What is salvia?

Salvia divinorum, or salvia for short, is an herb in the mint family that’s often used for its hallucinogenic effects. It’s native to southern Mexico and parts of Central and South America. There, it has been used in traditional ceremonies by the Mazatec Indians for centuries.

Salvia’s active ingredient, salvinorin A, is considered one of the most potent naturally occurring psychoactive drugs. The effects of this drug include hallucinations, dizziness, visual disturbances, and more.

Street names for Salvia include:

  • Sally-D
  • Magic Mint
  • Diviner’s Sage
  • Maria Pastora

While salvia is legal in some states, it’s still a powerful drug with real effects and possible risks. If you use salvia or have considered trying it, it’s a good idea to know what the drug is, what the risks are, and what you can expect when you take it. Keep reading to learn more.

The herb usually isn’t used in rolled cigarettes, or joints, because the dried leaves may not be potent enough to create any effect.

More often, fresh leaves are used to create an extract. Pipes or water bongs may be used to smoke these extracts. The salvia extracts may also be infused in drinks or vaporizer pens.

Fresh salvia leaves can be chewed, too. As with dried leaves, the fresh leaves aren’t considered very potent, but some people may experience a mild effect.

Yes, salvia use is considered safe, but it hasn’t been extensively studied. That means possible side effects and risks that could be detrimental to your health may not be understood yet.

It’s also important to take precautions if you use salvia. For example, you shouldn’t consume the drug and then attempt to drive or operate a vehicle or machinery.

How much salvia is safe to ingest depends on what type of salvia you use. Salvia is potent, so small doses may produce hallucinogenic effects. The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) advises no more than 500 micrograms, or 0.0005 grams.

If you’re smoking dried leaves, a dose of 1/4 gram to 1 gram is considered safe for consumption.

If you use extracts, less is more. The NDIC recommends that the higher the extract concentration, the smaller the dose.

For example, 0.1 to 0.3 grams of 5x salvia extract may be considered safe. If you try 10x salvia extract, a safe range may be between 0.05 and 0.15 grams.

If you choose to chew fresh salvia leaves, one dose of about five leaves is considered safe.

How salvinorin A, the active ingredient in salvia, impacts your brain is unclear. Researchers continue to study the drug to better understand its effects.

It’s thought that this ingredient attaches to the nerve cells in your body to create a variety of hallucinogenic effects.

The effects of salvia on your brain may include:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations, such as seeing bright lights, vivid colors, or extreme shapes
  • distorted reality and altered perceptions of surroundings
  • feeling as if you’re having an “out-of-body” experience or feeling detached from reality
  • slurred speech
  • laughing uncontrollably
  • anxiety or fear from a “bad trip”

These effects may occur rapidly, within just 5 to 10 minutes of smoking or inhaling the drug.

Although these effects, or “the high,” can be short lived, some people may experience a salvia “high” for several hours.

Although your brain will experience the greatest effects, some physical effects are possible.

These include:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • possible loss of control over motor functions and coordination
  • irregular heart rate

Salvia studies are few and far between, but researchers are looking to better understand how the drug works and what effects it may have on the body and brain.

Salvia is often marketed as a “legal high” or a “natural high,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions if you use it. Because research is limited, the list of possible side effects and risks is short. However, the possible issues are serious and worth consideration.

These include:

  • Dependency. Salvia isn’t considered addictive — you’re unlikely to develop a chemical dependency on the drug — but many people who use it become accustomed to using the drug for the “high” effects. Regular use can be cause for concern.
  • Physical side effects. One study found that people who use salvia, either alone or with alcohol or other drugs, were more likely to experience neurologic, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Effects on learning and long-term memory. One study found that salvia use may have negative effects on learning and impair long-term memories. This study was conducted in rats, so it’s unclear how this translates to humans.
  • Anxiety. Worries about the effects of the drug and fear of a “bad trip” may occur with salvia use. In severe cases, you may experience paranoia and possibly a panic attack.

Salvia largely flew under the radar until 2011 when a video of pop music star Miley Cyrus made waves on the internet.

In the video, the then-18-year-old singer and actress was filmed smoking salvia in a water bong. The video brought the spotlight of attention to this drug, and some state legislators began introducing laws restricting the sale and use of this plant.

Currently, salvia isn’t approved for any medical uses in the United States. It’s also not controlled under Congress’s Controlled Substances Act. That means individual state laws apply to salvia but no federal ones.

Today, many states have laws on the books that outlaw buying, possessing, or selling salvia. Some states have age restrictions, and some states outlaw salvia extracts but not the plant. Another small handful of states have decriminalized salvia possession, so you won’t be arrested if you’re found with the plant or extracts.

If you are curious about salvia, be sure to understand your state’s laws before you seek it out. Additionally, talk with your doctor if you try salvia and experience issues or side effects. If you are growing the plant or have salvia in your home, consider this a drug to be kept from children and pets.

It’s also a good idea to let your doctor know if you’re using any drug. This information can help your doctor provide more complete care and watch for complications that may be associated with use. Keeping your doctor in the loop is especially important if you take prescription medications in addition to recreational drugs.