Experimental depersonalization/derealization by Salvia divinorum
as a model of altered consciousness

(poster presentation by L. Móró)

#DrugScience2017 Conference - Research, practice and global change in 21st century drug science
September 7–9, 2017
Campus Charité Mitte, Berlin, DE

Neurocognitive models of consciousness should adequately describe and explain the operation of constitutive subsystems also during altered states of consciousness (ASC). In clinical neuropsychiatry, candidates for a model system can be found in comprehensive diagnosis lists for disorders, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Resulting from a systematic multistep search through the DSM, a unique disorder of the subjective experience, Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder (DP/DR) is proposed as a clinical model system for altered consciousness. DP/DR affects cognitive, emotional, perceptual, and somatic subsystems of consciousness while reality testing remains intact. Inducing and reducing DP/DR symptoms with kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) agonists and antagonists, respectively, has been observed.

We suggest the use of the KOR agonist salvinorin A as a pharmacological agent to induce a non-clinical hallucinatory ASC with DP/DR symptoms. Salvinorin A is the major psychoactive ingredient of the Mexican plant Salvia divinorum, also known as diviner’s sage. Dissociation and detachment, including DP/DR symptoms such as "feeling like someone or something else" and "things seeming unreal", have been reported in connection with S. divinorum use. Arguably, its rapid onset, short duration, marked effects, good tolerability, and negligible aftereffects make salvinorin A an ideal candidate for experimental consciousness investigations.