Addiction Drug Use What Is Salvia Divinorum? A Hallucinogenic Plant That's Legal But Poses Safety Risks By Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 02, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0 Table of Contents View All Table of Contents How Is Salvia Consumed? What Does Salvia Do? Common Side Effects Signs of Use Addiction and Withdrawal How to Get Help Legal Status of Salvia Divinorum Salvia divinorum is a fast-acting hallucinogenic herb that's become a popular recreational drug among teenagers and young adults. It's typically chewed, smoked, or drunk. The effects of salvia are often called a "legal" trip because they mimic those of illicit substances such as LSD and ecstasy. However, salvia's effects don't last as long—usually around eight minutes—and then taper off. Also Known As: Magic Mint, Sally-D, Diviner's Sage, Ska Maria Pastora, Seer's Sage, Shepherdess's Herb, Lady Sally, Purple Sticky, and Incense Special Drug Class: Hallucinogen Common Side Effects: Visual distortions and hallucinations, intense dissociation and disconnection from reality, disorientation or dizziness, synesthesia (“hearing” colors or “smelling" sounds), cartoon-like imagery, improved mood, uncontrollable laughter How to Recognize Salvia Salvia typically grows to more than three feet high, with white and purple flowers and large, spade-shaped green leaves that look similar to mint. This perennial herb is often mistaken as a legal alternative to marijuana. Other than the fact that it is green, dried, and can be smoked, it has nothing in common with cannabis. People who smoke salvia do not experience a milder high than when smoking pot. Salvia can be sold as seeds, leaves, or as a liquid extract and, upon burning, smells somewhat like incense. How Is Salvia Consumed? People take salvia in various ways: Smoking via a pipe, bong, vape, or jointChewing fresh leavesDrinking the extract mixed into beveragesSublingually through drops of tincture placed under the tongue What Does Salvia Do? The active ingredient in the salvia herb is salvinorin A, a chemical that acts on certain receptors in the brain and causes hallucinations. Only when enough salvinorin A is absorbed through the oral mucosa or the lungs and into the bloodstream can a psychoactive effect be produced. Some people compare smoking salvia to “flipping a switch”—in a moment, everything turns from normal to an altered sense of reality and self-awareness. People often describe it as a “20-minute acid trip,” which can begin less than a minute after smoking the herb. This short duration appeals to first-time users who are afraid of having an hours-long trip. Salvia is said to change interoception—the experience of what’s going on in your body—and creates feelings of disorientation and uncertainty about what’s real. Precisely how much salvia is needed to produce these effects varies depending on the person as well as leaf quality and potency. Many people who try salvia don't like it, describing the experience as intense, disturbing, and frightening—not fun or euphoric. What the Experts Say According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, salvinorin A is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen. How salvia acts in the brain is still being studied, but we do know that it changes the signaling process of neurons in the brain by attaching to nerve cell receptors called kappa opioid receptors. It also influences dopamine receptors. In the early 2000s, teenagers were recording themselves using salvia and posting videos online (some with 500,000 views on YouTube). Luckily, salvia has decreased in popularity among teenagers since then. The 2018 Monitoring the Future Study of eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders showed that less than 1% of teens say they use salvia. Off-Label Uses Salvia has traditionally been used by shamans as a healing and divining tool (salvia divinorum translates to "sage of the seers"). According to Daniel Siebert, who's researched salvia for more than 20 years, the herb was used to induce a visionary trance state that made it possible for these healers to determine the underlying cause of disease and learn what steps to take to remedy it. At this time, there is no medical use for salvia. However, research is underway to investigate the use of salvinorin A in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as addiction. Common Side Effects Salvia has been reported to cause intense effects, including: Visual distortions and hallucinations Uncontrollable laughter Intense dissociation and disconnectedness from reality (being unable to tell the difference between what's real and what's not) Physical or visual impairment Disorientation and dizziness Synesthesia, in which physical sensations become intertwined and it's possible to “hear” colors or “smell” sounds Dysphoria, where people felt uncomfortable or unpleasant after the drug's use Many of these effects raise a concern about the dangers of driving under the influence of salvia. Additionally, any drug that leaves you incapacitated during the time it's working increases the risk for serious injury in any capacity. It's not clear if there have been any deaths associated with salvia. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction notes that emergency reports have described lasting psychosis in vulnerable people. At least one suicide has been blamed on salvia. The long-term effects of using the drug also aren't known. However, studies with animals showed that salvia can harm learning and memory. Signs of Use Since teens can access salvia easier than some other types of drugs, it's important for parents to educate themselves and their kids on its potential danger. If you suspect drug use, pay attention to any behavioral changes (sleep and eating patterns), mood and personality shifts, hygiene and appearance problems, health issues (depression), or school concerns (missing classes, declining grades, loss of interest in hobbies/school events). Also, take note if your loved one is burning incense; which many say is similar to the smell of Magic Mint when smoked. Consider searching for any seeds, leaves, liquid extracts, or drug paraphernalia (such as bongs, pipes, or rolling papers). And don't overlook their digital devices, notes Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, which can contain frequent contacts, messages, or social media posts that indicate the use of salvia (once called "TheYouTube" drug). Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal It’s not clear if using salvia leads to addiction. More research is needed to learn about its addictive properties as well as whether it is possible to build tolerance (needing more and more to get high) and experience symptoms of drug withdrawal. How Long Does Salvia Stay in Your System? How long salvia will remain in your body depends on several factors, including dosage, how often you use the drug, your age, weight, and metabolism, as well as your hydration and activity levels. Drug testing for salvia is uncommon and expensive. Addiction While more research is needed on the addiction potential of salvia, your risk may be higher if someone in your family is struggling with a substance use disorder and you are frequently tripping. Withdrawal More research is needed to determine if people who misuse salvia experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping abruptly. How to Get Help If you suspect that your teen is misusing salvia, do your best to spend some time together, watch for any signs of use, and talk openly about the potential dangers of the drug. While there are no FDA-approved drugs to treat salvia abuse, behavioral therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found effective for people misusing other dissociative drugs. Since there is still more research needed on tolerance and withdrawal, quitting cold turkey may not be your best bet. If someone is continually using a drug to escape from reality, they likely needs proper medical care to detox safely from the drug and to address any underlying mental health issues. If you find yourself needing to put your loved one into rehab, ask your healthcare provider for suggestions. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids also has a helpline and tips to ensure families find a reputable addiction treatment center. Legal Status of Salvia Divinorum Although salvia is legal according to federal law, a handful of states and countries have passed laws to regulate its use. Because salvia has not been deemed safe, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists salvia as a drug of concern that poses risk to people who use it. 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Butelman ER, Kreek MJ. Salvinorin A, a kappa-opioid receptor agonist hallucinogen: pharmacology and potential template for novel pharmacotherapeutic agents in neuropsychiatric disorders. Front Pharmacol. 2015;6:190. doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00190 Maqueda AE, Valle M, Addy PH, et al. Salvinorin-A Induces Intense Dissociative Effects, Blocking External Sensory Perception and Modulating Interoception and Sense of Body Ownership in Humans. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015;18(12) doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyv065 Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, Ohadinia S, Jamshidi AH, Khani M. Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2003;28(1):53-9. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2710.2003.00463.x European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Salvia divinorum drug profile. Lopresti AL. Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects. Drugs R D. 2017;17(1):53-64. doi:10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5 United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Facts: Salvia Divinorum. Additional Reading Casselman I, Nock CJ, Wohlmuth H, Weatherby RP, Heinrich M. From local to global-fifty years of research on Salvia divinorum. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(2):768-783. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.032 Johnson MW, MacLean KA, Reissig CJ, Prisinzano TE, Griffiths RR. Human psychopharmacology and dose-effects of salvinorin A, a kappa opioid agonist hallucinogen present in the plant Salvia divinorum. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011;115(1-2):150-155. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.11.005 Lange JE, Daniel J, Homer K, Reed MB, Clapp JD. Salvia divinorum: Effects and use among YouTube users. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010;108(1-2):138-140. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.11.010 National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Salvia. By Barbara Poncelet Barbara Poncelet, CRNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in teen health. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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