Scientists Explore Brain's Reaction to Potent Hallucinogen

April 28, 2008
PET images (color) of [11C]-salvinorin A in the baboon brain overlaid on MRI template (black and white) summed from 3-7 minutes post-injection. High concentrations (red) were observed in the cerebellum and activity was seen throughout cortical and subcortical regions. The maximum concentration of [11C]-salvinorin A in the brain occurs in 40 seconds and clears with a half-life of only 8 minutes, matching the pharmacological duration of action.

Brain-imaging studies performed in animals at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory provide researchers with clues about why an increasingly popular recreational drug that causes hallucinations and motor-function impairment in humans is abused. Using trace amounts of Salvia divinorum – also known as “salvia,” a Mexican mint plant that can be smoked in the form of dried leaves or serum – Brookhaven scientists found that the drug’s behavior in the brains of primates mimics the extremely fast and brief “high” observed in humans. Their results are now published online in the journal NeuroImage.

Quickly gaining popularity among teenagers and young adults, salvia is legal in most states, but is grabbing the attention of municipal lawmakers. Numerous states have placed controls on salvia or salvinorin A – the plant’s active component – and others, including New York, are considering restrictions.

“This is probably one of the most potent hallucinogens known,” said Brookhaven chemist Jacob Hooker, the lead author of the study, which is the first to look at how the drug travels through the brain. “It’s really important that we study drugs like salvia and how they affect the brain in order to understand why they are abused and to investigate their medicinal relevance, both of which can inform policy makers.”

Hooker and fellow researchers used positron emission tomography, or PET scanning, to watch the distribution of salvinorin A in the brains of anesthetized primates. In this technique, the scientists administer a radioactively labeled form of salvinorin A (at concentrations far below pharmacologically active doses) and use the PET scanner to track its site-specific concentrations in various brain regions.

Within 40 seconds of administration, the researchers found a peak concentration of salvinorin A in the brain – nearly 10 times faster than the rate at which cocaine enters the brain. About 16 minutes later, the drug was essentially gone. This pattern parallels the effects described by human users, who experience an almost immediate high that starts fading away within 5 to 10 minutes.

High concentrations of the drug were localized to the cerebellum and visual cortex, which are parts of the brain responsible for motor function and vision, respectively. Based on their results and published data from human use, the scientists estimate that just 10 micrograms of salvia in the brain is needed to cause psychoactive effects in humans.

Salvia doesn’t cause the typical euphoric state associated with other hallucinogens like LSD, Hooker said. The drug targets a receptor that is known to modulate pain and could be important for therapies as far reaching as mood disorders.

“Most people don’t find this class of drugs very pleasurable,” Hooker said. “So perhaps the main draw or reason for its appeal relates to the rapid onset and short duration of its effects, which are incredibly unique. The kinetics are often as important as the abused drug itself.”

The Brookhaven team plans to conduct further studies related to salvia’s abuse potential. The scientists also hope to develop radioactive tracers that can better probe the brain receptors to which salvia binds. Such studies could possibly lead to therapies for chronic pain and mood disorders.

Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Explore further: Study solves structure of 'salvia receptor', reveals how salvinorin A interacts with it

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4.6 / 5 (11) Apr 28, 2008
These researchers sound rather naive, or they're just peddling bullshit:

"It's really important that we study drugs like salvia and how they affect the brain in order to understand why they are abused and to investigate their medicinal relevance, both of which can inform policy makers."

Anyone who knows anything about the subject knows that policy makers do not care about the actual facts or science of these kinds of drugs. They're just looking for an excuse to put laws on them, and if they can't find one they'll make one up, as they did with Marijuana, MDMA, LSD, DMT, Psychocybin, etc. etc.

Why is this the case? Because they are stupid. I can see no alternative, as the government certainly hasn't gained anything positive out of the drug war, while it's lost a tremendous amount.
5 / 5 (10) Apr 28, 2008
Is it necessary to label Salvia use as "abuse"? Why do so many in this country insist that entering any altered state of consciousness is necessarily a bad thing... unless of course it's alcohol, nicotine, or pharmaceuticals? Oh, now I remember - tax revenue

