Salvinorin A Acts on k-Opioid Receptors

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchReally, that’s about the size of it (although I do get a small kick from writing about psychedelic drugs immediately after wallowing in cultural heresies like multilingualism).

Salvia divinorum, which is scientist’s Latin for “diviner’s sage,” is a smokable plant which induces powerful but relatively short-lasting hallucinations. The main active ingredient, salvinorin A, acts on a class of nerve-cell input devices known as “κ-opioid receptors.” It’s a κ-opioid agonist, which is the opposite of antagonist — inducing activity, rather than suppressing it. Folks in the know had hypothesized that salvinorin A acted on the κ-opioid receptors, but Catherine B. Willmore-Fordham of Ohio Northern University and her colleagues were recently able to prove it. Of course, they had to work with rats, instead of people.

The paper, damnably, is locked behind a subscription wall, because Neuropharmacology is an Elsevier journal. (You did hear that Elsevier publishes a journal called Homeopathy, didn’t you? I guess they had to make up for the lost profits of not running arms fairs anymore.) Still, ye olde trusty webloggers will come through in a pinch:

This is interesting, because other (more famous) drugs act on different receptors: LSD, for example, is an agonist of the serotonin-sensitive receptor known as 5-HT2A (among lots of other things, but 5-HT2A is the one implicated in causing all the noteworthy effects). Now, if salvia provoked the same kind of hallucinations as psilocybin and LSD — the same “form constants,” like spirals and honeycombs — then we’d know that hallucinations were not due to the specific compound nor the specific receptors being agonized, but rather to a higher-level, more “emergent” property of brain function. I don’t know of any research on this, but it would be interesting to find out.

(I’m hazy on the details, but according to Jack Cowan, the mathematics for modeling such perturbations of cortical activity leads you into Reggeonic field theory, which derives from the study of quantum strings. See, you knew that string theory was only a hop and a skip away from psychedelic drugs!)


  • WILLMOREFORDHAM, C., KRALL, D., MCCURDY, C., KINDER, D. (2007). The hallucinogen derived from Salvia divinorum, salvinorin A, has κ-opioid agonist discriminative stimulus effects in rats. Neuropharmacology, 53(4), 481-486. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2007.06.008.

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