Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun
December 10, 2010
Matthew W. Johnson, left, Johns Hopkins assistant professor of psychiatry, and Hopkins professor Roland Griffiths, right, demonstrate how the salvia study is conducted with Maggie Klinedinst, a research assistant, at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Thousands of young adults have been showing up in Internet videos in recent years demonstrating the intense effects of salvia, a hallucinogenic drug used for centuries by Mexican shamans for spiritual healing. And in a video released Friday, pop star Miley Cyrus appears to be the latest.
While lawmakers in Maryland and other states have responded by banning or restricting the drug, Johns Hopkins researchers say the first scientific study on humans seems to show the brief mind alteration is not harmful - and salvia may eventually lead to new medicines."All kinds of decisions are being made about this drug, but it's so new on scene we have very little information about it," said Matthew W. Johnson, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the study published online this month. "I'm interested in what it can tell us about the brain."
Johnson is not recommending anyone use the drug, but he said there is a unique makeup to salvinorin A, the active ingredient in Salvia divinorum, an herb in the mint family often used in gardens. Tweaking the molecules might lead to new treatments for addiction, pain and brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Other researchers have had the same idea about salvia, but until now studies have focused on animals. Johnson and his team lined up four healthy, drug-experienced people for a controlled experiment.