I took the liberty of copying Daniel Siebert's fine letter to Congress
regarding bill HR5607 - Joe Bacca's unsuccessful attempt from 2002 to get a
national (US) ban on Salvia divinorum. I've so far forwarded it to: Senator
Karen Peterson (Delaware), Senator T (Alaska) and...
I included the following introduction...
I don’t know if you will be
aware of the contents of the following letter to Congress originally sent by
Daniel Seibert with regard to US Representative Joe Baca’s unsuccessful
attempt to outlaw Salvia divinorum (Congress bill HR 5607). In any case, I
copy its content below. I believe the points may be just as relevant to your
Prominent Salvia Divinorum
Researcher Speaks Out: Letter to Congress
RE: Bill H.R. 5607
Dear Honorable Member of
This letter summarizes the
important medicinal properties of Salvia
divinorum and its primary active constituent salvinorin A. It also
puts forth several objections to bill H.R. 5607, which inappropriately seeks
to place this medicinal herb in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
As a pharmacognosist who
has devoted the last ten years to the scientific study of this herb, I believe
that I am particularly qualified to speak on this issue. I was the first
person to investigate the human pharmacology of salvinorin A and to clearly
identify this compound as the psychoactive principle of
Salvia divinorum (Siebert, 1994).
Most recently, I coauthored a paper published in
Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS), in which my research group reported our findings
regarding the neurological mechanism of salvinorin A’s action. These findings
are of particular significance because they provide solid evidence for the
medicinal value of this compound. I am currently working in collaboration with
several other scientists on various avenues of scientific investigation into
the pharmacology of salvinorin A and closely related compounds. My
collaborators include Dr. Bryan Roth (Project
Director of the National Institute for Mental Health Psychoactive Drug
Screening Program) and Dr.
Michael J. Iadarola (Chief of the Neuronal Gene
Expression Unit at the Pain and Neurosensory Mechanisms Branch of the National
Institute for Health). In addition to my scientific endeavors, I am presently
completing work on a comprehensive book about
There are approximately one
thousand species of Salvia
worldwide. Salvia divinorum is
just one of the many species that are recognized for their useful medicinal
properties. The common name for all salvias is
sage. Most people are familiar
with the common culinary sage, Salvia
officinalis, which in addition to its usefulness as a flavoring
agent, is also used for its medicinal properties.
The genus name Salvia
is derived from the Latin salvare,
meaning “to heal” or “to save.” The words
salvation and savior
also come from this same root.
is endemic to the Mazatec Sierra of central Mexico, where it has a long
history of medicinal use. It is used both for its psychoactive properties and
as an effective treatment for arthritis, headache, and eliminatory complaints.
The validity of each of these different applications is well supported by my
research group’s recent pharmacological findings.
To summarize our recent
findings: Salvinorin A is a uniquely potent and highly selective kappa-opioid
receptor agonist, and as such, it has tremendous potential for the development
of a wide variety of valuable medications. The most promising of these include
safe non-addictive analgesics, antidepressants, short-acting anesthetics that
do not depress respiration, and drugs to treat disorders characterized by
alterations in perception, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and
bipolar disorder (Roth et al.,
agonists are of particular interest to pharmacologists because they provide
effective pain medications that are not habit forming and do not produce
dependence. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates that
kappa-opioid receptor agonists are actually “aversive”—the opposite of
addictive. This is an important advantage over most powerful analgesics
currently prescribed. My colleagues and I will soon be publishing a paper that
reports the results of animal studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of
salvinorin A as an analgesic (Chavkin et
al., in press).
In my book I describe many
case reports in which people testify to the effectiveness of this herb for
traditional Mazatec use of
Salvia divinorum to treat
headaches and arthritis also attests to its efficacy as an analgesic.
The ability of salvinorin A
to block perception of pain also suggests that it may prove quite useful as a
short-acting general anesthetic. The fact that it does not depress respiration
is particularly interesting, because it indicates that salvinorin A could be
much safer than most general anesthetics currently in use.
Recently Dr. Karl Hanes
published a case report in the
of Clinical Psychopharmacology, in
he describes a patient that
obtained relief from chronic depression by using
Salvia divinorum (Hanes, 2001). In
my book I describe several additional accounts of people who have recovered
from serious depression with the help of this herb.
It is especially
interesting that these people were able to obtain persistent relief from their
depression after only a few treatments. Quite unlike the continuous medication
regime required with conventional antidepressants such as Prozac—which in most
cases only offer symptomatic relief from depression—Salvia
often produces long-lasting clinical improvement.
