What Are the Effects of Salvia Use in Adolescents?

Mary E. Muscari, PhD, CPNP, PMHCNS-BC


April 04, 2011

In This Article


I keep hearing about young people smoking something called "salvia." What is it, and what effects does it have on teens?

Response from Mary E. Muscari, PhD, CPNP, PMHCNS-BC
Associate Professor, Decker School of Nursing, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York; Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Clinical Specialist, and Forensic Clinical Specialist, Sex Offender Assessment Board / Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Salvia divinorum

One of the newest substances to be abused by teen idols, salvia is back in the news since Rockland County, New York is considering a law to make it illegal to sell salvia to any under age 18 or to possess salvia if younger than 18 years of age. Their concern is that youths are using this herb as a hallucinogen.[1]

S. divinorum (salvia), is a hallucinogenic plant native to a region of Mexico where the Mazatac natives used it for centuries as a healing and divining tool. Although this is the only known area where salvia grows naturally, it is cultivated in certain areas of the United States.[2] At least 6 different compounds (salvinorin A-F) have been extracted from the plant leaves. Salvinorin A (divinorin A), the most psychoactive compound, is a nonwater-soluble compound that is absorbed by the respiratory tract and oral mucosa when users chew or smoke dried leaves.[3]

Prevalence and Use of Salvia

The typical age range for salvia users is 12 years through college age, but it has been used by children as young as 8 years of age.[4] Youths can purchase it online or in local tobacco and smoke shops. One company sells a starter pack of 2 g of extract and 1 ounce of leaves for $43, and another sells a 1-g vial for $11.[4] A quick Google search for "how to purchase salvia" resulted in 454,000 hits.

Salvinorin A, the active compound, must be absorbed through the oral mucosa and into the bloodstream to produce a psychoactive effect.[2] However, there are several means of ingesting salvia, and these produce varying durations of hallucinogenic effects (Table).

Table. Methods of Ingesting Saliva and Durations of Effects

Method Means Duration of Hallucinogenic Effect
Smoke Joint (cigarette) or in a bong (water pipe) or pipe 15 minutes
Chew Quid (leaves produce extract) 1-2 hours (the longer the drug is in the mouth, the longer the effect)
Drink Leaves are crushed and mixed with water Moderate effect because it is deactivated in the gastrointestinal tract
Inhale Heated in tin foil, and vapors are inhaled through glass pipe Not stated


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