smoke and it isn't a pleasant experience.
JJC
5 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2010
@Raveon

I agree that it "sucks" in the sense that it doesn't provide a pleasant or relaxing experience.

However, some people are interested in consciousness-alterations and the nature of the mind. Some people don't care about "fun" and "partying", but rather about actually exploring the many ways the mind can bend.
Bob_B
5 / 5 (5) Dec 10, 2010
Other people don't care what the drug is as long as we can make it part of the war on drugs and keep LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) working and banging heads. That's all that matters to them.
Husky
1 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
i just read that people in South-Africa are smoking crunched aids-medication pills (serious!) together with rat-poison and cleaning agent, do a search for Whoonga
Bob_B
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
http://en.wikiped.../Whoonga

Keep fear alive Husky.
panorama
5 / 5 (6) Dec 10, 2010
I tried Salvia once. Once was enough. You know that feeling when you sit on your foot and it "falls asleep". When the blood starts rushing back in and you get that painful tingling, it felt like that every where for a few minutes.

I do think the medical research sounds very interesting though.
Husky
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
Back in the days I tried Salvia once and it was pretty unpleasant, i felt like sucked / absorbed into 2d surface a mirror, then some evil witch (figures in a comicbook i read as a child) broke the mirror with my soul in it and my soul broke into a thousand pieces and all the pieces where like thousand voices screaming "Wtf is happening?!!" then all my voices and shiny mirrorpieces start to merge into a vortex wich morphed into a spiraling silver dragon with the dragontail making a rattlesnake sound, the tail moved like a hynotising spiral as warping through a tunnel in wich i saw several scenes from this comicbook (The Red Knight) passing by
fleem
5 / 5 (7) Dec 10, 2010
By the reckoning the state uses to make things like marijuana and salvia illegal, we also should make paper bags illegal because someone can put one on his head while driving. We should also make sleep illegal because someone might decide to sleep while driving. I learned this from watching youtube videos that had paper bags in them and had people sleeping in them. I think I'll write my congressman. Oh wait, he's probably currently satisfying his 100% legal addiction to those wonderful harmless drugs called "alcohol" and "tobacco".
Husky
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
the tunnel brought me before some Spanish Inquisition Court where I was the accused heretic and my prosecuters (also figures from The Red Knight) where towering over me (whole scene in the noir black/white drawing style like in Sin City, but with hints of greygreen), discussing what lamenting punishment to give to this mortal for tickling the silver dragons tail and illegaly entering their world (in hindsight , my conscious telling me to not play with fire i think). Anyway within in minutes a cold fog start to fill the court and this fog evaporates into reality, leaving me with musclestiffness, cottonmouth,slight headache, scared and thinking: this aint no partydrug!!!
LariAnn
3 / 5 (8) Dec 10, 2010
@Husky,
Your account is very understandable to me and also quite revelatory, if you are a student of such things. As the multifaceted mirror, you saw the moment you (as your higher self) decided to incarnate into physical reality. Your Self was (figuratively) fragmented into a thousand pieces, each of which went on to have a physical incarnation experience. Then you focused in on one particular incarnation, where you were being played by beings more aware (but not much more) than you. And you are correct, this is no party herb - it should be used for serious shamanic journeys, not recreation.
Eikka
2.8 / 5 (9) Dec 10, 2010
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

The most dangerous part about this drug that I see, is the number of "psychonauts" that take it and think that they've revealed some truth about reality by essentially doing to their minds what amounts to sticking two nails in a light socket and licking them.

Yeah, you see weird stuff when your brain is on the fritz.
james11
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
Off the subject but I had a very clear vision once, basically a dream while I was awake. I was completely sober and it was a certain part of a song that made me think of it. Very real and weird but it was awsome. It was part of the solo in Protoype - The Way It Ends.
james11
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
The sky was dark purple with dark storm clouds. The water was black and had wicked and sharp looking waves. I was standing on land which was jagged rock about 30 feet away from the water but at the same time I could see another me standing on a rock about 10 feet high at the waters edge. The other me looked back at me for a second and then straight forward. I got the feeling that something was happening and that I had to do something. Still gets me that it was while I was awake and that it was brought to me through music.
Raveon
5 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2010
@Raveon

I agree that it "sucks" in the sense that it doesn't provide a pleasant or relaxing experience.

However, some people are interested in consciousness-alterations and the nature of the mind. Some people don't care about "fun" and "partying", but rather about actually exploring the many ways the mind can bend.


I completely understand what you are talking about, thanks for the 1 by the way, but if you are into expanded consciousness, this stuff still sucks. It doesn't do that. At least it didn't for me and I have a bit of experience. Acid was good. Mushrooms are better. Mescaline wasn't very good and I have done both buttons and purified (not the fake pills which were called mescaline, you need to do over a gram of pure mescaline to get off). This was a long time ago and I know that what I took was the real thing.
dtxx
3 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2010
Salvinorin B ethoxymehtyl ether is a very interesting and closely related substance.

http://www.erowid...e1.shtml
Ethelred
1 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2010
nellylewis said

Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Wonderful SPAM

You have been reported. Twice.

Ethelred
cmorrill321
5 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2010
but if you are into expanded consciousness, this stuff still sucks. It doesn't do that. At least it didn't for me and I have a bit of experience.


the key words here are "at least it didn't for me."
If you are really a psychonaut, you should be always conscious of the word "subjectivity".
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
but if you are into expanded consciousness, this stuff still sucks. It doesn't do that. At least it didn't for me and I have a bit of experience.


the key words here are "at least it didn't for me."
If you are really a psychonaut, you should be always conscious of the word "subjectivity".

