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What Is Salvia Divinorum?

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive drug like no other. This powerful, psychedelic plant is native to the moisture-rich cloud forests of Mexico and belongs to the sage genus. In fact, “Salvia divinorum” translates roughly to “Diviner's Sage,” highlighting the drug’s spiritual characteristics and importance to native communities of Mexico. Of the many Salvia species, only Salvia divinorum contains the active compound Salvinorin A, which is responsible for inducing psychological effects.

What is fascinating about Salvia in regard to other psychoactives, is how different its properties are from drugs like mushrooms and LSD. Whereas many psychoactive compounds are classified as alkaloids, Salvinorin A is a pure chemical that induces intense, sometimes frightening effects in the smallest of measured doses. Salvinorin A acts on different opioid receptors than other psychedelics, which positions it in a league of its own. In a word, Salvia is potent and should be respected as such.

Shamanic and Cultural History of Salvia Divinorum

Salvia Divinorum comes from the remote regions of the Sierra Mazateca mountains of South America. Among the indians that live in this region, Salvia divinorum is considered a sacred plant that has been used in shamanic rituals.

Maria Sabina, the best known Mazatec curandera or shaman, dedicated her life to the healing work with psilocybin mushrooms and Salvia divinorum. She once famously remarked that when the mushrooms are not available, she resorts to the use of salvia. She noted that salvia doesn’t have as much strength as the mushrooms, but that could also have been due to the fact that she prepared an infusion with the leaves. While a salvia tea produces psychoactive effects, it is not nearly as strong as a the quid method, for example.

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Although it is theorized that Salvia has been used for centuries, it was not “discovered” by the Western world until the famous ethnobotanist, R. Gordon Wasson researched the psychoactive nature of the plant. R. Gordon Wasson is most notably the botanist who introduced psilocybin containing mushrooms to the West.

But also among the native Mazatec the discovery of salvia could possibly have been a rather recent event. What points to this is that the Mazatecs do not actually have a native name for the plant, and refer to it as “hojas de María Pastora”, translating into “leaves of Mary the shepherdess”. It is still not entirely clear, how far back the use of salvia among the native tribes goes. Since the plant is endemic only to a small region of Mexico, it could have well been missed by many indians. And those who lived in the area might have lost knowledge about it during the turbulent times of the spanish invasion. It remains a mystery whether the plant was without name only for the generation that Wasson encountered, or if the psychoactive powers of the plant indeed were unknown to previous generation as well.

As a result of this, Wasson went onto suggest that salvia could possibly be what the Aztecs called “Pipiltzintzintli” – meaning “purest little prince”. This was referenced in a 17th century writing, and would help explain the potential origins of the plant; however, many believe this old reference to be cannabis, and not salvia.

In Western society, research into Salvia did not start until the 1930’s, where it was described by Jean Basset Johnson as he was researching the Mexican use of psychedelics. Johnson described the leaves of the plant as being used as part of psychedelic rituals. This led to Wasson conducting further research into the plant in the 1950’s, when he confirmed that it contained psychedelic properties. In a collaboration with Albert Hoffman (the inventor of LSD), and Robert G. Weitlaner, a living sample of saliva was brought back to the West for study and classification in the early 60’s.

The pharmacological side of the plant remained somewhat clouded until the 90’s when Daniel Siebert began research into the plant again. Since then, the main active compound of saliva - Salvinorin A - has been identified, although there is still much to be discovered about the plant.


There are a number of different methods for consuming Salvia of varying efficacies, including tinctures, extracts and oral intake. Salvia extracts are highly concentrated and even more potent than dried leaves. It’s advised that consumers measure their doses out - it’s that strong! Tinctures are used less, due to their inaccessibility. Consumers can also chew on Salvia leaves to experience the effects if they choose.

In traditional Mazatec ceremonies, the leaves were ground into a fine pulp, which was then infused into a liquid for consumption. This method prolongs the effects of the Salvia past what most recreational users are looking for in the experience.


The effects of Salvia divinorum cannot be overstated, especially for new users. Even those with experience smoking cannabis or consuming other psychedelics will note the singular power of this recreational drug.

To give some perspective, small doses of Salvia can in fact be calming and euphoric to the consumer, however, this is not what most people experience after taking a huge bong rip. After smoking Salvia, the effects become activated in under a minute.



From the onset, smokers are thrust into an altered reality, losing ties with their regular social behavior, thought patterns and relationship with time and space for a number of minutes. While the effects of smoking Salvia rarely last longer than twenty minutes, the consumer may experience a prolonged sense of time.

The effects of Salvia divinorum are categorised by the “Salvia Experiential Scale” which rates the experience on a spectrum from least intense to most, corresponding to each letter of the word “Salvia”. They increase as follows: (S)ubtle Effects, (A)ltered Perception, (L)ight Visionary State, (V)ivid Visionary State, (I)mmaterial Existence, Amnesic Effects. Be warned that the differences between Subtle and Amnesic effects are significant, as maximum effects can cause total dissociation in some users.


In general, Salvia produces minimal side effects other than those associated with the high. Some smokers cite anecdotal evidence of Salvia-induced headaches and racing hearts, but nothing lasts more than a couple minutes after the trip subsides. Salvia doesn’t encourage significant after effects, making it a safe drug to use as long as smokers are supervised by sober friends, better known as “trip sitters.”

The trip sitter is especially important since the real dangers associated with Salvia are the smoker’s drug-induced inhibitions and subsequent physical confusion. While there are no cases of terminal overdoses to Salvia divinorum, there have been cases of individuals becoming aggressive and harming themselves or others (often by accident) while high.

While under the intoxication of Salvia, users should not have access to nearby guns, knives and other sharp objects or machinery that could cause harm to anyone. While most individuals on Salvia don’t pose a threat, it’s better to be safe than sorry!


Salvia legality

Salvia is legal in most parts of the world and can be easily purchased online or in person in swaths across Europe and the Americas. There are no penalties for purchasing Salvia divinorum, however, driving under the influence of this psychedelic can still warrant arrest and is extremely dangerous both to the smoker and to other drivers and pedestrians.

Some first time drug users take Salvia’s legal status as a sign that it’s is a casual drug. On the contrary, the effects of Salvia, especially on first time smokers, are far more potent, overwhelming and scary than toking off a joint. Salvia can be consumed safely and can bring about emotional and spiritual development for those who know when and how to use it; however, it is still a drug that should be taken responsibly.


One of the great things about Salvia is that it is NOT addictive! Given its intensity, Salvia is a drug often used occasionally for a specific purpose, not regularly to self-medicate. Salvia’s fleeting psychological and physical highs are a fundamental reason so many people are willing to undergo this sometimes frightening process as an experiment in expanding their consciousness.

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