Salvia divinorum, or salvia, is a herb in the mint family found natively in Mexico and Central America. It contains a psychoactive, potentially intoxicating compound known as salvinorin A, a powerful hallucinogen. Depending on its form, salvia can be chewed or smoked, or extracts can be placed to dissolve under the tongue or used in drinks or vaporizer pens.
For centuries, salvia has traditionally been used as both a medicine and as a spiritual companion in religious ceremonies. However, the use of salvia and salvia extracts has its risks and can 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. However, many U.S. states have criminalized both possession and use of salvia.
Salvia Side Effects
Salvia can induce an elevated mood and hallucinations, perceptions, and sensations that users often describe as dreamy. Furthermore, a person may not determine the difference between and those merely mental manifestations that others do not experience.
Effects of using salvia may include:
- Visual color distortions,
- Distortions of shapes, lights, 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 different dimensions
- A sense of anxiety or uneasiness
- Feelings of detachment from one’s self
- Loss of touch with reality
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Salvia Abuse
Salvia dependence and addiction are exceedingly rare, but salvia abuse can be problematic, and when identified, should be treated.
Common signs of a substance abuse disorder include the following:
- Using more of the substance than originally intended, or using it more frequently or for a longer duration than intended
- 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 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.
Co-Occurring Disorders and Substance Use
Abuse of salvia may co-occur 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 why they often occur in combination. However, using salvia may also be possible because it causes symptoms indicative of an underlying mental illness or worsens symptoms. For instance, it has been known to induce anxiety in some users to the point of experiencing full-blown panic attacks.
Conversely, an individual struggling with a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, may use a substance, such as salvia, as a way to self-medicate.
Treatment for Salvia Abuse
Any person struggling to stop abusing salvia or salvia extracts and cannot do so should consider seeking professional substance abuse treatment. Although salvia’s long-term effects have not been the subject of many studies, some evidence does suggest that it can lead to cognitive deficits, psychoemotional issues, and dysphoria (inability to feel pleasure). Casual use of salvia can also be risky because it alters perceptions and can result in accidents and injuries.
Salvia abuse can be effectively treated using behavioral therapy, social and family support, lifestyle changes, and by addressing any co-occurring mental health problems an individual may experience. For instance, behavioral therapy can help individuals learn to identify and replace the unhealthy emotions and thoughts that compel them to use drugs and minimize negative self-perceptions.
Substance abuse and addiction, in any form, can be challenging to overcome. Still, those who seek professional, comprehensive treatment, have a solid support group, and are committed to making positive changes can learn to live without using salvia or other substances.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer programs that include all the therapeutic, evidence-based individuals seeking recovery need to achieve abstinence and maintain long-term sobriety.