You mean like your subjective branding of him as a psychonaut?
Eric_B
5 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2010
i thought Sal was interesting.

at very low doses it produced a mild euphoria and minor perceptual changes like pot.

with a big whollup dose it was like my cognitive faculties were sliced and diced into increasingly smaller segments and then the pieces melted back together again as i came out of it.

it was frightening and i thought i might die but then eventually i felt like exploring this feeling of temporary total loss of control, once again.

never do this drug in any environment where you could easily hurt yourself by falling or running into something sharp.

avoid hallucinogens and other drugs when cold...shivering feels real bad.

life is too short not to experiment with your brain, try it under controlled circumstances.
that's my two-cents.
Raveon
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
Is there anyone here who has done real LSD (doubt if any has been around in many years), mushrooms or mescaline and still thinks that Salvia is consciousness expanding? (I don't)

Yeah, my judgment is subjective, but it is subjective from experience with things that have been considered consciousness expanding for a very long time, and rightfully so in their cases.
dtxx
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2010
I've tried LSD, mushrooms, and mescaline as well as salvia. In my experience salvia simply does not lead to the type of insight that can be gained with the classic psychedelics. And once with salvia was enough. LSD neither was particularly my ally, and I would avoid it. However, I could see myself potentially ingesting it in the future. Salvia, no way. Just not interested and feel there's not much to gain.
Husky
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
yes, the whole slicing and dicing thing is what I keep hearing from many other people reports, its like putting your brain in the paper shredder
Husky
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
The best experience i had was 2ct7 with mdma, Astounding 3d Escher geometries and a bodyhigh that while the trip lasted convinced me that there could not be a biblical God as my creator, for the mere fact that it would be outside of his powers to be able to feel that good as i did and therefore i was the master creator(more powerfull god if you will) of my own universe/destiny...Naturally the Godlike feeling waned slowly off as the chemicals ran out of juice, but the important take home message was, like Frank Sinatra said "Do it my way"
Husky
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
later on i found on Erowid that the combo of 2ct7 and mdma is potentially dangerous easily leading to serotonine syndrome, wich I must have skated very close to, accounting for the feeling too good than humanly possible sensation, just had to put in the dangerous MAOI action of the combo in here because back then it was still new and freely available in the smartshop, bad reports about deaths came only later available
Husky
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
here is one of the entities, the prince of Darkness, figure from The Red Knight, i got to meet in the salvia trip, not the most pleasant person..
http://www.8th-co...er19.jpg
jinjon
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
salvia can produce extraordinary states of consciousness completely unlike those produced by any other psychedelic. The fact that users frequently report experiences of other dimensions is fascinating, and a lot more serious research into salvia and Salvinorin-A is needed. Whether it is a subtance that individuals enjoy for recreational use or not is pretty irrelevant.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2010
but if you are into expanded consciousness, this stuff still sucks. It doesn't do that. At least it didn't for me and I have a bit of experience.


the key words here are "at least it didn't for me."
If you are really a psychonaut, you should be always conscious of the word "subjectivity".

You mean like your subjective branding of him as a psychonaut?


If someone says they killed someone is it subjective to call them a killer?
sparkneon
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 13, 2010
within seconds i was in a different world - i saw extra dimensions, space beyond space. i saw and spoke with 'gods'. i untangeled myself from every boundary that keeps me 'here', on earth.

before smoking salvia i was nothing, a worthless layabout.
the very next day i applied for university - im now in the last year of a maths/physics degree and i wont stop there.
anyone who doesnt think this drug is an incredible, mind-expanding substance is either in denial or has their own agenda.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
If someone says they killed someone is it subjective to call them a killer?
It would depend on the depth of their delusion.
Raveon
not rated yet Dec 13, 2010
within seconds i was in a different world - i saw extra dimensions, space beyond space. i saw and spoke with 'gods'. i untangeled myself from every boundary that keeps me 'here', on earth.

before smoking salvia i was nothing, a worthless layabout.
the very next day i applied for university - im now in the last year of a maths/physics degree and i wont stop there.
anyone who doesnt think this drug is an incredible, mind-expanding substance is either in denial or has their own agenda.


Or has done a true mind expanding drug which you obviously haven't. I got what you are talking about from my first joint.
Bonkers
5 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2010
well done sparkneon. there's nothing like actually perceiving extra dimensions to spark off an interest in the physics that attempts to describe and prove thir existence. Suggest you look at Kaluza Klein, if you haven't already - electromagnetism is the manifestation of a fourth spatial dimension - answers also the problem of where and how are the Electric and Magnetic fields "stored" within a cube of mere 3-D vacuum?
I found Salvia to be the real deal, both as a personal shamanic thing and as insight into abstract physics, reality, love, music.
ColdDimSum
not rated yet Dec 15, 2010
If hojas de la Pastora (Salvia Divinorum) is not your ally then fine (it is certainly not to be for everyone, of course) but if you are smoking it then that would be your first problem. It should be harvested and chewed in the traditional Mazatec fashion. If you are just smoking it then you didn't even bother to respect it enough to do a little research. There is some historical information here:

http://www.sagewi...tt2.html

It will be a shame to have yet ANOTHER plant enter the US Prohibition system where innocent people and their families have their lives destroyed because of the irresponsible actions of the ignorant.

And to answer Raveon, yes I have experienced LSD as well.
Shootist
1 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2010
That stuff sucks. Just another reaction to pot being illegal and not easily obtainable. Don't waste your time with Salvia, it isn't pleasant to smoke and it isn't a pleasant experience.


Truly Nasty Stuff. Interesting, but truly nasty. Thank the Great Maker the effects only lasts for a few 10s of minutes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.