Scientists Want to Synthesize Salvia’s Hallucinogenic Molecule

You’re probably familiar with Salvia divinorum, the hallucinogenic plant used for religious purposes in some indigenous cultures, and for watching celebrities giggle in some decaying cultures.

A team of scientists is now reporting that they’ve found an easier way create a slightly-altered version of the chemical responsible for salvia’s hallucinogenic effects, Salvinorin A. They’re not doing it so that you can continue having wild trips with your high school friends, though. Instead, these researchers are looking for a painkiller with opiate-like effects, but with a lower potential to abuse.

“Drug overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, driven largely by abuse of opioids,” the authors report in their paper published recently on the new preprint server, ChemRxiv. “To counter this epidemic, replacement of abused opioids with alternate pain therapeutics has emerged as an increasingly sensible goal.”

The authors write that Salvinorin A is unstable, making it difficult to alter. Others have been able to produce the chemical in the lab and change its structure somewhat, but some complexities have limited the options available to alter the molecule and change the effects it might have on the nervous system.

The final molecule, called 20-nor-Salvinorin A, differs just slightly from Salvinorin A. One single piece of the large molecule, a dangling carbon atom with three hydrogen atoms attached, is replaced by a hydrogen atom.

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