DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Salvinorin A

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2020 Dec 2;11(23):3979-3992. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.0c00608. Epub 2020 Nov 9.


Salvinorin A is the main bioactive compound in Salvia divinorum, an endemic plant with ancestral use by the inhabitants of the Mazateca mountain range (Sierra Mazateca) in Oaxaca, México. The main use of la pastora, as locally known, is in spiritual rites due to its extraordinary hallucinogenic effects. Being the first known nonalkaloidal opioid-mediated psychotropic molecule, salvinorin A set new research areas in neuroscience. The absence of a protonated amine group, common to all previously known opioids, results in a fast metabolism with the concomitant fast elimination and swift loss of activity. The worldwide spread and psychotropic effects of salvinorin A account for its misuse and classification as a drug of abuse. Consequently, salvinorin A and Salvia divinorum are now banned in many countries. Several synthetic efforts have been focused on the improvement of physicochemical and biological properties of salvinorin A: from total synthesis to hundreds of analogues. In this Review, we discuss the impact of salvinorin A in chemistry and neuroscience covering the historical relevance, isolation from natural sources, synthetic efforts, and pharmacological and safety profiles. Altogether, the chemistry behind and the taboo that encloses salvinorin A makes it one of the most exquisite naturally occurring drugs.

Keywords: Salvia divinorum; Salvinorin A; hallucinogen; kappa-opioid receptor; natural products; opioid.

Publication types

  • Review