Also known as: “shepherdess's herb,” “diviner's sage,” “seer's sage,” “Maria pastora,” “magic mint,” and “Sally-D”
Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is an herb in the mint family found in southern Mexico. The main active ingredient in salvia, salvinorin A, changes the chemistry in the brain, causing hallucinations (seeing something that seems real but isn’t). The effects are short lived, but may be very intense and frightening.
Although salvia is not illegal according to Federal law, several states and countries have passed laws to regulate its use. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists salvia as a drug of concern that poses risk to people who use it.
Usually, people chew fresh S. divinorum leaves or drink their extracted juices. The dried leaves of S. divinorum also can be smoked in rolled cigarettes, inhaled through water pipes (hookahs), or vaporized and inhaled.
Researchers don’t fully understand exactly how salvia produces its effects. What is known is that salvinorin A, the main active ingredient in salvia, attaches to parts of nerve cells called kappa opioid receptors. (Note: These receptors are different from the ones involved with opioid drugs, such as heroin and morphine.)
The effects of salvinorin A are described as intense but short lived, generally lasting for less than 30 minutes. People who use salvia generally have hallucinations—they see or feel things that aren’t really there. They also have changes in vision, mood and body sensations, emotional swings, and feelings of detachment (disconnected from their environment). There are reports of people losing contact with reality—being unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. This last effect raises concern about the dangers of driving under the influence of salvia.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.
Physical and other effects of saliva use have not been fully studied. There have been reports that the drug causes loss of coordination, dizziness, and slurred speech.
In addition, we also don’t know the long-term effects of using the drug. However, recent studies with animals showed that salvia harms learning and memory.
It’s not clear if using salvia leads to addiction. More studies are needed to learn whether it has addictive properties.
It is not clear whether there have been any deaths associated with salvia. However, because we do not know all of salvia’s effects, it is a drug that authorities are watching carefully.
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