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Q. What is Salvia divinorum?
A. Salvia divinorum is a plant used for its psychoactive effects. With the right dose, individual, set and setting, it produces a unique state of  'divine inebriation' which has been traditionally used by Mazatec healers. This inebriation is very different from that of alcohol. Salvia divinorum is both similar to, and different from, other drugs that affect the brain and behavior.  Salvia (and the Salvinorin it contains) is extremely hard to categorize pharmacologically. It does not fit well into any existing pharmacological class. The late Louis Lewin, who is considered a pioneer in terms of psychopharmacology called vision inducing drugs 'phantastica'.

Q. Does Salvia divinorum have a history of traditional use?
A. Salvia D or sally D was used as a sacred medicine by shamanic healers living in the mountainous Sierra Madre  in the northeast corner of the Mexican State of Oaxaca. In Spanish, these specialized healers are referred to as curanderos; in Mazatec these people are called cho-ta-ci-ne ("one who knows"). Salvia  is primarily used in situations where the curanderos felt it necessary to travel into some sort of supernatural world  to discover the true cause of there sick patients trouble. It was used to induce a visionary trance state, within which it is possible pinpoint the  cause of disease's and to learn the necessary steps to cure such disease's. It is also used in cases of theft or loss to determine the circumstances and whereabouts of missing objects. The leaves are always used fresh and are consumed orally; either by chewing the leaves or drinking an aqueous infusion of the crushed-leaf juices. Sometimes it is given to the patient, sometimes it is taken by the curandero and sometimes both take it together.

Most reports describe the use of this plant by Mazatec shamans, and although it is just barely touched upon in the anthropological literature, it is also reportedly used by their immediately contiguous neighbors, the Cuicatecs and Chinatecs. Given that the plant is quite easily propagated, it is surprising that such an extraordinary herb is only known of in such a geographically limited area. It seems quite probable that it would have found its way to other neighboring tribes through sharing and trade. Perhaps its use is still concealed from the outside world by other groups of indigenous Mexican Indians who still prefer to keep such a sacred plant secret.

Q. What type of plant is Salvia divinorum?
A. Salvia divinorum is a type of sage. Generally, sages belong to the genus Salvia. There are about 900 different Salvia  species, including many ornamental garden sages and Salvia officinalis, the common cooking sage. Salvia is a genus in the mint family  (Lamiaceae) Salvia divinorum is literally the sage (Salvia) of the diviners (divinorum). The plant has a characteristic weak 'mousy-but-minty'  aroma. It is a native of a small area in Oaxaca, Mexico, growing in mountainous lands where the Mazatec Indian people dwell.

Q. How does the plant grow?
A. Salvia divinorum is a semi-tropical perennial. That means that it can grow back year after year but only if it is not exposed to frost. It is a  green plant with large leaves and a distinctive thick hollow square green stem. It can grow several meters high if conditions are favorable.  When it grows high enough the branches will bend or break and may root if they come in contact with moist earth. Although S. divinorum  can flower under natural lighting conditions (it has white flowers with purplish calyces), it only rarely sets seed, even when carefully hand-pollinated, and when it does the seeds are not very fertile. Experience has shown that plants grown from seed are often lacking in vigor. The  plant is typically propagated by cuttings. The leaves are oval, weakly serrated and can be quite large (up to 9 inches length). The leaves are often emerald green and are covered with a fine coating of very short hairs giving the leaves a satin-like velvety appearance in certain lights. The plants are water loving but grow best in partial shade in well-watered but well-drained soil.

Q. What's in salvia that is so strong? Is it an alkaloid?
A. Salvia contains a substance called Salvinorin A. Salvinorin A is the most potent naturally occurring vision inducer. Salvinorin A is not an alkaloid--its molecule contains only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Technically it is a neoclerodane diterpenoid. Salvinorin A is a unique vision inducing substance, of great power. It is NOT an analog of any other drug.

Q. Just how strong is it?
A. When vaporized and inhaled, doses of about 250 micrograms (that is 250 millionths of a gram) can have threshold effects and doses of 1 milligram (one thousandth of a gram) can have extreme effects. Sensitivity varies greatly from person to person. Salvinorin is most effective when inhaled as smoke or vapor and least effective on a milligram basis when swallowed.

