Salvia has been in the news off and on for about ten years. Wikipedia offers a pretty decent history and discussion about salvia. Please note that posting this information is not an endorsement of drug use. That said, I'm a little curious.
Salvia divinorum is native to the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it is still used by the Mazatec, primarily to facilitate shamanic visions in the context of curing or divination. S. divinorum is one of several species with hallucinogenic properties that are ritually used by Mazatec shamans. Others include certain morning glory seeds (Turbina corymbosa), psilocybin mushrooms, and various coleus species. In their rituals, the shamans use only fresh S. divinorum leaves. They see the plant as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, and begin the ritual with an invocation to Mary, Saint Peter, the Holy Trinity, and other saints. Ritual use traditionally involves being in a quiet place after ingestion of the leaf—the Maztec shamans say that "La Maria (S. Divinorum) speaks with a quiet voice."
It is also used remedially at lower dosages as a diuretic, and to treat ailments including diarrhea, anemia, headaches, rheumatism, and a semi-magical disease known as panzón de borrego, or a swollen belly (literally, "lamb belly").
The history of the plant is not well known, and there has been no definitive answer to the question of its origin. Speculation includes Salvia divinorum being a wild plant native to the area; a cultigen of the Mazatecs; or a cultigen introduced by another indigenous group. Botanists have also not been able to determine whether it is a hybrid or a cultigen.
Salvia divinorum was first recorded in print by Jean Basset Johnson in 1939 while he was studying Mazatec shamanism. He later documented its usage and reported its effects through personal testimonials. It was not until the 1990s that the psychoactive mechanism was identified by a team led by Daniel Siebert.
Gordon Wasson tentatively postulated that the plant could be the mythological pipiltzintzintli, the "Noble Prince" of the Aztec codices. Wasson's speculation has been the subject of further debate amongst ethnobotanists, with some scepticism coming from Leander J. Valdés, and counterpoints more supportive of Wasson's theory from Jonathan Ott.
The identity of another mysterious Aztec entheogen, namely that of poyomatli, has also been suggested as being Salvia divinorum. Here too there are other candidate plants, notably Cacahuaxochitl (Quararibea funebris), again suggesting that there is no overall consensus.
The genus name, Salvia, is from the Latin salvere ("to save"). The species name, divinorum, was given because of the plant's traditional use in divination and healing. it is often loosely translated as "diviner's sage" or "seer's sage". Albert Hofmann, who collected the first plants with Wasson, objected to the new plant being given the name divinorum:
I was not very happy with the name because Salvia divinorum means "Salvia of the ghosts", whereas Salvia divinatorum, the correct name, means "Salvia of the priests", But it is now in the botanical literature under the name Salvia divinorum.
There are many common names for S. divinorum, most of them relating to the plant's association with the Virgin Mary. The Mazatec believe the plant to be an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, so they take great care in handling the plant. The name "Ska Maria Pastoria", often shortened to "Ska Maria" or "Ska Pastoria", refers to "the leaf or herb of Mary, the Shepherdess." Other Spanish names include "hojas de Maria", "hojas de la Pastora", "hierba (yerba) Maria", and "la Maria". A plant believed to be S. divinorum was referred to as "hoja de adivinacion" (leaf of prophecy) by the Cuicatec and Mazatec. S. divinorum is also known as la hembra ("the female"), when it is included by the Mazatec as part of a family of similar religious hallucinogens. The others it is connected with are Coleus pumila, called el macho ("the male"), and two forms of Coleus blumei which are called el nene ("the child") and el ahijado ("the godson").
Some researchers see the lack of an indigenous Mazatec name as demonstrating a non-Mazatec origin for the plant. Others point out that the Virgin Mary is not normally viewed as a shepherdess in Christianity, and that image may hint at a pre-Hispanic Mazatec cultural reference to the plant.
Salvia divinorum has become both increasingly well-known and available in modern culture. The Internet has allowed for the growth of many businesses selling live salvia plants, dried leaves, extracts, and other preparations.
Medical experts, as well as accident and emergency rooms, have not been reporting cases that suggest particular salvia-related health concerns, and police have not been reporting it as a significant issue with regard to public order offences; in any case, Salvia divinorum has attracted negative attention from the media and some lawmakers.
Reality Sandwich. By the way, part of the controversy around salvia is due to the dumbass videos you can see all over the web of people high on salvia, the worst of which involve trying to drive while high (future Darwin Award winners, for sure).
