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Exploring Salvia: Drug Healing Claims, Risks and Hallucinations

Some people are claiming that salvia is harmless. Realistically, no mind altering chemical is harmless when there are people willing to abuse it. What we know is people believe it carries very low risk of being toxic. The salvia drug is also not deemed to have abuse potential. The state of Delaware would disagree. In 2007, a teenager committed suicide while on a salvia trip. Known as “Brett’s Law,” salvia has been classified as a schedule I controlled substance in Delaware. In 2007, the DEA took measures to put salvia on the “drugs of concern” list. In 2010, the NDIC made it public that 37 states were trying to regulate the sale and possession of salvia. It is currently being sold online, making it obtainable. Some advocates for salvia believe there’s more good than harm involved in taking it. The DEA believes that it poses a risk to people who use it. Regardless of drug healing claims, there are risks that should also be acknowledged.

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What Exactly is Salvia?

Salvia is a natural psychedelic drug with the active ingredient being “Salvinorin A”. It derives from a plant that is a part of the mint family. Salvinorin A is a KOR agonist which is the kappa opiate receptor. The KOR is what controls our perceptions. It activates certain parts of the central nervous system, creating an alternate reality when taken.  A study with rats showed that salvia increase dopamine levels also.

Drug Healing Claims of Salvia

Scientists have been trying to prove that mind altering drugs would be useful for therapy for decades. There is the belief that hallucinogens could treat problems like drug addiction, chronic pain and depression. That being said, the FDA and pharmaceutical companies do not agree. Science doesn’t receive funding to try to prove that natural psychedelics have healing capabilities. People talk about sacred experiences and alternate worlds that improved their lives somehow. Alternatively, you have disturbing videos online of salvia where people are panicking during the high. There was a New Yorker who actually shot himself in the face after administering the drug on himself. Another study on rats headed by Thomas Prisinzano at the University of Iowa found that salvia might be helpful with addiction. The study gave the rats’ access to cocaine and also to Salvinorin A. It caused them to stop using the cocaine. It’s studies like this that make one think it’s possible there are some healing capabilities. Scientists believe that salvia could be useful for Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain and even AIDS or HIV. All said and done, whatever benefits there might be, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove any of it’s true. Medical claims are unapproved and the likes of the FDA and DEA are concerned about the potential for abuse.

Risks During Salvia High

Some might say that salvia comes with no risks but as people are all different, it is going to pose a risk for some users. Everyone is affected by salvia differently based on their body weight, their personal body chemistry and whether they’re mixing with alcohol or other drugs. As salvia affects the brain’s limbic system and function, people can lose sense of reality. The effects are often instantaneous with users. Many salvia users know well enough that they will be so out of it that they require a sitter. When the euphoric feelings kick in, the user will go into a sleepwalking experience. There have been reports of people hurting themselves. There is a risk of getting hurt as they run into things or knock things over. The mental impairment from salvia is extreme. It is actually recommended that a person doesn’t drive for up to 8 hours after being high on salvia.

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Physical Impairments During a Salvia High

The psychoactive side effects of salvia cause people to pass out or become incapacitated until the drug wears off. People have said they see visions or lights in a bazaar slow motion way. People on a salvia high have said they could only move one side of their body. The other side wouldn’t function. The most terrifying side effects happen when the drug starts to wear off. The user may thrash around to the point you think they’re having a seizure. They might run into walls at fast speeds but they are unable to feel it. After they have come down, users usually don’t have any memory of the high or what actually happened during that time.

Potential of Salvia Addiction

Advocates will adamantly say that salvia is extremely safe to use and completely non-addictive. There is no proof that salvia is addictive but at the same time, users will try it over and over again. Addiction treatment professionals and drug experts compare salvia to drugs like PCP, cocaine and heroin. The theory is that when there is a good drug experience that causes euphoria, it can become a dependency. Salvia interacts with some opioid receptors in the brain differently than other drugs. It has been under-researched and with nothing to compare it to, it’s hard to know if it is addictive. There are reports that when a person’s brain gets accustomed to a drug, more is required to achieve the same effects. The other concern is that when salvia is used with other substance, it can cause a cross-tolerance to all drugs involved.

