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Salvia divinorum

Salvia divinorum (also known as diviner's sage 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 a pure cultivar that does not seem to occur in the wild anywhere in the world.

The primary active hallucinogenic chemical is known as Salvinorin-A, but Salvia contains other diterpenes, Salvinorins B-F and Divinatorins A-C. Salvinorin A is the most potent naturally-occurring hallucinogen known, active at 200µg parenterally. Recent research has shown that Salvinorin A is a selective agonist of the kappa opioid receptors, a receptor class largely ignored by other known hallucinogenic compounds1,2, although several kappa-agonist drugs are used in the medical field. It is unknown at this time whether the powerful effects of S. divinorum can be attributed in whole (or even in part) to kappa agonism. Salvia Divinorum is extremely potent but generally controllable.


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. 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. An alternate method used by traditional Mazatec shamans is the slow ingestion of a water-based extract made from fresh leaves.

Vaporization and Smoking

Dry leaves are typically smoked in a hookah, to cool the smoke. The vaporisation temperature required to release the salvinorin-A from the plant material is quite high and requires an intense direct flame, typically from a butane torch lighter, making smoke that is too hot to comfortably inhale directly. Extract of concentrated salvinorin may be taken sublingually or smoked. Users report that taking Salvia at the same time as any other drug, including smoking with tobacco dramatically reduces the effects - even eliminating it completely.

Many people have prepared fortified salvia leaves for smoking; that is, leaves to which a concentrated extract of salvinorin-A has been added, in order to minimize the overall amount of smoking required.

Subjective Effects

Most users find that the effects of salvinorin are not conducive to socializing or getting high at parties; in fact, while under the influence most people tend to find any external stimuli distracting. It is advisible to have one person not under the influence to watch out for the others.

Many people find it useful for meditation. Consciousness is retained until the highest doses, but body control, awareness of externalities, and individual personality can disappear with more modest amounts.

Taking a moderate to large dose can induce a trancelike state, in which the user may experience fully formed visions of other places, people, and events.

If inhaled, the effects do not last long relative to most recreational drugs, with the main experience lasting only 5 minutes and generally ending completely within 10. The first 5 minutes are very intense and users can be extra sensitive to stimuli. Chewing and ingestion cause longer-lasting, but generally somewhat milder effects.

Many people report an extreme time distortion, as the heaviest (and sometimes scariest) effect. Reports of the drug causing depression and schizophrenia have also been noted.

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


The primary active constituent is Salvinorin A, sum formula C23H28O8. Unlike virtually all 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. [1], [2] 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 web site that it is aware of salvia and is evaluating the plant for possible scheduling.

Civic and government action to ban salvia is often perceived as a knee-jerk reaction to another "evil drug". Press accounts of efforts to ban salvia often quote law enforcement and government officials who exhibit a grossly inaccurate knowledge of the drug's effects, and frequently characterize the "high" as "chewable marijuana", or as identical to LSD and PCP [sic]. This is partly due to the lack of extensive study done on the drug to ascertain possible long term effects, or studies done to delve deeper into the workings of the drug, as well as the fact that the drug is relatively new in the United States.[3], [4]


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/Hoffman 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/Hoffmann 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 Hoffman/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):1197-203
  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):11934-9

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