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Salvia divinorum

Category: Actions

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

Salvia divinorum (also known as Diviner's Sage, ska María Pastora, Seer's sage, and by its genus name Salvia) is a psychoactive plant which can induce dissociative effects.  The plant grows to over a meter high, has hollow stems, large leaves, and occasional white flowers with violet calyx.

We originally placed Salvia Divinorum in the list of medicines, but have decided to move it, as its effects are not medicinal in the more conventional sense.

Salvia Divinorum is being promoted by [mostly American] psychologists and researchers. “Research suggests that Salvia divinorum, may have therapeutic potential”.  In the rather predictable way that western doctors suggest drugs to treat the effects of drugs, Salvia Divinorum is now being touted as a sort of wonder drug.

In the first place it is being promoted as the drug to use to treat a whole range of other drug addictions.  Thomas Prisinzano, assistant professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry at the University of Iowa, for example, has suggested that salvia may help treat cocaine addiction.  Here is the logic being used to support this:
“You can give a rat free access to cocaine, give them free access to Salvinorin A, and they stop taking cocaine.  —Masis 2007-02-28 (US Media)”

And we have researchers who, ignoring all research into the cause of illnesses, are now promoting Salvia Divinorum as a sort of cure-all for all the afflictions of mankind including housemaid's knee [sorry this is a joke].  Professor Bryan L. Roth, director of the National Institute on Mental Health's Psychoactive Drug Screening Program, has said:
“We think that drugs derived from the active ingredient could be useful for a range of diseases: Alzheimer's, depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain and even AIDS or HIV” - Viren 2007-08-23 (US Media)
Much as cocaine was in the early 1900s I suppose. 

Clinical pharmacologist John Mendelsohn has said:
“There may be some derivatives that could be made that would actually be active against cancer and HIV [...] At the present time, there are a lot of therapeutic targets that have many people excited”.

May being the operative word.  I despair.

Background

Botany

There is some debate on whether Salvia divinorum is a cultigen or a hybrid.  Botanist Valdés (1987), wrote that, "It is doubtful that the Salvia is a true cultigen", based partly on his belief that it was first "collected in the highlands and planted in more accessible places, where it becomes naturalized".

Salvia divinorum is endemic to the Sierra Mazateca in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, growing in the primary or secondary cloud forest and tropical evergreen forest at elevations from 300 to 1,830 metres (980 to 6,000 ft). Its most common habitat is black soil along stream banks where small trees and bushes provide an environment of low light.

Salvia divinorum produces few viable seeds even when it does flower—no seeds have ever been observed on plants in the wild. All of the Mazatec populations appear to be clonal. The plant's square stems break easily and tend to trail on the ground, rooting easily at the nodes and internodes.

Salvia divinorum is usually propagated through vegetative reproduction. Small cuttings, between two and eight inches long, cut off of the mother plant just below a node, will usually root in plain tap water within two or three weeks.  Blooms occur when the day length becomes shorter than 12 hours.  They like the shade and high humidity.

Shamanic use

Salvia divinorum has a long and continuous tradition of religious use by Mazatec shamans, who “use it to facilitate visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions”.  So when it is used in  shamanic societies, it is used in the context of a proper ceremony with all the implications this involves.

Chemical constituents

Salvia Divinorum’s active psychoactive constituent is a structurally unique diterpenoid called Salvinorin A.  Salvinorin A is not an alkaloid, (meaning it does not contain nitrogen), unlike most known opioid receptor ligands.  This chemical and its effects are described separately – see SalvinorinSalvia Divinorum contains not just one chemical it contains others

Determination of salvinorins and divinatorins in Salvia divinorum leaves by liquid chromatography/ multistage mass spectrometry - Medana C, Massolino C, Pazzi M, Baiocchi C; Dipartimento di Chimica Analitica, Università degli Studi di Torino, Torino, Italy.
Salvinorin A is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen known and rivals synthetic LSD in potency……… Six different salvinorins and three divinatorins have been isolated from Salvia divinorum leaves. PMID: 16331747

Furthermore, Salvia Divinorum contains both Salvinorum A and Salvinorum B, though there is very little Salvinorum B comparatively speaking

Determination of salvinorin A and salvinorin B in Salvia divinorum-related products circulated in Japan - Tsujikawa K et al; National Research Institute of Police Science, , Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan.
Two major salvinorins, salvinorin A (SalA) and salvinorin B (SalB), in three Salvia divinorum dried leaf products and nine of its "concentrated extract" products circulated in Japan were determined. ………. The SalA/SalB contents (mug/mg) were in the range of 3.2-5.0/0.10-0.17 in the dried leaf products and 4.1-38.9/0.26-2.42 in the "concentrated extract" products.  PMID: 18768273

However, according to Wikipedia “None of these other compounds has shown significant (sub-micromolar) affinity at the κ-Opioid receptor, and there is no evidence that they contribute to the plant's psychoactivity”, so we need to concentrate on Salvinorin A to understand the effects. 

