Sativah and salvia divinorum

Originally Published: July 11, 2003 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 17, 2008
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Dear Alice,

Recently I have heard about a new hallucinogen available called salvia dinorium. Some of my friends have tried it and they tell me it is an incredible experience and that when you hallucinate, you have the perception of being brought back in time. Before I even think about trying this, however, I would like to have a more precise idea of what the effects are and what the possible risks of taking salvia are.

thanks a lot,
a curious reader

Dear a curious reader,

Salvia Divinorum (you were close on the spelling) is a wild herb in the mint and sage families that once grew exclusively within a small region of Sierra Mazatec, Mexico. Its leaves contain the potent hallucinogen, Salvinorin A, which creates hallucinogenic experiences. Often a rolled up ball, a "quid" of salvia is made from the leaves and chewed, swallowed, or smoked.

Legal in many countries, S. Divinorum's long-term effects and addictive nature are unknown. Salvia has been listed in toxicology studies as non-toxic and not habit-forming, but other sources state that research may be too limited to tell. As a result, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lists Salvia as a drug or chemical "of concern." Its presence and use has spread around the world and can be seen across continents from Canada to South America.

S. Divinorum is not a social or party drug since it creates an out-of-reality state in a person that often blurs the distinction between real life and dreams/fantasies. Salvia creates introspective moments of contemplation and meditation. This drug is linked to deep meditative states, mysticism, and exploration of the nature of consciousness and reality. Historically, shamans used this herb in healing rituals.

Salvia is widely known as the herbal drug for experimentalists, a community of users seeking meditative "trips." But it is not usually compared with other hallucinogens, such as LSD or mescaline. A large dose of natural Salvia is as potent as smaller doses of synthetic LSD, but its chemical interaction with the body, as well as its hallucinogenic effects, are different.

The effects of this herbal drug are more similar to the effects of alcohol on a person, interfering with and/or negatively affecting judgment, ability to drive, speech, and coordination. Operating heavy machinery is also not recommended while under the influence of any drug, which makes sense when Salvia affects the ability to tell fact from fiction.

Salvia itself (pure Salvinorin A) is too strong for most people. It's also hard to measure or regulate when it's in its pure form. Salvia leaf, which can be measured more accurately, and is less potent, is the form of this hallucinogen that is most used.

The S-A-L-V-I-A scale can explain the levels of impact that occur with S. Divinorum. Each letter in SALVIA represents a range of the effects Salvia has on the body. The potency of the experience increases with each consecutive letter. And Salvia users move from one stage to the next by increasing the amount of drugs present in the Salvia experience:

S: Level One — "Subtle" effects of Salvia in small doses
  • Perception that "something" is happening, with no explanation
  • Relaxation
  • Meditative feelings and heightened sexual sensations
A: Level Two — "Altered" perception
  • Enhanced colors and textures
  • Changed space and depth perception
  • Dream-like experience, "eye candy" hallucinations with closed eyes
  • Awareness of distinction between fleeting visual effects and reality
L: Level Three — "Light" visionary state
  • Clear images with fractal and geometric patterns with eyes closed
  • Two-dimensional imagery with eyes closed
  • Vague images or dream-like "eye candy" hallucinations, without confusion with reality
V: Level Four — "Vivid" reaction
  • Impression of a complete, dream-like state of alternate reality with eyes closed
  • Complex, three-dimensional images with eyes closed
  • Hearing of voices
  • Knowledge of reality with eyes open
  • "Shaman" level; journeys to foreign lands, encounters with spiritual beings, feelings of becoming another person
I: Level Five — "Immaterial" existence with consciousness severely affected
  • Lack of individuality; universal consciousness merges with other objects, real or imagined
  • Lucid thought processes; movement coupled with confusion
  • Extreme pleasure or fear felt by the experimenter
  • "Sitter" level; need for someone else present who watches and ensures an injury-free, reassuring experience for the disoriented person
  • Absence of reality; wrapped in an inner experience
A: Level Six — "Amnesic (amnesia-like effects)" — the most extreme
  • Loss of consciousness; no memory of experience afterwards
  • Falling down; thrashing about
  • No perception or recollection of pain or newly acquired injuries
  • Deep trance-like state not often sought, since no memory remains after the experience
  • No recollection and loss of all control, thus discouraged by most sources

The effects of S. Divinorum can last from a few minutes to four hours. The length and intensity of the Salvia trip is influenced by the method used to get high. With inhaling, reactions are rapid, within as early as 30 seconds; they are intense, short-lived, and last up to one hour. With oral ingestion, effects occur within approximately ten to fifteen minutes and last up to four hours. Intensity with ingestion of Salvia is related to the strength of the herb and dosage. Also, about 10 to 15 percent of Salvia users feel no effects at all.

Much of the information about Salvia found on the web is not scientific. As a result, the information needs to be examined closely and evaluated or verified.

For more information, you can visit the Salvia divinorum Research and Information Center website.

Again, Salvia is not widely studied, so individuals may experience different effects and/or consequences. Keep these in mind when deciding whether to experiment.

Alice