Because salvinorin A alters
various perceptual modalities by acting on kappa-opioid receptors, it is clear
that these receptors play a prominent role in the modulation of human
perception. This suggests the possibility that novel psychotherapeutic
compounds derived from salvinorin A could be useful for treating diseases
manifested by perceptual distortions (e.g. schizophrenia, dementia, and
bipolar disorders). This is a promising area of research that is important to
has several properties that make it useful in psychotherapy: it produces a
state of profound self-reflection, it improves one’s ability to retrieve
childhood memories, and it provides access to areas of the psyche that are
ordinarily difficult to reach. I have spoken with several psychotherapists who
have used this herb in their practice. They are impressed with its
effectiveness as a psychotherapeutic tool. This type of application is not
new—the Mazatecs have long used Salvia
divinorum to treat psychological complaints.
Salvinorin A is also an
important neurochemical probe for studying the dynorphin/kappa-opioid-receptor
system. As such, it is useful for
research into the
mechanisms of perception and awareness.
Salvinorin A is remarkable
in that it belongs to an entirely different chemical class than any previously
identified opioid receptor ligand (it is a diterpenoid). This fact is of great
interest to pharmacologists because it opens
up a vast new area for
future drug development.
No significant abuse
There are many popular
misconceptions about Salvia divinorum.
Presumably, bill H.R. 5607 is based on some these. Many of these
misconceptions have their origin in a few sensationalistic articles that have
appeared in the popular press, and others derive from the absurd advertising
claims of unethical herb vendors who deliberately exaggerate the effects of
Salvia divinorum in an effort to
The fact is that the
effects of Salvia divinorum are
not appealing to recreational drug users. The majority of people who try it
find that they do not enjoy its effects and do not continue using it. People
who use it medicinally take it infrequently. It is not euphoric or
stimulating. It is not a social drug. Since it increases self-awareness, it is
useless as an escapist drug.
It is most useful as a
is not addictive or habit forming. Its mechanism of action indicates that it
may actually be anti-addictive. Many people have reported that
Salvia divinorum actually helped
them to overcome substance abuse problems.
is non-toxic. Toxicological studies have been performed by Dr. Leander Valdés
at the University of Michigan, Jeremy Stewart at the University of
Mississippi, Dr. Frank Jaksch of Chromadex Inc., and
Wayne Briner of the
University of Kansas.
Neither Salvia divinorum nor
salvinorin A showed toxicity in any of these studies. There is a vast body of
empirical evidence that indicates Salvia
divinorum is a remarkably safe herb. Indeed, the Mazatecs, who have
probably used S. divinorum for
hundreds of years, do not attribute any toxic properties to this plant.
is a relatively obscure medicinal herb with no significant abuse potential. It
does not present a risk to public health or safety. Criminalizing it would
only serve to create a problem where one did not previously exist. The
regulation of herbal medicines such as this is a matter that should be handled
by the FDA, not the Controlled Substances Act.
There is no reasonable
justification for making Salvia
divinorum a controlled
substance. Placing it in schedule I would deprive people of a safe and useful
medicinal herb, and it would seriously hamper promising medical research.
Because of its complex stereochemistry, salvinorin A is virtually impossible
to produce synthetically. It is important that its source plant,
divinorum, remain available so
that researchers can continue to study this important compound.
Evidently, this bill is
based on inaccurate information about
Schedule I is intended for substances that have a high potential for abuse, a
lack of accepted safety, and no currently accepted medical use.
divinorum does not meet any of
Daniel J. Siebert
Divine Sage. Work in progress.
Charles, Sumit Sud, Wenzhen Jin, Jeremy Stuart, Daniel J. Siebert, Sean Renock,
Karen Baner,Nicole M. White, John Pintar and Bryan L. Roth..
Paper in progress.
Bryan L., Karen Baner, Richard Westkaemper, Daniel Siebert, Kenner C. Rice,
SeAnna Steinberg, Paul Ernsberger, and Richard Rothman.
2002. Salvinorin A: A Potent, Naturally Occurring, Non-Nitrogenous κ-Opioid
Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
Vol. 99, Issue 18,
2001. Antidepressant Effects of the Herb
Salvia divinorum: A Case Report.
Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
John W., Daniel J. Siebert, Ara H. Der Marderosian,
Rick S. Hock. 1999. High Performance Liquid Chromatographic
Quantification of Salvinorin A from Tissues of
Salvia divinorum Epling & Játiva-M.
1994. Salvia divinorum and
salvinorin A: new pharmacologic findings.
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 43: 53-56.