Salvia Use: Side Effects & Dangers
Salvia is a powerful hallucinogen that has gained popularity in recent years. However, use of salvia does carry the potential risks to a user’s health and safety.
This page will explain what salvia is, the potential risks, and how to get help if you’re concerned about drug or alcohol use.
What Is Salvia Divinorum?
Salvia divinorum is an herb in the mint family that looks similar to sage.1 Salvia comes from the Salvia divinorum plant native to regions of South and Central America, namely in the Sierra Mazateca region of Oaxaca, Mexico, where it has long been used by the Mazatec Indians for healing purposes, divination, and vision-inducing rituals.1
A potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic drug, the active ingredient in salvia, Salvinorum A., binds to kappa opioid receptors in the brain, creating a vivid and unpredictable experience (e.g., a “trip).2 Salvia is not believed to disrupt levels of serotonin in the brain, which makes it chemically different than other hallucinogenic drugs; however, a salvia trip is thought to be similar to those associated with other hallucinogens.2
Salvia is currently listed as a “drug of concern” by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and is not currently deemed illegal in the United States on a federal level, although several states do regulate and control the substance.3
In 2020, 8% of young adults reported past year hallucinogen use,4 and nearly 140,000 people reported trying salvia within the past year.5 The vast majority of individuals using salvia are between the ages of 18-25, though salvia use was also reported by 12-17-year-olds.5
Salvia use seems to be most prevalent among young adults and adolescents, perhaps due to the large web-based presence of the drug and its effects. Numerous chat rooms and drug forums espouse the use of salvia and provide anecdotal reports on user experiences.
Individuals taking these drugs may be searching for a spiritual awakening, an out-of-body experience, or an escape from reality, or they may merely be curious about the effects of a hallucinogen.
Effects of Salvia
Salvia is sold in varying strengths of extract-enhanced leaves. It may also be purchased as seeds, dried or fresh leaves, whole plants, plant cuttings, or a liquid extract. Salvia leaves may be chewed or brewed in tea, and dried material is commonly smoked through a bong or in cigarette form.
Salvia’s effects come on rapidly and wear off fast as well, lasting only about 30 minutes. Once a “trip” begins, it can completely overtake a person until it ends. The experience is generally vivid from start to finish. Salvia is believed to interact with parts of the brain related to introspection, consciousness, moods, and pain sensations. These regions of the brain may be particularly vulnerable in teens and young adults as the brain is not fully formed yet.
When someone is under the influence of salvia, the following are common side effects:
- Distortion of body, objects, and the surrounding environment.
- Detachment from self.
- Sense of realities overlapping.
- Loss of coordination.
- Visual hallucinations, including bright lights, vivid colors, and seeing things that aren’t there.
- Uncontrollable laughter.
- Slurred speech.
- Feelings of flying.
- Slowed heart rate.
Is Salvia Addictive?
Salvia’s addictive potential is not yet fully understood. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified salvia as a “drug of concern” due to its availability and potential for misuse.3
There is not very much evidence on the addictive potential of salvia; however, as with any drug, taking it regularly is likely to produce, at the very least, psychological dependence on the substance. Problematic use of these substances can lead to a condition known as hallucinogen-related substance use disorder.7
Some of the signs of this disorder include:7
- Using the substance for longer or in greater amounts than intended.
- Wanting to decrease or stop using the substance but being unable to do so.
- Cravings to use the drug.
- Failing to fulfill obligations due to drug use.
- Having problems with interpersonal relationships due to drug use.
- Recurrent use of the drug in situations that could be physically dangerous, such as driving a car.
- Continuing to use the drug even when it has caused physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Signs that a person is using salvia may include:
- Withdrawal from family and friends.
- Suspicious packages coming in the mail from out of the country.
- Presence of plant material on clothing, furniture, etc.
- Irregular sleep patterns.
- Changes in appetite.
- Erratic and out-of-character behaviors.
- Mood swings.
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed and were previously a priority.
- Slipping grades and/or loss of production and output at work.
Salvia Dependence and Withdrawal
When salvia use is stopped suddenly after taking it on a regular basis for a long time, people are liable to suffer from headaches, stomach upset, memory issues, sleep disturbances, emotional lows, and possible drug cravings.
Withdrawal side effects likely start within a few hours of the last dose of salvia and only last a few days after stopping use. Emotional and sleep disturbances may linger for a bit longer, potentially for a few weeks, and they can be managed with therapeutic tools as part of a treatment program.
Other potential long-term side effects of hallucinogenic drugs are flashbacks, or the re-occurrence of the drug’s effects days, weeks, or even months after taking it. Individuals using salvia have reported flashbacks of their experience that can crop up without warning and that are completely out of the person’s control. Hallucinogenic drug use may increase the risk for developing a mental illness like schizophrenia and can also lead to two debilitating disorders:8
- Persistent psychosis — Causes visual and mood disturbances, paranoia, and disorganized thought processes.
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) — Can lead to ongoing flashbacks, hallucinations, and visual disturbances (like trails or halos around or following lights).
Perpetual memory, speech, and learning issues may be consequences of chronic salvia use as well.
Can You Overdose on Salvia?
Overdose from salvia is relatively rare. However, salvia can cause unpredictable and overwhelming short-term alterations in consciousness, including hallucinations and detachment from reality. It can also lead to physical harm, such as falls or injuries from losing coordination.
Addiction Treatment in Tampa Bay
If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol use that is impacting your life, there is compassionate and effective help that can get you on the road to recovery and back to living the life you deserve.
Contact our helpful admissions navigators at to learn more about our inpatient rehab near Tampa. They can walk you through our different levels of care, explain how to use insurance coverage for rehab, discuss ways to pay for rehab, and help you start the admissions process.
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