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Salvia Divinorum: The Choice Hallucinogen of Generation Y

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Salvia divinorum is not an unknown or new herb. It has been used extensively for centuries by the Mazatec Indians of Mexico in shamanic rituals. The shamans chew the leaves or make an infusion as a way to lead them towards spiritual enlightenment.

At the 2008 World Psychedelic Forum in Basel, Switzerland, ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison described her experiences with the Mazatec Indians and stressed that according to them, the leaves must never be heated. This is in stark contrast to how it is used here in the US.

Smoking salvia has been gaining in popularity since the '90s. Type “salvia” into Google's search engine and, at last count, you'll get over seven million listings. Videos of adolescents and young adults smoking salvia are common on YouTube, with over 400 as of this month. In one video, a salvia user believes his couch is eating him. In another, a user is unable to recognize a cat sitting on the hood of his car.

Hysterical laughter, silly antics, and bizarre, altered visual perceptions seem to be the norm in most of these segments. The high appears to be easily obtained in less than a minute after inhaling, but is somewhat short-lived, lasting only a few minutes for some users, a bit longer for others, but almost always less than a half hour.

The fastest growing population using "The Purple Drug," "Sally-D," or "Magic Mint" are white males aged 18 to 25. The herb is easily obtainable from Internet sites and head shops. It is relatively inexpensive, about $11 to $20 per ounce.

Salvia's leaves are often crushed and smoked, or a tincture is made from the leaves. There are many websites touting the “mind-altering” benefits of this herb. One website is devoted to construction of a “gravity water bong” designed to get a more easily obtained and longer-lasting high. Based on the messages on the forums and the blogs, there appear to be few negatives. However, it is possible that one could cause physical harm to oneself or others by using salvia, as in the case of Brett Chidester, who committed suicide after smoking the drug. Operating any kind of machinery under its influence would be very dangerous.

Little is known about overdosing on this herb, or about what constitutes a lethal dose. Many pieces written about salvia are by those who wish to keep it legal, and according to the majority of reports they cite, there appear to be no long-lasting detrimental effects from smoking it. However, scattered through these pro-salvia messages are postings by a few mothers who share stories of how the herb has adversely affected a son or a daughter.

Nine states have banned the sale of salvia: Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia. Other states are considering the same. In July 2008, US News and World Report reported on states considering banning the herb.

Diviner's sage (another name for salvia) does not appear to be physically or psychologically addictive, but it seems that more research is needed before this can be confirmed. The active hallucinogenic substance is Salvinorin A, a potent k-opioid receptor agonist. The effects that have been reported include increased insights, obtaining a higher level of consciousness, euphoric feelings, a sense of peacefulness, out-of-body experiences, and a feeling of connection with nature and the universe. In terms of adverse affects, headaches have been the most common symptom.

Daniel Siebert, a medical botanist, has spent over two decades studying the herb. He has a large website devoted to the benefits of salvia, including research articles, and is a proponent of keeping it legal but using it in a responsible manner.

As the mother of a teenage daughter who is about to go off to college in less than a year, it seemed important to me to share with others this information about what is becoming a quite popular hallucinogenic. LSD and “magic mushrooms” were the most popular mind-altering substances when I was in college. Many argue that salvia is not the same type of substance as these two. Society has yet to determine what ought to be done with salvia divinorum.

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About Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

  • Mike H.

    Dr. Mitchell has written a well informed piece here, and the key point that stands out is the original users of salvia, the shamans, never “heated” it. Current salvia abusers always smoke it and in much higher quantities and extracts, some 60X, then that used by the Mexican Indians. No wonder there are confirmed suicides, highway deaths, a related shooting, etc. because of it’s abuse. It is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen that targets one certain part of the brain. This part of the brain contains neurons that play a major role in depression, drug abuse and schizophrenia. Is this something we want our children experimenting with? Do we want to find out what years of reoccurring use will bring? What parent wants to offer up their child for that kind of experiment? Parents, be very, very afraid of this drug. Contact the DEA and the FDA and your state representatives to ask why a drug so potentially lethal is available, without legal consequence to your children.

  • Nucleo

    If you read up on it, the Salvia Divinorum leaves were “heated” when fresh leaves we’re not available. It’s extremely low/non-toxic (unlike alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, refined sugar… etc.).

    Yes parents, and people in general read up…the site hyperlinked above in Dr. Mitchell’s post: “Daniel Siebert, a medical botanist, has spent over two decades studying the herb. He has a large website ( http://www.sagewisdom.org/ ) devoted to the benefits of salvia, including research articles, and is a proponent of keeping it legal but using it in a responsible manner.”
    Will help you make more informed and appropriate decisions concerning this very beneficial and sacred herb that deserves respect and responsible use by anyone with the courage and consideration to do so.

    Thank you Dr. Mitchell


  • I’ve had some strange experiences with Salvia. Last one freaked me out so I probably won’t be using it again anytime soon.

