Salvia worthy of medical exploration

By chillinwill · Oct 8, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    I was on YouTube the other day and came across a gripping video of a dazed guy stumbling about, laughing. I was immediately interested.

    The culprit responsible for his stupor, Salvia divinorum, is not a new discovery for man. The plant has been used in the Mazatec culture in Mexico by shamans since at least 1939. The derivative’s effects can induce divination and vision formation. Perfect for inner thought.

    Apparently this strong hallucinogen has youth and dignified scientists knocking on its front door. Salvia deserves such attention, especially from the research realm.

    The consumers in the video were a college-age group. That is partly understandable: a 2008 study, conducted by Dr. Khey at the University of Florida, shows that 22.6 percent of the students surveyed knew of Salvia, and most of them had heard of it from their friends, among other sources.

    He admits that these numbers may not be definitive. One possible error is survey methodology. Another could be that these students were in the Southern U.S., where Salvia, originating from Mexico, might be more available.

    The key component in the plant, Salvinorin A, works similar to opiate drugs like morphine. However, since it is specific in what it binds to, avoiding certain brain receptors that opiate drugs bind to, it does not lead to similar addiction or euphoria.

    Psychiatric researchers at Harvard Medical School noted that Salvinorin A can have antidepressant effects and mood stabilizing relief for those with bipolar disorders. Other scientists contend it could have uses in treatment for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and even AIDS. Just like you, I was asking myself, “Whaaa???” ‘Tis true.

    The same team at Harvard believes that the molecule can be altered to increase its medicinal efficacy. Such desirable properties include binding ability, duration and reduced hallucinogenic effects.

    Previous medicinal roles still exist for this versatile drug. As a result of its broad use in Mazatec culture, it has been prescribed as a cure for ailments such as diarrhea, anemia, headaches, rheumatism and swollen belly.

    The fact that Salvia is the most powerful hallucinogen yet known, legal at that, will do little to stave off the keen recreational drug consumer.

    Its vision-inducing properties and psychedelic effects help people free their minds. Some have likened it to yoga, meditation and the state of a trance. Still others note an increased sense of connection with the universe and sensations of motion. A lot of first-time users will experience fear.

    Sounds potent.

    That is why there is active legislation to impede the use and distribution of this drug. This includes efforts in 2009 in Pennsylvania.

    Some public figures have deemed it a “dangerous herb” and others believe, “Our children must be saved.” Politicians cannot rest well knowing something so powerful is out and loose. It has already been pronounced a ‘drug of concern’ by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Fortunately, attempts originating in 2002 to classify it as a Schedule I controlled substance failed.

    The nature of politics entails that politicians can’t have any choice but to oppose Salvia. Furthermore, the image people have created for the drug makes simple association lethal.

    For one, LSD and heroine are also Schedule I drugs, so linking Salvia to them is guilt by association, a favorite tactic to downplay the Magic Mint. A few rotten apples must spoil the barrel, correct? No, not here.

    Another example is the kind of video I saw on YouTube. People record themselves after inhaling or ingesting Salvia. These usually show the person laughing uncontrollably or unable to perform simple tasks.

    Such a first impression on decision-makers doesn’t bode well for scientists who want to explore Salvia’s benefits.

    The therapeutic potential of this seemingly evil substance is yet unmeasured. Unprecedented medical abilities could be harnessed from Salvia, so quit the hate campaign.

    Likewise, scientists need their due time and space with discovering this drug. With legal restraints, research proposals and funding for them could be stalled. As opponents, it seems the big pharmaceutical companies can’t let an effective drug surface near their commercial ones.

    It’s always a complicated web.

    Some researchers agree that Salvia needs to be respected for its power. To avoid inherent bias from any party, a holistic and thorough approach is necessary. Then, hopefully scientists can form a consensus and ward off the politicians as a team.

    Let not science die again by the rigidity of politics.

    In Greek mythology, such as “The Odyssey” the lotus plant has intoxicating properties, enough for lotus-eaters to garner the titles of “foul” and “heinous.” Still the lotus can remain hopeful its true beauty and fragrance will be recognized and a second glance will be cast upon it.

