By Edmund Murphy

Last updated: 07 June 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. David Miles

Salvia is a plant with psychoactive properties that has been used traditionally as a spiritual and healing plant, with more recent uses as a recreational psychedelic substance for its hallucinogenic effects. Salvia is generally considered safe to use, although it can cause adverse effects in high doses and when used in unsafe environments. Laws around salvia use vary from state to state.

Salvia: Uses, Origins, Effects, and Abuse

What is salvia?

Salvia divinorum is a herbal plant, in the same family as mint. It is native to southwestern Mexico and has been used for centuries in spiritual ceremonies and healing rituals. Traditionally, salvia has been used to treat inflammation and pain, and more recently, it has been used for its psychoactive properties as a recreational drug.[1]

Salvia contains a hallucinogenic component called Salvinorin A, which is believed to contribute to its hallucinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects.[2]

How is salvia used?

Salvia has been used by the Mazatec people in Mexico for hundreds of years for its healing and hallucinogenic effects. It was used for medicinal and religious purposes, including in divination ceremonies and healing rituals.[2][3]

Smaller doses of traditional preparations have been used to treat conditions involving inflammation or pain, including stomach and digestion issues, headaches, arthritis, eczema, insect bites, and menstrual cramps.[2]

In more recent years, particularly since the late 1990s, salvia has been used as a recreational drug for its psychedelic properties. In many countries, it has been sold as a ‘legal high’ in head shops and online.[1]

Salvia is sold as a dried leaf or as a liquid extract, which is often much stronger than the leaf form. It is administered by smoking, chewing, or vaporizing (such as with DMT in vape pens) and produces psychoactive effects, with higher doses causing more hallucinations and psychedelic experiences.[1][4]

Is salvia dangerous?

Salvia use has not yet been extensively studied, so the risks of harm, particularly long-term effects, are not currently clear.[1]

Using salvia is generally considered safe, although, as with all drugs, it can result in some risk of physical or mental harm. Typically, salvia is unlikely to cause severe physical harm, although it can result in some irritation in the throat and may increase the risk of accidental harm when under the influence of the drug.[4][5]

Salvia is thought to contribute to or cause some mental health symptoms, particularly in high doses, and may lead to the onset of psychotic symptoms. These effects are considered more likely in high-risk groups, such as young people, those with pre-existing mental health issues, and those with a family history of mental health conditions such as psychosis.[1][4]

The impact of psychedelic substances can be affected by the environment and mood in which they are used, often referred to as the set and setting. Using psychedelic drugs can be safer when with a trusted friend or ‘trip sitter’, in a safe and secure environment, and when feeling calm before administration.[6]

Are there any dose guides available for salvia?

Psychedelic effects are believed to occur with doses of between 200-500 micrograms of pure Salvinorin A. Dosing can vary depending on the preparation of the leaf and the method of administration.[7]

For example, chewing fresh leaves is likely to produce a lower concentration of Salvinorin A than chewing dried leaves, while smoking prepared extracts is likely to produce a much stronger effect than other forms.[1]

Various websites provide guides on preparing and using salvia, including The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service (ICEERS)

ICEERS suggests:[8]

  • A dose of between 0.25g and 0.75g when smoking or vaporizing leaves

  • A dose of between 0.05 and 0.25g when smoking or vaporizing a 5x extract

  • A dose of between 10g and 50g of fresh leaves and between 2g and 10g of dried leaves when chewing

How does salvia feel?

In low doses, salvia may cause some mild hallucinogenic effects and may have an analgesic effect. In higher doses, salvia can cause the individual to feel as though they are floating or flying, in an altered reality, or having an out-of-body experience.[4][6]

High doses of salvia can create dramatic hallucinations and psychedelic experiences, altering the individual’s sense of reality. This can be either enjoyable or frightening and may vary depending on the individual and the dose.[6]

These effects can start within 10 minutes of chewing salvia leaves or instantly when it is smoked. Typically, the effects last for around 2 hours when chewed and 20 minutes when smoked.[1][8]

Is salvia illegal?

In the United States, salvia is not included in the Controlled Substances Act and is not controlled under federal law. However, regulations and laws around the possession and use of salvia have been implemented in various states.[9]

  • Salvia is legal in states including Nevada, Washington, Idaho, and Massachusetts.

  • Salvia is legal with an age restriction of 18 or 21 in states including California, Maine, and Maryland.

  • Salvia is illegal in states including Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Precise state laws vary, with some states having harsher penalties than others and variations on laws around personal possession.[9]

Is salvia addictive?

Salvia is not considered an addictive substance, as it is not believed to contribute to the development of addictive behaviors or physical dependence. However, the current understanding of salvia is limited compared to other substances and its effects are not entirely known.[2][6]

Some studies suggest that the chronic use of salvia can contribute to impaired social and professional functioning and the onset of withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped, which are criteria for substance use disorders. Reported withdrawal symptoms of salvia include fatigue, anxiety, and irritability.[2]

As such, although it is not strictly categorized as an addictive substance, the excessive use of salvia can result in harmful behaviors and effects.[3]

Salvia side effects

The effects of salvia can vary depending on the individual, the dose, and the method of administration. Typically, salvia does not cause severe or long-term effects, although its use can cause the following:[3][4][6]

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Throat irritation

  • Coughing

  • Distorted sensory perceptions

  • Impaired cognitive functioning

  • Blurry vision

  • Anxiety

  • Paranoia

  • Slurred speech

  • Restlessness

  • Sedation 

  • Hallucinations

In some cases, salvia can cause the onset of persistent psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, which do not go away when the effects of the drug have worn off. This risk may be higher in those with a personal or family history of psychosis.[1][4]

Salvia's effect on the brain

Salvia’s effects on the brain are not entirely understood due to limited research. However, it is thought that it acts on opioid receptors, which contributes to its hallucinogenic effects. Unlike certain other psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin and LSD, salvia is not known to impact serotonin receptors.[2]

Salvia causes hallucinogenic and psychedelic effects, which cause changes in sensory perceptions. Lights, colors, shapes, and movements can appear or become altered, along with a distorted sense of time and reality.[3]

For some people, these effects are enjoyable, spiritual, or healing. For example, salvia can cause a feeling of calmness, dream-like or spiritual experiences, emotional insights, and visual imagery, which can be considered pleasant effects.[5][8]

However, it can also cause some unpleasant effects, such as a loss of control over the environment or one’s thoughts. A ‘bad trip’ can occur, which is an extreme psychedelic experience and can involve panic and fear, paranoia, loss or slurring of speech, and memory loss. This can be a frightening experience, although it is likely to last no more than two hours, depending on the dose.[6]