Q. Are there other psychoactive substances present in Salvia?
A. Possibly. A substance known as divinorun C has been recently reported by Valdιs et. al to be behaviorally active in mice at even lower dosage than Salvinorin A. Divinorin C is closely related chemically to Salvinorin A and is present in his salvia extracts in 1/9 the concentration of Salvinorin A. It may contribute to the psychoactive effects of salvia leaves. Divinorin C has never been bioassayed in humans due (among other reasons) to the difficulty in preparing pure samples in significant quantity for such bioassay. A few other Salvinorin like compounds are known to be present in salvia and may also contribute to its psycho activity. However, Salvinorin A is the only Salvia divinorum compound presently known to be psychoactive in humans.


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Q. What is known about the neurological mechanism of action for Salvinorin A?
A. Salvinorin A is a potent, highly selective kappa opioid receptor agonist. Experimental evidence indicates that the psychoactive effects of Salvinorin A result from its activity at these receptors. Self-experiments performed by Daniel Siebert have demonstrated that the effects of Salvinorin A are inhibited by pre-administration of the opioid receptor antagonist, naloxone.

Q. What are opioid receptors?
A. Opioid receptors are a particular class of chemical-recognition proteins located on cell membranes in many organs, including the central and peripheral nervous systems. These proteins produce an effect in the cell when they come into contact with chemicals that both "bind" to them and trigger activity.

Q. What are the differences between different types of opioid receptors?
A. There are three main groups of opioid receptors: mu, kappa, and delta. These receptors are similar to each other in protein structure but link to a variety of distinct intracellular G-coupling proteins that function to cause the receptors' unique physiologic effects on target organs. Different endogenous ligands (enkephalins, endorphins, and dynorphins, etc.) bind to them to differing extent. So do various drugs. Substances that activate receptors are known as agonists, those that block them are known as antagonists, those that activate some types of receptors while at the same time blocking others are called mixed agonist/antagonists. There are selective agonists and selective antagonists for different receptor types. As a result of studies with these it has been found that each major receptor has a unique anatomic distribution in brain, spinal cord, and the periphery, e.g. gut. Each receptor type has its unique but often overlapping profile of actions.

Q. Since Salvinorin A activates kappa opiate receptors, does that mean that Salvinorin A is chemically similar to opiate drugs?
A. No. Salvinorin A is in an entirely different class of compounds. Opiates are alkaloids. Salvinorin A is a diterpenoid. It is an organic compound of plant origin that contains only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Unlike alkaloids, it does not contain nitrogen. To a chemist this is a major difference. This chemical difference has an important practical consequence: Salvinorin A should not give a positive reaction on urine tests for opiates or other alkaloid drugs.

Q. Does Salvinorin A activate a different set of opiate receptors than addictive opiate drugs such as morphine?
A. There are very significant differences in which opioid receptors are activated by morphine compared with Salvinorin A, these differences result in morphine, but NOT Salvinorin A, being addictive. To be more specific, morphine activates both mu and kappa opioid receptors. It activates mu receptors strongly, these are the receptors responsible for opiate dependence. It activates kappa receptors, but only weakly. Thus morphine is powerfully addictive but produces only borderline visionary effects (morphine induced visions, when they occur at all, are similar to daydreams). In contrast Salvinorin A is a powerful SELECTIVE kappa agonist. It strongly activates the vision-inducing kappa receptors but does NOT activate the addiction producing mu receptors. So, unlike opiate drugs such as morphine, Salvinorin produces remarkably powerful visions, but not addiction.

Q. It is well known that some opiate drugs are addictive. Is there any danger of this with salvia?
A. NO. No one has ever reported any addictive behavior with respect to the use of Salvinorin A or Salvia divinorum. Addictive behavior is compulsive drug use. The key word is compulsive. To produce it, a drug must be a powerful "reinforcer," as opiates such as morphine indeed are. The powerful reinforcing effect of opiates depends on dopamine release in a part of the brain called the shell region of the nucleus accumbens. Both mu and delta agonists produce dopamine release in this region; however, selective kappa agonists do not. This dopamine-mediated reinforcement (euphoria, rush, buzz, reward) is very important in determining if a drug will be addicting or not. And dopamine induced euphoria is different from the mechanisms underlying both physical dependence and tolerance. It is dopamine related euphoria more than tolerance or physical dependence that will determine if a drug is liable to be habitually abused. Anyhow, dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens may be why animals and people will choose to repetitively self-administer morphine, heroin, etc. Surprisingly, stimulation of the kappa receptor has the opposite effect. It decreases dopamine release in the shell region of the nucleus accumbens, and in experimental animals this discourages self-administration. The decreased dopamine release that results from kappa receptor stimulation may be the reason why Salvia divinorum, and Salvinorin A, do NOT cause addiction.

