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DoubleBlind Mag
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What is Salvia?

Salvia is sometimes compared to cannabis or DMT, but it is far different—here's everything you need to know.

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Updated May 27, 2021

DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here. Editorially reviewed by Madison Margolin.

Salvia, or more specifically Salvia divinorum, is a soft green plant that is part of the mint family. The plant produces a powerfully psychoactive response due to the chemical Salvinorin contained in its leaves. Salvia has long been called an atypical psychedelic because it produces a trip that is very different from other psychedelics like shrooms or LSD.  

History of Salvia

Salvia divinorum purple flowers
Salvia grows in the high humid tropical mountains and can be spotted by its large green leaves, hollow spare stems, and violet flowers. Photo via Flickr

The plant is native to the Sierra Mazateca region of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico. It grows in the high humid tropical mountains and can be spotted by its large green leaves, hollow spare stems, and violet flowers.

The plant and its psychedelic effects have a long history as part of the indigenous Mazatec people’s culture. Traditionally, the plant was used to treat illness by the tribe’s doctors and shamans. Today, it is still used as an entheogen as part of religious ceremonies. To administer the salvia, the Mazatec people would chew the leaves or squeeze and grind the leaves creating a juice to drink. 

In 1962, famed psychedelic researcher Albert Hoffman traveled to Mexico to research salvia and introduced it to the Western world. He sent a cutting of the plant back to Harvard University where it was identified botanically as Salvia Divinorum. Hoffman tried to extract the active chemical in salvia, but was ultimately unsuccessful. 

Today in the United States, salvia is legal in many states including California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, New York, South Carolina, and a few others. 

What Does Salvia Feel Like?

Many people report that as compared with other psychedelics, salvia isn’t a particularly enjoyable experience. Salvia creates a dramatic and sometimes frightening full-body and mind experience. It is not uncommon for those taking salvia to feel an increase of pressure across the entire body. This is a unique effect of salvia and has been coined “salvia gravity”. Others report feeling a sense of stretching or splitting. On the mental side, salvia can create dizziness, increased emotionality and a dreamlike state of consciousness. It is these mental effects that have popularized salvia as an entheogen. 

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Effects of Salvia

Generally, the effects of salvia are a little different than your typical psychedelic. The most common physiological effects are dizziness, perspiration, loss of motor function, slurred speech, chills, and imbalance during standing or walking. At low doses, the cognitive effects include increased body awareness, euphoria, an increased presence of mind, altered perceptions and heightened introspection.

Read: Is Salvia Legal? & Where to Buy Salvia 

At higher doses, salvia can cause “out-of-body” experiences like time distortions, vivid imagery, and traveling to other places, planets or times in your head. The visual hallucinations include depth perception distortions and cubism. 

At hero doses, users record a sense of ego dissolution common among most psychedelics as well as synesthesia and dissociating from their body, mind, and person.  

How Does Salvia Work?

Salvia divinorum plant
Salvia has been called an atypical psychedelic because it acts on an entirely different pathway in the brain than traditional psychedelics. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Salvia has been called an atypical psychedelic because it acts on an entirely different pathway in the brain than traditional psychedelics. Salvinorin A and Salvinorin B, which are the naturally occurring psychoactive chemicals in the plant, are structurally different from other compounds such as THC, DMT, LSD and psilocybin because salvia contains no nitrogen atoms.

Because of this structural difference, salvia actions on the kappa-opioid receptors in the brain without affecting the serotonin receptors targeted by most psychedelics. And while salvia reacts with opioid receptors, scientists believe it does so differently than opioid drugs like heroin. Salvinorin A is the only known naturally-occurring k-opioid receptor agonist. K-opioid receptors are the most abundant opioid receptor in the brain and are involved with pathways that control addiction, pain and depression. 

How Do You Consume Salvia?

The most common way of consuming salvia is by smoking the dry leaves out of a pipe, bong, or joint. Smoking salvia will usually not produce extremely strong psychedelic effects. In traditional Mexican consumption, users would chew the leaves into a cud and hold the juices in their mouths for increased absorption. 

Brewing the leaves to create tea is also an option. To do this, take three to four grams of dried leaves and boil them in water for five minutes before letting it steep for another 15. However, salvinorin can not be absorbed through the stomach so the tea needs to be held in your mouth for 12-20 seconds for each sip. 

Salvia and its psychedelic effects have a long history as part of the indigenous Mazatec people’s culture. Traditionally, the plant was used to treat illness by the tribe’s doctors and shamans.

As salvia has become more commercialized, extracts are available online or at local smoke shops. These extracts can be anywhere from five to 10+ times more concentrated and are used to induce intense trips. Extracts are involved in the most unique way of consuming salvia, tinctures. These tinctures are the purified liquid extract placed under the tongue to offer a quicker onset of action and sometimes lengthen the experience.  

How Long Does Salvia Last?

Unlike many other psychedelics, salvia is very short-acting. When smoking it, the height of the experience only lasts between 30 seconds and five minutes. Its onset is immediate and dissipates quickly. Chewing the leaves over several minutes creates a slightly longer trip between 30 and 90 minutes and a tincture under the tongue can create a 10 to 20-minute experience. The after-effects and comedown can last between 30 and 120 minutes depending on the type of consumption. 

Salvia Dosage

When smoking salvia, a typical dose is between 0.2 to 0.5 grams, but many people find it difficult to achieve the full effects from smoking salvia at these dosages or in fact through smoking it at any dose. You might require multiple large hits off a bong or pipe and that is still no guarantee of a large enough dose to hit a high level of salvia inhalation. For sublingual consumption, a typical dose is between 10 and 50 grams of fresh (not dried) leaf or about six to 30 leaves. Extracts usually come in 5x, 6x and 10x concentrations and here a single hit will be more than enough. 

Salvia vs. Cannabis

Dried Salvia divinorum flakes next to a ruler
The most common way of consuming salvia is by smoking the dry leaves out of a pipe, bong, or joint. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Salvia and cannabis are sometimes grouped together because they are both naturally occurring plants that are commonly smoked to induce a psychoactive experience. But that is where the similarity ends. Cannabis generally produces a mellow high that lasts between one and four hours and will not usually produce hallucinations. Salvia is not a casual afternoon high type of drug. It is an intense and fast-acting psychedelic. And while weed acts on cannabinoid receptors, salvia acts on opioid ones. At very low doses of salvia, some may see similarities between being stoned like dizziness and some euphoria. 

Read: Legal Highs: The Top Legal Psychoactive Plants in the US and Canada

However, there is chat among users that combining cannabis with salvia can mellow out the salvia, producing a more enjoyable experience. According to Reddit user Teleo, “If you’re a regular smoker, then I’d actually recommend smoking a little before blasting off on salvia. Calmed me down and helped me have a better trip-am a regular Cannabis user. If not, can’t hurt imo unless you’re prone to anxiety on weed”

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Salvia vs. DMT

Salvia and DMT are also sometimes grouped together because they are both drugs that can produce powerful mystical experiences. They are both entheogens and have been used in religious ceremonies. But they produce different effects due to salvia’s action on opioid receptors and DMTs action on 5-HT2A secretion receptors. Salvia is described as more fragmented, confusing and disconcerting due to touch and auditory hallucinations along with visual ones while DMT is reported to be more lucid and controlled. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for support. If you’re looking for peer support during or after a psychedelic experience, contact Fireside Project by calling or texting 6-2FIRESIDE.
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