Salvia divinorum

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Salvia divinorum (also known as Diviner's sage, María Pastora or simply Salvia) is a psychoactive plant, a member of the sage genus and the Lamiaceae (mint) family. The plant is grown by the Mazatec indigenous people of the Oaxaca mountains of southern Mexico in isolated, moist and secret plots. It has been used by their shamans for centuries for healing during spirit journeys. It is thought to be a cultigen. No definitively wild populations have been found. The Latin name Salvia divinorum literally translates to "sage of the diviners".

The primary psychoactive constituent is a neoclerodane diterpene known as salvinorin A. Salvia also contains the closely related compounds salvinorins B-G, divinatorins A-E, salvinicins A and B, and hardwickiic acid. Salvinorin A is the most potent naturally-occurring hallucinogen known. It is active at doses as low as 100 µg [1]. Recent research has shown that salvinorin A is a remarkably potent and selective kappa opioid receptor agonist. It has been demonstrated that the effects of salvinorin A are blocked by kappa opioid receptor antagonists. This indicates that the effects of S. divinorum can be largely, if not entirely, attributed to kappa agonism. Salvinorin A is unique in that it is the only naturally occurring substance known to induce a visionary state via this mechanism of action.


Usage and effects

Traditional Use

The traditional Mazatec method for ingesting salvinorin involves chewing a ball of 15 to 20 fresh salvia leaves for an extended period of time (approximately 15 minutes). Salvinorin-A is considered to be inactive when ingested, perhaps because digestive enzymes destroy active components; therefore, emphasis is placed on holding the leaves (and also the saliva secreted during chewing) in the mouth as long as possible, to facilitate absorption through the oral mucosa.

Vaporization and smoking

1oz bag of dried Salvia leaves.

Dry leaves can be smoked in a pipe but most users prefer the use of a bong to cool the smoke. The temperature required to release salvinorin-A from the plant material is quite high (about 240 ° C), so the direct application of an intense flame, such as from a butane torch lighter, is often required to reach it. Salvia divinorum is not ordinarily suitable for ingestion using vaporizers since the temperature required for vaporization is higher than that produced by vaporizors designed for tobacco or cannabis.

Many people find that the doses achieveable by smoking the unprocessed dried leaf have only light or unnoticable effects. A concentrated preparation of salvia leaf, called salvia extract, with relative strength suggested by terms such as 5x or 10x, may be smoked in place of natural strength leaves; this reduces the total amount of smoke inhaled for a given dosage of salvinorin overall, and facilitates more intense experiences.

Other uses

Sublingually ingested tinctures, typically ethanol based, are another form of prepared salvia. The tincture is salvia that has been extracted with high proof ethanol. In fact, once extracted, the liquid can either be used as a tincture, or, infused into salvia leaf, making extract.

Subjective effects

Most users find that the effects of salvinorin are not conducive to socializing; in fact, while under the influence, most people tend to find any external stimuli distracting. Most people under the influence of salvia will remain in place, sometimes catatonic, although some users may attempt to move around. Although moving may prove difficult, as many experience a sensation such as a feeling of a bar across their chest, holding them back. This can be especially dangerous as the user, in an altered state of consciousness, is at a greater risk of unintended bodily injury. It is advisable to have a sober trip sitter present to watch out for others.

The effects of salvia are found by many to be highly spiritual and entheogenic, and useful for meditation. Consciousness is retained until the highest doses, but body control, awareness of externalities, and individual personality can disappear with even modest amounts.

At lower doses the user may experience spontaneous laughter, mild closed-eye visuals, stuttering or strobing visual effects, changes in depth perception, and a heightened sense of color and texture.

Moderate doses appear trance-like. Time distortion and open-eye visuals become increasingly apparent. Fractal patterns and geometric shapes may be noticeable with eyes open, and can be very confusing. Many people experience sensations of falling, similar to what is occasionally felt at the onset of sleep. The user may experience fully formed visions of other places, people, and events, especially with eyes closed.

At high doses, the effects become more powerful and shamanic, and may additionally include out-of-body experiences, perceptions of gravitational distortion, vertigo, sensations of wind or physical pressure, hearing voices, flanging of sound, significant open and closed-eye visuals, experiencing alternate realities, contact with beings or entities, dissolution of one's ego, and dissociation. The salvia experience is quite different from that of most other hallucinogenic drugs and may be overwhelming, even with the correct set and setting.

Many salvia users, during high-dose out-of-body experiences, may suddenly "merge" with objects. With the significant time distortion typical of salvia, users may live a lifetime as another person, or as an inanimate object, such as a wall or a piece of furniture. The experiences can be extremely pleasant, or very frightening and confusing.

