I started getting this question from my younger patients about 3 years ago, and realize now that it’s more popular than we think. “It’s legal” is what my patients say, so it must be safe right?
Salvia divinorum (salvia) is a plant that is enjoying increased popularity as a legal hallucinogen in many areas of the United States. Salvia is an herb of the mint family. Plants, leaves, and extracts are available for purchase over the internet, where it is marketed as a legal and safe hallucinogen on many websites.
The active ingredient is salvinorin which is poorly absorbed from the GI tract, and that’s why many smoke it. The usual dose is 10 to 20 fresh leaves chewed or 2 to 5 dried leaves smoked. Salvia divinorum is not yet a federally controlled substance in the US, though the US Drug Enforcement Agency has listed it as a Drug of Concern and it is now a controlled substance in Australia and several European countries.
Salvia is a hallucinogen. A "hallucinogen" describes substances whose main effects are alteration of sensory perception, mood, and thought patterns. The hallucinogenic effects of Salvia normally last one to two hours, but less when it is smoked. Like other drugs in this class, it can produce sensory distortions and many users report a sense of calm, elevated mood, and introspection. There have been no deaths or cases of severe toxicity reported, yet.
How common is it? A sample of college students from a large public university in the southwestern U.S. in 2009 revealed that of 1516 college students, 4.4% of them reporting using salvia at least once within the past 12 months. Those most likely to use salvia were whites, males, fraternity members, and heavy episodic drinkers. While other hallucinogens have been studied (LSD, PCP, Peyote, Dextromethorphan, and Psilocybin found in mushrooms), there are no studies yet to identify whether there are any negative consequences experienced by a user of Salvia.
I anticipate the DEA will move to make this a controlled substance and having seen the known effects of the other hallucinogens listed above when used frequently, I don’t like that our kids have access to Salvia. Neither should you.