If you run an internet search on salvia addiction, you are likely to come up with some excellent deals at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot, along with the helpful information that it is deer resistant. Look a little more closely, and you will see incongruous words such as “psychoactive” and “hallucinogen.” It’s true: that innocuous, pretty purple plant boosting the palette of your herb garden has a sinister side.

What is Salvia Addiction?

According to Wikipedia, “Salvia divinorum (also known as the sage of the diviners, ska maría pastora, seer’s sage, yerba de la pastora and just Salvia) is a psychoactive plant which can induce visions and other spiritual experiences.

Its native habitat is in a cloud forest in the isolated Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico, where it grows in shady and moist locations. The plant grows to over a meter high, has hollow square stems, large leaves, and occasional white flowers with violet calyxes.

Mazatec shamans have a long and continuous tradition of religious use of Salvia divinorum, using it to facilitate visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions.

Most of the plant’s local common names allude to the Mazatecs’ post-Columbian belief that the plant is an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, with its ritual use also invoking that relationship.

The alarm generated by this entry is ameliorated by the soothing reassurance that “Salvia divinorum is understood to be of low toxicity and low addictive potential.”

Even more fascinating, [technical details of the plant’s chemistry] shown by salvia may, in fact, serve as a potent addiction treatment therapy.

Effects of Salvia Addiction on the Brain

It turns out that salvia is also known as shepherdess’s herb, magic mint, and Sally-D. Its main active ingredient, salvinorin A, changes the chemistry in the brain, causing hallucinations. While the effects are short-lived, they can be incredibly intense. Researchers are conducting studies to understand better precisely how it produces its results, but it is currently known that the main active ingredient in the substance attaches to parts of nerve cells called kappa opioid receptors. (Note: These receptors are different from the ones involved with opioid drugs, such as heroin and morphine.)

Although salvia is not illegal according to Federal law, several states and countries have passed laws to regulate its use. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists it as a drug of concern that poses a risk to people who use it.

By mass, salvinorin A is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen. But potency should not be confused with toxicity. Rodents chronically exposed to dosages many times greater than those to which humans are exposed show no signs of organ damage.

How Salvia is Used?

The ways in which this herb is ingested have not changed a great deal. The leaves of the plant are used, either fresh or dried. Fresh leaves are chewed, or the juice is extracted from them and drunk. Dried leaves may be rolled in cigarettes, inhaled through a water pipe or hookah, or vaporized and inhaled.

Salvia divinorum has become both increasingly well-known and available in modern culture. The Internet has allowed for the growth of many businesses selling these plants, dried leaves, extracts, and other preparations.

Salvia divinorum has attracted negative attention from the media, with alarms raised over the plant’s legal status, sometimes headlined with comparisons to LSD or other psychoactive substances. Parental concerns are raised by focusing on its usage by younger teens.

This drug was the subject of the first use of YouTube within drug-behavioral research: scientists at San Diego State University used videos of salvia users to study observed impairment. Their findings corroborate reports that the most profound effects of smoking it appear almost immediately and last about eight minutes. These effects include temporary speech and coordination loss.

Monitoring the Future

The Monitoring the Future survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows Salvia as a substance abused by teens. Perhaps an unfortunate side effect of a science project, the discovery of this sage’s helper from ages past.

The study of this drug is still in its infancy, and long-term effects are not known. However, recent studies with animals showed that salvia harms learning and memory.