Salvia is a drug that produces visual hallucinogenic effects similar to those people can experience with narcotics such as LSD. Some users claim that they have mystical and spiritual experiences after taking it.

Salvia, or Salvia divinorum, is an herbal mint plant and a naturally occurring hallucinogen that is native to Mexico. It is a member of the sage family. People use it as a recreational drug.

There are concerns that salvia may affect a person's thinking, choices, and mental health. The long-term impact of using it remains unclear.

In this article, we find out what salvia is, how it works, and explain the effects and risks of taking it as a recreational drug.

Saliva divinorum Image credit Phyzome, 2005Share on Pinterest
Salvia divinorum is a kind of sage that can induce hallucinations. Image credit Phyzome, 2005

Salvia has become popular as a recreational drug among adolescents and young adults. It is fast acting and thought to have a low incidence of side effects.

Also, it has a low addiction potential, people can easily obtain it, and they do not consider it highly toxic.

However, it may involve some risks, and the long-term effects are unclear.

Mazatec Indians have used salvia for centuries for spiritual divination, shamanism, and medical practices.

Salvia's active ingredient is salvinorin A, a kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist.

An agonist attaches to and activates specific central nervous system receptors that are mainly in the brain.

The KOR seems to play a key role in regulating human perception. Salvinorin A may also have an effect on the body's neurotransmitter dopamine.

Mazatec Indians have used salvia for centuries.

They refer to the leaf as "Herb of Mary, the Shepherdess." They believe the plant to be an incarnation of the Virgin Mary. People have reported visions of a woman or sacred objects during hallucinations.

Mazatec shamans brew a tea from the leaves and drink the vision-inducing mixture during religious ceremonies.

The Mazatec also roll fresh salvia leaves into a cigar-like "quid." They suck or chew the quid without swallowing, and so they absorb the drug from the mouth lining into the bloodstream.

Once a person swallows it, the gastrointestinal (GI) system will deactivate salvinorin A.

Recreational users may inhale the drug through water pipes known as hookahs, smoke it in cigarettes, or chew the leaves while holding the juice inside the cheek. The body absorbs the psychoactive components through the mucous membranes.

People usually experience the most intense effects within 2 minutes after smoking. They last for less than 20 minutes.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens, 1.5 percent of 12th graders say they use salvia.

People mainly obtain salvia through "head" or tobacco shops, and internet sources.

Individuals report using salvia for various reasons, including:

  • curiosity
  • relaxation and better mood
  • getting high
  • the spiritual effects

Street names for salvia

Here are some common street names for salvia:

  • Diviner's sage
  • Maria pastora
  • Ska pastora
  • hierba (yerba) Maria
  • Sally-D
  • Magic Mint
  • Shepherdess's herb
  • Leaf of Prophecy
  • Lady Salvia
  • Lady Sally
  • Sage of the seers
  • Purple sticky
  • The female
  • Incense special

In some places, salvia is a "legal high," a recreational drug that does not fall under any of the government classifications of illegal drugs.

However, like other legal highs, it may not be safe or legal. In some states in America, the law considers salvia a Schedule I drug and does not permit its sale. Furthermore, inhalation of any smoke when consuming a drug is damaging for the lungs.

Salvia is a hallucinogen. This means it causes the user to see or feel things that are not really there.

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Salvia can trigger an elevated mood.

Some of these hallucinations and sensations are dream-like. A person may not be able to tell the difference between things that are really there or not.

Effects of taking salvia include:

  • visual distortions of bright lights, vivid colors, and unusual shapes and patterns
  • cartoon-like imagery
  • improved mood
  • feelings of detachment or disconnection from one's self and the environment
  • uncontrollable laughter
  • recollection of memories, such as revisiting places from childhood
  • sensations of motion, or being pulled, twisted, stretched, or flipped
  • talkativeness
  • merging with or becoming objects
  • distortion of time and space, such as the feeling of being in several locations at once
  • out-of-body experiences
  • contact with entities or other dimensions
  • an overall sense of uneasiness
  • loss of contact with reality

The most common side effects of salvia use are:

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The unwanted effects of salvia include nausea, dizziness, and difficulty focusing.
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • lack of coordination
  • difficulty concentrating
  • confusion
  • slurred speech

Additional effects can include:

  • tiredness
  • loss of memory
  • flushing
  • spatio-temporal dislocation, a sensation that may be disturbing

Spatio-temporal dislocation is where the user feels transported to an alternative time and place, or has a feeling of being in several locations at once.

Disruption of space and time can be a frightening experience and can lead to serious psychotic disturbances in vulnerable people.

To date, there are no known hangover effects for salvia use once it has worn off.

Salvia also has a low addiction potential, and people have not reported overdoses.

However, people do not know what the long-term effects of salvia use might be. For this reason, it is not appropriate to consider it a safe drug.

Salvia does not currently have any medical use, but research is underway to investigate its possible use.

Because of the way the active ingredient affects the brain, some scientists believe salvia could have implications for developing a therapy, for example, for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.