Psychedelic experiences are necessarily somewhat subjective and variations in reported effects are to be expected. Aside from individual reported experiences there has been a limited amount of published work summarising the effects. D.M. Turner's book Salvinorin—The Psychedelic Essence of Salvia Divinorum quotes Daniel Siebert's summarisation, mentioning that the effects may include:
- Uncontrollable laughter
- Past memories, such as revisiting places from childhood memory
- Sensations of motion, or being pulled or twisted by forces
- Visions of membranes, films and various two-dimensional surfaces
- Merging with or becoming objects
- Overlapping realities, such as the perception of being in several locations at once
Media reporters rarely venture to take salvia themselves, but one firsthand journalistic account has been published in the UK science magazine New Scientist:The salvia took me on a consciousness-expanding journey unlike any other I have ever experienced. My body felt disconnected from 'me' and objects and people appeared cartoonish, surreal and marvellous. Then, as suddenly as it had began, it was over. The visions vanished and I was back in my bedroom. I spoke to my 'sitter'—the friend who was watching over me, as recommended on the packaging—but my mouth was awkward and clumsy. When I attempted to stand my coordination was off. Within a couple of minutes, however, I was fine and clear-headed, though dripping with sweat. The whole experience had lasted less than 5 minutes.
There have been few books published on the subject. One notable example is Dale Pendell's work "Phamako/Poeia—Plants Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft", which won the 1996 Firecracker Alternative Book Award and has a chapter dedicated to Salvia divinorum. It includes some experience accounts:It's very intense, I call it a reality stutter, or a reality strobing. I think that having been a test pilot, and flying in that unforgiving environment with only two feet between our wingtips, helped to prepare me for this kind of exploration.
Other users have written extensive prose and/or poetry about their experiences; some describe their visions pictorially, and there exist examples of visionary art which are 'salvia-inspired'. Others claim musical inspiration from the plant: including "Salvia divinorum" by 1200 Micrograms, "Salvia" by Deepwater Sunshine, and "Flight 77" by Paul Dereas.
Dale Pendell expresses some concerns about the use of highly concentrated forms of salvia. In its natural form salvia is more balanced and benevolent, and quite strong enough, he argues. High strength extracts on the other hand can show "a more precipitous, and more terrifying, face" and many who try it this way may never wish to repeat the experience.
The Salvia divinorum User's Guide hosted on Daniel Siebert's website recommends having a trip sitter present to those who are new to salvia, are experimenting with a stronger form, or are using a more effective method of ingestion.An experienced salvia user who is chewing a quid, may often choose to do it alone, and may be quite safe in doing so. But having a pleasant, sensible, sober sitter is an absolute must if you are trying vaporization, smoking high doses of extract-enhanced leaves, or using pure salvinorin.
The guide says that while the effects of salvia are generally quite different from those of alcohol, like alcohol, it impairs coordination. It also emphasizes that salvia is not a 'party drug.'Salvia is not 'fun' in the way that alcohol or cannabis can be. If you try to party with salvia you probably will not have a good experience. Salvia is a consciousness-changing herb that can be used in a vision quest, or in a healing ritual. In the right setting, salvia makes it possible to see visions. It is an herb with a long tradition of sacred use. It is useful for deep meditation. It is best taken in a quiet, nearly dark room; either alone, or with one or two good friends present.
After the peak effects, normal awareness-of-self and the immediate surroundings return but lingering effects may be felt. These short-term lingering effects have a completely different character than the peak experience. About half of users report a pleasing 'afterglow', or pleasant state of mind following the main effects. Researchers from the University of California and California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute conducted a survey of 500 salvia users which identified that they 'sometimes or often' experience certain effects, including:
Increased insight: 47% Decreased insight: 1.8% Improved mood: 44.8% Worsened mood: 4.0% Increased connection with Universe or Nature: 39.8% Decreased connection with Universe or Nature: 5.4% Increased sweating: 28.2% Decreased sweating: 1.6% Body felt warm or hot: 25.2% Body felt cold: 6.4% Increased self-confidence: 21.6% Decreased self-confidence: 2.4% Improved concentration: 19.4% Difficulty concentrating: 12.0%
Other commonly reported effects include:
- Feelings of calmness: 42.2%
- Weird thoughts: 36.4%
- Things seeming unreal: 32.4%
- Floating feelings: 32%
- Mind racing: 23.2%
- Feeling lightheaded: 22.2%
Differing studies suggest no overall consensus so far with regard to the long-term effects of Salvia divinorum on mood. It is well-established that some k-opioid agonists can cause dysphoria in humans, and research using rats in forced-swim tests (where they're forced to swim in a narrow cylinder from which they cannot escape) has been used to suggest that Salvia divinorum may have "depressive-like" effects. However, a report has been published detailing an individual case of Salvia divinorum use as self-medicated treatment for depression, and Baggott's survey of 500 people with firsthand experience of salvia found that 25.8% of respondents reported improved mood and "antidepressant-like effects" lasting 24 hours or longer. Only 4.4% reported persisting (24 hours or more) negative effects (most often anxiety) on at least one occasion.
