Weird & Wonderful Herbs: Salvia Divinorum

Salvia Divinorum is commonly known nowadays as the ‘herb of Virgin Mary’ or ‘Diviner’s Sage’ and has been used for centuries by the Mexican Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca for healing as well as divination. From the mint family, it has also long been known to present a doorway to a visionary path of elevated spiritual and meditative states. It is believed to be the strongest natural-occurring hallucinogen, but besides its hallucinogenic properties, there is far more to learn about this plant. For many, many years, Salvia divinorum has been used for a wide array of ailments; from inflammation and pain to gastrointestinal conditions and even drug addictions. Read on for more about this trending plant and its myths and realities in Weird & Wonderful Herbs: Salvia Divinorum!

Hallucinogenic Properties

It comes as no surprise to know that Salvia Divinorum was used by shamans in medical practices and divination by the Mazatec indigenous people. Salvinorin A, is the active component of the plant, which acts as a kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist. This way, the substance acts on parts of the brain that control human perception and dopamine centres. When taken orally, either in infusions, chewing the leaves, or even through inhalation, the plant produces hallucinogenic short-term effects that don’t typically last longer than 20 minutes.

Effects and Side Effects

The most common effects are a sense of depersonalisation, modified perceptions, usually manifesting as an increase in sound, as well as visual and tactile perceptions. Dysphoria and seeing vivid colours, shapes and patterns are also common. A sense of disconnection from the body, sensations of being moved and regressions to childhood memories also commonly form part of the effect profile. Finally, it’s chiefly characterised by a loosening up of or ‘loss of contact’ with reality, feelings of visiting other dimensional realities and being in various places at the same time are also commonly reported.

Although Salvia Divinorum is reportedly low on the addiction scale, it also comes with some side effects when treated as a recreational drug. Some of the effects reported are: nausea, lack of coordination, feelings of confusion and being unable to focus. In general, feeling lost in time and space, loss of memory and tiredness.

What are the Benefits of Salvia Divinorum?

Besides its hallucinogenic properties, Salvia Divinorum, used properly, has shown certain health benefits. It has been used for headaches, gastrointestinal problems, rheumatism, eczema, candidiasis, cystitis, depression, alcohol addiction and even menstrual cramps. Its KOR receptors play a major role in the treatment of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and intestinal inflammation and other inflammatory diseases.

Reduces Inflammation

Studies show that Salvinorin A, the main component, reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines and restores anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10, which helps inhibit inflammation of macrophages and T lymphocytes. Besides that, it also acts on potent inflammatory lipids (leukotrienes), causing a reduction in allergic inflammation.

Calmative Effect

Salvia has been recognized as a sedative-plant type, its properties possessing a calmative effect. It is often used for palliative care in terminally ill patients. A recent survey showed that 42.6% of participants felt calm after consuming the plant and another 23.2% even compared the sensation with yoga and meditation. Its calmative effect is a result of the depressant effect on the central nervous system, which in turn, makes people feel sedated and can even modify sleep patterns.

Antidepressant Effect

People have also reported mood improvement after consuming Salvia Divinorum. The antidepressant effects could be tied to sleep, as the plant alters R.E.M. sleep quality, and being deprived of R.E.M. sleep has been linked with antidepressant effects.

Decreases Pain

In addition to Salvinorin A, their analogues can decrease pain. Therefore, they have been suggested as being suitable for therapy in certain pain cases, mostly because of its low risk of producing addiction. It has been widely used to treat chronic pain.

There are some emerging areas of research into the power of Salvia Divinorum in cases of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer´s disease. Beyond its recreational use, we believe this plant has some tremendous properties and potential applications that remain, as yet, unexplored. Have you used Salvia Divinorum before? What did you experience? What other weird and wonderful herbs (perhaps from remote parts of the world) have you used, and think should be discussed more widely? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram! Meantime, why not check out these other fascinating herb-tastic articles: on Gynostemma/Jiaogulan, Haritaki, and these Indonesian Teas!

Alejandra Toro

Alejandra, from Colombia, is a psychologist and Nutrition and Behaviour professional. She has a strong interest in understanding how food affects our mood and behaviour. Some of her passions include aspirations to become a yogi, discovering superfoods from around the world and learning ancient medical systems such as Ayurveda. She strives to help people reach their potential and optimum well-being through a healthy lifestyle and positive mindset.

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