Q. In what parts of the brain does it act?
A. This is not known for sure but from the subjective and behavioral effects it can be surmised that Salvinorin is almost certainly affecting the limbic system, and may be affecting somatosensory (parietal lobe), cerebellar and vestibular function as well.

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Q. I have seen salvia referred to as an 'entheogen'. What's that?
A. The word comes from the Greek, loosely translated as "making possible (contact with) the divine within (oneself)". Drugs (and drug plants) which can transport their user to mystical states of consciousness are often called entheogens.. More properly entheogen refers to a type of drug usage, not a type of drug. Salvia CAN be used as an entheogen. It is used as such when taken as part of a serious spiritual quest; but most 'Western' salvia usage would not qualify as entheogenic. The issue of the spiritual/religious use of salvia has been a hotly debated in the Salvia email list--to say the least! Perhaps one of the few statements that most list members can agree upon regarding entheogenic use of salvia is "Some people take salvia with the intent of having a spiritual or religious experience and claim to be able to achieve one from it". Beyond that the issue gets extremely controversial dealing with such questions as what are true religious beliefs, the nature of: God,/Goddess, gods, spirits, void, consciousness, the soul, proper methods of meditation, spirituality etc. These are questions about which no consensus is possible.

Q. What is fortified leaf?
A: Fortified leaf is prepared by combining Salvia divinorum leaves with some form of Salvia divinorum extract. This is also termed extract enhanced leaf. Many people enjoy the effects of smoked Salvia divinorum. However, it can be difficult to achieve a satisfactory level of effects from the leaf in its natural state because of the large quantities of smoke that must be inhaled. Fortified leaves make it possible to achieve effects much more easily. Fortified leaf products allow one to explore deeper levels than are available using plain leaf. This is particularly important for people who find that they are not very sensitive to Salvia divinorum. Another advantage to these products is that they are far easier to consume, since less material needs to be ingested or smoked. Fortified leaf products can be quite powerful and must be used carefully. To reduce the risk of inhaling too large a dose, it is generally best to avoid smoking products containing more than 15 mg Salvinorin A per gram of leaf, unless the dose can be weighed precisely.

Q. What are the different forms of fortified leaf?
A: These products fall into the following two categories:

Crude extract enhanced leaf: This is prepared by mixing a tar-like crude extract with Salvia divinorum leaves. This type of product concentrates tars and other potentially harmful components of the leaf. Crude-extract enhanced leaf is often described by a number followed by an x (such as "5x," "10x," etc). The number indicates the ratio of extract to leaf. For example, "5X" is prepared by mixing one unit of leaf with the tar-like crude extract obtained from four units of leaf. The resulting product is thus five times as potent as the leaves used to produce it. This type of product can vary tremendously in potency because the potency of the leaves used to produce it varies. It has a somewhat sticky feel and inferior burning characteristics due to the impure quality of the extract.

Standardized Salvinorin A enhanced leaf: This is prepared by extracting pure Salvinorin A (the active principal of the plant), then adding a measured quantity back onto Salvia divinorum leaves to bring them up to a specific, reliable, and consistent level of potency. This type of product is time consuming to prepare, but is far superior to crude-extract enhanced leaf. Products that have been prepared in this manner have particularly good burning characteristics because they do not contain the tar-like, gummy impurities found in crude extracts. Since the impurities have been removed during the extraction process, they won't end up in your lungs.

Q. Does salvia cause a hangover? Are there any after-effects?
A. Most people do not feel unpleasantly hung-over after using Salvia. A few people do report a mild headache, bronchial irritation, insomnia or irritability. These symptoms seem to be reported more often by smokers than by quid chewers, and perhaps might be due to some combustion products, such as carbon monoxide rather than to Salvinorin.

Q. For how long after using salvia is a person's ability to drive impaired?
A. Most people feel they can drive safely by 3 hours after smoking Salvia, or 4 hours after chewing it. Many believe they can safely drive even sooner than this. The duration of impairment after drinking the infusion might be up to 8 hours. But studies of the duration of impairment, after taking salvia by any route, have never been done. Therefore it is a good idea to be extra careful when driving for a couple of days after using Salvia.

