Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Hallucinogenic Sage

Saw this over at Wired Science a couple days back, an interesting article about an unusual, uh, herb called Diviner’s sage which has hallucinogenic properties and could spark a new class of drugs. Reports of people curing themselves of depression and treating pain with this form of sage are common, however the likelihood of pharmaceutical-grade drugs from companies arising from it may be slim since it cannot be patented exclusively.

Research on hallucinogenic sage has been stop-and-go. In 2002, Bryon Roth and his research group explained how the potent drug plays games with the nervous system. Recently, some scientists cast doubt on his theory. Catherine Willmore and her colleagues have published a paper in the September issue of Neuropharmacology that not only proves the original conclusion, but also speculates about how the psychotropic agent may play a role in medicine.

The first step to understanding how a natural medication works is to determine where it strikes. Every drug has a target — a molecule that it affects directly. Roth had indicated that Salvinorin A, the mind-altering molecule, activates a class of signal-sending proteins called kappa opioid receptors. Once triggered, those molecules initiate a series of events that results in an elevated mood and sometimes an out of body experience.

UPDATE: Somatopsychic discusses the paper and research in more depth.


  1. #1 Zachary Tong
    September 13, 2007

    Its good to see Salvia divinorum (the plant that contains Salvinorin A) getting some good publicity. Lately it has been bashed left and right by blatantly biased journalism demonizing it as a “legal weed substitute”, which it is nothing like at all.

    Salvinorin A is more potent than LSD weighing in at a dosage under 200 micrograms, which is quite a feat considering the typical dosage of LSD is in the 250-500 microgram range. Studying this molecule, while it is still legal, could do some amazing things for our understanding of how psychoactive molecules interact with the brain and therefore help general understanding of cognition.

    Furthermore, the effects of Salvinorin A are supposedly unlike any other recreational drug, which could lead to interesting research potentials. Indeed, Salvinorin A does not affect serotonin receptors like most hallucinogenics. It is a pity that other psychoactives such LSD and psilocybin are illegal for research, as much could be gleaned from them as well. Oh well, one can always hope 🙂

  2. #2 J
    September 13, 2007

    This drug is FREAKY!!! When I first discovered it with my friends we wanted to explore its possibilities right away, so we smoked too much. One big bong hit of some high potency salvia extract and it is OVER. For the next 60 seconds you’ll have functionality of a slightly higher level than coma patients, severe hallucinations (a giant foot with three toes told me the meaning of life – I later realized that the toes were actually my three friends, and that they didn’t know the meaning of life). The rest of the day you’ll want to sleep it off, and it will feel like you’re wearing a football helmet 2 sizes too small. I also once smoked a relatively low potency extract, with far more acceptable results, so this s not a condemnation of the drug.

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    September 13, 2007

    “a giant foot with three toes told me the meaning of life – I later realized that the toes were actually my three friends, and that they didn’t know the meaning of life”


  4. #4 BWE
    September 13, 2007

    A friend of mine corroborates J’s story.

    Heavily intensely way far out utterly removed from our universe kind of experience.

    Left my friend saying “holy shit. Wow.” for weeks. But the effects were short, maybe a minute or two.

    The reports I’ve seen are biased to the point of stupidity though.

  5. #5 Max T. Fordham
    September 17, 2007

    Salvia D… yes interesting material indeed. Very strong experience, not to be trifled or goofed with, but definitely capable of inducing some deep personal insight in persons of the right disposition.

    I seem to recall some mention (not sure where from, now) of a similarity between molecular structure, as well as possibly similar perceptual alterations, between salvinorin (in humans) and nepetalactone (in cats, active ingredient of catnip).


  6. #6 Robster, FCD
    September 17, 2007

    While it may not be possible to patent the compound itself, most drugs isolated from plants require modification of one sort or another to reduce toxicity or increase a positive effect over other effects. We see this in cancer treatment quite a bit, where the first generation drug shows great promise in the lab, but is too toxic in the clinic. A few modifications (add an oxygen here, perhaps a chlorine there), and it becomes acceptable for clinical use as a second gen drug. When the third gen comes out, it tends to be stronger, with a further improved side effect profile.

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