Salvia divinorum

Other names:

  • Diviner’s sage
  • Maria Pastora
  • Sally-D
  • Salvia

Salvia divinorum is a perennial herb native to regions in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Mazatec people indigenous to the area have used its leaves for centuries as a treatment for illnesses, including headaches and gastrointestinal problems, and as part of their divinatory and spiritual practices.

The method of consumption can affect the duration of the experience. Traditionally, the Mazatec consumed salvia by rolling fresh leaves into a thick wad and chewing or sucking on it, absorbing it through their cheeks, which results in a milder and longer-lasting experience. The Mazatec would also grind the leaves and mix them into a drinkable infusion. 

Over the last decade, salvia has become more popular as a recreational drug. Users typically vaporize the dried, crushed leaves of the salvia through a pipe or bong, which causes a nearly immediate, intense hallucinogenic experience that lasts only fifteen to twenty minutes. Users also drop a small amount of salvia-containing tincture under the tongue. This method takes up to ten minutes to produce effects, but the entire experience can be prolonged for up to two hours.

Studies on participants who smoked salvia report intense visual and auditory effects similar to those of LSD and psilocybin, though with unusual hallmarks, such as feeling like a two-dimensional shape or perceiving the world as flat, like a coat of paint. At higher doses it also caused participants to disconnect from reality and dissociate, reducing their ability to control or feel their bodies.

Salvinorin-A has been identified as the primary psychoactive chemical in Salvia divinorum. Unlike LSD and other classic hallucinogens, salvinorin-A doesn’t act on serotonin receptors. Instead, salvinorin-A interacts with kappa-opioid receptors, which play a role in pain perception. For this reason, researchers hypothesize that derivatives of this molecule might be useful in the treatment of disorders characterized by perceptual distortions, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Researchers have also conducted pre-clinical exploration of salvinorin-A and other chemical derivatives based on it for the treatment of cocaine abuse.

In the United States, Salvia divinorum and salvinorin-A are not federally controlled substances but are illegal in some states.

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