Salvinorin A is a potent hallucinogen, isolated from the ethnomedical plant Salvia divinorum. Salvinorin A is a selective high efficacy kappa-opioid receptor (KOPr) agonist, and thus implicates the KOPr system and its endogenous agonist ligands (the dynorphins) in higher functions, including cognition and perceptual effects. Salvinorin A is the only selective KOPr ligand to be widely available outside research or medical settings, and salvinorin A-containing products have undergone frequent non-medical use. KOPr/dynorphin systems in the brain are known to be powerful counter-modulatory mechanisms to dopaminergic function, which is important in mood and reward engendered by natural and chemical reinforcers (including drugs of abuse). KOPr activation (including by salvinorin A) can thus cause aversion and anhedonia in preclinical models. Salvinorin A is also a completely new scaffold for medicinal chemistry approaches, since it is a non-nitrogenous neoclerodane, unlike other known opioid ligands. Ongoing efforts have the goal of discovering novel semi-synthetic salvinorin analogs with potential KOPr-mediated pharmacotherapeutic effects (including partial agonist or biased agonist effects), with a reduced burden of undesirable effects associated with salvinorin A.
Keywords: kappa-opioid receptor, dynorphins, salvinorin A, Salvia divinorum, depression, addiction
Objective: This double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the dose-related effects of inhaled salvinorin A in individuals with histories of hallucinogen use.
Methods: Eight healthy hallucinogen-using adults inhaled up to 16 doses of salvinorin A (0.375-21 μg/kg) in ascending order. Physiological, behavioral, and subjective effects were assessed every 2 min for 60 min after administration. Qualitative subjective effects were assessed retrospectively via questionnaires at the end of sessions. Persisting effects were assessed 1 month later.
Results: Orderly dose-related effects peaked at 2 min and then rapidly dissipated, replicating previous findings. Subjective effects were intense, with maximal drug strength ratings or unresponsiveness frequently observed at high doses. Questionnaires assessing qualitative effects (Hallucinogen Rating Scale, Pharmacological Class Questionnaire) suggested some overlap with serotonergically mediated classic hallucinogens. Salvinorin A also produced dose-related dissociative effects and impairments in recall/recognition memory. At 1-month follow-up, there was no evidence of persisting adverse effects. Participants reported that salvinorin A effects were qualitatively different from other drugs.
Conclusions: Salvinorin A produces a unique profile of subjective and cognitive effects, including strong dissociative effects and memory impairment, which only partially overlap with classic hallucinogen effects. Along with nonhuman studies of salvinorin A, these results are important for understanding the neurobiology of the kappa opioid system and may ultimately have important therapeutic applications.
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