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Salvia Divinorum: A Legal Trip

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Updated June 04, 2014

Teenage boy (17-18) smoking, close-up of face
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Salvia Divinorum: A Legal Trip

A rise in the use of this hallucinogenic herb has attracted some attention. A New York Times article states that, in the United States, 3% of young men between the ages of 18 to 25 have used Salvia divinorum within the last year. The statistics suggest that it is being used twice as often as LSD and almost as often as ecstasy. Videos of salvia users are being posted on video-sharing sites, such as YouTube, and are immensely popular: certain videos have been viewed 500,000 times. Salvia may just be the newest rising star of the drug world, and it is, in some cases, completely legal.

What is Salvia?

Salvia is a perennial herb that is a part of the mint family. It is commonly found in southern Mexico, Central America and South America. The plant has large green leaves with white and purple flowers that typically grow in large clusters to more than 3 feet in height.

The active ingredient in the salvia herb is salvinorin A, a chemical that acts on certain receptors in the brain and causes hallucinations. Salvinorin A is one of the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic chemicals.

How is Salvia Used?

Salvia is sold in various forms. It can be sold as seeds, leaves or as a liquid extract. Fresh leaves can be chewed, causing a high within 5 to 10 minutes. Dried leaves can be smoked as a joint, in a water pipe or vaporized and inhaled. When smoked, the drug can take effect within 30 seconds. Drinking the liquid extract will also cause a high.

What Does Salvia Do?

The chemical salvinorin A, which is contained in salvia, sits on the kappa opioid receptors in the brain, causing an altered perception of reality. The kappa opioid receptor is thought to have a role in pain control and certain psychiatric disorders.

When used, salvia causes intense, but short-lived, effects, including visual distortions, hallucinations, intense dissociation and disconnectedness from reality, physical or visual impairment, disorientation and dizziness. Synesthesia is possible, where physical sensations become intertwined and it is possible to “hear” colors or “smell” sounds. Dysphoria, where users felt uncomfortable or unpleasant after the drug's use, is also reported. Due to these effects, it would be dangerous to operate a vehicle while under the drug's influence. Additionally, any drug that leaves the user incapacitated during the time it is working puts the user at risk for serious injury by any means.

Is it Legal?

According to The Office of National Drug Control Policy, salvia is not currently regulated by the United States government. At this time, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) thinks of Salvia as a drug of concern and is monitoring any reports of abuse of the substance. A handful of states have regulations in place regarding salvia use, and others are considering regulation.

Legal or not, Salvia is not intended for use by adolescents at any time. Websites that promote salvia use often specifically mention that they will not sell the drug to minors. Parents need to be aware of this new drug, so that they can educate themselves and their teens on this new potential danger.

Sources:

Salvia. National Institute on Drug Abuse. September 30, 2008. http://www.drugabuse.gov/PDF/Infofacts/salvia07.pdf

Salvia Divinorum. Office of National Drug Control Policy. September 30, 2008. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/dfc/files/salvia.pdf

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