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  • Salvia divinorum, a relative of the herb sage, is a plant that grows wild in parts of Mexico but is also cultivated around the world. The plant’s leaves can induce a psychedelic experience when consumed due to the psychoactive compound present in the leaves, salvinorin A. The leaves also have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

    Salvia has traditionally been used by Mazatec shamans for medicinal purposes and healing rituals for centuries.

    Surprisingly, salvinorin A has no nitrogen atoms, which is very peculiar for a compound with powerful psychoactive effects.

  • Chewing

    Fresh leaves can be chewed. A salvia ‘quid’ (lump of leaves) is crushed slowly with the teeth and held in the mouth for about half an hour. Dried leaves are soaked in water before chewing. The salvinorin A is absorbed through the lining of the mouth, so chewing quickly and swallowing is ineffective. Some people brush the inside of their mouth with mouthwash, or eat chillies before chewing, in order to increase blood flow to the mouth lining and so boost the absorption of the chemical.

    Just 10 strong leaves have given people a powerful psychedelic experience, so users should be cautious with quantity and start with a small amount the first time. With this precaution, chewing is likely to be the least risky way of using salvia. The effects take about 15 minutes to kick in and last for around an hour before fading, peaking in about 30 minutes.

    A variety of tinctures made to be taken by mouth have also been observed. These are concentrated and require even more caution to prevent a stronger-than-desired experience.


    Some people smoke dried salvia leaves for a more intense experience of the drug. Using a water-pipe (bong) and a cigarette lighter is a popular method. Using matches is risky, as you are likely to drop the match as soon as the drug kicks in. The problem with smoking dried salvia leaf is that you need to inhale a great deal of thick smoke over 2 or 3 minutes to get an effective dose. This is unpleasant, unhealthy, and difficult to achieve for most people.

    However, salvia for smoking is now mostly purchased in the form of dried, ground-up salvia leaf which frequently has had a concentrated salvia extract added. This allows the entire dose of Salvinorin A to be consumed in just a few puffs or even just one inhalation. This comes with a high risk of having an unpleasantly overwhelming experience. Extreme caution must be taken with these products. Users should begin with a small dose to decrease the chances of having an overwhelming and or negative experience.

    Concentrated salvia leaf looks a bit like dark dried herbs. This product is usually described by how many times the potency of the original dried salvia leaf has been fortified (e.g. 5x extract, 20x, or even 60x). Quality control for products like these is virtually non-existent, meaning that if you buy salvia, you cannot rely on the claimed strength of the extract being accurate. There is also the possibility that salvinorin A may be replaced by another substance.

    Anecdotal reports suggest that people have had very powerful experiences from products labelled as being any of the available strengths.

    When smoked, the effects of salvia begin within seconds, peaking in around 5 to 10 minutes, before fading gradually over half an hour.

  • Salvia is a very unusual dissociative hallucinogen which does not have the same action in the brain as LSD and other classical psychedelics, or dissociative drugs like ketamine. Its effects are thought to be due to its action on the κ-opioid receptor. The exact mechanism of how this interaction produces the experience of salvia is unknown. However, it is thought that the κ-opioid receptor plays a role in regulating perception.

    The anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects are thought to be due to interaction with κ-opioid receptors and cannabinoid type 1 receptors.

  • Summary of effects:

    • Laughter

    • Visual and auditory hallucinations

    • Distortion of time and space

    • Sense of uneasiness

    • Detachment from reality

    • Recollection of memories

    • Nausea

    • Dizziness

    • Confusion

    • Lack of coordination

    Salvia combines hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. Small doses of salvia may make you feel odd and giggly. At high doses, it can scramble current perceptions, memory, and imagination, possibly leading the user to lose all sense of who and where they are and what is happening around them.

    Alternatively, users may experience a meaningful trip. For example, revisiting experiences from their past, which may appear to be as clear and real as normal experience. This means that unlike most hallucinogens, when a salvia trip is intense, the user may be unable to distinguish between what is real and what is a hallucination. They may even forget they have taken a drug, which can cause intensely disturbing ‘derealisation’ and fragmentation of identity.

    Salvia is not a drug that reliably makes users feel ‘good’. People often take it out of curiosity and interest in exploring altered mental states, rather than for pleasure or fun. A few use it for personal spiritual reasons, but it appears that most users do not tend to repeat these powerful experiences very often.