Q. Does salvia cause any physical damage?
A. There are no known health problems from oral salvia use. However, it is known that smoking tobacco is damaging to your lungs and may cause cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, stroke and cardiovascular disease. These toxic side-effects of tobacco smoking are not due mainly to nicotine but rather to combustion products (tars and carbon monoxide), which are present whenever any type of plant material (e.g. Salvia) is smoked. Common sense will tell you that smoking Salvia, or any material, can be bad for your health. It is not known if salvia can cause birth defects, but it is prudent to assume that it could.

Q. Can you take a fatal overdose?
A. No case of fatal Salvinorin poisoning has been reported. The human oral lethal dose is not known but is believed to be extremely high. Leander Valdes, III provided  the following information for inclusion in this FAQ regarding acute toxicity studies in mice: "I tested Salvinorin A intraperitoneally in mice at very high doses and it appeared to be not very toxic. This was long before the compound was being taken orally and it was testing about as potent as mescaline in the assay I was using. In light of the extreme potency of the compound, I think it quite possible and probably very likely that it was not being well absorbed. I had it in a mix of corn oil, tween 80 (a fancy emulsifier) and water. Dissolving the compound in solvents such as ethanol, acetone or DMSO probably delivers quite a bit more drug to the body (I didn't use them because I wanted an inactive vehicle). "

Swallowed Salvinorin is not well absorbed. The chances of inadvertently swallowing a lethal overdose of an oral preparation of leaves, slurry or elixir are extremely low.

If Salvinorin is inhaled as multiple inhalations of leaf smoke or vapor one  could reasonably expect to pass out  before he/she could take a lethal overdose. But significantly, nothing is known about the toxic effects of smoking truly massive 'single bolus' doses of pure Salvinorin, such a practice might be quite dangerous, and should certainly be avoided.

Although fatal poisoning from Salvia divinorum appears to be very unlikely to occur; there is another type of lethal overdose --- one that kills not by poisoning but by impairing judgment and survival instincts and causing fatal injury. If you smoked Salvinorin and then walked out of a ten story  window you would be very dead indeed. That's why sitters are needed when smoking or vaporizing high doses.

Q. Are there any negative interactions between salvia and other drugs, supplements, or medications?
A. One should be particularly cautious about combining salvia with other drugs. As is the case with most drugs, some combinations may interact in unexpected and possibly negative ways.

Many people who are taking regular medications do use salvia with no adverse effects. Although salvia appears to be relatively safe when combined with many medications, there probably are some drugs that it should not be combined with. It is important to remember that each individual is unique. The fact that some people do not experience problems with a particular combination does not guarantee that that combination is safe for everyone.

If you must combine salvia with another drug, you should always do so cautiously. Start with an extremely conservative dose so as to reduce the risk, should a negative reaction occur. If no negative reaction occurs, you can try increasing the dosage slightly on subsequent attempts. Provided that no adverse effects are experienced, you can increase the dose until you obtain the desired level of effects. One should always have an alert, responsible sitter present when experimenting with new combinations. It is important to have someone on hand who can help you, should the need arise.

We advise against combining salvia with other consciousness-altering substances. There have been reports of people having difficult experiences with such combinations. We are aware of one individual who reported that his breathing became somewhat constricted and labored for several minutes when he smoked salvia following a high dose of the "nutritional supplement," GABA. While it is not certain that this reaction was due to an interaction of the two drugs, it would be prudent to avoid this combination.

Q. When do you need a sitter?
A. Having a sitter present is absolutely essential whenever you are taking a dose that might be high enough to cause you to lose awareness of your physical environment, freak out, or become delusional. Losing awareness of your physical environment can be dangerous because you are not aware of how your body might be interacting with its surroundings. This could result in physical injury to yourself or others (falls, fires, etc.). Do not take salvia without a sitter unless you are certain that you can safely handle the dose. You should have a sitter if you are at all uncertain. A sitter is needed whenever a user is new to Salvia, is uncertain of the potency of the Salvia that they will be using, is experimenting with a more powerful preparation than he/she has used before, or is using a more powerful delivery system than previously. It is generally advisable to have a sitter present when using highly concentrated salvia extracts and when using the vaporization method of smoking. Exercise caution and use good judgment. Many people choose to have a sitter present even when they are using low doses that can be handled safely without one.

