Miley Cyrus’ Magic Mint: Hallucinating with Salvia

Bong hits aren’t the only way to get high with the Mexican sage plant Salvia divinorum, you can also chew its fresh leaves as a wad or drink an infusion from freshly crushed leaves.  Salvia means “to heal” and divinorum means “divination” reflecting its traditional uses by Mazatec folk healers or Shamans in Oxaxaca, Mexico. Modern recreational use of the drug mostly relies on “pyrolysis and inhalation,” in other words, a bong hit as recently demonstrated by pop singer Miley Cyrus who turned 18 last month.

Salvia produces hallucinations by binding to a protein in the brain, although not the same one as LSD. The hallucinations are typically described as “separation from the body” or “experiencing another reality.” The hallucinations occur rapidly after ingestion, are intense, and can last up to an hour.

The active ingredient of salvia is a chemical compound called Salvinorin A. Oftentimes, such “natural products” can be modified to produce new kinds of prescription drugs. Salvinorin A is currently being developed as a possible treatment for diarrhea, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s Disease and mood disorders such as depression.

Over-the-counter preparations of dried salvia leaves can be widely found on the internet and it’s currently legal in most of the U.S. and other countries. If you’d like to participate in clinical research to study the effects of medicinal Salvinorin A in humans (it’s already been given to mice, rats and monkeys), you can sign up here:

Effects of Salvinorin A in Healthy Controls To understand what people experience when they consume Salvinorin A
Human Psychopharmacology of Salvinorin A To study behavioral effects of salvinorin A in healthy volunteers

In addition to its psychological effects, salvia also produces a number of physiological effects summarized in the diagram below. More information and background reading here.

Did you know? Salvia divinorum is only one of about 1000 species of this plant. Which Salvia species did most of us ingest at Thanksgiving?

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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