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Current Issues Regarding Salvia Abuse

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  • 0:01 Background Information
  • 2:02 Effects of Salvia Abuse
  • 4:08 Salvia & the Law
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

Salvia is an herb often used as a hallucinogenic drug. The abuse of salvia has increased in recent years. This lesson addresses current issues regarding salvia abuse, including its effects and legality.

Background Information

Many controlled substances are derived from plants, such as marijuana and opium. However, another plant has gained popularity as a drug in recent years. Salvia divinorum, or salvia, is an herb from the mint family, often used as a hallucinogenic drug. Salvia plants are native to Southern Mexico, but the use of salvia has become somewhat popular among teens and young adults throughout the U.S. over the past decade or so. On the streets, salvia is sometimes known as magic mint or Sally D.

Salvia is a short-acting hallucinogen. Hallucinogenic drugs are drugs that cause hallucinations, or intense distortions in the user's perceptions of reality. The drugs trick the user's brain into seeing and feeling things that simply aren't there.

The hallucinations are caused by a special chemical known as salvinorin A. In order to ingest the chemical, users typically pluck the fresh salvia leaves from the plants and chew them. Users can also boil the leaves and drink the juices, or smoke the dried leaves in cigarettes. Some users prefer to smoke the dried leaves and inhale the vapors by using a hookah. A hookah is a water pipe with a hose and mouthpiece through which the user inhales vapors.

Unlike other hallucinogens, like ecstasy, salvia is not typically used as a 'party drug' or 'club drug.' Instead, research shows that users often take the drug in a private setting. That trend may be driven by popular Internet videos showing users experimenting with the drug. It may also be because salvia's effects are much more limited than other hallucinogens.

Effects of Salvia Abuse

Because salvia hasn't been popular in the U.S. for long, there's not much research regarding long-term use. However, researchers know salvia's short-term effects on a user's brain and body. Experts know that salvia works quickly - typically within one minute. Though its effects last only around 30 minutes, they are intense. Many users report terrifying experiences.

Salvia's active ingredient, salvinorin A, attaches to and activates special nerve cells known as kappa opioid receptors. These receptors help block pain messages in the user's brain but can also cause side effects, such as dysphoria and hallucinations. Note that these are different receptors than those affected by opioid painkillers, such as heroin and morphine. They are also different receptors than those affected by other types of hallucinogens, such as LSD.

In activating the kappa opioid receptors, salvia causes the user to experience:

  • Changes in visual perception
  • Changes in body sensations
  • Changes in mood
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Decreased ability to interact with surroundings
  • Modified perceptions of reality and of self
  • Emotional swings
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech

At this point, research hasn't shown that salvia causes drug dependence in users. Dependence refers to a user's physical reliance on the drug. Dependence happens when the user's body develops a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect.

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