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Salvia Addiction & Abuse

Salvia is a natural psychedelic drug that can induce hallucinations and euphoria as well as anxiety and fear. Traditionally used by indigenous Mexican cultures, saliva has become more widely misused today. People can become psychologically dependent on salvia and need proper intervention to break their cycle of use.

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What Is Salvia? 

Salvia divinorum is a natural herb that belongs to the mint family. Native to the Oaxaca region of Mexico, the herb has been used for centuries as an important component in cultural ceremonies. The salvia plant grows over three feet tall with large leaves that look similar to mint leaves. 

Salvia plants can be grown both inside and outside. They are now also cultivated in regions outside of Mexico. 

Why People Like Salvia

Salvia is consumed for the quick onset of hallucinations it can produce, explains the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Unlike similar substances, like peyote or mushrooms, Salvia can be legally obtained in some places throughout the U.S. and so remains somewhat accessible. 

Like other hallucinogens, salvia can induce feelings of euphoria, hallucinations, bright lights, and vivid colors. People taking hallucinogens may be in search of an altered sense of reality or a new perception of the world around them.

How Addictive Is Salvia?

In general, hallucinogenic drugs, like salvia are not considered addictive. The psychoactive effects of such drugs do not typically produce cravings that encourage further drug use. However, substance use disorders can develop after sustaining use of any substance, including hallucinogens. 

Evidence suggests that use of psychedelic drugs can quickly lead to tolerance. In such instances, users must consume greater quantities of the drug to achieve the same desired effects. Such patterns of drug use may constitute a hallucinogen use disorder. 

Likewise, while physical dependence is not generally known to occur to hallucinogens, psychological dependence may still develop. In such cases, addiction treatment may be necessary. 

How Salvia Is Used & How It Works

By chewing, smoking, or vaping leaves of the salvia plant, users can experience the psychoactive effects the plant has to offer. Salvia produces effects similar to other hallucinogenic drugs, such as mushrooms or mescaline, but the effects are often felt quicker and more intensely, says the DEA. 

Salvia and other hallucinogens work by targeting parts of the brain responsible for controlling sensory input. Salvinorin A, the active ingredient in salvia, targets opioid receptors in the brain. Sight, sounds, and feelings may be impacted, and reality becomes distorted. 

Hallucinogens are generally unpredictable, so their impacts vary depending on the individual, how much of the drug is being taken, and the setting in which they are taking it. 

The Effects of Salvia Use

Salvia affects both the body and the mind. The effects can be felt within a minute of consumption and typically last between 30 minutes and one hour. Effects can range from mild to high intensity. 

Short-term effects of salvia include the following: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in visual perception 
  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Inability to determine the difference between what is real and what is not
  • Reduced motor coordination
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness 
  • Slurred speech 

Long-term use of salvia can lead to dysphoria, a condition in which users feel generally depressed, restless, and not content with life. While under the influence of saliva, users often have impaired judgment and poor coordination, which can lead to accidental injury with long-term consequences. 

Salvia’s Use in Mental Health Treatment

A growing body of research has identified the use of psychedelics as a supplemental piece of mental health treatment. Some hallucinogenic drugs have been shown to promote positive shifts in one’s thoughts and mood. 

Short-term changes in mood, both positive and negative, are common following psychedelic drug use. However, more research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of hallucinogenic drugs like salvia, explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Risks of Salvia Use

Consuming a plant with intense hallucinogenic properties like salvia can be frightening. While high or “tripping” on a hallucinogen, negative illusions, hallucinations, and visualizations can occur. They can be frightening to encounter and cause people to act in unsafe ways. 

Hallucinogenic drug use also poses the risk of flashbacks. Days, weeks, or months after taking a hallucinogenic drug, hallucinations from a previous trip may return and distort the person’s present perception of reality, even when not currently high. 

NIDA also notes that individuals who are predisposed to mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, can develop symptoms triggered by psychedelic use. Still, little evidence exists that long-term mental health problems persist for that population. 

Fatal overdoses to hallucinogenic drugs alone are highly uncommon. It is when psychedelics are combined with other drugs that serious health complications can arise. If you combine salvia use with other substances like alcohol or other drugs, it’s a clear sign of a problem.

Is Salvia Legal?

Per the DEA, salvia is not currently a controlled substance across the United States, meaning it is not illegal at the federal level. However, some states have placed it on their list of controlled substances, so its legal status may vary from state to state. It does not have any approved medical uses throughout the country. 

Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse

Treatment for substance use disorders is widely available in the U.S. Start by talking to your primary care doctor about your concerns. Doctors can conduct an initial screening and make appropriate referrals for further treatment. 

Effective substance use treatment may include detoxification support, participation in a rehabilitation program, various forms of therapy, and establishment of a strong care plan following treatment. Recovery from a hallucinogen use disorder is possible but requires ongoing work and commitment to living a life free from substance use.

Updated December 1, 2023
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