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
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.
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
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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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