Woman's hand holding salvia divinorum leaves

Is Salvia Legal?

Salvia Divinorum: legal hallucinogen or banned plant?

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Updated December 26, 2023

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It’s easy to walk by a Salvia divinorum plant without noticing it’s there. It looks much like any other flowering shrub: mostly inconspicuous green leaves, sometimes adorned by long purple and white flowers. Pretty, but not spectacular. Yet, this average-looking shrub has a special power: It produces a unique psychoactive terpene called Salvinorin A, considered to be among the most potent hallucinogens of natural origin. So, of course, salvia is not legal in many Western countries.

Within seconds after smoking the herb, consumers are set adrift into an unusual psychoactive experience, where hallucinations, shifts in sensory perception, and changes in your perception of reality are all possible. But, unlike more famous psychoactives, like LSD, the effects of salvia are short-lived. The average salvia trip lasts a mere 20 minutes when smoked, and up to two hours if chewed.   

What’s Salvia Divinorum? (Diviner’s sage)

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive herb native to southern Mexico—and Salvia divinorum is just one type of salvia. The intoxicating plant is a member of the mint family and a relative of “common sage.” Salvia is so common, in fact, that the plants make up the largest genus in the mint family. Scholars estimate that there are between 700 and 1,000 different species of salvia

Yet, even among such a large family, Salvia divinorum is unique. Most plants in the Salvia genus are non-psychoactive. These non-intoxicating plants are popular choices for flower gardens and decorative landscaping. Salvia divinorum, however, stands out from the crowd. The plant produces a unique class of opioid-like compounds that inspire intense but short-lived hallucinations.

Deeper Learning

“There’s a classic black and white poster of María Sabina smoking, not a joint, but a cigarette. She holds it in a ceremonial way, in a secularly masculine way, between thumb and forefinger, eyes lowered in concentration. So many still think it’s a joint, not sacred tobacco,” writes author Bett Williams. Many know Sabina. as the woman who gave foreigners mushrooms, but that story is incomplete. Continute reading about what makes María Sabina unique.

These psychedelic visions are the inspiration behind the plant’s name. Salvia divinorum is traditionally used in divination amongst Mazatec peoples in Southern Mexico; hence, it is a divinorum. In Mazatec tradition, salvia sits alongside psilocybin and other psychoactive plants with strong spiritual significance. The Mazatec often chew salvia or drink salvia tea in conjunction with prayer and ceremony; the plant has a spirit of its own, and chewing salvia leaves is a way to be in communication with the wild herb. 

Uses of Salvia in contemporary Western culture are quite different; most Western consumers use the plant recreationally, not as an integral part of spiritual practice. It’s also smoked, much like cannabis or tobacco. The plant was introduced to the Western World through Jean Bassett Johnson, an American anthropologist who studied Mazatec shamanism in the 1930s. Yet, while Westerners knew about psychoactive salvia from 1939 onward, the hallucinogenic plant did not become popular within recreational drug culture until after the new millennium. 

Salvia divinorum originally published in The Honest Drug Book via Wikimedia Commons.

Psychoactive salvia exists in a legal gray area. In general, Salvia divinorum is regulated only loosely around the world—it’s legal in more places than it’s not. But, the plant is still out of legal reach for many in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In the United States, the majority of states have banned salvia as a controlled substance. But, not every state has adopted hardline policies toward the plant. Similarly, salvia is regulated differently across Europe. Most European countries have banned the possession and sale of the plant, but a handful, like Denmark, regulate salvia as a potential medicinal plant. 

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United States

Believe it or not, Salvia divinorum is federally legal in the United States. The plant is not included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, making it legally different from cannabis, shrooms, and other psychoactive plants and fungi. But, there’s a catch. While federal law does not regulate salvia, the plant is illegal to possess, process, and sell in most states. 

Here’s where salvia is legal in the United States:

  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon 
  • Rhode Island 
  • South Carolina
  • Washington 

The salvia plant is also legal in California, Maine, and Maryland with age restrictions—you have to be 18 in California and Maine and 21 in Maryland. In the rest of the country, the possession, sale, and/or growth of Salvia divinorum is banned. In some states, salvia may be purchased only when it is not intended for human consumption. It may also be legal to grow salvia in several U.S. states not listed above, but checking local laws is always recommended before you plant it. 

Mexico

Salvia divinorum is native to Mexico. As mentioned above, the plant is still used in the Mazatec tradition as a spiritual aid, and it grows wild in the Sierra Mazateca mountain range in the state of Oaxaca. The plant has a long history in Southern Mexico and is not banned or regulated by the Mexican government. When used for traditional purposes, most Salvia divinorum is foraged in the wild, not bought and sold. Although, it may be possible to buy salvia leaves from markets and other vendors. 

Salvia Trip: The Basics

Salvia is related to cullinary sage, but you won’t get the same experience from smoking the herb in your spice rack. That’s because cullinary sage doesn’t contain the terpene known as salvinorin A. This terpene gives the plant its hallucinogenic effects. Continue reading from James McClure.