By mass, salvinorin A "is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen." It is active at doses as low as 200µgMicrograms remember micrograms – this is a measurement we only find being used with similarly potent drugs like LSD.  It does not take much to turn this plant into a deliriant and the tincture could be extremely dangerous if you do not know what you are doing.

Method

By providing this section I am not advocating the use of Salvia, but I think it is helpful to know how it is used.  There are two main ways in which the plant is used

  • The leaves are chewed
  • The dried leaves are smoked

Salvia Divinorum – J D Arthur
Traditional ingestion of the plant consisted in chewing or eating a quid of the rolled-up leaves or drinking the expressed juice of dozens of crushed leaves. This method was reported to induce visions and facilitate contact with the plant spirit - some curanderos even claiming to speak with God and the saints. In recent years, particularly outside the traditional framework, smoking the dried, crushed leaves, as well as ingestion through a tincture, have been the most popular methods for approaching salvia.............. the experience, depending on the form of ingestion, was reported to last between five and thirty minutes.  The active ingredient in salvia is salvinorin A, the concentration of which can vary significantly from plant to plant, based on heredity, growing conditions, and the like.
Salvinorin A can, however, be extracted from the plant by the use of various solvents, such as acetone or ethanol.  After evaporation of the solvent, the resultant salvinorin A-rich precipitate can be redissolved into a tincture or redeposited on crushed leaves. Depending on the amount of salvinorin A extracted, the "enhanced" leaves normally vary in strength from 5X to 20X the original potency; although, in recent years, extracts as high as 60X have been sold.
The strength of salvia seemed to be somewhat of an issue because many claimed to have horrific, disorienting experiences. It seemed that, in many cases, these same people were using very strong extracts of the plant, if not pure salvinorin A itself. In some published accounts, salvia was used in addition to other powerful substances such as LSD and DMT. Finding information about the effects of lighter, more rational doses of salvia was more elusive.
After some research, I decided to begin with the liquid tincture. It seemed, first of all, the mildest approach, as well as slightly longer lasting than smoking. It also seemed to be the method of ingestion most similar in effect to the indigenous methods used by the Mazatecs.
Although they would either drink the juice or chew the leaves, their method, I was given to understand, seemed to rely on absorption through the oral mucosa, which was the same as the tincture. The amount of leaves, by many accounts, that would be needed for something approaching traditional methods would also be prohibitive.
The procedure was to hold a measured amount of the tincture in the mouth, preferably under the tongue, for a specified amount of time without swallowing. This would allow the dissolved salvinorin A to enter the bloodstream though the tissues of the mouth. This can get a bit problematic, since the mouth tends to generate saliva as a response to the mildly burning tincture, and the urge to swallow increases. I would use the equivalent of six or eight eyedroppers full for about twelve minutes….
I wanted to adhere, as closely as possible, to the traditional recommendations for salvia use. To that end, I would use total darkness, as well as closed eyes, for my approach. These conditions of isolation virtually eliminated any visual or aural distraction or grounding influences of ordinary stimuli and allowed me to uninterruptedly let go and abandon myself to any circumstances that might arise.

I have used this quote in its entirety because it is an excellent summary of the various methods of use.  Overall, the message is that an overdose produces delirium and you have an experience via poisoning, but at more sensible lower doses and taken on its own with no mixing with other drugs or substances, salvia is safer, not safe, but safer. 

Chewing

Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A: new pharmacologic findings. - Siebert DJ
The diterpene salvinorin A from Salvia divinorum (Epling and Jativa-M), in doses of 200-500 micrograms produces effects which are subjectively identical to those experienced when the whole herb is ingested. Salvinorin A is effectively deactivated by the gastrointestinal system, so alternative routes of absorption must be used to maintain its activity. Traditionally the herb is consumed either by chewing the fresh leaves or by drinking the juices of freshly crushed leaves. The effects of the herb when consumed this way depend on absorption of salvinorin A through the oral mucosa before the herb is swallowed.PMID: 7526076

Smoking

Salvia Divinorum – J D Arthur
When smoking salvia, there is a definite procedure to be followed in order to best experience the effects. First of all, one wants to fill the lungs as fully as possible with the smoke; therefore, a pipe is preferable to a rolled cigarette. Due to the harshness of the smoke, some people prefer water pipes to cool and filter the resultant smoke.  I, personally, found that a corncob pipe worked perfectly.
In addition, one could have two or three pipes loaded with salvia before smoking, thus multiple lungfuls could be taken sequentially, without the necessity for reloading while one is in a semi-inebriated state. Secondly, due to the high vaporization temperature, as well as safety concerns, an ordinary disposable butane lighter is well suited to ignite the salvia, the flame being held continuously over the bowl of the pipe. Lastly, the smoke must be retained in the lungs for as long as possible. This, obviously, aids in the absorption of the smoke by the lung tissue.
My first experience with smoked salvia was of a decidedly different order than with the tincture. Whereas the tincture allowed one the luxury of "snapping out" of the experience, the smoked salvia was more demanding and disorienting. The visions were more intense and involving, although still retaining their arbitrary nature.

