The plant, Salvia Divinorum, is in the mint family. This herb, however, isn’t used for flavoring. It contains one of the most powerful hallucinogenics in the plant kingdom – rivaled only by those produced in fungus.
For that reason, the “magic mint” has been used by everyone from those seeking mystical or religious experiences through to the amateur experimenter wanting to see what hallucinations are like.
The plant is easier to get and not as well policed as other hallucinogens, so it has gained somewhat of an underground, Internet-based following.
Salvia divinorun doesn't bind to pain relief receptors
Since the early 2000’s researchers knew the active substance, Salvinorum A, binds to one of the four known opioid receptors. These receptors were first examined in connection with narcotics like morphine and opium – hence the name – but are implicated in a broad spectrum of physical interactions in the brain. Salvinorum A is very specific and only binds to the Kappa receptor.
This is interesting, because the plant is not useful for pain relief and the hallucinations must be caused by this single interaction between Salvinorum A and this receptor.
Although this was known, the actual molecular structure of the Kappa receptor wasn’t. With this new study, the actual arrangement of molecules that make up the receptor have been revealed. In the past, such detailed information has led to a many new drugs - drugs designed to block, promote, or alter the function of a receptor.
Potential application for addiction
One possibility is to focus on drugs that are structurally related to Salvinorum A. Various chemical “tweaks” could be tried to alter the response of the Kappa receptor to other substances.
For example, alcohol, cocaine and other drugs of abuse have activity at this receptor. The same receptor is known to affect human consciousness, awareness of pain, depression and anxiety.
There are currently other studies underway (with human trials) based on the Kappa receptor. Specifically, there is early human testing with JDTic, a drug that may help addicts with recovery by blocking the Kappa receptor without causing the hallucinations seen with Salvinorum A.