The Baggott survey found little evidence of addictive potential (chemical dependence) in its survey population. 0.6% percent of respondents reported feeling addicted to or dependent on salvia at some point, and 1.2% reported strong cravings. About this the researchers said "there were too few of these individuals to interpret their reports with any confidence".
Most users report no hangover or negative after-effects (e.g. withdrawal, comedown or rebound effect) the next day. This is consistent with the apparent low toxicity of salvia indicated by research conducted at the University of Nebraska.
Aside from individual reports of self-medicated use in the treatment of depression, research suggests that Salvia divinorum, in line with the studied effects of other κ-opioid agonists, may have further therapeutic potential.
Thomas Prisinzano, assistant professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry at the University of Iowa, has suggested that salvia may help treat cocaine addiction:You can give a rat free access to cocaine, give them free access to Salvinorin A, and they stop taking cocaine.
Professor Bryan L. Roth, director of the National Institute on Mental Health's Psychoactive Drug Screening Program, has said:We think that drugs derived from the active ingredient could be useful for a range of diseases: Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain and even AIDS or HIV.
Clinical pharmacologist John Mendelsohn has also said:There may be some derivatives that could be made that would actually be active against cancer and HIV [...] At the present time, there are a lot of therapeutic targets that have many people excited.
An ABC news story which reported on this went on to suggest "the excitement could vanish overnight if the federal government criminalized the sale or possession of salvia, as the Drug Enforcement Agency is considering doing right now." A proposed Schedule I classification would mean (among other things) that there's no "currently accepted medical use" as far as the United States government is concerned. Scientists worry that such legislation would restrict further work. Mendelsohn said scheduling salvia could scare away a great deal of research and development into salvia's therapeutic promise.
The following is excerpted from Salvia Divinorum: Doorway to Thought-Free Awareness, available from Amazon and Inner Traditions.
It was in my first year of experimentation that my experiences with Salvia Divinorum began to take on an increasing sense of realness that was both alarming and exhilarating. I was beginning to feel that I was becoming connected to a genuine "place" that entailed both psychological and physical dimensions.
During this period, I was also becoming increasingly familiar with this state and the inhabitants that were becoming the focus of these events. The fact that I would encounter these personages on a consistent basis was beginning to define the nature of the experience itself. I was feeling more of an emotional connection that was slowly, but decidedly, coming into focus. The vignettes that presented themselves were of a more personal nature than before, with more interaction from my companions. What had once manifested as a meaningless cacophony was gradually becoming transformed into a coherent, approachable phenomenon. Although the entire course of the event was alien and uncontrollable, there still remained an increasing interest in the connectedness that was gradually unfolding.
In order to remember as much as possible about the experiences I was undergoing, I began to keep an occasional journal detailing some of the more salient events. At the time, I had mixed feelings about committing my experiences to paper. I thought that it might, on some level, be antithetical to the genuine alien nature of these experiences, which, by their very nature, could barely be recalled, much less described accurately in words. It was as if I was afraid I might jeopardize the flow of interaction I was experiencing by focusing my ordinary awareness on the state. I thought that, perhaps, I should simply experience these events and not look back.
I also had no reason to believe that the successive trials would entail any dramatic progression beyond what I was already witnessing. To have a journal of consecutive incidents seemed an amusing, but arbitrary, waste of time. The radical nature of the experiences I was having, coupled with my wish to recount, as completely as possible, the nature of these experiences with a few close friends, however, overcame my reticence. Generally I would record my passages on the day following the event, but after a period of time, I began my recounting within an hour of returning to my normal state. This tended to facilitate a more complete retelling of the events, as well as to augment my memory with the still lingering flavor of the excursion.
One particular event during this initial period was especially vivid and can serve to illustrate the general tenor of my experiences at the time. From my notes:
One bowl 5X Mazatecan:
After smoking one bowl, the effects were instantaneous. Immediately, I saw a symmetrical flower, perhaps eight pointed, which opened into the other world, as I sensed the presence of beings, simultaneously. The immediacy of the change was startling. There was quite a bit of disorientation. I sensed that there was someone there. Suddenly, I encountered a male about forty or fifty years old with a black mustache. He appeared to be Mexican. It occurred to me that he might somehow be connected with the salvia I had just smoked -- possibly a farmer or some sort of guardian of the plants. He was laughing good naturedly at my growing predicament -- I could not remember who I was or from where I'd come.* I knew that I had another life somewhere but couldn't remember anything about it. I couldn't remember whether I was an adult or a child and was quite disoriented.
