Salvia divinorum is a mind-altering herb that has major adverse effects. It is illegal in some states and recreational use should be discouraged.
The active component of Salvia divinorum is a compound known as Salvinorin A. This has been shown to act on the nervous system to produce altered mental states. In laboratory and animal studies, Salvinorin A has been shown to affect certain pain receptors in the nervous system.
This is only supported by anecdotal reports.
There is one report of Salvia divinorum’s effectiveness in treatment-resistant depression. More studies are needed.
Based on the chemistry of Salvia divinorum, some scientists have suggested using the herb to treat addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines. Large-scale clinical trials have yet to be conducted to support this use.
Use of Salvia by itself or in combination with alcoholic beverages and other drugs can cause neurologic, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal effects.
A 15-year-old man with a history of salvia and marijuana use needed emergency psychiatric service following acute onset of mental status changes characterized by paranoia, blunted affect, thought blocking and slow speech.
Smoking salvia has been implicated in the death of a 21-year-old man.
Salvia divinorum, a type of sage, has been cultivated by the Mazatec people of Mexico for centuries for use as a hallucinogen during religious ceremonies. Chewing or smoking the leaves can cause depersonalization, visual changes, altered perceptions, and feelings of metamorphosis into objects (1). The plant was also reported to have antidepressant effects (4). Salvinorin A, a hallucinogenic compound found in the plant, was shown to have deleterious effects on learning and memory (13)(14).
Salvia divinorum has also gained popularity as a recreational drug and is widely available through the internet (2)(3). Analysis of the 2006-2008 United States National Surveys on Drug Use and Health indicates an 83% increase in the number of salvia users; its use was common among active drug users (11). Salvia was also among the top five products marketed via the Internet in the UK in 2009 (12).
There are adverse effects reported due to abuse. Some states have considered legislation to ban consumption of this herb and it is illegal in Australia, Finland and Denmark. Salvia divinorum should not be confused with the other sages used for cooking and medicinal purposes, such as Salvia officinalis, the common sage.
Mechanism of Action
Salvinorin A, the active ingredient in Salvia divinorum, is a kappa opioid receptor agonist (6). It is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound and is being investigated as a treatment for diseases that produce hallucinations, such as schizophrenia and dementia (1). Salvinorin A can regulate dopamine levels and has been suggested as a potential treatment for stimulant abuse (5). Salvia divinorum may help to alleviate depression (4).
Use of salvia by itself or in combination with alcoholic beverages and other drugs can cause neurologic, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal effects (7).
A 15-year-old man with a history of salvia and marijuana use needed emergency psychiatric service following acute onset of mental status changes characterized by paranoia, blunted affect, thought blocking and slow speech (9).
Smoking salvia has been implicated in the death of a 21-year-old man (10).