Salvia belongs to the dissociative class of hallucinogens, best known for the sense of disconnection users feel when using these types of drugs. The effects of salvia in particular tend to border on the bizarre and sometimes dangerous.
As one of many plant-based hallucinogen agents, salvia belongs to the mint family, sometimes going by the name of sage, according to the University of Maryland. While somewhat comparable to other hallucinogens in effect, salvia interacts with the brain’s chemical system in a unique way.
Like other hallucinogens, the potential for addiction remains relatively low compared to other types of drugs; however, excess and/or frequent use of the drug can open the door to the harsh effects of salvia as well as the possibility of serious brain damage.
The Salvia Experience
Native to the southern regions of Mexico, traditional uses of salvia entail chewing the plant leaves or drinking the plant’s juices as part of religious ceremony. Recreational users of salvia smoke the plant leaves or vaporize it for inhalation purposes. The effects of salvia last for a short duration, typically ranging from one to 30 minutes depending on the dosage amount ingested.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the “high” effects of salvia can take a range of forms, including:
- Psychedelic visual effects
- Changes in body perception, such as seeing distortions in limb size or feeling like a disembodied spirit
- Detachment from the surrounding environment
- Inability to interact with one’s surroundings
- Hallucinations or seeing visions
The effects of salvia combined leave users in a helpless state, which can be dangerous depending on where a person uses the drug.
Salvia’s Legal Status
To date, salvia does not appear on the Controlled Substances list. This means all parts of the plant as well as its extracts can be cultivated, bought and sold without a license or prescription. That being so, the effects of salvia can pose a danger to users, so more and more states within the U. S. are taking steps to have the drug banned.
Part of the reason for the drug’s legal status has to do with salvia’s physical make-up. Salvia has a chemical structure unlike any other type of drug. In order for salvia to be considered as a controlled substance, it must share some similarity to other known controlled substances. While the hallucinatory effects of salvia do resemble those of other dissociative drugs in many respects, salvia has been granted a type of immunity due to its unique chemical characteristics.
Effects of Salvia on Brain Function
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the vast majority of hallucinogen drugs work by altering the brain’s glutamate neurotransmitter levels. Glutamate, one of a handful of essential neurotransmitter chemicals, regulates neuron activity throughout the brain and central nervous system. Consequently, any irregularities in glutamate output can scramble incoming sensory information to the brain, which accounts for the hallucinations users experience when using these drugs.
Unlike other hallucinogens, the effects of salvia stem from its interactions at kappa opioid receptor sites. Kappa opioid receptors produce analgesic effects when activated, somewhat like the effects of opiates have on mu opioid receptor sites.
The effects of salvia differ in that users experience uncomfortable side effects along with the drug’s analgesic and hallucinatory effects. While not completely understood, kappa opioid receptors trigger the release of other neurotransmitter chemicals when activated, which may account for the side effects of salvia.
Psychological Effects of Salvia
Salvia exerts its greatest effects on a person’s sensory perceptions, which inevitably causes users to exhibit unusual behaviors when under the influence. As the effects of salvia stem from its interactions with kappa opioid receptors, alterations in perception result from changes in the brain’s opioid system as opposed to how other hallucinogens work via the brain’s serotonin system.
According to the University of New Hampshire, psychological effects of salvia may include:
- Synesthesia, a condition where sensory perceptions overlap causing a person to “hear” colors or see visual representations of sound
- Distorted sense of time
- Seeing things that aren’t there
- Inability to communicate with others
- Erratic movements
Physical Effects of Salvia
In general, any drug capable of altering neurotransmitter levels can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate bodily processes as normal. Along with its unique chemical structure, salvia is also the most powerful hallucinogenic agent in existence, which carries considerable risk when used in excess.
Physical effects of salvia may take the form of:
- Increased heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Increase in breathing rate
- Feelings of terror
The effects of salvia on heart and breathing rates in particular pose a considerable risk in terms of placing users at risk of respiratory arrest and heart rate abnormalities.
In the case of recreational use, only a small dose of salvia is needed to bring on the drug’s desired effects. As salvia has a high potency level in general, only miniscule amounts, as in micrograms, should be used at a time. For inexperienced users, there’s a tendency to use more than needed. This greatly increases the risk for overdose.
An added consideration has to do with how salvia behaves when smoked or inhaled.
Salvia produces a delayed effect, increasing the likelihood a person will ingest more to bring on the drug’s desired effects. This practice also carries a high risk for overdose.
The erratic behavior displays brought on by salvia can easily endanger a person’s overall safety as well as the safety of others. Someone under the influence may exhibit highly agitated behaviors while having no sense or awareness of the surrounding environment.
In effect, a person can run into walls, crash through windows or wander around outdoors into oncoming traffic. For these reasons, anyone using this drug shouldn’t do so alone, but have a sitter present.
Like most all hallucinogens, the effects of salvia carry a low risk for addiction; however, frequent of this drug can cause considerable damage to the brain. When taken in high doses, an ongoing deterioration of brain cells can cause a condition known as Olney’s Lesions to develop over time.
Overall, the effects of salvia warrant cause for concern, especially in cases where the drug is used on a regular basis. If you or someone you know struggles with salvia abuse or has concerns regarding this drug’s effects, please feel free to call our helpline at 1-(800)-895-1695 to speak with one of our representatives, toll free, available 24-hours a day.