Facts about Salvia divinorum:

  • Salvia divinorum is a type of mint plant that has very potent hallucinogenic properties (Sheffler & Roth, 2003).  It has been used for a long time, by some cultures, in religious and healing ceremonies.  Therefore, it is often referred to as the “diviner’s sage” (NIH, 2016).
  • Over the past couple of decades, the plant has become increasingly available, and it’s use has increased all over the world.  Previously, it was rarely seen outside the limited areas where the plant grows in Oaxaca, Mexico (NIH, 2016).
  • Seedlings and dried leaves are commonly available on the internet, and in some specialized retail shops (in countries where there are no restrictions on the product).  The seeds are not easy to obtain.  It is possible to grow the plant from seedlings, however it is not an easy task.  The plant requires pretty specific growing conditions.
  • Currently, 22 states have made the drug illegal, either by placing Salvia divinorum in the Schedule I category, or by prohibiting its consumption.  Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse (DEA, 2017).  Other states are considering similar legislation.
  • Salvinorin A, is the chemical name, for the extremely potent hallucinogen found in the plant.  It is found in the material secreted from the leaves of the plant.  The pure chemical, salvinorin A, appears as colorless crystals.  The pure form of the crystalline salvinorin A is not generally available online, or in specialized shops.
  • The plant is usually found in the form of dried or crushed leaves, that are often fortified with extracts that are taken from additional leaves of the plant.


  • The traditional users of the drug originally rolled the fresh leaves into a type of cigar or crushed the fresh leaves to make a drinkable extract. Today, the most typical form of recreational use is to smoke the dried & crushed leaves in a smoking device such as a pipe or “bong”.
  • Additionally, the leaves are sometimes chewed, made into a tea, and special liquid mixtures are made that can be used by placing drops under the tongue.

Effects of the drug:

  • The drug causes very intense hallucinations, that are usually fairly brief (DEA, 2003).  However, other effects of the drug can linger for hours.  In addition to the very vivid hallucinations, effects may include, but are not limited to: intense uncontrollable laughter, loss of control over body movements, dizziness, confused boundaries relating to space in time (user may feel like they are taken to some time in the past or future), fatigue, loss of memory, feelings of terror, and psychotic disturbances.  Some reports have indicated a long term psychosis can occur in some individuals. Most people who try the drug do not use it again because the effects are found to be undesirable (Babu, Hayden, & Bryan, 2008).
  • Smoking the drug is reportedly the most dangerous form because it is difficult to control the amount of the drug being inhaled.

How the drug works in the brain:

  • The drug is considered to be an opioid receptor agonist.   An agonist is a drug that activates certain receptors in the brain.  Therefore, an opioid receptor agonist activates opioid receptors in the brain.  The active compound in the drug, salvinorin A, contains what are called the highly selective kappa-opioid receptor agonists (there are 3 main types of opioid receptors). Highly selective means the drug mainly affects the kappa receptor.  The affinity for these receptors is what contributes to the hallucinogenic effects of the drug (Babu, McCurdy, & Boyer, 2008).
  • Our brain’s are filled with nerve cells (a.k.a. neurons) and neurotransmitters.  Below is a picture of two nerve cells.  The top cell is releasing neurotransmitters and the bottom cell is receiving the neurotransmitters, as they attach to receptor sites on the nerve cell.  When the neurotransmitter attaches to the nerve cell, it causes the cell to perform it’s function.  So the neurotransmitters can be thought of as messengers, that carry messages between the nerve cells, telling the nerve cells to carry out an action in the brain.

Nerve Cells with  Receptors

  • Therefore, the active drug in salvinorin A, basically over-activates the same receptor site as an opioid type drug.  The potency may account for some of the adverse side effects, as well as addictive potential, associated with the use of this drug.

Resources for help:

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction.  Please reach out for help.


Babu, O. Hayden, G., & Bryan, L. (2008).  Legally High? Legal Considerations of Salvia
divinorum.  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 40:Vol. 2:p. 188.

Babu, K., McCurdy, C., & Boyer, E. (2008). Opioid receptors and legal highs: Salvia divinorum and Kratom.  Clinical Toxicology: Feb;46(2) p. 146-52. doi: 10.1080/15563650701241795.

Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]. (2017). Drug scheduling. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml

Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]. (2003).  Information Bulletin: Salvia divinorum.
Retrieved from http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/programs/forensicsci/microgram/mg

National Institutes of Health [NIH]. (2016). What are hallucinogens?  Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

Sheffler, D. & Roth, B. (2003). Salvinorin A: the “magic mint” hallucinogen finds a molecular target in the kappa opioid receptor. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences: Mar;24(3): p. 107-9 DOI: 10.1016/S0165-6147(03)00027-0

Note:  States that have placed Salvia divinorum and/or Salvinorin A into a Schedule I category include: Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia. States that otherwise prohibit consumption include: Alabama, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_Salvia_divinorum

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