Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is a perennial herb in the mint family that grows natively in Mexico and Central America and induces hallucinogenic effects. It contains a psychoactive compound known as salvinorin A, a potent hallucinogen. Depending on its form, salvia can be chewed, smoked, vaporized, or extracts can be placed to dissolve under the tongue.
Salvia has been used for centuries traditionally as both a medicine and as a spiritual companion in religious ceremonies. Salvia use does have it’s risks, however, and cause adverse side effects.
In recent years, salvia has become more common in the U.S. Because salvia is not scheduled as a controlled substance by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), there is no federal law against possessing or using it. Many U.S. states, however, have criminalized both possession and use of salvia.
Salvia Drug Side Effects
Salvia use can lead to an elevated mood and cause hallucinations and sensations that users often describe as being dream-like. An individual may not be able to ascertain the difference between and those that are only mental manifestations.
Effects of using salvia may include the following:
- Visual distortions of color, lights, shapes, and patterns
- Cartoonish imagery
- Enhanced mood
- Uncontrollable laughter
- Recollection of childhood memories
- Sensations of motion
- Merging with or becoming other objects
- Distortion of time and space
- Out-of-body experiences
- Contact with entities or other dimensions
- A sense of anxiety or uneasiness
- Feelings of detachment from one’s self
- Loss of contact with reality
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Salvia Abuse
Salvia addiction is relatively rare, but salvia abuse can be problematic and should be identified and addressed.
Common signs of a substance use disorder include the following:
- Using more of the substance than initially intended, or using it for a longer duration or more frequently
- Trying to decrease use and failing to do so
- Spending significant time obtaining or using a substance or recovering from its use
- Drug cravings
- Being unable to maintain obligations and manage responsibilities
- Using the substance despite the incurrence of damage to relationships and/or health issues
- Engaging less in once-enjoyed activities in favor of using
- Using the substance in risky situations, such as driving or operating machinery
- The development of tolerance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using as a result of dependence
Withdrawal and Detox
Salvia is believed to have a low potential for abuse and dependence, and significant withdrawal symptoms are not common with salvia. Most people who use salvia tend to do so sporadically and are not often excessive users.
Still, if withdrawal symptoms do manifest, they can include nausea, irritability, cravings, and sleep disturbances. Salvia detox is much easier than with many other intoxicating drugs but should still be professionally supervised to provide emotional support and prevent relapse or complications.
Comorbid Disorders and Substance Use
Abuse of salvia may co-exist with mental health conditions or other substance use disorders. For instance, one study found that salvia users drank more alcohol and were more likely to abuse it than non-users. Polysubstance abuse is quite common with any drug or alcohol.
Also, substance abuse and mental health disorders have common risk factors, which is one reason why they often occur in combination. However, it may also be possible that using salvia causes symptoms indicative of an underlying mental illness or worsen symptoms. For example, it has been known to produce anxiety in some users to the point of experiencing panic attacks.
Conversely, a person struggling with a mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, may use a substance such as salvia as a self-medication method.
Treatment for Salvia Abuse
Any individual struggling to stop abusing salvia and is unable to do so should consider seeking professional help. Although salvia’s long-term effects have not been subject to a significant amount of research, some evidence suggests that it can result in cognitive deficits, psychological symptoms, and dysphoria. Casual use of salvia can also be dangerous because it alters perceptions and can lead to accidents or injuries.
Salvia use can be effectively treated using behavioral therapy, social and family support, lifestyle changes, and by addressing any co-occurring mental health issues a person may experience. For example, behavioral therapy can help individuals learn how to identify and alter the emotions and thoughts that drive them to use drugs and minimize negative self-perceptions.
Substance abuse, in any form, can be very difficult to overcome. Still, those who enter a professional treatment program, have a solid support group, and are dedicated to making positive changes can learn to live without using salvia or other substances.