Salvia, also called salvia divinorum, is a plant species common to Central America and South America that can be turned into a psychoactive drug if it is chewed, smoked or used as a tea ingredient. While not found in the United States naturally, the drug made its way to the country in the 21st century as a new drug with extreme hallucinogenic effects. People most often chew the leaves from the plant or drink the extracted juices. However, salvia also is often rolled into cigarettes and smoked, similar to marijuana, and can be inhaled through water pipes or vaping pipes. Salvia is considered the most potent natural hallucinogen due to its extreme, short-lasting effects.
What is Salvia?
One of the roadblocks encountered when trying to get a better understanding of this drug is the lack of information about its effects, including whether it is addictive or if it can lead to death. While scientists continue to research salvia and test how it interacts with the brain the plant remains one of the most prominent, new drugs introduced to the country in the last 10–15 years. Salvia has many additional nicknames, including:
- Diviner’s Sage
- Magic Mint
- Maria Pastora
- Seer’s Sage
- Shepherdess’ Herb
These names are often used by people looking to buy or sell salvia as a way to disguise the transaction and possession of the drug. People who frequently use these nicknames are likely to have misused the drug. Many people who misuse salvia do not understand the drug’s full range of effects or even some of the basic ones, and it’s important to understand what salvia does.
Is Salvia Dangerous?
In general, drugs that cause hallucinations are considered dangerous. If someone gets behind the wheel or wanders into a roadway while hallucinating, the situation could be perilous.
Much like any mind-altering drug, an individual can become emotionally addicted to the high that salvia gives them. Users can also develop a physical tolerance to the drug, which, over time, causes them to crave more of the substance to achieve the same high. Larger doses of salvia can produce unpleasant repercussions, such as the user passing out.
“Psychedelic drugs are especially dangerous for individuals who are psychologically unstable or not yet fully matured emotionally, for example, teenagers.”Dr. Eugene Shroenfeld, Psychiatrist and Addiction Medicine Specialist
How is Salvia Used?
For centuries, the native Mazatec people of Oaxaca, Mexico have used salvia as a “mental medicine” and for religious and ceremonial purposes. Mazatec shamans believe that salvia-induced hallucinations help to heal their people.
Today, people consume salvia in a number of ways. While eating salvia leaves raw is common, the leaves can also be brewed into tea, or dried and smoked — just like tobacco. It can be vaporized or inhaled through water pipes, similar to how marijuana is used. Also, salvia juice can be extracted from the leaves and ingested. Salvia’s effects tend to last longer when the drug is taken orally rather than smoked.
At present, salvia is quite easy to obtain. Salvia tinctures — concentrated liquid extracts that are often distilled with alcohol — are readily available for purchase online or in smoke shops. The drug itself is not illegal on a federal level, but a number of states have banned or otherwise regulated it. Due to salvia’s liberal availability, it is becoming an increasingly popular drug among teens — especially among boys.
What is Salvia Used For?
Many people have asked, “What is salvia divinorum?” While scientists continue to study the drug, some common symptoms are experienced throughout individuals who misuse the drug.
The effects of salvia divinorum are intense but only last a few minutes. People who misuse salvia often experience hallucinations. Many of these effects raise concerns about people driving under the influence of salvia. Some of the specific experiences include:
- Changes in vision
- Increased mood and body sensations
- Time distortion
- Altered thought patterns
- Emotional swings
- Changes in body temperature
- Feelings of detachment or panic
- Losing contact with reality
The drug is popular among adolescents. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the largest percentage of salvia misuse in 2017 was from 1.5 percent of 12th graders who consumed the substance. Nearly 1 percent of 10th-graders misused salvia and 0.4 percent of eighth-graders consumed the drug. While NIDA reported the prevalence of salvia misuse among teenagers, the organization does not know whether the drug is addictive or if it can cause death.
Salvia’s known effects are a hallucination “trip” that is very different from LSD or other hallucinogens. Psychedelic drugs such as salvia interact with the brain’s serotonin receptors, which increase feelings of inner peace and happiness for people. However, salvia was reported to go a step further. When people take LSD, they often experience visual-auditory synesthesia, which is the ability to “see” something that they normally would hear. Salvia also causes visual and tactile synesthesia, which means people see things and then feel them in the body. That type of experience can lead to a range of feelings, often changing from positive to negative feelings, or vice versa, in just a couple of seconds.