    By Abdul-Kareem Ahmed
    October 6, 2009
    Pitt News

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  1. chillinwill
    Researchers fear “Magic Mint” ban could slow studies

    Salvia divinorum can beam you to Mars. It can eradicate gravity. It can show you things that will make you howl with laughter and things that will make you scream in fear. But it only does these things in your head — and only for about 15 minutes.

    Millions of people have embarked on short-haul head trips after smoking Salvia divinorum, a plant from the mint family. Thousands have posted their hallucinogenic journeys on YouTube. In one video, viewed some two million times, a young woman says her mouth is falling off.

    Some lawmakers believe Salvia divinorum, a.k.a. “Diviner’s Sage,” is dangerous. About a dozen countries have banned it, including Australia and Belgium. Selling it in parts of the United States will also earn you a fine and jail time. But it’s legal in Canada. In some Canadian cities, a shop selling bongs is likely to have a cardboard sign in the window that says “Salvia sold here.”

    Though many politicians have the plant on their not-in-my-jurisdiction lists, there is no scientific data to suggest the plant’s active ingredient, Salvinorin A, has any long-term effects. Some researchers studying the plant — which may prove useful in treating mental illness — are worried that bans may make their work more difficult. They say the herb doesn’t appear to be addictive or toxic. Hospital emergency rooms aren’t reporting major problems with patients suffering “bad trips” from Salvia divinorum. Nor have police made much noise about the herb.

    “Health Canada has only received a limited number of communications regarding Salvia divinorum from law enforcement agencies, and none of these has advised that the use of Salvia divinorum poses any threat to public safety,” Health Canada spokesman Gary Holub writes in an email.

    Holub notes, however, that Health Canada is attempting to learn how many Canadians are using Salvia divinorum. It included questions about the plant in the 2008–2009 Youth Smoking Survey and the 2009 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Health Canada is also collecting data about the herb, from national and international sources, to determine if it should be regulated.

    “Very few controlled scientific studies of the physical and psychotropic effects of Salvia divinorum on humans have been carried out, and using these studies to predict the potential for addiction and abuse associated with Salvia divinorum is difficult,” writes Holub. “Health Canada recommends that the use of this substance be avoided because very little is known about the damage it may cause to the body, including the brain. There is also no way to predict how it will affect an individual with each use.”

    Salvia divinorum has been used by the Mazatecs in Oaxaca, Mexico, for centuries. Folk healers chew the leaves to produce mild hallucinations they believe provide spiritual guidance. In the early 1960s, Gordon Wasson, an American anthropologist, became the first person from a Western nation to take and write about the herb. In the early 1980s, a Mexican researcher isolated its active ingredient. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that people began extracting that ingredient and adding it to fresh Salvia divinorum leaves.

    These fortified leaves are what people buy, often over the Internet, and smoke in a bong or pipe. In the United States, about 1.8 million people have tried Salvia divinorum, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. As with crack cocaine, the effects upon inhalation are almost instantaneous. And though short-lived, these effects are anything but mild.

    “It is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen,” says Dr. Bryan Roth, project director of the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drugs Screening Program. “It rivals LSD [lysergic acid diethylamide] in potency.”

    In 2002, Roth discovered that Salvinorin A had a different chemical structure than any other hallucinogen, natural or synthetic (PNAS 2002;99: 11934–9). He also found that it didn’t activate the serotonin receptor responsible for the mind-bending effects of other hallucinogens. Because of its unique properties, Salvinorin A might be a novel compound for use in therapies for diseases that distort perception, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

    “What we are hoping, when we find drugs that affect human consciousness, is to use them to make better treatments for mental illness,” says Roth, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

    That research might prove challenging, however, if the US Food and Drug Administration outlaws Salvia divinorum, which Roth says is likely. Though supportive of regulating distribution, he isn’t looking forward to widespread legal barriers to accessing Salvinorin A. Such laws would not only keep the herb out of the hands of teenagers hoping to visit Jupiter on purple unicorns, but also out of the labs of scientists.

    “It will make subsequent studies very difficult,” says Roth. “It won’t make them impossible but will make it difficult to obtain for therapeutic research.”
    Roger Collier
    October 13, 2009
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