Salvia, a popular hallucinogen that is much shorter-acting than LSD

Co-authored by Jamie Felzer

If I were a betting person (I’m not really), I’d bet that most of you have been to YouTube before. For some of us the video site provides good information and for others it’s an endless source of comedy.  Either way, YouTube has also become a hallmark of the youngest generation of computer users – they love to post funny videos of their friends for the whole world to see. Some of those young YouTube users have been posting videos of themselves using Salvia.

Salvia, Salvinorin A, and YouTube

For those unaware, Salvinorin-A (note Salvanorin by the way) is the active, hallucinogenic drug in Salvia, a plant that is legal for those above 18 in the United States. Salvinorin A is a very potent hallucinogen that unlike LSD and many other hallucinogens, does not act on serotonin circuits, but instead acts on opioid receptors to produce short term effects.  The range of effects include surfacing of past memories, uncontrollable laughter, sensations with various motor properties and becoming one with an inanimate object.

Salvia’s usage has long been documented among South American Shamans for visions and healing purposes. However, shamans use it only through extraction into tea or through chewing and modern methods of use include smoking or ingestion sublingually. Smoking the drug produces a much faster onset. Chewing Salvia leaves results in a much smaller amount of the drug, allowing the shamans to use the plant therapeutically.  Large doses, such as those that are used now aren’t shown to have therapeutic effects.

Interestingly, the opioid receptor Salvia acts on (the Kappa opioid receptor-type) is not the same one that morphine and heroin act on (called the mu opioid receptor). This can leave Salvia users with a dysphoric effect (like depression) that makes for a miserable experience and a desire for the trip to end.  Good thing it is a quick trip!!  However, Salvia is known to produce different effects in different users, so dysphoria is not always present.

Recently, researchers looked into YouTube videos people posted of themselves or their friends using Salvia. Since Salvia is a fairly short-acting drug, lasting an average of 6 minutes, they were able to see many of the full experiences in their natural environment.  Some of the observed effects of salvia included uncontrollable movements, changes in visual perception, laughter and “separateness” of body.

Salvia, addiction, and long term effects

As far as we know right now, Salvia use doesn’t seem to produce many long-term, severe, consequences and it’s addictive properties are not yet known. Still, the experience during use can be quite harsh. The number of hits, as to be expected, closely correlated with the amount of functionality problems exhibiting themselves in diction and fluency of movements.  As noted earlier, although usage in low doses may be used for holistic healing purposes, smoking of Salvia does not seem to have any sort of healing powers.

Like many other legal drugs, Salvia use should be undertaken with caution, understanding the potency of the drug, its effects, and the possible consequences. Just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it’s completely safe – Make sure you know what you’re doing before trying it out.


Lange, Daniel, Homer, Reed, Clapp. Salvia Divonorum: Effects and Use Among YouTube Users. Drug and Alcohol Addiction. May 4 2009

2 responses to “Salvia, a popular hallucinogen that is much shorter-acting than LSD”

  1. Thank you for your information on Salvia. You are right, just because it is legal does not make it safe. Any mind altering substance must be used with extreme caution. Hopefully the drug won’t gain in popularity because of the entertainment value well documented on YouTube.

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