Description

Salvia divinorum (also known as the sage of the diviners, ska maría pastora, seer’s sage, yerba de la Pastora or simply salvia) is a plant species with transient psychoactive properties when its leaves are consumed by chewing, smoking or as a tea. The leaves contain opioid-like compounds that induce hallucinations. Because the plant has not been well-studied in high-quality clinical research, little is known about its toxicology, adverse effects, or safety over long-term consumption. Its native habitat is a cloud forest in the isolated Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico, where it grows in shady, moist locations. The plant grows to over a meter high, has hollow square stems like others in the mint family Lamiaceae, large leaves, and occasional white flowers with violet calyxes. Botanists have not determined whether Salvia divinorum is a cultigen or a hybrid because native plants reproduce vegetatively and rarely produce viable seed.

Mazatec shamans have a long and continuous tradition of religious use of Salvia divinorum to facilitate visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions.

Its chief active psychoactive constituent is a structurally unique diterpenoid called salvinorin A, a potent κ-opioid agonist. Although not thoroughly assessed, preliminary research indicates Salvia divinorum may have low toxicity (high LD50). The effects are rapid in onset and short-lived.

Salvia divinorum is legal in some countries and certain US states, while other states have passed laws criminalizing it

Etymology

The genus name, Salvia, was first used by Pliny for a plant that was likely Salvia officinalis (common sage) and is derived from the Latin salvere. The specific epithet, Divinorum, was given because of the plant’s traditional use in divination. It is often loosely translated as “diviner’s sage” or “seer’s sage”. Albert Hofmann, who collected the first plants with Wasson, objected to the new plant being given the name Divinorum: “I was not very happy with the name because Salvia divinorum means “Salvia of the ghosts”, whereas Salvia Divinorum, the correct name, means “Salvia of the priests”. It is now in the botanical literature under the name Salvia divinorum.

Common names

There are many common names for S. Divinorum, including sage of the diviners, ska maría pastora, seer’s sage, yerba de la Pastora or simply salvia

Strains

There are two commonly cultivated strains that are known to be distinct. One is the strain that was collected in 1962 by ecologist and psychologist Sterling Bunnell (the Bunnell strain), colloquially misattributed as the Wasson-Hofmann strain. The other was collected from Huautla de Jiménez in 1991 by anthropologist Bret Blosser (the Blosser or Palatable strain). There are other strains that are not as well documented, such as the Luna strain (possibly Bunnell) isolated from a Hawaiian patch of Salvia divinorum clones, featuring unusually serrated and rounded rather than ovate leaves

Potency

By mass, salvinorin A “is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen.” It is active at doses as low as 200 µg. Synthetic chemicals, such as LSD (active at 20–30 µg doses), can be more potent. Research has shown that salvinorin A is a potent and selective κ-opioid (kappa-opioid) receptor, an agonist. It has been reported that the effects of salvinorin A in mice are blocked by κ-opioid receptor antagonists. However, it is an even more potent D2 receptor partial agonist, and it is likely this action plays a significant role in its effects as well. Salvinorin A has no actions at the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor, the principal molecular target responsible for the actions of ‘classic’ hallucinogens, such as mescaline and LSD, nor is it known to have an affinity for any other sites to date.

Salvinorin’s potency should not be confused with toxicity. Rodents chronically exposed to dosages many times greater than those to which humans are exposed show no signs of organ damage.