Salvia divinorum – commonly known as salvia, diviner’s sage, Sally D, and magic mint – is an herb in the mint family native to Central and South America, as well as southern Mexico. Salvia belongs to a class of drugs known as dissociative hallucinogens, which cause users to feel detached from themselves and their environment, while experiencing distorted perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. Unlike other hallucinogens, salvia’s effects are short-lived, typically lasting less than 30 minutes.
Salvia, which is smoked, chewed, or brewed as a tea, is legal in most states. The national Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has labeled it a drug of concern, though salvia remains unscheduled as a controlled substance. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, salvia was the most commonly used hallucinogen – far ahead of LSD and PCP – by high school seniors in 2013, at nearly 6 percent. By the following year, the rate of salvia use had dropped markedly to just 1.8 percent, while use of LSD and PCP remained relatively constant, at 2.7 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
As with other hallucinogens, salvia alters the communication between neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. Salvia activates the nerve cells’ kappa opioid receptors, which differ from other receptors activated by opioids such as heroin and morphine. The result is a disruption in cognition, emotions, and perception of pain. Feelings of invulnerability are common, along with sensory hallucinations.
Dissociative hallucinogens such as salvia may also cause fear, anxiety, panic, paranoia, aggression, memory loss, and tremors. Salvia is known to cause wildly fluctuating mood swings, as well as psychosis. Dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and respiration may occur with high doses; when combined with alcohol or other depressants, salvia may cause respiratory distress, coma, or death.
Scientists have not extensively studied the effects of salvia, so much about the drug remains unknown. Though salvia has been used for centuries in religious ceremonies in Central and South America, the drug arrived in North America and Europe only a few decades ago. At present, researchers do not believe salvia is physically addictive, but users may develop a psychological dependence on the drug.
Salvia and other hallucinogens can be extremely dangerous. If you or someone you love is abusing salvia, or any other drug, seek help immediately. Treatment is just a phone call away, and you are not alone.
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