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Salvia as a Hallucinogen

Updated on January 26, 2011

While some varieties of salvia have been used as decorative plants and practical medicine for many years, the hallucinogenic effects of the plant have recently become a subject of controversy. The use of salvia extracts as hallucinogenic substances pre-dates the introduction of European ancestors in the western world. Ancient Aztecs reportedly used the leaves of the plant in a “tea” that was ingested as part of many rituals. The plant has also been used by several other Native American tribes to induce “visions” and produce insight. Feelings of greater self-confidence and a sense of being more connected to the world and surroundings is often reported by many salvia users.

The effects of salvia as a hallucinogen are often short-term, and frequently cause both auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as what some would describe as out of body experiences. These effects typically last anywhere from five to twenty minutes. Salvia plant extracts contain an active compound known as Salvinorin A. This compound is one of the most potent hallucinogenic plant compounds ever documented.


When ingested, the effects of salvia are diminished, since acids in the gastrointestinal tract destroy the properties of Salvinorin A. In small doses, salvia can be used to treat frequent headaches, diarrhea, bloating, certain kinds of neuropathy, and is a natural diuretic. However, when the leaves of the plant are smoked, the psychoactive compounds of salvia are allowed to enter the bloodstream much more quickly. The effects of salvia can be felt almost immediately when the leaves are smoked, and the most intense effects are noticed within the first five minutes of smoking.

The hallucinogenic effects of salvia can also be acquired through the use of a quid or a tincture. A quid is a bunch of leaves that are chewed to release internal plant extracts and compounds. The quid is not swallowed, but extracts are absorbed through the mouth. A tincture works in a similar manner, with extracts being absorbed under the tongue. Salvia tinctures are typically sublingual compounds, allowing the body to absorb the active compounds without ingesting them. A tincture contains salvia extracts, rather than the actual leaves.

Salvia is different from other types of psychoactive compounds in terms of how it affects the brain. Salvia compounds do not interfere with serotonin receptors, resulting in more short-term effects and reduced potential for addiction. However, abuse of salvia as a hallucinogenic by a number of teens and young adults has recently prompted greater public concern over the legality of the plant in many parts of the world.


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