Where To Buy Salvia?

Although salvia is legal in many countries, the plant is sold in a variety of different ways. In many countries, psychoactive salvia may be extremely difficult to come by, as the market for the natural hallucinogen is still relatively small and the plant is not heavily exported as a consumer good. Other plants, like cannabis and tobacco, are far more likely to dominate recreational plant markets.

In the United States, salvia can be purchased in smoke shops in states where the plant is legal. Salvia can also be purchased and sold online and shipped to your home. Buying salvia online, however, can come with its own share of risks. Before purchasing online, it’s important to find whether or not it’s legal to do so in your state or country. 

How to Get Salvia Plants

Buying salvia can be a tricky process—the herb is largely unregulated in most places where it is legal, making it difficult to ensure the safety and integrity of salvia products. In Mexico, the herb can be foraged in the wild. But, in other parts of the world, salvia comes from small to medium-scale cultivators.  

Salvia Divinorum Seeds & Plants

Image of Salvia divinorum plant via Wikimedia Commons.

The odd nursery in legal U.S. states may stock Salvia divinorum plants, but chances are the pickings are slim. Most nurseries and garden centers stock many different types of salvia, but divinorum is not often one of them. Even in states where salvia is legal, the plant’s hallucinogenic reputation means that many large nurseries avoid the plant. So, connecting with a local enthusiast may be the easiest way to find a salvia plant if you’re interested in growing one yourself—where it’s legal, of course.

Some small businesses also ship salvia plants and seeds to legal U.S. states. Yet, salvia seeds can be hard to come by; the plant doesn’t produce seeds often, and most salvia plants are sold as cuttings. Before buying, it’s always recommended to check reviews and contact the supplier to ensure you’re purchasing from a safe and reliable source. If a supplier offers to ship plants or seeds to a region that outlaws the plant, consider it risky.

Salvia flowers: Cultivation and Consumption

Growing salvia flowers isn’t that hard. If you have any experience in cultivating flowering plants, you are probably overqualified for the job. And even if you’re new to gardening, growing your own salvia flowers is well within reach for first-time horticulturists. Continue reading from Calvin Hughes.

Dried Salvia

Image of dried salvia via Flickr.

Dried salvia is one of the most common ways to purchase the plant. Dried salvia looks a lot like any dried spice; little flecks of green leaves. But, given the gray legal status of salvia in most Western countries, buying dried salvia from a gas station or head shop can be a risky task. Many products sold as dried salvia or “herbal incense” may actually be different herbs coated with salvia extract. 

If you are legally able to purchase salvia in your own state or country, it is recommended to research local vendors first. Some important questions to ask your vendor include:

  • Do you know the country of origin of this salvia? 
  • Is this dried salvia, or has this product been treated with salvia extract?
  • How does the vendor ensure that they’re selling a pure product? Do they use any quality standards when sourcing their salvia?

Read: Why are Shrooms Illegal?

Psychoactive Salvias: Using Extracts

Salvia extracts contain concentrated Salvinorin A, the primary psychoactive terpene in the plant. This extract is often sprayed onto spice mixes in varying concentrations, which means that you can theoretically smoke salvia that is substantially stronger than what naturally occurs in the plant. But the overall safety of these concentrated extracts is generally unknown; they’re not standardized or subject to basic safety regulations, as put forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Further, the use of extracts is very different from the traditional use of the herb, which is chewed and not smoked. So, overall, salvia extract is a very new commodity and little is known about its relative safety. 

Here’s Where Salvia is Illegal 

Although Salvia divinorum is unregulated in most countries, more than two dozen ban the sale and possession of the plant. In some countries, the plant’s active chemical constituent, salvinorin A, is also banned. Here’s where salvia is illegal:

  • Armenia 
  • Australia 
  • Belgium 
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria 
  • Canada
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic 
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania 
  • Japan 
  • Poland
  • Portugal 
  • Philippines 
  • Romania 
  • Russia 
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Sweden 
  • Switzerland 
  • Ukraine 
  • United Kingdom

Laws regulating salvia use, possession, cultivation, and sale are subject to change. Please research laws in your area before purchasing, selling, or cultivating Salvia divinorum

How to Identify Salvia divinorum

Salvia divinorum shrubs are perennial flowering plants. One of its defining characteristics is its stem, which is square-ish in shape and hollow. It grows up to 1.5 meters high (4.5 feet). Its leaves are jagged and feature a fuzzy or hairy texture. Flowers feature white edges with purple to blue centers. However, it’s important to know that salvia is a popular ornamental plant. Many ornamental species of salvia may closely resemble Salvia divinorum. It’s rare to find Diviner’s sage growing wild outside of Mexico and Central America. Therefore, horticulturalists are advised to get vegetative cuttings from a local propagator. Salvia plants can be difficult to come by due to their legal status.

Love this article on how to find Salvia divinorum? Deepen your learning here.

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DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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