People often fail to achieve the effects the first time they try the plant. Once one is acquainted with the effects, however, subjective dosage requirements appear to actually decrease. Salvia seems to exhibit a "reverse-tolerance" factor in some users; with repeated use, decreased dosage may be possible for the same level experience.

About 10% of people seem to be unaffected by Salvia.

Duration and after-effects

If inhaled, the effects do not last very long, with the peak reached within one minute and then a slow descent back to one's self after about five minutes and back to baseline within 15 to 20 minutes. Chewing the leaf (in a 'quid') makes the effects come on more slowly and be experienced for longer. The first 5 minutes after smoking extract are very intense, and should be experienced lying or sitting down, eyes closed.

Some people report a time distortion effect, some report visual hallucinations, and bodily sensations. Most users report no hangover or negative after-effects, in fact some users report a pleasing 'afterglow'. Salvia has not been found to be either physically or psychologically addictive. There are no proven health risks associated with salvia use, although salvia's long-term effects on the human body are not well documented.


The primary active constituent is Salvinorin A, sum formula C23H28O8. Unlike most other known psychoactive compounds, Salvinorin A is not an amine--meaning it contains no nitrogen functional group. The Salvinorin group of compounds (including Salvinorin A, Salvinorin B and Salvinorin C) are called neoclerodane diterpenoids.

Extraction and purification of Salvinorin A has been documented but should only be attempted by qualified researchers with experience in chemistry and the proper laboratory equipment. Measurement of safe dosages is difficult and requires a sophisticated analytical balance, due to the extreme quantitative potency of Salvinorin A.

Legal status

Until the late 1990s, not many people knew about salvia. The advent of the Internet and the realization that the plant was not as of yet legally controlled engendered numerous Internet mail-order businesses who sold dried salvia leaves, sometimes for exorbitant prices.

The general public became increasingly aware of salvia in 2002. As of June 1, 2002, Australia became the first country to ban salvia and salvinorin [2], [3]. In late 2002, Rep. Joe Baca (D-California) introduced a bill in the United States House of Representatives to schedule salvia as a controlled substance, and the DEA has indicated on its website that it is aware of salvia and is evaluating the plant for possible scheduling.

Press accounts of efforts to ban salvia often quote law enforcement and government officials who exhibit an inaccurate knowledge of the drug's effects, and frequently characterize the "high" as "chewable marijuana", or as identical to LSD and PCP (three drugs with quite dissimilar effects).

Under Louisiana Act № 159, 40 plants, including Salvia divinorum, have become illegal if sold for human consumption. It is still legal to own the plants. More laws regarding S. divinorum can be found at

Salvia divinorum was outlawed in Missouri in fall 2005.


Unlike other sages, Salvia divinorum produces very few seeds, and the seeds it does produce seldom germinate. It appears to have very little histocompatibility variation, so the pollen from a plant genetically identical to the style fails to reach the ovule. It is propagated by cuttings and by falling over and growing new roots. Although reportedly (Valdez, et al) isolated stands of S. divinorum exist in its native range, these are thought to be purposefully created and tended by the people of the region. Therefore it is considered a true cultivar and thus does not occur naturally in the wild anywhere.

For the most part, the fate of the species lies with a very small number of clone plants. Of these few clones, there are only two that are in any kind of public circulation; the Wasson/Hofmann strain, and the Blosser ("Palatable") strain. The former is a strain discovered by those whose name the plant bears, when on a visit to the Mazatecs. The latter is the same case, in regards to name, and was discovered in Oaxaca; it is called "Palatable" as well, as it is said to have more palatable leaves when ingested orally than those of the Wasson/Hofmann strain, though other reports state that there is little difference between the taste of the plants. Other varieties are also grown, including the Luna strain which is a strange offshoot of the Hofmann/Wasson line. A few other strains exist, but they are mostly quite similar, in potency, effect, and growth.


  1. Chavkin C, Sud S, Jin W, Stewart J, Zjawiony JK, Siebert DJ, Toth BA, Hufeisen SJ, & Roth BL. Salvinorin A, an active component of the hallucinogenic sage salvia divinorum is a highly efficacious kappa-opioid receptor agonist: structural and functional considerations. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 2004 Mar. 308 (3): 1197-1203.
  2. Roth BL, Baner K, Westkaemper R, Siebert D, Rice KC, Steinberg S, Ernsberger P, Rothman RB. Salvinorin A: a potent naturally occurring nonnitrogenous kappa opioid selective agonist. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2002 Sep 3, 99 (18): 11934-11939.

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