  • A legal “Magic Carpet Ride” with a kick. It sounds like the effects could turn you either into Willy Wonka or a Werewolf. I wonder how it would work with basil in a pasta dish. Sorry, reading about an herbal hallucinogen sends me back to the 70’s. It’s confession time, during the 70’s, I occasionally had trouble eating large words in alphabet soup. Not to worry, I am now a responsible citizen with liberty and justice for all. By the way, will this stuff allow me to see dead people? Thank you Dr. Mitchell, information is power!

  • Delia E.

    “Namaste” – Gimme a break – “Sacred Herb”. You sound like you’re taking communion or something. This is a DRUG, period, whether manufactured, natural or otherwise.
    And also for the sake of full disclosure Daniel Siebert sells salvia and is most certainly worried about the crimp on his business if salvia becomes regulated.

  • Juliann Mitchell

    Broke But Still Drinking I was wondering if you would be willing to share a few more details about your experiences with salvia.

  • Nucleo

    “there is nothing either good or
    bad, but thinking makes it so” ~ Shakespeare

    Communion for sure…at least for me and apparently the wise few. Don’t let the word “DRUG” confuse you or scare you…you use “drugs” every day. The word “DRUG” comes from the Dutch word “DROOG” meaning dried…as in leaves flowers plant and non-plant substances as well, as in salt and various minerals etc. Drying a substance can make it more concentrated and easier to use. Of course there are many more ways of making drugs now other than just drying. “Drug”, or rather “substance” education should be encouraged unless you want your life to be dictated by others who have their own agenda of fear greed hatred and delusion to maintain a nightmare of stupidity and violence.

    namaste & blessed be,
    may peace be with us all,

  • Nucleo

    By the way…the California regulations are helpful at keeping Salvia from those aren’t ready for it. Daniel Siebert supports this type since it doesn’t restrict those of the age of reason to reasonably access the herb, strongly recommending education first. Propaganda is perpetuation of lazy mindedness.

    May all beings be free.

  • Anon

    “As a mother…”
    You just destroyed all of your credibility.

  • Nucleo

    As “all things echo the Voice for God” (A Course in Miracles), Salvia is said to put one in communion with “the Mother of gods”. A few more things have been said…enjoy: Obama has revealed that, as a youth, he did smoke marijuana. When asked if he inhaled, he said: “That was the point.” *((o))* “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”~Abraham Lincoln “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”~Dalai Lama . “Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in.”~Aldous Huxley. “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?”~Buckminster Fuller. “WARNING:The Post-Larval Must Be Very Cautious in Communicating with Larval humans!” “IN*FORM*ation wants to be free”~Timothy Leary. “Note to Self: The only people I want to get even with are the ones who have helped me.”~Trip/The ManKind Project, “MAKE LOVE NOT ASSUMPTIONS!!!” “eBay appyHay!” Blessed Be, Love & Namaste~DNA, “May we awaken within this dream and grasp the fact that we are dreaming, so that all dreamlike beings may likewise awaken, from the nightmare of illusory suffering and confusion”~Tibetan Dream Yoga Prayer


  • Tom

    A ‘concerned mother’ who wants some education about what is happening in the world of salvia use (or abuse depending on how it is looked at) ought to spend some time reading through a forum on salvia. Having had some experience with the popular hallucinogens in my youth, in middle age (~50) I became curious about salvia and experimented with it about 15 times before deciding to drop it. I was eventually discouraged from continued use by what I had read on the salvia forums. Edot forums has a very active subforum for Salvia, and many of what I would call Salvia devotees as well as Salvia first-timers post there. Here are my general impressions about Salvia from both trying it (in all forms and concentrated available) and becoming very familiar with the aforementioned Saliva forum:

    It seems that most who try Salvia drop it quickly either after a single use or only a few uses, the reason being it is just not often considered very enjoyable, or is even viewed as a downright terrifying experience (especially if a highly concentrated extract was used at first).

    I was interested to see if any on this forum posted about having lasting psychological effects from using Salvia, like disphoria (depression) or so-called depersonalization. It seems, at least anecdotally, after reading many, many posts over at least one year, that there are few posters reporting suffering from those kinds of symptoms, even though many report being traumatized from initial experiences. Some, though, do report long-lasting negative symptoms such as depression or so-called depersonalization. An example of such a poster, d11, can be found here on the Edot Salvia forum. If you look through all d11’s posts you’ll see how much he irritated and unnerved the “pro” Salvia users on the board because of his persistance in attributing his problems to Salvia. They didn’t seem anxious to see Salvia’s reputation ‘dragged in the mud’.

    So a ‘concerned mother’ looking for a sense of what Salvia may or may not do to experimenters and users has a vast resource of testimony on the web. The Edot Salvia forum, I believe, may be one of the better of these forums as it is a very long running and well-used one.

    Good luck

  • meh

    This stuff sucks anyways who cares. The plant is cool looking though and it gets huge and looks exotic. Not dangerous, the leafs taste bad and don’t do anything. Only those extracts do anything but it’s unpleasent and stupid. People are dumb if they think that is spiritual or whatever, it’s just dumb.

  • Salvia divinorum

    I have heard alot about it but I would be careful. I don’t really know what to believe.