NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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What Is Salvia?

A S. divinorum plant.

Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is an herb found in southern Mexico and Central and South America. The main active ingredient in Salvia, salvinorin A, affects the brain by attaching to targets on nerve cells called kappa opioid receptors. These receptors are different from those activated by the more well-known opioids, such as heroin and morphine.

Traditionally, people chew fresh S. divinorum leaves or drink their extracted juices. The dried leaves of S. divinorum can also be smoked as a joint, inhaled through water pipes, or vaporized and inhaled. Although Salvia is not prohibited by Federal law, several States and countries have passed laws to regulate its use. The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed Salvia as a drug of concern and is considering classifying it as a Schedule I drug, like LSD or marijuana.

What Are the Common Effects?

People who abuse Salvia generally experience hallucinations or a loss of contact with reality. The effects are intense but do not last long, appearing in less than 1 minute and lasting less than 30 minutes. They include changes in visual perception, mood and body sensations, emotional swings, and feelings of detachment. People also report a very different perception of reality and of oneself and have trouble interacting with their surroundings. This last effect has raised worry about the dangers of driving under the influence of salvinorin A. The long-term effects of Salvia abuse have not been fully studied. Recent experiments in rodents show that salvinorin A harms learning and memory.

Who Uses Salvia?

NIDA’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) study asked 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders about Salvia abuse for the first time in 2009—5.7 percent of high school seniors reported that they used it during the past year (greater than the percentage who reported using Ecstasy). And according to the latest MTF figures, the use of Salvia reported by 10th- and 12th-graders decreased from 2011 to 2012, with 2.5 percent of 10th-graders and 4.4 percent of 12th-graders reporting using it in the past year. Although information about this drug is limited, its abuse is likely driven by drug-related videos and information on Internet sites.

Other Information Sources

For more information on the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, see NIDA’s Research Report on Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.

Find more information on Salvia divinorum and the Controlled Substances Act [PDF - 102.25 KB]