Salvia Divinorum – DEA Control over Magic in the Mint

Salvia divinorum is a member of the mint family with known hallucinogenic properties which have been known for centuries. Historically it has been used in shaman rituals in the Oaxaca Mexico region. The psychoactive substance within salvia divinorum has been isolated and is called salvinorin A (salv A). Unlike the typical hallucinogenic drugs that act on the serotonergic system, salv A primarily acts on the kappa opioid system. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has taken a recent interest in this compound and is currently investigating whether it should be scheduled as a controlled substance. Currently thirteen states heave enacted laws regarding the use of salv A. The question on the scheduling of salv A and the synthetic isomers of the drug may produce an interesting debate.

The literature on the addictive properties is still rather sparse and replication of the existing studies would be beneficial. A preclinical study in rodents demonstrated that salv A produced a decrease in dopamine and dopamine transmission, the endogenous neurotransmitter associated with addiction, and no effect on locomotor activity (a common test for the stimulant effects of a drug). These depressive effects would seem to be contrary to the notion of salv A being an addictive drug. Furthermore, these effects may lend value to salv A and its analogs as potential pharmacotherapeutics for neuropsychiatric conditions including addiction and mood disorders.

Other studies have demonstrated the opposite effect, where low doses of salv A increase dopamine efflux, produce a conditioned place preference, and rats examined during intracerebroventricular self-administration will self-infuse the drug. The latter two tests are common preclinical assessments of the rewarding properties associated with a drug. There exists a discrepancy in the literature on whether salv A will substitute for LSD in rodent studies using drug discrimination. On such study in rodents demonstrated that salv A and LSD share similar stimulus properties which is contrary to previous reports.

Recently a controlled behavioral pharmacology investigation was conducted in humans to assess the physiological and subjective effects of salv A. It showed that salv A does not induce changes in blood pressure or heart rate although its subjective effects are similar to other hallucinogenic drugs. Given that salv A produces hallucinogenic effects similar to other known scheduled hallucinogens careful consideration needs to be given to legality of this substance.


Braida D, Limonta V, Capurro V, Fadda P, Rubino T, Mascia P, Zani A, Gori E, Fratta W, Parolaro D, & Sala M (2008). Involvement of kappa-opioid and endocannabinoid system on Salvinorin A-induced reward. Biological psychiatry, 63 (3), 286-92 PMID: 17920565

Carlezon WA Jr, Béguin C, DiNieri JA, Baumann MH, Richards MR, Todtenkopf MS, Rothman RB, Ma Z, Lee DY, & Cohen BM (2006). Depressive-like effects of the kappa-opioid receptor agonist salvinorin A on behavior and neurochemistry in rats. The Journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, 316 (1), 440-7 PMID: 16223871

Gehrke BJ, Chefer VI, & Shippenberg TS (2008). Effects of acute and repeated administration of salvinorin A on dopamine function in the rat dorsal striatum. Psychopharmacology, 197 (3), 509-17 PMID: 18246329

Johnson, M., MacLean, K., Reissig, C., Prisinzano, T., & Griffiths, R. (2011). Human psychopharmacology and dose-effects of salvinorin A, a kappa opioid agonist hallucinogen present in the plant Salvia divinorum Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 115 (1-2), 150-155 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.11.005

Peet, M., & Baker, L. (2011). Salvinorin B derivatives, EOM-Sal B and MOM-Sal B, produce stimulus generalization in male Sprague-Dawley rats trained to discriminate salvinorin A Behavioural Pharmacology, 22 (5 and 6), 450-457 DOI: 10.1097/FBP.0b013e328349fc1b

Drug Enforcement Administration. SALVIA DIVINORUM AND SALVINORIN A (Street Names: Maria Pastora, Sage of the Seers,
Diviner’s Sage, Salvia, Sally-D, Magic Mint). December 2010.

Image via Doug Stacey / Shutterstock.

  • onergk69

    In regards to the agents w psychotic properties, compared to most other psychoactive subs, these agents cause less harm than most. Consider that nicotine & alcohol show the highest rates of premature morbidity & mortality, respectively; and there are no close rivals. These substances are considered legal in some situations.

    And lets consider the narcotic analgesics. We have more persons dying from these agents than we do from heroin & cocaine combined; & more young persons (esp. males) are dying than from MVA’s. So these other agents bear our time & energy first.

    In clincal care, we must persistently triage care: urgent, emergent, critical, and non-critical.


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  • This is a great article about Salvia divinorum. I live outside of the states and when I lived in the EU, it was legal. I had never taken it, but it was quite popular. I agree with what Rich says above regarding it in comparison to alcohol and nicotine.
    PS I went to Western!

  • JamMiester1711

    Be careful not to be miss informed. Salvinorin A will raise heart rate in large doses and should always be explored with well intent and in the presence of a close family member or friend. I don’t tell people what to chose to do, i.e.”smoke it don’t smoke it”, but no matter what choice u make gather all the knowledge can about it first. Talk to people who have been experienced. Because honestly, its all about how healthy your mind is and where your mind is when you are experimenting with Salv A. “I knw I knw, ull prolly scream n cry tht your little weld won’t let u go, but who in your measely little world are u tryin to prove tht u r made of gold n can’t b sold” -Jimi Hendrix

  • Anton K

    I would like your opinion regarding the outright ban on Salvia that occurred in Canada during this past last year, is it me or does this seem reminiscent of what happened with LSD? I have been reading various books and papers on the effects of salvia on Dopamine activity, and yet I am confused as some claim it is raised while others argue the opposite takes place. I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on this?

    Lastly, has anyone found research papers that support claims of salvia being used as an analgesic painkiller or to treat migraine headaches?

  • Richard Kensinger, MSW

    To Anton & others,

    Many psychoactive agents, inc. psychotropics, cause neuromodulation of dopamine; And I suspect other core neurotranmitters as well. Most narcotic analgesics impact D; & so do all psychostimulants. Some antidepressants do as well; & certainly all the neuroleptics!

    So, from my perspective, these actions don’t tell me a lot clinically as stand-alone findings!


John Panos, PhD

John Panos, PhD, holds a PhD in psychology from Western Michigan University. He completed post-doctoral training at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. He Currently is an ORISE fellow with the National Center for Toxicological Research/FDA. His research areas of interest include schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, behavioral pharmacology, neuropharmacology, neurochemistry and environmental toxicology.

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