The Hallucinogen Effect of Salvia

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive component that creates a hallucinogenic effect. It is the most potent of any kind of natural hallucinogen. Here are the effects that users may experience:

  • A sense of floating or flying.
  • A belief that you’re traveling through space.
  • You may feel as though you’re twisting and spinning.
  • There can be either a heaviness or lightness of the body.
  • You may feel sore for no reason.
  • Some have said they see visions of a woman. This is believed by the Mazatec’s to be the incarnation of the Virgin Mary.
  • Fast and intense mood swings.
  • Feeling the need to isolate yourself from others.
  • A detachment from your surroundings.
  • An alternate visual reality. You may see strange things while your eyes are closed.
  • Strange perceptions of what’s going on around you and what’s happening to you.

Adverse Side Effects of Using Salvia

When a person is on salvia, they often have “out of body” experiences. This can cause users to laugh uncontrollably. They see, hear, and feel things that aren’t there. Here are some of the physical adverse side effects when taking salvia:

  • Short term memory loss.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Cognitive difficulties.
  • Failure of motor skills.
  • Chills.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Dizziness.

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Psychiatric Dangers when Taking Salvia

NIDA has reported that because of salvia’s effects on the brain, the brief hallucinogenic high can mimic psychosis. It’s been found that salvia can invoke a relapse of mental illness in those who have suffered from it in the past. Panic attacks have been re-triggered. There have been relapses of schizophrenia and borderline personality traits. This has causes thoughts of suicide, caused depression, and have turned caused people to fight or uncontrollably cry. Anti-social behaviors may ensue as the user becomes very afraid of their surroundings. Most of these side effects occur when salvia has worn off. This can cause symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, depression, anti-social acts, fighting, anger and uncontrollable crying to surface. Most symptoms are reported to subside once the salvia wears off but in some it can trigger psychosis due to certain memories or parts of the brain being stimulated by the drug.

How People are Using Salvia

Salvia has been used in ancient medicine practice by Mazatec Indians. Salvia derives from a leaf that they call, “Herb of Mary, the Shepherdess.” In their culture, they believe the plant is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. In their culture, they have shamans who make a tea from the leaves for use during religious ceremonies. They also roll the leaves into the shape of a cigar. The suck it or chew it but don’t swallow the leaf which allows the drug to be absorbed into the mouth and into their bloodstream. The reason for this is the active ingredient, Salvinorin A deactivates once it hits the stomach. People using recreationally will usually inhale the drug through a hookah. It can be smoked in cigarettes or they might just chew the leaf. It is infused into drinks, vaporized or inhaled. When smoked, effects will happen almost immediately and last up to 30 minutes. When taken orally, the hallucinogenic effects are milder, takes longer to kick in, but will last longer. Between 1-3 hours.

Salvia Isn’t a Safe Alternative for a High

Some believe that salvia can do no harm. It’s natural so users argue that it’s safer than illicit drugs. Some are even terming it as a “legal high” because it’s not banned in the US. Salvia is often marketed as “natural” with the claims that they’re herbal and may come from plants. The reality is salvia is a potent hallucinogen. The Journal of Emergency Medicine has reported that salvia negatively affects the neurological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems. The DEA has specifically listed it as a drug of concern because of the high potential for abuse. When someone gets high from salvia, they will experience an alternate reality, not perceiving things as they are. This can come with serious consequences because you’re not truly in a realistic state of mind. There is a risk of losing control over body movements along with deep fears through a bad trip of salvia.

Salvia Currently Has no Medical Use in the United States

The FDA has not approved the saliva drug for any type of medical use. There are research papers that hypothesize salvia has properties that can help chronic pain, depression and some types of dementia. It is theory based with no real proof. The FDA currently does not believe that salvia should even be an ingredient in medications. While there are claims that salvia can help treat addiction or mood disorders, there is nothing to prove this. Traditional addiction therapy has been proven to be effective where hallucinogen use can turn into further drug abuse. There are risks of being injured or bringing up past mental disorder symptoms. Salvia may be a natural plant that has been used in ceremonies for centuries. That doesn’t make it an acceptable method of getting high. No official organization is condoning the use of salvia or any other hallucinogen to improve mental health. . The scary part is that it’s not illegal and easy for teens to get their hands on. With so little information on what salvia does to the brain and long term effects, neither the advocates or the opposing side have been proven right or wrong. May states want it to be banned for that reason but so far, it’s a grey area.