Researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory are conducting studies on the physical absorption of Salvia divinorum in order to determine if it has any conventional medicinal properties and to determine why it is used.
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.
The research is notable for a few reasons. First of all, like the article says, “The drug targets a receptor that is known to modulate pain and could be important for therapies as far reaching as mood disorders.” However, there’s also the issue of Salvia’s Scheduling to contend with as more mainstream research, even as it continualy shows Salvia to have no negative side effects, does lead to further and further attempts to make it illegal. (Research like this is part of the “eight factor test” which the Controlled Substances Act requires before a substance can be called a “controlled substance” and made illegal to posses.)
There’s also the interesting question of the methodologies they’re using to attempt to figure out why people “abuse” Salvia.
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 logic there — that Salvia despite not having a euphoric high and despite being quite useless as a recreational drug is popular because it is fast acting — is interesting, to say the least.
There’s also a usage of language that presages an issue that all Grinders (not just those invested in cognitive and neurological freedoms, like myself) will eventually have to deal with. The press-release says that Salvia does not produce euphoria, but they still refer to a “high”. Salvia is a non-addictive legal substance but users are still referred to as “abusing” it. This is the linguistic legacy of the War on Drugs and it’s a tricky hurdle that more and more is going to face other kinds of Grinders, as well. Just as it’s hard to discuss “drugs” without using the language of drug control, for good or ill — it is also policy of organizations like the American Society of Plastic Surgeons that body modification is always mutilation. As the phenomenon of people testbeding technologies and techniques in their own body comes more into public awareness, the more that the language of mutilation and body dysmorphia will make it hard to have a conversation about the ideas that drive various flavours of Grinding. (Not that body dysmorphia is not a real thing… it is just happens to also be easily used as a way of controlling the perceived experiences of body modders.)
But I digress. Salvia is an fascinating substance with a long and expansive history that I find pretty useful, in regards to the “making your head bigger” flavour of Grinding. When looking for reasons why it is abused, I tend to think that perhaps researching quotes like this:
“The purpose of these sacraments is to purify, and to open the road. When it opens,
it’s as clear as the blue sky, and the stars at night are as bright as suns.”
—Aurelia Aurora Catarino (Mazatec shaman)
Might be just as helpful as creating a hypothesis that links the substance’s use with how fast it is absorbed and processed, even though it’s not recreationally useful at all.
Although, speaking of useful, if you’re interested in following up on Salvia further yourself here is Daniel Siebert’s Salvia divinorum FAQ and his comprehensive listing of Salvia laws and restrictions, both taken from his excellent and informative Sage Wisdom website.