Researchers are studying salvia to learn exactly how it acts in the brain to produce its effects. What is currently known is that salvinorin A, the main active ingredient in salvia, changes the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Salvia affects this signaling process.
Salvinorin A attaches to parts of nerve cells called kappa opioid receptors. (Note: These receptors are different from the ones involved with opioid drugs like heroin and morphine.)
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs. And check out how the brain responds to natural rewards and to drugs.