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ARCHIVE:  May 22, 2002

Salvinorin A

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

Do you know how Salvinorin A works?

-- Sean

Dear Sean:

Addendum added Oct. 2002; salvia receptors discovered

In a simple answer, no. There is no hint provided in the scientific literature that would suggest an answer. Some time ago, in answer to a related question, I drew an analogy between Salvinorin and THC, as neither was an alkaloid and maybe they both worked at the same place. That did not hold up. So, why is Salvinorin such a potent psychedelic?

Let me try to explain by retelling a memory of many years ago, while I was a baby-sitter for a professor at the University of California at San Francisco who was off on a sabbatical leave to visit the East Coast. He had asked me to be his surrogate in absentia, to listen to his post-doctoral students' dark problems, and to lead them into the open light.

One of his students came into the office with an inspired research proposal. Why is LSD such a potent psychedelic, he asked? Again I conceded ignorance, as I have just above vis-a-vis Salvinorin. All I would need to do (this student told me) is to inject it into an animal, and then watch where it goes, and how it is changed in the body, and in what form it is finally excreted. This would apparently provide us (he assured me) the mechanism of action.

My response to him was to ask him three questions. One: Was he familiar with the psychedelic experience? "Yes," he said. Two: Would he trust me as a guide in such an experience? He looked at me strangely for a moment, and then said, "Yes, of course." Three: Would you come down the hall with me to the chemistry lab and trust me if I would try a quick experiment? "Sure," he said. So we went down to the lab where there was a giant dry-ice container, and I opened it up, and asked him to put his head inside this container and to breath twice, deeply, through his mouth. He did this, and I caught him as he stumbled backwards. "Wow," he said. "That was a totally unexpected turn-on." "Did it remind you of LSD?" "Yes," he said. "Initially I went out there quite far, but you were there and I had no problem re-centering myself."

We returned to the office. I asked him, "Do you think you could separate the mechanisms of action of LSD on you, as distinct from the actions of carbon dioxide?" He told me quite honestly, "No, they sure came on in the same way." So, I asked him, could you possibly design a research project that would result in an explanation of the difference of the action of LSD and of carbon dioxide? He shook his head. He admitted that it might be very difficult to explain the action of LSD (which has some 49 atoms in its structure) if he couldn't explain the action of carbon dioxide, which contains only 3 atoms.

And Salvinorin A contains 59 atoms!

-- Dr. Shulgin

See the Salvia Divinorum Action Center for latest info on S.divinorum's legal status.

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