Many psychedelics are deemed dangerous and controlled substances, making their procurement and use illegal. These psychoactive drugs are also known for producing hallucinations that can last for several hours.
Salvia divinorum is a naturally occurring substance that mimics the effects of these psychedelics, even if the effects only last for a short time.
The herb has long been dubbed a “legal trip” because people can get a taste of the effects of substances such as LSD and ecstasy without risking any legal or significant health consequences.
Below is a detailed guide on salvia divinorum – both as a recreational drug and medicine.
What is Salvia Divinorum?
Salvia divinorum is a popular recreational drug used mainly by teenagers and young adults. The substance is very fast acting and does not produce any harmful side effects through short term use.
An herb from the mint family, salvia divinorum is native to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Salvia has a history that goes back centuries, particularly in Mexico.
The Mexican Mazatec Indians famously use salvia during religious ceremonies, and have done so for generations. Indigenous peoples from Oaxaca, the Mazatec believe the substance is a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. In fact, salvia leaves are often called “the leaves of the shepherdess” in Mazatec culture.
Salvia divinorum has many names in different cultures and regions, including diviner’s sage, epling and jativa-m, ska maria pastora, seer’s sage, s. divinorum, or salvia.
Legality of Salvia Divinorum
Salvia is legal to consume in most states within the United States, as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not classified it as a controlled substance.
There are some states that have laws against the sale and use of salvia, but there is no nationwide ban on the substance. Such a legal status means salvia may be one of the few “legal highs” in the psychedelic space.
Pharmacology of Salvia Divinorum
The active ingredient in salvia that is responsible for its psychoactive effects is called salvinorin A – a kappa-opioid receptor agonist.
A KOR agonist attaches to the central nervous system receptors in the brain, and can have a significant impact on the receptors that regulate human perception. Such an effect makes salvia different from other hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, as those affect the chemical in the brain called serotonin.
One of the most interesting aspects of salvia is the extent of its effect. While the substance can produce hallucinogenic effects in a similar way to LSD and other hallucinogens, the most intense effects do not last very long.
Someone who smokes salvia is unlikely to feel the most intense effects for more than three or four minutes. Even someone taking salvia for the first time should feel normal within 20 to 30 minutes.
Effects of Salvinorin A on the Body and Mind
Salvia divinorum use can occur in a few ways, if a person wishes to experience its psychoactive effects. These methods include brewing tea from fresh leaves, smoking the leaves through a hookah or cigarette, or chewing the leaves and holding the juice inside the cheek.
Salvia impacts the body very quickly, with the psychoactive compound salvinorin A absorbed by the mucus membranes. When salvinorin A reaches the gastrointestinal system of the body, the substance is deactivated and the psychedelic effect of salvia begins to dissipate.
The effects of salvia include:
- Visual distortions
- Seeing cartoon-like imagery
- Boost in mood
- Detachment or dissociative feeling from one’s self or surroundings
- Recollection of old memories
- Sense of unease
- Distortion of time and space
There are risks associated with consuming salvia, or sally-d. Some of the side effects of this substance include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Loss of memory
One of the most serious effects of salvia is called spatio-temporal dislocation, or a feeling that a person has been transported to another time and place. Such an experience can be both exhilarating and frightening, while it may even cause psychosis in some people.
Anyone who has existing mental health problems, or a history of psychosis, should not use salvia unless under the supervision of a medical professional with a background in psychiatry.
Is Salvia Safe?
The use of salvia is not endemic in mainstream social circles, but the substance has gained popularity in the past couple of decades. High school and college aged children are most likely to try salvia out of curiosity, or because they mistakenly believe it mimics the effects of cannabis.
While extensive psychedelic research into salvia has not been done, there are some studies on the safety of salvinorin A. Most of this psychedelic research shows that salvia is safe for the mind and body in the short term.
Very little is known about the long-term safety of the herb salvia, as there are no studies on people who have consumed the “magic mint” for many years.
Many parents may be concerned about their children consuming salvia, given its legality in most parts of the United States. Substance abuse is possible with salvia, as it is easy to procure. There are, however, very few studies that point to salvia being an addictive substance that could lead to drug abuse.
Psychopharmacology of Salvia Divinorum
There are very few studies that attempt to discover the possible medical use of salvia. While other hallucinogenic plants are the subjects of psychedelic research in the United States, studies of salvia are extremely limited.
The Mazatec tribe in Mexico still uses salvia as part of rituals and religious ceremonies. Scientists observed the Mazatec using salvia as a treatment for arthritis, inflammation and other ailments.
Some villagers in that part of the world also point to salvia as being a possible cure for alcohol, drug and other addictions. One possible explanation is that salvia alters the dopamine levels in the parts of our brains responsible for motivation and reward, which may help an addict on their road to recovery.
One study from 2009 indicates that salvinorin A may produce an effect on the body that is similar to an antidepressant. While such research does not indicate salvia is a possible cure for depression, it may suggest more studies are needed.
Researchers who have studied salvia divinorum in the past few decades include Eduardo Butelman, Richard Rothman, Bryan Roth, Peter Addy, Thomas Prisinzano, and Leander J. Valdes.
The former three have conducted studies on the effects of salvia on rats, mice and other animals, while Valdes has spent decades researching the use of salvia in various parts of the world. The findings of such research can be found on the National Institute of Health website and other sources.
There is still much to learn about the possible health benefits and medical use of salvia divinorum, along with the impact of its long term use on the mind and body. Anyone who wishes to consume the substance should do so in a safe space, where they can experience its psychedelic effects without suffering an adverse reaction.