What Is Salvia Divinorum and How Can the Substance Help Humanity?

Take a deep dive into the history, effects, and benefits of this psychoactive plant that is still largely under the radar.

Evan Lewis-Healey


Leaves of the Salvia Divinorum plant. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of a psychedelic renaissance, researchers and the public are becoming more and more acquainted with the various psychedelic substances and their effects. But Salvia Divinorum still isn’t getting much attention compared to psilocybin, MDMA, LSD and DMT.

Currently, there are 141 registered and upcoming studies with the term ‘psychedelics’ in the title. However, there are still many naturally-occurring substances that have gone under the radar of psychedelic science. Salvia Divinorum, a psychoactive plant ritually used in Mazatec shamanic ceremonies, is one such substance.

Here we’ll explore why its subjective effects, neurochemistry, and potential medicinal properties that make it so unique and interesting.

What Is Salvia?

Salvia Divinorum (or simply, Salvia) is a plant species found in the Sierra Mazateca mountainous area in Oaxaca, Mexico. The leaves of the plant contain salvinorin A, which is responsible for its psychoactive effects when the leaves are chewed or smoked.

Because of the presence of salvinorin A, Salvia is not considered a ‘classic’ psychedelic. For classic psychedelics, the neurochemical action happens mainly at the serotonin 2A receptors, which is thought to be the mechanism responsible for psychedelics’ radical effects on mood, thought, and consciousness.

Salvinorin A, on the other hand, acts on the kappa opioid receptor. The effects of ingesting salvia is therefore considered quite different compared to the effects of substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD.

What Are the Effects of Salvia?

The unique pharmacological profile of salvia sets itself apart as a unique naturally-occurring hallucinogen. Users testify to the strong hallucinogenic and dissociative properties of Salvia. Its visual effects are characterized by continuous fractal patterns occurring, sometimes independently of the scene around them. The physical effects include a sense of…



Evan Lewis-Healey

PhD candidate at Cambridge University. Studying the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness.