Salvia divinorum (meaning ‘sage of the diviners’) is a perennial herb and a wild member of the mint family whose active constituent, salvinorin A, produces powerful hallucinogenic effects and synesthesia. It has large green leaves, hollow square stems, and white flowers with purple/blue calyces and can grow up to 3 feet in height. It is a native plant of Oaxaca, Mexico but can also be found in certain regions of Central and South America.
Salvia divinorum has long been used by the Mazatec Indians in traditional religious rituals and healing practices; shamans believe the plant’s psychoactive effects induce spiritual visions and healing powers that have a divine connection. Currently, salvia divinorum is not controlled under the U.S. federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Users experience mild hallucinations such as visions of vivid colors or shapes, bright lights, bodily distortion or body movement; other effects include insuppressible laughter, dysphoria, excessive sweating, an ‘out-of-body’ sensation and perception of overlapping realities. However, some experience extreme dissociative states followed by amnesia, especially if salvia divinorum is used in high quantities, extract-enhanced forms or as pure salvinorin A. Use of salvia divinorum and its constituents has been compared to producing similar effects to ketamine, PCP or psilocybin mushrooms. Scientific research has not found any cases of noticeable physical harm aside from dizziness, lack of coordination, and slurred speech. There appears to be no signs of withdrawal or addiction, but animal experimentation has discovered other physiological effects that salvia divinorum possibly causes. Conclusion of these experiments found that salvia divinorum in very high doses might cause brain damage like Olmey’s legions, produce depressive-like effects and aggravate psychiatric conditions.
It is commonly abused for its hallucinogenic effects, similar to those of other scheduled hallucinogens, and has become increasingly popular due to its rare unrestricted status in the United States. Salvia divinorum plant seeds, fresh leaves, dried leaves, plant cuttings, whole plants, liquid extracts, and enhanced extracts are widely available on the internet, or at head shops and tobacco shops. One ounce of dried leaves can range in price from $40–$60. Most U.S. users either chew or smoke the substance. Dried leaves or enhanced-extract leaves are smoked; smokers can experience the psychoactive effects within 30 seconds and last approximately 30 minutes. Other users chew a mixture of leaf material and juice which is absorbed by the oral mucosa. Chewing generally produces effects within 5–10 minutes and has a short duration.
Salvia divinorum is legal in most countries, including the U.S. Its production within the U.S. is presently not monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and salvia divinorum and its constituents have not been approved for medical use. Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A are currently not listed as controlled substances under the CSA, but are banned in 13 states and restricted in 4 states, with pending legislation in 7 other states.