Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

The Dangers of and Arguments for Salvia -- The Completely Legal Hallucinatory Drug

Known as one of the (if not the) most powerful hallucinatory agents known to man, salvia divinorum is garnering attention from researchers and teenagers alike -- though for two totally different reasons.


Users of salvia report sensations ranging from spiritual and meditative to scary and uncomfortable. Is this herb responsible for one teen's suicide, or does it hold value in treating disease?

Salvia has intense psychedelic properties, which is why it has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of the Mazatec region of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it is native to. Now, often touted as a legal alternative to LSD or marijuana, salvia is being sold over the Internet to curious young adults looking to get high.

Meanwhile, researchers are trying to determine whether salvia has any valid uses in human medicine -- before it is outlawed in the United States.

Salvia's High Prompts Suicide Concerns

Though salvia is illegal in two states (Louisiana and Missouri), it is currently legal in all other states, and its leaves and liquid extracts are sold openly on Web sites and in head shops.

However, in January 2006, 17-year-old Brett Chidester of Wilmington, Delaware committed suicide, and his family believes salvia's hallucinogenic properties are to blame.

Salvinorin A, which Bryan Roth, director of the Psychoactive Drug Screening Program for the National Institute of Mental Health, calls an "extremely potent hallucinogen" nearly as strong as LSD, is believed to be responsible for salvia's psychoactive effects.

The substance targets a receptor in brain cells that, Roth says, affects our "consciousness and our perception of reality." It's located in neurons that are involved in mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia, as well as drug abuse.

According to Chidester's mother, Karen, in a USA Today report, Chidester wrote in an essay, found after his death, that the meaning of the universe "is nothing."

"When I read that I thought, 'That's not him talking, that's salvia," Karen Chidester told USA Today.

Salvia's Hallucinogenic Allure

Prompted by Chidester's suicide, Sen. Karen Peterson of Delaware filed a bill that would ban salvia divinorum, putting it among the ranks of illegal drugs like heroin and marijuana.

"Kids fall into a false sense of security because it's legal. We control LSD, and we should control this," Peterson says.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) -- which lists salvia as a "drug and chemical of concern" -- salvia is largely being used by younger adults and adolescents, who are influenced by Web sites promoting the herb for its hallucinogenic effects.

Salvia's Other Names


The hallucinogenic herb salvia divinorum has many other names, most related to its association with the Virgin Mary (the Mazatecs believed salvia to be an incarnation of the Virgin Mary). These include:

  • Maria Pastora
  • Diviner's Sage
  • Sally D
  • The leaf or herb of Mary
  • The Shepherdess
  • Ska Maria
  • Ska Pastora
  • Hojas de Maria
  • Hojas de la Pastora
  • Hierba (yerba) Maria
  • La Maria

Users report a wide range of effects, from other-world and out-of-body experiences to feeling they have been turned into inanimate objects, like paint on the wall. Other users have reported experiencing living another person's life, from birth until death, and many report having spiritual experiences.

"Kids just don't sit back and get the munchies with this one," said an Arkansas Drug Enforcement Agency official in a Batesville Daily Guard report. "This is one of the most powerful hallucinogens known to man."

Lower doses of salvia, which is usually smoked, can produce a range of psychic effects, including:

  • Perceptions of bright lights, vivid colors and shapes

  • Twisting body movements

  • Object distortions

  • Uncontrollable laughter

  • Dysphoria

  • A sense of loss of body

  • Overlapping realities

  • Hallucinations

  • A loss of coordination

  • Dizziness

  • Slurred speech

Do Untapped Medical Uses for Salvia Exist?

On the other end of the spectrum, chemists and researchers around the world are scrambling to find out if salvia could be helpful in treating disease -- before it is made illegal. Once the herb is criminalized, says Roth, it would be "almost impossible" to get it approved for human medicinal uses.

Currently, there are no approved human uses for salvia and the research is still in its beginning stages.

Said Dr. Joseph Banken, a clinical psychiatrist and recreational drug researcher at the University of Arkansas of Medical Sciences, no other chemical works quite like salvia.

"Salvia has been used for 5,000 years by the Mazatec Indians in religious ceremonies, to communicate with spirits. But it's new to us," Banken said. "Scientifically, it's a bit of a puzzlement."

In an interview conducted by Banken, only 1 percent of users said they craved or needed salvia. The effects were called "unique" by 40 percent of users, yet several said the effects were so intense they would not use it again. Salvia is different from hallucinogens like LSD because it is safely metabolized by the body, and Banken said he knows of no reports of flashbacks.

He and a team of other researchers are looking into how salvia works and whether or not it holds any medical or scientific value.

" ... the substance [salvia], I caution to call it a drug, may have a cultural or medical use. I would like to see more research and more science before the government moves to ban it," says Banken.

In the meantime, be aware that there is no standard for purity for any of the salvia sold online or in stores, so what you see may not be what you actually get.

"It is really buyer beware," Banken said.

Recommended Reading

What are Salicylates? Could Salicylates be Zapping Your Energy and Making You Feel Ill?

Ecstasy: How Dangerous is This Wildly Popular Drug?


Drug Enforcement Administration: Salvia Divinorum

USA Today April 2, 2006

Batesville Daily Guard March 30, 2006

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This