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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jun;210(2):253-62. doi: 10.1007/s00213-009-1771-5. Epub 2010 Jan 19.

The discriminative effects of the kappa-opioid hallucinogen salvinorin A in nonhuman primates: dissociation from classic hallucinogen effects.

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  • 1Laboratory on the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, Box 171, New York, NY 10065, USA. butelme@rockefeller.edu



The widely available hallucinogen salvinorin A is a unique example of a plant-derived compound selective for kappa-opioid receptors and may produce effects distinct from those of other compounds with classic hallucinogenic or dissociative properties which are also abused in humans.


The objective of this study is to characterize the salvinorin A discriminative cue in nonhuman primates with high kappa-receptor genetic homology to humans.


Adult rhesus monkeys (n = 3) were trained to discriminate salvinorin A (0.015 mg/kg, s.c.) from vehicle, in a food-reinforced operant discrimination assay. Parallel studies, using unconditioned behavioral endpoints (facial relaxation and ptosis) also evaluated the kappa-opioid receptor mediation of salvinorin A in vivo function.


Monkeys trained to discriminate salvinorin A generalized structurally diverse, centrally penetrating kappa-agonists (bremazocine, U69,593, and U50,488). By contrast, mu- and delta-opioid agonists (fentanyl and SNC80, respectively) were not generalized, nor were the serotonergic 5HT2 hallucinogen psilocybin or the dissociative N-methyl-D-aspartic acid antagonist, ketamine. The discriminative effects of salvinorin A were blocked by the opioid antagonist quadazocine (0.32 mg/kg), but not by the 5HT2 antagonist ketanserin (0.1 mg/kg). Consistent with these findings, salvinorin and kappa-agonists (e.g., U69,593) produce effects in the unconditioned endpoints (e.g., ptosis), whereas psilocybin was inactive.


These findings support the conclusion that the interoceptive/discriminative cue produced by salvinorin A is mediated by agonism at kappa-receptors and is mechanistically distinct from that produced by a classic serotonergic hallucinogen.

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