    Every person will experience something different on salvia, and no two trips will be the same. Salvia can make your perception of time and the place you are in different. People can find themselves laughing hysterically. It can bring about cartoonish hallucinations, and even a total immersion in a dream reality outside of the normal universe. Encounters with other beings have also been reported.

    The whole body feels involved in a salvia trip, and sensations of falling, being pulled around, or floating are common. Some salvia effects are perhaps most comparable to other controlled psychedelic hallucinogens like LSD and DMT, although salvia works very differently in the brain.

  • Salvia currently is not used as a treatment in mainstream medicine, however, drugs that affect the κ-opioid receptor are thought to be worthwhile starting points in treatments for addiction.

    Salvia has been used by the Mazatec people in a medicinal context for centuries. Alongside use for its psychoactive properties, it has also been used as a treatment for arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and addiction.

  • There is no evidence that salvia is toxic to the body or brain. However, there has not been detailed scientific investigation on the potential of salvia to be harmful. Some experience headaches or feel foggy minded for a while afterwards.

    In some countries, salvia is controlled, so make sure you investigate this first.

    Traumatic experiences (bad trips and lasting symptoms)

    Not enjoying salvia is common, but a truly traumatic experience seems very rare. The chance of it happening to you can probably never be ruled out but is much more likely on very high doses. The risk of a traumatic experience is heightened if you have never taken salvia before and are unprepared for its potentially powerful effects. If you are feeling negative emotions like anxiety, self-doubt, or depression before you take the drug, these feelings may be amplified by the drug.

    Although the salvia experience does not last long, some people report it feeling like it lasts for hours, or even forgetting that another sort of existence exists outside of the bad trip. During the trip, people can have panic attacks, become agitated, and try to escape their surroundings. This risks injury to themselves and anyone who tries to restrain them.

    There have also been cases, not formally reported in medical journals, of people who have found that a single salvia experience left them with derealisation that lasted many days or more. They felt spaced out, miserable, and disconnected from reality. Others claim to have suffered lasting alterations of perception that echo the hallucinations during their trip (HPPD). It is important to repeat that these effects have not been scientifically documented, but they are serious enough to be aware of. There may be millions of people who have taken salvia without harm, and very few have suffered these serious lasting problems.


    When consuming salvia, the user may be totally unaware of their real surroundings, but will often want to move around, which makes them vulnerable to dangerous accidents. Dangerous objects (car keys, knives) should be made inaccessible. Someone tripping is less likely to suffer harm if they have constant supervision of a ‘trip sitter’. Unless it is unavoidable, the sitter should not try to physically restrain someone who is tripping so much that they are unaware of their surroundings, as the user may become frightened and lash out violently. If an appropriate setting is chosen, restraint should not be needed.

  • People experiencing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, or any psychotic illness should not take salvia.

    In one almost unique case where a man developed a lasting psychotic illness after smoking salvia, it was thought that he may have been predisposed to schizophrenia, and the salvia brought on the appearance of symptoms.

  • Salvia does not appear to be addictive, both physically and psychologically.

    Due to the intensity of the experience, most users do not choose to regularly repeat it.

  • Salvia is legally available in many European countries, but this should not be taken as a reflection of its power. It can be distressing and even harmful, especially when used by people who are not prepared. There will always of having a negative experience with salvia, but thoughtful preparation can help reduce the risks.

    Chewing or smoking salvia

    Considering what type of experience you want to achieve is important. For many people, chewing leaves will give a sufficient experience with less of the risk of overconsumption than smoking might give. Even if you think you would like to have a powerful experience, working your way up through lower doses will reduce the chance of having a more intense trip than you wished for.

    Having a sitter

    A sober and trusted friend, a ‘trip sitter’, can help look out for you, prevent accidents and may be able to reassure you if you are having an unpleasant or frightening experience. Getting comfortable in a safe place, such as on a carpet with cushions around and dangerous objects removed, reduces the risk of injury.

  • Is salvia like cannabis?

    No. Salvia is sometimes described as or compared with cannabis in the media, for example, being referred to as a legal cannabis alternative because it is a smokeable herb and often not controlled. Most users do not find the drugs similar, and they have different actions on the brain.

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