Salvia: The Legal Hallucinogenic Drug

Many homeowners are familiar with salvia as an easy-to-grow flowering plant.

What is less well known is that salvia divinorum, one of the 700 species of the plant, is a powerful hallucinogenic that is being used by many teenagers and young adults.  The herb, which is commonly known by the names “Magic Mint” and “Sally D,” is legal in most states.  It is widely available on the Internet and in many tobacco stores, head shops and stores that sell herbal medicines.

Salvia Divinorum: Not Safe – Psychologically Risky

Salvia divinorum is common to southern Mexico, Central America and South America, where native populations have used it for spiritual ceremonies for centuries.  Traditionally, the leaves of the herb were chewed but today they are more often dried and then smoked.  The use of salvia is on the rise, possibly because of its legal status and easy availability.  The Internet has also contributed to its growing popularity by spreading the word about its effects.

The drug was recently in the news when it was revealed that Tucson massacre suspect Jared Loughner was known to use salvia on a regular basis.  Several weeks ago, pop singer and former Disney Channel television star Miley Cyrus was captured on video smoking from a bong which contained what she claimed to be salvia.  Her father released the following statement on Twitter following circulation of the video, “Sorry guys. I had no idea. Just saw this stuff for the first time myself. Im so sad [sic]. There is much beyond my control right now.”

Salvia is characterized by an intense high that comes on quickly.  Unlike long-lasting chemical hallucinogens like LSD, the effects of salvia wear off in 30 minutes or less.  While it lasts, the high is described by many as disorienting rather than pleasurable.  Hallucinations and delusions that mimic psychosis are often part of salvia’s high.  People who have smoked salvia are unable to interact with their surroundings, leading to concerns about drivers who are under the influence of the herb.

A 2009 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 5.7 percent of high school seniors reported using salvia within the past year, a higher percentage than those who admitted to using ecstasy. One death has been attributed to salvia divinorum.  The story of 16-year-old Brett Chidester has been covered in the media and was recently the focus of a segment on ABC’s Nightline.  The gifted student committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning after experimenting with saliva.  His parents have successfully campaigned to have salvia outlawed in their home state of Delaware and continue to campaign for national statutes against the herb.

Currently there are no studies available on the short and long term effects of salvia divinorum on the brain.  There has also been no research on safe dosage levels.  Because the drug has only recently become popular in America, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has not yet listed it as a controlled substance.  However, it is listed as a drug of concern and may soon be classified as a Schedule I drug similar to marijuana or LSD.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous