Salvia divinorum has long held an important place in divination and spiritual healing. The plant is endemic to Oaxaca in Mexico, and was traditionally used by the Mazatec Indians in their spiritual practices. 1
Today, salvia divinorum is often sought by young adults for its psychoactive properties. It’s also known as Magic Mint,, Diviner’s Sage, Seer’s Sage, Sally-D, Ska Maria Pastora, Shepherdess’s Herb, Purple Sticky, Lady Sally, and Incense Special.
Table of Contents
Mazatec shamans used salvia divinorum to contact the spiritual world and discover the cause of a patient’s illness. The herb allowed the shaman to enter a hallucinogenic trance in which he would “see” the steps required to cure the patient. Salvia continues to be used by the present generation of Mazatec Indians in meditation and spiritual rituals.
The herb was relatively unknown in the Western world until the 1960s, when famous botanist R. Gordon Wasson brought back a specimen to the US and confirmed its psychoactivity. Further research was later conducted in the 1990s.
Today, it is widely known in alternative and shamanistic circles throughout the Western world.
Along with its use in religious rituals for its psychoactive effects, today salvia is most often used by young adults (especially college students) seeking a short-term trip. It is also noted for its use in treating headaches, diarrhea, upset stomach, rheumatism and anemia.
- May help reduce depression and anxiety
The primary active ingredient in salvia is a kappa opioid receptor called salvinorin A. Studies in animals have shown that this receptor can enhance mood and help animals manage the stress response. 2
Other research has suggested that salvia divinorum’s unique neurophysiological effects may make it ideal as a natural antidepressant due to its mood-boosting and anxiolytic properties3. It may also promote relaxation and feelings of self-awareness.
- May help alleviate chronic pain
Salvia may be beneficial as a natural pain reliever for those suffering from chronic pain. Again, this appears to be due to the active ingredient salvinorin A, which acts as a kappa opioid receptor antagonist. Studies conducted in animals show that salvia divinorum helps to reduce the pain response that causes neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Researchers have suggested that salvia may be suitable as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical painkillers. 4
Another study involving rats found that salvia was able to block the detection of neuropathic pain when injected into the sciatic nerve ligature. 5
- May treat schizophrenia
The salvinorin A in salvia is the only known non-nitrogenous kappa opioid receptor. Its ability to affect the mind and perception has led researchers to suggest that it could be effective in treating disorders that affect a person’s ability to think, feel and behave clearly – such as schizophrenia.6
Salvinorin A actually also appears to suppress dopamine activity in the brain, which may provide anti-addictive benefits. It has even been suggested that it may be useful in treating cocaine addiction.
- Other uses
Salvia divinorum may also be taken as a medicine (in the form of extracted juice) to treat diarrhea, headache, joint pain (rheumatism), gastrointestinal bloating, and to regulate urination and bowel movements. 7
Method of use / dosage
Salvia divinorum is most often smoked in a pipe, without tobacco.
Traditionally, the leaves were chewed and held in one’s mouth a long time in order to allow the absorption of its psychoactive ingredients via the sublingual glands.
- Smoking salvia
Dried leaves can be smoked in a pipe. However, studies show that smoking the dried leaf either destroys some of the salvinorin A or converts it to other materials. This means that the remaining salvinorin A that produces a psychoactive effect is somewhat difficult to determine. One study found that on average, 133 μg of salvinorin A was delivered in the smoke from an 830 mg per cigarette, which contained ∼2.7 mg of salvinorin A. In other words, less than 5% of the salvinorin A available in the dried leaves was actually delivered in the smoke. 8
- Chewing salvia
A lump of fresh salvia leaves can be chewed slowly and held in the mouth for about half an hour to obtain the effects. Dried leaves must be soaked in water before chewing.
Some reports claim that 10 strong leaves are enough to provide hallucinogenic visions, so it’s advisable to start with a small amount. Chewing salvia is said to produce effects within about 15 minutes, peaking at 30 minutes and fading within an hour or so. 9
Salvia’s fame is largely due to its ability to produce a “legal high”. Although short-lived, its effects include hallucinations, dissociation, and other altered mental states. These effects are believed to be due to the Salvinorin A content.
Clinical studies have reported “marked changes in auditory, visual, and interoceptive sensory input, along with other effects commonly produced by opioid agonists” 10. Other opioid agonists include heroin, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, morphine, and opium.
Smoking large doses are said to alter perceptions to the point where the user loses sense of reality. Anecdotal reports describe the experience of smoking salvia as “very unusual”, and that it can cause emotional mood swings, anxiety and paranoia, changes in vision, and feelings of detachment.11 Other psychic effects include perceptions of bright lights, vivid colors, shapes, and body movement, distortion of the body or objects, and uncontrollable laughter.
The hallucinogenic and visionary effects of salvia are reported to last from five to fifteen minutes, with a comedown period of around 20-40 minutes.
Small doses – chewed or smoked – may produce a slightly less disorienting experience, but still make the user feel ‘odd’.
The powerful effects of salvia have been described by some users as frightening and disorienting. Users should be aware of the potentially negative experience, and it is not recommended for those with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Besides paranoia and panic, short term risks may include increased blood pressure, dry mouth, loss of coordination, headaches, chills, irritability, lung irritation and insomnia.
Combining salvia with other drugs is also not recommended as it may result in unexpected and/or dangerous interactions.
Neither Salvia divinorum nor its active ingredient Salvinorin A has an approved medical use in the United States. Salvia is not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act, but under control in a number of states.
It is considered illegal in some states including Louisiana, Delaware, Missouri, Maine, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Internationally, Salvia Divinorum has been banned in Canada, UK, Australia and several European countries, including Germany and Norway. Refer to this wikipedia article for more details.
Where it is not illegal, Salvia is available from online botanical companies and is sometimes promoted as a legal alternative to other hallucinogens such as mescaline. It is usually sold as dried leaves, powder form and liquid form.
Sources / References
1. About a drug: Salvia. [website]. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/matters-of-substance/may-2013/about-drug-salvia/
2. Potential anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects of salvinorin A, the main active ingredient of Salvia divinorum, in rodents. [research article]. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2721268/
3. Kappa Opioids, Salvinorin A and Major Depressive Disorder. [research article]. Accessed June 12, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4825947/
4. Neuropathic and Inflammatory Antinociceptive Effects and Electrocortical Changes Produced by Salvia Divinorum in Rats. [research article]. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28502907/
7. Salvia Divinorum. [website]. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://www.rxlist.com/salvia_divinorum/supplements.htm
8. Analysis of the Smoke of Cigarettes Containing Salvia divinorum. [research article]. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://academic.oup.com/jat/article/38/7/451/2798013
9. Salvia. [website]. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://drugscience.org.uk/drug-information/salvia/#009049412454384
11. Salvia Addiction and Treatment. [website]. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://castlecraig.co.uk/treatment/drug-addiction/salvia-addiction-treatment
12. Salvia Addiction and Treatment. [website]. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://castlecraig.co.uk/treatment/drug-addiction/salvia-addiction-treatment
13. Drugs of Abuse (2017 Edition). [pdf resource]. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=85
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