Meditation with Salvia Divinorum/Salvinorin A

SalviaMeditation with Salvia Divinorum/Salvinorin A

Investigators: Ian Soutar, Rick Strassman, M.D.
Sponsor: MAPS


This project evaluates Salvia divinorum as a tool for enhancing meditation work. Buddhist, Quaker, Sufi and other meditation techniques are used by participants in this double blind evaluation of group meditation combined with low doses of Salvia divinorum. One third of the subjects will receive a placebo, one third will receive a very low dose and one third will receive a low dose.

January 15, 2000

We are starting in the new year with a meeting to taste test the placebo vs. the real thing. We have someone in the group who is a nurse. She has experience with statistics and drug testing ... so she will be a great resource.

We decided that 1.5 grams chewed is the maximum because some people experience gagging with 2 grams. So we are setting the very low dose at 0.5 grams and the low dose as 1.5 grams.

We decided to do a group meditation only ... no individual studies of private meditation. The reason was organizational. In the group session we fill out the questions after the session.

The placebo was hard to establish after all because some subjects could detect the bitterness of the herb even with washed samples. So we moved back to using comfrey as a placebo... looks perfect but it lacks the bitterness. We are adding some quinine sulphate to create the bitterness. That is the same flavoring as in the italian soft drink Brio or in german bitters. Herbal double blind studies sure are hard to do because it is hard to duplicate a plant material.

November 3, 1999

An additional detail that has required rewriting the schedule of the double blind study is that we found a way to remove the bitterness. This eliminates our need to add quinine to duplicate the bitterness. The double blind study has not started yet.

In the dose establishment phase of this study we have tested subjects on 1/2 gram, 1 gram, 1.5 grams and 2.0 grams of dried and crumbled Salvia divinorum leaves. We had a hard time coming up with a placebo. Dried Comfrey leaves are a very close duplicate, but they lack the bitterness of Salvia divinorum We had a breakthrough in July when we found that if you wash dried and crumbled Salvia divinorum leaves in two changes of water‹2 full glasses of water per gram‹the bitterness of the Salvia is gone. The active ingredient Salvinorin-A is insoluble in water. When treated in this way you cannot tell Salvia divinorum from comfrey leaves prepared in the same way.

Salvia Almost everyone liked the 1.0 gram level for meditation. The half-gram dose was rarely detected by anyone. The 2.0 gram dose was too strong for meditation. Effects from the dried Salvia leaves soaked and washed in water and then placed under the tongue were as follows. The actual technique is to chew the leaves every five minutes or so and return them to under the tongue.

0.5 grams... half of the subjects noticed a slight effect... a clearer than normal mind that is free from distractions. The other half noticed nothing at all.
1.0 grams...everyone noticed it when they were in a quiet room with no distractions. Mind is clear and meditation is unusually easy with few distracting thoughts. This dose was only detected by anyone when they were trying to meditate. The effect made it easier tc oncentrate without thoughts... a definite plus for meditation. If they, however, listened to music or did some activity they could not notice any effect at all.
1.5 grams... half of subjects notice a trance like state beginning to happen. Effect is slight but it inhibits meditation for some.
2.0 grams produced a slightly trance like effect for some people with time distortion. Generally people found that level too strong for meditation. The effect was enjoyable however... a bit dream like and time seemed to slow down.

So those are the casual results from the dose establishment phase of the study. The next step will be the double blind study.

May 1, 1999

These dosage levels are being established through a set of non-blind dose establishment sessions. The herb is administered sublingually in dried leaf form. Dosages range from 1/4 gram to 1 gram of dried leaf. This quantity is about 1/5 to 1/10th of the amount normally used to induce psychedelic states. Preliminary sessions have shown that the effects at this dosage level cannot be detected except when the subject sits quietly with eyes closed. These effects include alertness, unusual clarity of mind and an enhanced ability to concentrate. Some subjects are reporting space and time distortion effects. One unusual result that has been observed is headache relief. Data on this effect will be collected in an informal manner during the experiment. One subject who suffers from migraine found his headache completely eliminated over 30 minutes. Another observed the same effect with a minor headache. If informal results look promising we may do a follow up study to see if Salvia divinorum might have some merit for headache treatment. We have been contacted by another researcher who wants to start his own project to evaluate S.D. for headache relief.
The double blind phase of the experiment will begin in early June 1999. During each session they will meditate as a group while holding a small quantity of the herb (or placebo) under the tongue. After the session each person will answer a questionnaire to evaluate the effects of the herb and to determine whether or not the herb enhanced their ability to meditate. The questionnaire is a modified version of the HRS (Hallucinogen Rating Scale) developed by Rick Strassman.

This amateur research project has progressed quite smoothly without the usual beaurocratic and approval delays that are the rule with professional studies. With proper guidance a project such as this can be carried out in a scientific and methodical way and deliver valuable data to other researchers.

MAPS has purchased the materials and paid for the chemical analysis. Continuing assistance is being offered at no charge, in the spirit of amateur research, by MAPS (professional) members. Thanks to all who are currently contributing their knowledge to this project.

September 18, 2000

The Salvia Study is very slow but we have made significant progress. 8 of us have met several times for meditation without the placebo. Many of us have meditated for 10 to 20 years and more.

The remarkable thing is that every time we sit...right from the first time...the mediation group was very harmonious and it was a great meditation.

We have worked together on several Saturdays tasting different herbs and have found the placebo that works. Washed dried nettles is slightly lighter in weight than Salvia Divinorum, but when it is wet you almost cannot tell the difference.

To compensate for the very slight difference we add an unpredictably strong pinch (1/16 gram) of mint. The taste of the mint is so strong it masks any difference.

Finally we have something that fools everyone.

On we go into the testing phase....

- Ian Soutar