Salvia was once referred to as the “YouTube drug”, because of its prevalence among teens who uploaded their experiences with the drug onto the Internet. While it may be legal in many U.S. states, are the psychedelic effects of Salvia harmless?

High in the cloud forests of the remote Sierra Mazateca mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico, Salvia divinorum grows in shady spots under the canopy. Low clouds and year-round moisture provide optimal conditions for this leafy plant, allowing it to grow over a meter high. But this plant holds more secrets than it’s dark remote locations. Salvia divinorum contains a powerful psychedelic drug that is used in Mazatec shaman rituals and religious practice.

Salvia’s legal status in many states makes it popular among recreational drug users, especially teens and young adults. However, the intense effects of Salvia often deter would-be users who would prefer a social lubricant or a party drug.

What is Salvia?

Salvia divinorum is a plant that contains the psychoactive ingredient Salvinorin A, a unique, natural compound. The word Salvia can refer to the drug or the plant as a whole. Despite lobbies in the 90s and 2000s, Salvia is not federally regulated and regulation is left to state discretion. The effects of Salvia are compared to other psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD, but trips are much shorter—only lasting five minutes.

Unlike other naturally occurring psychedelic substances, Salvia isn’t an alkaloid or a serotonin reactor. It also doesn’t contain nitrogen like DMT or psilocybin (mushrooms). It is a kappa opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it affects the part of the brain that controls pain, consciousness, motor function, and mood. The substance is so unique that a 2004 study in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics found it is the “first known naturally occurring non-nitrogenous full agonist at κ-opioid receptors.”

Because Salvia has no known side effects that pose a significant health risk and the fact that the drug only lasts for a short period of time, it isn’t federally illegal in the United States. Instead, its legality is determined on a state-by-state basis; it is considered a Schedule 1, illegal substance in some states and completely legal in others. A few states even restrict the use of the plant to decorative or gardening purposes.

Physiological Effects of Salvia

Although psychedelics, Salvia specifically, have very few physiological effects, there are a few side effects that happen after taking the drug. Many side effects depend on the way the drug is administered. Acute effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion

Some researchers and medical professionals have expressed concerns about Salvia’s effect on heart rates, proposing that high doses can pose potential cardiac or stroke risks, especially in users with heart conditions. However, a 2011 study by Johns Hopkins researchers who sought to study the effects of Salvia found that Salvinorin A did not significantly increase heart rate or blood pressure.

According to Daniel J.Siebert, the Salvia plant is quickly broken down and deactivated in the gastrointestinal tract. That means if you eat or juice the plant, your body will counteract the effects quickly. This is fairly common with other naturally occurring psychedelic plants like DMT. To experience the effects of Salvia from the plant, users will often smoke it or chew on it to absorb the active chemicals into the cheek and mouth tissue.

Still, when compared to LSD and psilocybin, Salvia’s effects are much shorter, usually lasting five to 10 minutes rather than several hours.

Psychedelic Effects of Salvia

Salvinorin A produces powerful psychedelic effects within seconds of being taken. Users will often laugh uncontrollably, and, if they try to speak, they are unable to form intelligible words. Users will feel spatial effects and pressure on the body that is often described as being pulled or twisted by some force. The drug often conjures up visions of childhood memories and cartoon images. However, as with many psychedelic substances, the effects of Salvia vary from person to person and can include:

  • Replaying of past memories
  • Revisiting places visited in the past
  • Visions of membranes or fractal patterns (like a kaleidoscope)
  • Feelings of merging with other objects or becoming other objects
  • The feeling of overlapping places, or the feeling of being in more than one place at once.
  • Synesthesia, or the mixing of sensory responses like hearing colors
  • Contact or presence of other entities

Some users report more mild experiences akin to deep meditation or a trance-like state. A difference in experience can vary based on the person using and the method of administering the drug and the dose.

Tentative Salvia users often treat Salvia like a spicy food. The natural pepper offers enough heat and includes a pleasant flavor. On the other hand, concentrated extracts can be overwhelming and the overall experience is harsh and unpleasant. Salvia, too, can create negative experiences or “bad trips” when taken in highly concentrated amounts. Like many psychedelics, bad trips can actually pose a psychological threat.

According to studies, the biggest threat during adverse psychedelic effects is leaving your location and putting yourself in harm’s way. While under the influence of Salvia, your motor functions may be affected, which can lead to accidents and injuries. Although less common, psychedelics that cause bad trips can lead to more long-term effects, including PTSD or psychosis.

Anti-addiction Effects of Salvia

Salvia is believed to have a low addiction potential and low toxicity. No studies have shown any positive proof that the drug has chemical addiction potential. But it, like any mind-altering substance, may have psychological addiction potential. However, Salvia has been studied as a potential anti-addiction medicine. This isn’t the only psychedelic drug that has been experimentally used to treat addiction.

Ibogaine is another psychoactive drug derived from plants that are commonly used in religious rituals in West Central Africa, but it was outlawed in the U.S. after studies showed its high toxicity potential.

K opioids, like Salvia, have shown promise in treating cocaine addiction. However, most k opioids have adverse effects that include depression, sedation, and dysphoria. One study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology aimed to test Salvia as a k opioid with a different set of more manageable side effects. They found that Salvia showed potential as an anti-cocaine drug but more tests were needed.

Getting Addiction Treatment

Although Salvia has a low risk of addiction, psychedelics can be powerful substances that leave negative psychological effects in their wake. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, call Ocean Breeze Recovery Treatment Center at 855-960-5341 to speak with a representative that can help you find the next step toward recovery.

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