Salvia use can be difficult to detect, especially since some methods of use leave behind no evidence of use. For example, if someone has eaten salvia leaves, you will not find obvious salvia paraphernalia related to smoking the drug. Another reason it can be tough to know if someone has used salvia is because the drug’s effects are short-lived, generally lasting between one and 30 minutes.
If someone is currently high on salvia, you may notice some of the following signs:
- Slurred speech
- Physical imbalance
- Uncoordinated movements
- Seeming disconnected from reality
- Bouts of uncontrollable laughter
Side Effects of Salvia Use
Salvia can impact the user’s mind and body. A number of salvia users report side effects that produce varying degrees of distress.
Short-term Effects of Salvia
Dr. Jacob Hooker says of salvia: “Most people don’t find this class of drugs very pleasurable. So perhaps the main draw or reason for its appeal relates to the rapid onset and short duration of its effects, which are incredibly unique. The kinetics are often as important as the abused drug itself.” Essentially, salvia offers users an “easy” way to try psychedelic drugs, without having to commit very much time to being mentally altered.
Several of the drug’s short-term effects are as follows:
- Dissociative hallucinations
- Dysphoria (a general state of unease)
- Uncontrollable laughter
- A feeling of “loss of body”
- Low heart rate
- Motor function impairment
Long-term Effects of Salvia
Because salvia is relatively new to the modern drug market, its long-term effects have not received much study. This uncertainty is reason enough to approach this drug with tremendous apprehension. However, it is known that similar drugs in the hallucinogenic family can produce long-term effects.
Long-term effects of hallucinogens include the following:
- Flashbacks, well after the initial drug usage
- Lowered motivation
- Alterations in brain chemistry
- Trouble focusing
- Personality changes
Effects on the Brain
Salvia’s active ingredient, salvinorin A, adheres to nerve cells and disrupts the communication lines between the brain and the spinal cord. To get a little more specific, salvia is called a kappa opioid receptor agonist. These proteins have analgesic properties, which means they offer some relief from physical pain.
Bad Trips on Salvia
Unfortunately, in some users, salvia has been known to induce a terrifying temporary psychosis. This is known as a “bad trip.” The aforementioned psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Shroenfeld offers a warning tale about a teenage patient of his, who experienced a bad salvia trip and prolonged toxic psychosis. The young lady was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she engaged in self-mutilating behaviors. While Dr. Shroenfeld says that that horrific experience is rare, it demonstrates the dangers of salvia.
You may not notice salvia withdrawal manifest itself physically. However, since salvia can be emotionally addictive, individuals might experience some mental distress when this drug is removed from their life. As a parent, this could mean your teen is moping around more than usual or is even showing signs of severe depression.
Legal Status of Salvia in the United States
Although salvia is not federally regulated as an illegal drug, the Drug Enforcement Administration lists the drug as a concern and a risk to people who misuse it. Many states have either completely banned consuming salvia or limited its use. The following states have classified salvia divinorum as a Schedule I substance, making the sale, possession and use of the drug illegal:
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
The following states have limitations on the sale, use and possession of salvia but have not classified it as a Schedule I substance. In some of these states, the drug is decriminalized, which means offenses relating to salvia result in misdemeanors:
- South Dakota
In some states, salvia is completely legal. Others have age restrictions. The following are the states where the drug is either legal or only restricted from minors:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Please note that information about the legality of salvia divinorum in each state is based on the status as of May 7, 2018.
Due to the lack of evidence that salvia leads to death, some states have not made the drug illegal and it’s also why the federal government has not passed a nationwide law prohibiting the sale, use or possession of the drug. However, the extreme, psychedelic side effects can be dangerous if people attempt to operate a vehicle or other machinery while using the drug. Taking salvia also can be a path to experiment with and regularly misuse other drugs, with similar side effects.
Getting Help with Salvia Abuse
If you or someone you know is misusing salvia or other drugs, call The Recovery Village as soon as possible. While salvia might be legal in some states, it could be a gateway drug to experiment with other harmful substances. Doing so could also lead to someone developing a reliance on a drug to achieve happiness, peace or relaxation. The Recovery Village has a team of medical experts available to help people remove their dependence on drugs and begin their recovery from substance use disorders.
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