Can Salvia Divinorum Help With Addiction?
Talk to anyone in the psychonaut community about Salvia divinorum and they will tell you that it is a psychedelic used across the West as a recreational drug – even legally in some countries (always check!). However, initial research suggests that the uses could go beyond the exploration of the consciousness, as scientists mull over the hypothesis that it could be a useful tool for breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction.
Saliva is a member of the mint family and native to Central America. Before becoming popular in the West as a recreational drug, it was used for centuries by the indigenous tribes of Central America as both a medicine and entheogen. It played a central role in Mazatec shamanic rituals and is still used by traditional practitioners to this day. In fact, Maria Sabina, a particularly famous modern shaman, famously said that she uses Salvia when magic mushrooms are not available – with mushrooms also playing a central role in traditional Central American culture.
INDIGENOUS ORIGINS: SALVIA HAS BEEN BREAKING ADDICTION FOR A LONG TIME
Traditionally, Salvia is used to help treat ailments such as arthritis, inflammation, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems. However, also included in this list of traditional treatments is the breaking of addiction; a potential that has snared the interest of certain members of the scientific community. Apparently, according to Mazatec practitioners, Salvia has been successful in treating cocaine, stimulant, alcohol, and inhalant addictions. A group of researchers headed out to Mexico to find out more for themselves, and the results are promising. The findings of their field work can be explored in detail here.
The Mazatec believe it is the feminine spirit that inhabits the plant that heals and teaches the body to beat addiction, guiding the patient away from the habit. While you may or not believe such things, science has also delved a bit deeper, in order to find out the chemical reactions causing this ability to halt addiction. According to a fairly recent review paper, Salvia alters dopamine levels in areas of the brain that handle motivation, reward, and an internal sense of the body’s status. This combined with the mind opening and explorative nature of a Salvia experience could help give a good understanding of exactly how it is achieving its results. It is a phenomenon that is also being seen with other psychedelics, such as ayahuasca.
TAKING THE SCIENCE FURTHER
Taking all of this further, Salvia’s main psychoactive compound – Salvinorin-A – has been found to influence kappa receptors within the body. Kappa receptors work in conjunction with dopamine receptors to create balance. Drugs like cocaine put the dopamine system into overdrive, which of course, feels good. Salvinorin-A works in the opposite way, reducing the amount of dopamine within the system, and causing what is known as “dysphoria”, the opposite of euphoria. Don’t let this put you off, though; dysphoria doesn’t cause depression or feelings of sadness. While euphoria makes us feel happy, it also makes us feel connected to everything. Dysphoria, on the other hand, makes us take a step back, and feel disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. This in turn allows things to be viewed objectively, without emotional attachment.
Lastly, Salvia has the ability to affect interoception. Interoception refers to the body’s internal state at any given time. When drugs like cocaine are used, parts of the brain compare the body before, during, and after its use. The brain comes to the conclusion that things are better when cocaine is used, and thus begins to act as if this is the norm. As a result, the body also tends to magnify bad things, such as aches and pains, and more natural pleasures feel less rewarding, as the brain doesn’t think they compare. This is a very over simplified explanation of interoception, but should be enough to give you an idea of what is going on in basic terms. Research has shown that vaporizing Salvia manipulates interoception, and can help loosen the hold that other drugs develop on it.
What is for certain is that we have only really just begun to understand the medical potential of Salvia. It is a plant that has been used for centuries, yet has largely gone ignored by Western medicine. It just goes to show, there is still a lot to learn about the plants and herbs of our world. A lot of herbal treatments are dismissed as “mumbo jumbo” and hippie well-wishing, and to be fair, some of it is. But there is a lot that isn’t, holding all kinds of potential. The research that has been done on Salvia so far is very promising, and thanks to being legal in quite a few countries, is moderately easy to research. The research done so far has been on small human samples and animals, but with larger scale studies, who knows what we could find out. Salvia divinorum is set to take a much larger role in future medicine.