Salvia divinorum Epling and Játiva is a perennial mint from the Lamiaceae family, endemic to Mexico, predominantly from the state of Oaxaca. Due to its psychoactive properties, S. divinorum had been used for centuries by Mazatecans for divinatory, religious, and medicinal purposes. In recent years, its use for recreational purposes, especially among adolescents and young adults, has progressively increased. The main bioactive compound underlying the hallucinogenic effects, salvinorin A, is a non-nitrogenous diterpenoid with high affinity and selectivity for the k-opioid receptor. The aim of this work is to comprehensively review and discuss the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of S. divinorum and salvinorin A, highlighting their psychological, physiological, and toxic effects. Potential therapeutic applications and forensic aspects are also covered in this review. The leaves of S. divinorum can be chewed, drunk as an infusion, smoked, or vaporised. Absorption of salvinorin A occurs through the oral mucosa or the respiratory tract, being rapidly broken down in the gastrointestinal system to its major inactive metabolite, salvinorin B, when swallowed. Salvinorin A is rapidly distributed, with accumulation in the brain, and quickly eliminated. Its pharmacokinetic parameters parallel well with the short-lived psychoactive and physiological effects. No reports on toxicity or serious adverse outcomes were found. A variety of therapeutic applications have been proposed for S. divinorum which includes the treatment of chronic pain, gastrointestinal and mood disorders, neurological diseases, and treatment of drug dependence. Notwithstanding, there is still limited knowledge regarding the pharmacology and toxicology features of S. divinorum and salvinorin A, and this is needed due to its widespread use. Additionally, the clinical acceptance of salvinorin A has been hampered, especially due to the psychotropic side effects and misuse, turning the scientific community to the development of analogues with better pharmacological profiles.
Keywords: Salvia spp.; hallucinogens; herbal highs; opioid receptors; pharmacodynamics; pharmacokinetics.