History of Salvia
In the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, the Salvia divinorum plant is cultivated by the indigenous Mazatec Indians. For centuries, Curanderos (folk healers or shamans) have collected fresh leaves of the sacred Salvia plant for spiritual divination rituals and cure ailments from inflammation and headaches, to depression and addiction. Salvia divinorum translates to “of the seer.” The Mazatecs also refer to it as “hojas de Maria Pastora” which translates to “leaves of the Mary Shepherdess,” alluding to the Virgin Mary and the sacred space it holds within their culture. Its leaves secrete a resin containing Salvinorin A, the most naturally occurring psychedelic in the world. Through ritual, the leaves are either crushed and made into an extract for drinking, or chewed and swallowed. Between 15-50 leaves are gathered based on the dosage for the weight of the patient. As the Curandero chants to invoke Mazatec and Christian deities the patient chews and swallows the leaves. As the ritual comes to an end, the remaining leaves are crushed and made into an extract for the patient to drink. Patients report an increase in visual vivid imagery, bodily lightness or weightlessness, and euphoria. Salvia was introduced to the West when anthropologist R. Gordon Wasson ventured to Mexico in search of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Wasson brought a live sample of the plant to the United States in 1962 where it was identified as Salvia divinorum.
While the Mazatecs consume Salvia ceremoniously for medicinal and religious purposes, in the West the plant is typically smoked recreationally where it is referred to as “Magic Mint,” or “Sally D.” Salvia is legal in most parts of the world. In Canada, Salvia is a controlled substance and only legal for medical, scientific, or industrial purposes. Currently there are no industrial or commercial uses for Salvia in Canada. In the United States Salvia entered the spotlight as users posted viral videos of themselves under the influence on YouTube. As a result it gathered the attention of news media and legislators and it is now illegal across the majority of the United States.
Daniel Seibert, a botanist, is the first person to discover how to extract Salvinorin A for human pharmacology. Seibert tested the extract by smoking, paving the way for the commercialization and recreational use of Salvia in the United States. Today he continues to research Salvia and maintains the Salvia Divinorum’s Research and Information Center. Pure Salvinorin A is extremely potent and it’s important to use an accurate chemist scale to measure the appropriate dosage. Salvia leaves are much safer and easier to regulate for dosage. You cannot overdose on Salvia leaves, it is not habit-forming, and it rarely has adverse side-effects. Even so, take care when consuming Salvia because it impairs your physical coordination, and drastically alters perception and behavior. It should be taken in a private and safe setting either alone or with 1-2 close friends.
There are several traditional and modern methods to consume Salvia. Traditionally the Mazatecs chew and swallow the leaves slowly over the course of 30 minutes. There are two modern methods of consuming Salvia via quid and smoking. A quid is a small ball of rolled leaves that is chewed slowly, every 10 seconds, while the quid is kept under the tongue between chews over the course of 30 minutes. A quid can be made with fresh or dried leaves and sweetened with sugar or honey to alleviate the bitter taste. To form a quid, use a scale to measure 2-8 grams of dried leaves. Then soak the leaves for 10 minutes before rolling into a ball. A quid made with fresh leaves requires between 8-28 large leaves. Keep in mind it takes 10-15 minutes to kick in and 30 minutes to experience the full effects. The experience lasts anywhere between 30-60 minutes thereafter. The other modern method is smoking via pipe, bong, or short-stemmed tobacco pipe. The flame should be held directly above the leaves and drawn into the leaves as you inhale. Smoking Salvia has an immediate onset and its effects are strongest for the first 5-6 minutes and tapers off within 20-30 minutes.
There are other, more potent, forms to smoke Salvia such as extract-enhanced leaves or the vaporization of pure Salvinorin A. Both extract-enhanced leaves and pure Salvinorin A can be vaporized. Yet if you are consuming vaporized Salvia it is highly recommended that a sitter is present. Additionally Seibert strongly advises against smoking pure Salvinorin A because it is extremely potent, easy to overdose, and requires an expensive high-grade chemist scale to measure dosage down to the millionths of a gram. As for microdosing, at this time there are no comprehensive studies on its safety or effectiveness. The results of microdosing vary according to anecdotal personal accounts. While some users say it has “ruined” Salvia, others say it has helped improve their mood.
