Salvia trip gone wrong

Salvia divinorum, also known as S. divinorum or Salvia, is a hallucinogenic plant native to the northeastern Sierra Mazateca mountain region of Mexico where the native Mazatecs have used it for centuries as a healing and divining tool. Though this is the only known location where this perennial herb grows naturally, Salvia is cultivated in some areas of the United States. Salvia divinorum is not likely to be found at a local nursery although it is one among many of the cooking and medicinal herbs in the mint family. It is also one among many that share the genus name Salvia; for example, Salvia officinalis, is also known as common sage. The psychoactive component (that which produces the hallucinogenic effects) of Salvia divinorum, Salvinorin A, is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen. Currently, neither Salvia divinorum nor its active ingredient Salvinorin A are listed as controlled substances in the United States, though there are efforts to criminalize Salvia and its active ingredients and classify them as Schedule I controlled substances. To date, Australia is the only country that has criminalized Salvia divinorum and its active ingredients.

A short green plant with many elliptical shaped leaves of arcuate venation. Via: Wikimedia/Phyzome


The first recorded mention of Salvia was made in 1938 by Jean B. Johnson, who heard of Mazatecs making a tea from the leaves of “hierba Maria,” which induced visions in users. In 1952, Roberto G. Weitlaner, Johnson’s father-in-law, reported the preparation of “yerba de Maria.” R. Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann acquired the first specimen of Salvia divinorum from the Mazatecs in 1962; they described it as “a less desirable substitute” for hallucinogenic mushrooms.

It was not until August 2002 that researchers discovered that Salvia divinorum acts at the kappa opiate receptor (KOR) site, where much of human perception is regulated. This puts Salvia divinorum in a class of drugs known as KOR agonists, which are thought to play psychotherapeutic roles in perception altering diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Psychological and Physical Effects

Resent research suggests that Salvia divinorum acts at the kappa opiate receptor (KOR) site of the brain where much of human perception is regulated. Although the Mazatec Indians have been using this herb for centuries with no obvious ill effects, it is still unclear whether Salvia divinorum causes long-term effects on the brain or on the rest of the body. There have been no reports of health problems or hospitalizations as a result of Salvia use, few dangers related to its use have been identified, and no evidence exists that it is addictive.

Although the dosage ingested and the method of ingestion affects the user’s experience, some common effects include:

  • Intense hallucinations, such as sensations of traveling through time and space, of floating or flying; sensations of twisting and spinning, heaviness or lightness of the body, and “soreness.”
  • Less intense effects (that occur only when the eyes are closed) include visual hallucinations of various patterns and shapes. The hallucinogenic visions produced by this herb terminate when interrupted by noise or light.

Physical effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech and awkward sentence patterns
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Chills


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