Q. What should a sitter know?
A. The sitter should be supportive, congenial, sensible, and sober. Above all remember that no matter how crazy the person undergoing the experience gets, the effects of Salvia are short lived. Within an hour (usually much less) the person will be back in consensus reality, behaving normally. It's very reassuring to hold onto this knowledge when things seem impossibly messy. It helps to have done salvia yourself before sitting another person. Experience with classical psychedelics is only partially helpful. The sitter should know that salvia is different  from these, especially in terms of dissociative effect. Touching to "ground" the person may frighten the person. If you plan on touching, clear it with the person before they begin the experience. The sitter should realize that he/she has a primary role, a secondary role, and a tertiary role.

Q. What is the primary role?
A. The primary role is to keep the person safe. and keep those around that person safe. This must take precedence over all else. The main dangers to be guarded against are physical, not emotional. Your primary job is 'guardian' not psychotherapist.  Do not use physical force unless nothing else will do. Use of physical force may result in injury. It could be misinterpreted as an  assault. Never let salvia be used in settings in which firearms, knives or other potentially dangerous objects are present. Keep the person safe from falls, head banging, sharp objects, walking through windows, wandering out into the street, open flames,  hot surfaces and breakable objects. But let the person move about in a safe area. Do not grab or try to physically restrain the subject. Do  redirect him or her. Speak softly. Take dangerous objects away. Use the minimum touching necessary (the confused subject may perceive your touching as  an assault and react to the perceived danger). It is also the sitter's responsibility to handle unexpected intrusions of strangers and other awkward social situations. This may call for considerable creativity ;-).

Q. What is the secondary role?
A. To reassure and reorient. Often simple repeated explanations may help a frightened person, e.g. "You're safe, I won't let anything harm you." "You're just having a bad trip, you'll feel better in a few minutes." "Your name is (subject's name), I'm (state your name) I'm your (friend, lover, spouse etc.)" . If speech is not called for, be silent. Silence is  often less threatening than trying to decipher what a sitter is saying.

Q. What is the tertiary role?
A. To help the person later recall the details of their experience. There are several techniques. Use a notebook and record the person's behavior and  utterances. You can later ask the person about specific actions that you recorded. That may jog his or her memory about what they experienced. Another technique, if the person is not too far gone to communicate during the experience, is to ask repeatedly "what are you experiencing now?" A notebook,  or more conveniently a tape recorder,  can be used to record responses.

Q. Any safety Do's and Don'ts?
A. Common sense guidelines are:
• Choose the time and place of your salvia experience carefully. Privacy and safety are essential.
• Choose your dose and mode of delivery carefully.
• Lie down for the duration of the experience. You're pretty darn safe in bed if you're not smoking there.
• Have a sitter (this is especially important if you are new to Salvia, taking a high dose or using an efficient delivery system such as vaporization.
• As a general rule do not mix salvia with any other other psychoactive substances. If you are quite experienced with salvia ,and with the other substance, you might decide to ignore this advice at some point; but  if you do so you are playing guinea pig. When you play guinea pig risks increase. If you decide to play guinea pig having a sitter present would be a wise precaution.
• If you are currently having mental health problems or have a history of same,  don't take salvia without first discussing it with your mental health practitioner.
• Don't give salvia to minors,  or to violent or unstable individuals.


The authors of this FAQ are not attorneys and cannot render a legal opinion. If you have a question regarding the legal issues surrounding Salvia divinorum or Salvinorin, you should consult an attorney knowledgeable about drug law.

Q. What is the legal status of Salvia?
A. Salvia divinorum is a legal plant in most countries. Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Delaware are the only states in the USA that prohibit its use. Salvia divinorum is entirely legal in all other US states. Australia, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, and South Korea are the only countries that have enacted legislation making possession of Salvia divinorum and/or Salvinorin A illegal. Spain prohibits the sale of Salvia divinorum, but not possession or use. In Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Estonia, it is illegal to import Salvia divinorum without a relevant prescription from a doctor.

Q. How can I help prevent criminalization of salvia?
A. Practice and encourage responsible use. Do not provide salvia to minors or unstable individuals. Never use salvia in settings in which firearms, knives or other potentially dangerous objects are present. Do not mix with alcohol. Never drive while under the influence of Salvia. Be extra careful of flames - candles, lighters, fire etc when using Salvia. Discourage mixing salvia with other drugs. Encourage the practice of using sitters. Discourage use of pure Salvinorin (except in research settings), vaporized extracts, vaporized leaves, and smoking of powerful extract enhanced leaves. Taking oral preparations and smoking unenhanced leaves are less likely to produce out of control behavior. Be careful about granting interviews. The press and media in general is often more interested in sensationalizing than in balanced factual reporting.

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