Salvia can lead to profound, positive changes in one's outlook on life and our place in it, and to label it as something bad that we need to be protected from is a load of BS.
5 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2008
Its not a party drug, that popularity (if its even real) has more to do with media attention and easy access on the internet then with anything else.
I really hoped that all the 'lets ban it cause we can' people retired or died out already.
5 / 5 (8) Apr 28, 2008
I really hope nobody reads this and thinks its possible to "abuse" Salvia Divinorum. I think the only abuse of this plant happening today in America is in the way it is imbibed. South Smerican peoples for thousands of years have always chewed it, while todays thrill seeking audience thinks you're supposed to smoke it. This results in a quicker onset of effects, but the resulting visions are often too intense and brief to be of any personal benefit.
Beyond this, There is absolutely no danger or ill effects caused by the use of this substance. I agree with the others on this post. Leave this plant and it's experimenters alone!
5 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2008
If someone enters a alternate state of consciousness does that mean they are abusing themselves? Why are uses of drugs to create a different state of consciousness routinely equated with violence? In other words if you want to enjoy a different state of existence I guess you are being violent towards yourself, I doubt those are the intentions of any or even many peopple that "use" drugs sometimes. Joyce wrote from a variety of perspectives so does that constitute abuse? Are people that are multiple personality challenged, ie unable to have multiple perspectives coexist in their brains abusing the rest of us that are capable of something more than a one "true" state of consciousness? Why do people equate violence with the use of naturally occuring plants on this planet but do not think themselves perpetrating violence by denying the use of plants for the purpose of feeling a different state of goodness? Happiness appears to have become abuse in the scientific worldview as long as research continues to imply violent behavior as the cause of the use of drugs, "abuse" basically amounts to semantic butchering of the facts. States of consciousness are possibilities or probabilities not certainties and are not any more exclusively one state than physical matter would be.
5 / 5 (7) Apr 29, 2008
I agree with the vast majority, if not all, of the opinions asserted so far.

"Abuse" salvia? Who do they think they're kidding? Chewing salvia may be a different story, but smoking a very concentrated extract can be downright TERRIFYING. If the user has never experimented with other psychedelics, the immediate onset and strength of smoked salvia can cause a complete ego death. You are whisked away to another dimension, and a very bizarre one at that.

As other posters have mentioned, there is some obvious political manuevering going on here. If this country's laws were actually tailored to prevent "abuse" of substances, alcohol and tobacco would find themselves banned, and all the psychedelic drugs would be legal, or at least MORE legal than they are currently.

I don't think it's only a question of revenue, but it seems to me as though somebody(s) pulling all the strings don't want folks to experience altered states of consciousness that could potentially be beneficial. Many will scoff, or even get offended at that statement, as is to be expected. But when was the last time you had an insightful epiphany while drinking alcohol? Yeah.

Note: ANYTHING can be abused, be it exercise, coffee, cell phones, etc. Psychedelics are no exception.
5 / 5 (5) Apr 29, 2008
I was going to say something but I think the six of you beat me to it...
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 29, 2008
Salvia is an excellect legal high imo and definetly has a place in our society. Not only do you get a little trip out of smoking it but I also find it clears my head and leaves me thinking much clearer and also feeling much fresher. So I find this is an excellent "cure" when you feel spaced out and your head is up your ass :-) Do I abuse it? I wouldn't say so, I've done it few times and certainly "blast" it but not in an abusive way. Personally, I abuse coffee and ale but always treat psychaedelics with the respect and caution they deserve.
2.5 / 5 (8) Apr 29, 2008
this sounds like another gateway killer drug like Marijuana. Those using this should be imprisioned then tried with sedition. Can one imagine the effect of salvia with cannabis. Hoards of drug addeled youth screaming for blood................
5 / 5 (3) Apr 29, 2008
What are the stats on alcohol deaths? And what are tha stast on "saliva" deaths? I think you'll find that there are far more people either dying or just failing to turn up to work after a session on the drink. Bottom line: The govt just don't want us exploring our conciousness. They want us to be obedient little workers and make them lots of money. They are willing to put up with decreased productivity as a result of drinking alcohol because they made money off it in the first place.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 29, 2008
COCO, you crack me up. Anyone can look at your comment history and see that you're only joking with us : P

At first though, I thought you were quite serious. After all, I'm sure we've all met people who seriously believed such things... media putty, if you will, sculpted by others' opinions (and make believe statistics) instead of daring to dive into personal experience :)
1 / 5 (3) May 02, 2008
I just lost a LOT of respect for Brookhaven. What f'ing garbage.
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2008
"Brookhaven scientists found that the drugs behavior in the brains of primates mimics the extremely fast and brief high observed in humans."

How disrespectful!! How dare they experiment with this "garbage" and call it science!! roflmfao!
1 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2008
They have studied it and they have come to the conclusion it has no ill effects. I advise people who take to not drive for an hour after taking it even though the subjects in the experiments came down after 15 minutes or so.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2008
They have studied it and they have come to the conclusion it has no ill effects. I advise people who take to not drive for an hour after taking it even though the subjects in the experiments came down after 15 minutes or so.
Personally I have never tried it.

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