Salvia Divinorum is Legal, But is It Safe?

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Salvia divinorum is a potent hallucinogen that is becoming especially popular among minors because it is currently legal in most states and widely available in both stores and online. Researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a small study on the safety of the herbal compound, and found that it does not appear to have any adverse short-term effects.

Salvinorin A is Potent, Short-Acting Hallucinogen

Salvia is a variety of ornamental plant and a member of the mint family. It has been used for centuries by shamans in Mexico for spiritual healing. The leaves from the plant are often rolled into papers and smoked like a cigarette, chewed, or inhaled through a pipe or bong.

The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that approximately 750,000 Americans aged 12 and older have used Salvia divinorum in the past year.

Read: Florida Aims To Make Salvia Divinorum Illegal (2008)

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The study cohort was small, consisting of just 4 subjects – two men and two women – but the researchers used “well –controlled methodology” to provide a better picture of the drug’s basic effects.

Salvinorin A is the active ingredient in Salvia and a potent hallucinogen. Roland R. Griffiths PhD, a Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, found that salvia’s effects begin almost immediately after inhaled, are very short-acting (peak of strength after two minutes and very little effect remaining after 20 minutes), and get more powerful as more of the drug is administered.

Read: Parents are Clueless About Teen Drug Abuse

The subjects did not appear to have any immediate adverse effects, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure or tremors. Previous animal studies suggest that the drug is not addictive. Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialists, stresses that any inhaled smoke can damage the lungs. And of course there is the potential for accidents if one smokes Salvia while driving.

The compound may also have medical benefits, says Dr. Griffiths. Because salvinorin A targets kappa opiod receptors in the brain, researchers see potential in the compound for the development of therapeutic medications, perhaps for conditions such as chronic pain or drug addiction.

Still, the drug is concerning to many experts, being listed among the DEA’s “drugs and chemicals of concern”. There is no current federal restriction, but fourteen states have enacted legislation placing regulatory control on Savlia divinorum and/or salvinorin A. At least one state, New York, has legislation pending.

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