Molecule of the Day

It’s weird drugs for the rest of the week!

Salvia probably means one of two things, if anything, to most people: a houseplant (for which purpose it is ubiquitous) or a recreational drug that you can still get your hands on legally (for which purpose it is ubiquitous). It is funny to flip back and forth between pages where people are trying to figure out exactly the best way to get this stuff in your body and pages where people are trying to figure out which plant will go best with those azaleas and think that everyone’s talking about the same thing. Plants are funny that way, I guess.

Of course, we’re interested in the first group of people. Salvinorin A is a psychoactive component in salvia, that binds to a subset of opioid receptors (but not the subclass we’re mostly hitting with painkillers).

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Part of what makes salvinorin so unusual is that it is completely lacking in nitrogen atoms. Many drugs have a nitrogen-containing functionality (which, in amines, can ionize, allowing it to sometimes carry a charge, and sometimes not carry a charge). As far as I know, all the opioids that lack one are just research curiosities for the time being (or odd one-off nonmedical compounds like salvinorin). See, for example, morphine, codeine, heroin, naloxone, buprenorphine, methadone, hydrocodone…you get the idea.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    October 25, 2006

    What about the Salvia tea? Isn’t that just sage (Salvia officinalis)?

  2. #2 MoTD
    October 25, 2006

    As far as I know, yeah. I admit to being a little sloppy here, but I didn’t know how to write that without getting completely confusing. If you’re following at home, here’s what coturnix is referring to:

    Common sage (Salvia officianalis) shares the Salvia genus with Salvia divinorum, “Diviner’s Sage”, the plant this entry is about. It is not the same thing (though many people keep both in their homes, I’m sure).

    To complicate things, common sage apparently contains a little thujone, a compound that’s attracted a lot of attention because of its psychoactivity and presence in absinthe.

    I should have known better than to get into natural products :).

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    October 26, 2006

    Just wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying your blog so much that I put up my own post on your last three entries. Thanks so much for reminding me about many of these natural products!

  4. #4 DuWayne
    October 26, 2006

    My favorite people (in the context of Salvia Divininorum) are the ones who grow it as a houseplant, because of it’s psychoactive properties. Though, I also prefer they not use it.

    I have learned over my years of experimenting with some of the myriad enthogenic plants and chemical compounds, that most things that get a person “high” or make them “trip,” are also generally very toxic. I don’t specifically know the toxicology of Salvia d, but it’s effects are almost identical – if not far more intense, as those of sucking down nitrous. I know that nitrous eats holes into the brain, so I am not so keen on the salvia d. The few times I have tried it, I likened the effect it has to brain cells popping.

    I found your blog from the “feed” at another science blog. I am very intrigued by the chemical breakdown of different drugs, having been big into experimenting with a lot of them in my younger days – not so much since my son was born. I always did my damnedest to learn as much as I could about various drugs, before trying them. The chemistry generally went over my head but I find it interesting – especially when comparing the chemical structures of various drugs to one another. I even found a site, several years ago, that sold molecular models of a number of enthogens – I even got a necklace with a molecule of LSD as the pendant, as that was a drug I used quite extensively back then. Looking forward to reading more of your blog

  5. #5 Brando
    December 6, 2006

    Salvinorin A is NOT very toxic, amd is not comparable to nitrous oxide. It is a potent and selctive kappa-opioid agonist. It continues to amaze me that despite all of the recent scientific literature and valid anecdotal evidence regarding its use, there is still so much misinformation regarding this drug.

    Its effects are mind-bendingly bizarre, often overwhelmingly so, and the drug is incredibly potent. One milligram is considered an extremely adventurous dosage (smoked).

    Also, you’re not likely to find this plant at your local Orchard Supply Garden Center. The genus Salvia is enormous, and Sage is not Salvia Divinorum is not any number of decorative house plants.

  6. #6 Mitch Harden
    December 12, 2008

    I’ve been doing some research with Salvinorin A recently (I post results on my blog if you are interested). The variety of behavioral effects that it can illicit is very interesting.

  7. #7 Lynn D
    February 3, 2009

    Is there a website where one can go and look up the chemical breakdown of a specif prescription/nonprescription drug?

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