Suddenly, a very raucous parade, complete with marching band, flags, and a bass drum engulfed me. This was also so bizarrely out of context that I felt even more bewildered. The parade came from my right. After a moment of horrifying confusion, I realized that the parade was a prank performed by an old man who also appeared off to my right. He was older than the first and very thin. He had evidently concocted the parade as a way of teasing me about my amnesic predicament.
Just then, two young girls entered the scene. They were about eleven years old, possibly twins, and were evidently daughters of the Mexican. They had black hair pulled back into buns and were wearing skirts and black shoes. They were also laughing, aware of my situation, and teasing me. One of them, as a way of describing my inability to remember where I was from, began joking. She said something, which on some level I found precise and hilarious, and I attempted to repeat what she had said. When I began to speak, I was unable to form the words. At the same time, I realized that it was a language that I couldn't speak. Evidently, to demonstrate my anxiety about my loss of memory, she leaped down and put her foot into a crevice in the floor -- which was not flat, but looked organic, like a living being. I noticed that I was standing, perhaps ankle deep in this crevice, which was not unlike a huge vagina. This somehow was meant to demonstrate my predicament. They were all laughing good-naturedly at me, including the old man, who apparently was the uncle of the girls.
Shortly after this, the scene began to lose its intensity and slowly began to slip away. There was an image of a cloth slowly descending -- as when someone is making a bed and the airborne sheet slowly comes to rest on the mattress. It was at this point that I began to remember who I was, along with some of the details of my other life.
During this time, similar vignettes would present themselves. I would find myself in circumstances that were at once foreign yet familiar. In all of these instances, I would be at a total loss as to who I was, how old I was, or from where I'd come. On some level, I was aware that I'd initiated some sort of action that had led me to that circumstance, but could not remember that it had been to smoke a hallucinogenic substance, or that I began the journey sitting in a chair in a small workshop. Although to focus on this amnesic state could lead to increasing panic, one could just as easily let go and simply perceive what was unfolding.
Indeed, it seems that this is one of the salient features of salvia -- it allows one, in some sense even instructs one -- to gradually, and without fear, abandon the framework of reason that's based on a cumbersome conceptual reference, and that is never called into question throughout the course of one's life. It's been my experience that salvia can lead to a unique state that one might characterize as "thoughtless awareness." This state, although on the surface seemingly paradoxical, is actually strangely and reassuringly familiar. It's as if, with repeated trances, one develops this skill gradually and effortlessly, leading to a genuine, what might be termed "functional awareness" that seems inherently essential for this type of exploration.
It was during this time that a particular episode occurred that, in retrospect, I hold significant, although at the time, I regarded as inconsequential. After smoking, I experienced the usual onset of images. Within a few moments, the state focused somewhat, and I found myself in the presence of an older woman. She was of slight build and seemed to be either Haitian or perhaps East Indian. She was wearing a long skirt and headscarf and seemed to be performing an odd action with her hands, as if she were drawing something apart or perhaps kneading and pulling an imaginary doughlike substance -- it seemed reminiscent of playing the "cat's cradle" string game, only without the string. She had a bored demeanor and said, almost off handedly, "You're accepted." On some level, it was implied that this was connected with a type of proficiency at "letting go,"although these feelings were very vague. It was as if she, personally, couldn't care less about the information she was relaying -- it seemed as though she was merely fulfilling a task. Within moments, the scene faded and I found myself returning to a normal state.
The next morning, I was initially hesitant to relate the story to E., since it would sound so pompous, while at the same time the experience itself had little or no emotional impact. I thought it was just another scene that was part of the flood of random images that I was encountering and thought no more about it. I didn't bother writing the experience down.
About a week later, I decided to smoke again. I followed my usual routine. This time, however, something was different. Even now, years later, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what this difference entailed. Somehow, on some level, the state had stabilized. I was now returning to the same place, although this place did not necessarily entail location, in the normal sense. It was rather a state or feeling that had gained some sort of perceptual and emotional solidity. Although all the various external features of the visions were different, there was something that I was returning to -- something was becoming familiar. In subsequent experiences, there would open up an entire range of feelings that was always somehow rooted in this abstract stable place.