Dry leaves can be smoked in a pipe, but most users prefer the use of a water pipe to cool the smoke.   The temperature required to release salvinorin from the plant material is quite high (about 240°C). Concentrated preparations or extracts which may be smoked in place of untreated leaves, have become widely available.
This enhanced (or "fortified") leaf is described by a number followed by an x (e.g. 5x, 10x), the multiplicative factors being generally indicative of the relative amounts of leaf concentrate, though there is no accepted standard for these claims.
Other sources may use a system of color codes to form their own standards of potency; for example, "green", "yellow", and "red."  These grades of potency may be roughly indicative of the relative concentration of the active principle, (salvinorin A), but the measure should not be taken as absolute.
Overall extract potency will depend on the (naturally varying) strength of the untreated leaf used in preparing the extract, as well as the efficiency of the extraction process itself. Extracts reduce the overall amount of inhalations needed to ingest a given amount of active principle, thus facilitating more powerful experiences.

Salvia Divinorum – J D Arthur
It was during this time I began experimenting with a stronger form of salvia known as 5X. This enhanced leaf contains approximately five times the salvinorin A content of regular crushed leaves, allowing one to consume considerably less smoke, while engendering a more powerful experience than could be achieved with normal crushed leaves.  This enabled me to enter the state in a more immediate and forceful manner.
My first experiences with 5X were dramatic and exhilarating. The depth of the trance was stronger and more all encompassing than I'd experienced to date. The sensing of the presences was overwhelming. It was during this time I began to feel that the reality of genuine entities in this realm was undeniable. The depth and richness of this state was unlike anything I had ever encountered.

How it works

I could go into a very lengthy explanation about receptor activity, but Salvia Divinorum actually works functionally by attacking the ego and the memory, see the section on How spiritual experience works for a more detailed explanation.

There also appears to be a ‘loss of locomotor control’ which means there is a disruption of the nervous sensations and less sensory input.  Far more important is the loss of memory experienced by all salvia divinorum users, however, who feel that their memory has been all but wiped out for them.

With no memory, there is nothing with which to reason and loss of the level experienced with salvinorin A is profound – if you look at the salvia divinorum observations you will see that it can be frighteningly complete.  With no reasoning system, the composer can then take over as the will has nothing with which to work.  If we keep the input from the 5 senses to a minimum we will be lost in the space of spiritual experimentation.

Or we will jump off high buildings thinking we can fly, as one poor little lad did - see the observations.

Learning and memory impairment induced by salvinorin A, the principal ingredient of Salvia divinorum, in wistar rats - Braida D, Donzelli A, Martucci R, Capurro V, Sala M.  Department of Pharmacology, Chemotherapy and Medical Toxicology, Universitá degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy.
The effects of salvinorin A (Salvia divinorum principal ingredient), a potent κ-opioid natural hallucinogen, on learning and memory were investigated.   Wistar rats were tested in the 8-arm radial maze, for object recognition and passive avoidance tasks for spatial, episodic, and aversive memory. …..Episodic and aversive memories were impaired by salvinorin A (160-640 μg/kg). …. These findings demonstrate for the first time that salvinorin A has deleterious effects on learning and memory, through a κ-opioid receptor mechanism.

References and further reading

  • Salvia DivinorumJ D Arthur, the book from which I have quoted the most, extremely helpful, very readable and honest
  • Sage Spirit -  Salvia Divinorum and the Entheogenic ExperienceDr Martin Ball – a good read and lots of interesting experiences
  • Salvinorin—The Psychedelic Essence of Salvia Divinorum – D M Turner (August 1996)
  • The Gardener's Guide to Growing Salvias – John Sutton. Workman Publishing Company
  • "The Salvia divinorum User's Guide". Daniel Siebert from The Salvia divinorum Research and Information Center also  this LINK
  • " Salvia divinorum FAQ". Daniel Siebert from The Salvia divinorum Research and Information Center. and also this LINK
  •  Salvia Divinorum - Wikipedia entry on legal status
  • EROWID entry on Salvia Divinorum and the law
  •  EROWID experience vault for salvia divinorum
  • Another excellent resource for the latest information on the legal status of salvia is the salvia divinorum research and information centre
  • Youtube - has a number of videos – not all of them very helpful or accurate – of the effects of salvia or showing people using it. 
  • The following isn’t too bad .  Sacred Weeds: Salvia divinorum(Documentary). UK: TVF Productions (for Channel 4).  A little dry and academic with a set of somewhat dense researchers who appear to have never had anything stronger than a mint humbug, [and are annoyingly condescending] but the people who take the salvia at least are more open to being informative.  The theory and academic analysis is beyond a joke -  but watching someone take the salvia is good.  The set and setting is truly diabolic – cruel- so the guinea pigs did well to cope.  Sherratt, Dr Andrew (Presenter); Sarah Marris (Producer); with Daniel Seibert, Dr Françoise Barbira-Freedman, Dr Tim Kendell, Dr Jon Robbins and Sean Thomas (1998) (video).
  • "Cultivating Diviner's Sage - A step by step guide to cultivation, propagation, and keeping your Salvia plants happy".  - Beifuss, Will (Summer 1997). 

Related observations