Salvia has varying effects depending on the dosage, the potency or purity of the product, and the method of consumption. It mainly causes hallucinations and dissociation from reality. So while you may have a pleasurable experience, those who are prone to psychotic episodes or mental health issues might also experience anxiety, confusion and paranoia. Physical effects are rapid heart rate, impaired speech, uncontrollable laughter, and impaired motor skills. While using Salvia your thoughts and emotions are impaired as you lose contact with reality which can lead to injuries. Salvia should be taken with the supervision of a sitter who can intervene if the user unknowingly places themselves in a precarious situation that could lead to injury.
In its mild form, you experience relaxation. In this state Salvia is most useful for meditation or sexual pleasure. The second level is an altered state where you experience enhanced colors and textures. Visions occur at the third level while your eyes are closed. Most often the imagery is two-dimensional but not yet confused with reality. At the fourth level you enter a dreamlike state where you’ll experience three-dimensional images. You may feel as if you’re travelling to another world encountering other beings. The fifth level is the peak where you’ll experience dissociation and detach from reality. At this point you’re fully immersed in your inner experiences. You should have a sitter present at this time. On the outside you might appear to be disoriented and confused. The sixth stage is not exactly desirable and you might be prone to falling, thrashing, and even sustain injuries without feeling pain. At this point you could lose consciousness and the ability to remember what has happened.
Salvia is a type of sage that belongs to the mint family. The plant is rarely found growing in the wild and much of its existence is attributed to cultivation by the indigenous people of Mexico. Structurally, the plant does not have a pollen tube and produces very few seeds, which further suggests the plant has been reproduced by selective breeding or hybridization. What sets Salvia apart is its active component of the diterpene Salvinorin A. Unlike common psychedelics like LSD and MDMA, Salvinorin A does not target the serotonin system. Rather it bonds to kappa opioid receptors (or KOR) making it what scientists refer to as a “KOR agonist.” KOR agonists are known to affect our perception and this is what gives Salvia it’s “divination” like properties through dissociation and visions.
MEDICAL USES / BENEFITS / RISKS
For all its benefits, Salvia is not a drug without risks. Do not take Salvia with other drugs because there is little known about how it might interact with other substances. If you are taking Salvia for the first time, you should have a sitter present to intervene if you unknowingly place yourself in a precarious situation that might cause injury. In all other cases, a sitter should be present if you’re taking a high dose. The sitter’s job is to remain unobtrusive and only use physical force to prevent dangerous situations if it is absolutely necessary. Since Salvia is a conscious altering drug, those with mental health issues or who are prone to psychotic episodes should proceed with extreme caution as it could result in a terrifying and traumatic experience. The discovery of Salvia as a KOR agonist opened a gateway to conceive treatments for diseases that distort perception such as schizophrenia, alzheimers, bipolarism, and depression. A patient diagnosed with depression experienced remission after chewing 2-3 leaves three times a week, with no signs of relapse over the course of 6 months. Patients treated with Salvia also report overall mood enhancement, relaxation, and self-awareness.
Another benefit of Salvia is its potential to combat drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, the Mazatec have used the Salvia plant to treat addiction for hundreds of years. The kappa system works in tandem with dopamine to maintain balance. Dopamine levels affect motivation and our internal sense of what is happening in our bodies. A stimulant, like cocaine, increases dopamine levels causing the euphoria that leads to impulsive and frequent drug use. On the other hand, Salvinorin A lowers dopamine levels which also lowers its potential for addiction to Salvia.
FUTURE OF SALVIA
Salvia has many benefits in self-exploration and personal growth to depression and addiction. For centuries it has been used by the Mazatec Indians in healing and divination ceremonies. However since Salvia drastically alters your coordination, perception, and behavior, it is not without its share of risks. For these reasons, Salvia is not legal for recreational use in Canada and the majority of the United States. We have much to learn about Salvia such as how it interacts with other drugs and long-term effects. The future of Salvia may rest in its potential to alleviate psychiatric conditions.