Avid gardeners may think of salvia as a small, green, leafy, beautifully scented plant that resists drought and performs well in sunshine as well as shade. While it’s true that salvia, also known as sage, can be a gardener’s dream, one variety of this species of plant can be incredibly dangerous for people who take it on a recreational basis. This form of salvia, known as Salvia divinorum, can produce powerful symptoms in those brave enough to take it, and those people who do experiment with the drug may have experiences they wish they could forget.
Origins of Salvia
Salvia is often lumped in with “new” drugs of abuse, such as bath salts and K2. While it’s true that these drugs seem to be new to drug users in the United States, salvia differs from its counterparts in that it is a very old drug that is just now coming into use in the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, salvia has been used by Mazatec Indians for generations, as part of their ritual divination and healing ceremonies. It’s unclear when the drug made the move from ritual use to recreational use, but it is clear that modern users don’t use the drug as part of a supervised ceremony. Instead, modern users seem to take the drug solely for entertainment purposes.
Producers of salvia grow the plants under deeply controlled conditions, hoping to maximize the potency of the plants they’re prepared to sell. It’s not a precise process, and as a result, the effects a salvia user can experience can vary wildly from dose to dose, depending on the dealer bought from and the health of the plants that dealer has grown. In most cases, users buy dried leaves of salvia that are then chewed, brewed into tea or smoked. Some dealers sell salvia oil, containing a remarkably potent amount of the active ingredient in salvia.
People who take salvia report an intense, hallucinatory state in which:
- Visual perceptions change
- Emotions swing
- Muscles lock
- Detachment takes hold
- The external reality seems false
- Hallucinations occur
- Fear and panic set in
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these symptoms begin in as little as one minute, and they tend to last for under 30 minutes. During that time, the person on salvia might seem calm or just confused on the outside. On the inside, however, the person might be undergoing a strange and terrifying experience, and that person might be completely unable to express what is happening or ask for help. Some users find this experience to be horrifying, and they may never use the drug again. Other people respond to this experience with interest, reporting that they’ve experienced the world in a whole new way, and want to learn even more the next time around. People who respond in this way might be likely to become habitual users of salvia.
How Salvia Works
Research on this drug is ongoing, but scientists believe that the active ingredient in salvia, known as salvinorin A, is one of the most powerful hallucinogens known to man. In a study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, researchers suggest that salvia is effective in doses as small as 200 to 500 mcg, making it, “the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen thus far isolated.” It’s clear that people who experiment with this drug are experimenting with an incredibly powerful substance that could, quite possibly, overwhelm them on the very first dose.
Researchers writing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence indicate that salvia works on the serotonin system in the brain. This powerful neurotransmitter and its receptors are often triggered by drugs of addiction, including cocaine and MDMA. It’s well known that people who abuse these two drugs face a variety of long-term health effects due to their abuse, such as heart problems, ongoing depression and learning disorders. It’s unknown whether salvia causes these same issues, but it’s quite possible that the link is there, since the drug works on the same chemical pathway used by these other powerful drugs of addiction.
Since salvia abuse is relatively new, researchers have very little knowledge about the drug’s long-term consequences. Case studies of abusers, however, seem to indicate that those who take the drug on a regular basis may struggle with lasting side effects.
In one such case study, a 15-year-old user experienced ongoing changes, three days after salvia use, including:
- Déjà vu
- Slow speech
- Thought blocking, in which speech is suddenly stopped for a minute or more
- Lack of emotional reactivity
Cases like this seem to indicate that salvia abuse, occurring over a long period of time, could cause problems that don’t disappear on their own. In addition, studies cited by the NIDA found that salvinorin A in rodents produced poor learning and memory scores. This could be a dangerous finding, indicating that long-term damage could result from salvia abuse, but more work should be done on humans to see if the same effects apply.
Medical experts define addiction as a brain disease in which use of a drug becomes compulsive. The chemical changes in the brain, caused by the addiction, make the user simply unable to make good decisions regarding drug use. Multiple studies have found evidence of brain changes in people who abuse drugs, and when that evidence is found, researchers can safely claim that the drug is addictive. Permanent brain changes mean addiction is likely. When it comes to salvia, this link is far from clear. The drug is relatively new, as mentioned, which means that research has not yet been performed to such a degree that experts agree on whether or not the drug is addictive. Until those studies have been completed, it’s hard to know, for sure, whether or not this drug is truly addictive.
Researchers have conducted studies on salvia users, and come up with conflicting results. In one study, for example, researchers for the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that most users of salvia did not cross the line into dysfunctional use. In other words, they used the drug and they planned to use it again, but they had control over their use. This seems to indicate that salvia is not addictive. A second study of users, conducted for the National Institutes of Health, suggests that recent and former salvia users had a greater risk of past-year depression, compared to those who did not use the drug. This might be an indication of brain changes, which might mean salvia is addictive. Until more research is conducted and the results are clear, all salvia users should assume that the drug is addictive, and that using the drug could lead to compulsive use, either right away or somewhere down the line. This is the safest course to take to ensure that an addiction doesn’t set in and catch the user by surprise.
The Need for Help
While salvia remains legal in some states, the National Association of Attorneys General reports that many states are passing legislation that would block the possession and use of this drug. As a result, people who are accustomed to growing their own plants and using them on a regular basis could face significant jail time for activities they once considered legal. Those who are accustomed to buying the drug quickly and easily to keep a habit alive might also find it much more difficult to obtain salvia, once legislation passes.
These might be excellent reasons for people to stop using salvia, and at Axis, we’re here to help. Our treatment programs provide a tailor-made approach to addiction, using top-notch scientific methods to help people overcome their addiction issues and learn how to live sober lives. To find out more about our treatment program for salvia addiction, call us today. Operators are standing by.