Salvia divinorum: A Psychopharmacological Riddle and a Mind-Body Prospect
Affiliation: Cerrada de Cruz Verde 29-B, Lomas Quebradas, México, D.F. 10000, México.
Keywords: Consciousness-altering drugs, ethnopharmacology, kappa opioid receptor agonist, Mazatec shamanism, mechanism
of action, mind-body problem, Salvia divinorum, salvinorin.
The multidisciplinary research on Salvia divinorum and its chemical principles is analyzed concerning whether
the ethnobotany, phytochemistry, mental effects, and neuropharmacology of this sacred psychoactive plant and main
principle clarify its experienced effects and divinatory uses. The scientific pursuit spans from the traditional practices,
continues with the botanical identification, isolation of active molecules, characterization of mental and neural effects,
possible therapeutic applications, and impinges upon the mind-body problem. The departure point is ethnopharmacology
and therefore the traditional beliefs, ritual uses, and mental effects of this Mazatec sacred mint recorded during a 1973-
1983 field research project are described. A water potion of crushed leaves produced short-lasting light-headedness,
dysphoria, tactile and proprioceptive sensations, a sense of depersonalization, amplified sound perception, and an increase
visual and auditory imagery, but not actual hallucinations. Similar effects were described using questionnaires and are
attributable to salvinorin A, but cannot be explained solely by its specific and potent brain kappa-opioid receptor agonist
activity. Some requirements for a feasible classification and mechanism of action of consciousness-altering products are
proposed and include the activation of neural networks comprising several neurochemical systems. Top-down analyses
should be undertaken in order to characterize such neural networks and eventually allowing to explore the differential
ethnic effects. As is the case for other consciousness-altering preparations, a careful and encompassing research on this
plant and principle can be consequential to endeavors ranging from the mind-body problem, a better understanding of
shamanic ecstasy, to the potential generation of analgesic, antidepressant, and drug-abuse attenuating products.
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