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07-07 Not Legal for Long: Salvia and its effects on the brain

Not Legal for Long: Salvia and its effects on the brain

Salvia is a hallucinogenic drug that has grown in popularity among teens in the past decade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Future Study, approximately 2 percent of high school seniors in the nation reported having abused the drug within the past year. This is alarming since the long-term effects of this trend are unknown, though studies performed on rodents have shown that salvia abuse can lead to problems with learning and memory.

Salvia divinorum is a mint-related herb most commonly found in South America, Central America and parts of Mexico. The plant is typically no larger than three feet in height, with large green leaves and small white and purple flowers that grow in clusters. Salvia can be sold as seeds or liquid extract, though most commonly as dried leaves which are then smoked, producing a hallucinogenic effect. Salvinorin A, the main ingredient in salvia, produces this effect by attaching to kappa opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are believed to play a part in pain control and several mental health disorders. However, salvinorin A does not affect serotonin receptors, as do other hallucinogens, including LSD.

The changes in brain chemistry that occur with salvia consumption produce effects lasting less than 30 minutes, which often mimic psychosis. These effects include hallucinations, blurred vision, bodily sensations, mood swings and feelings of detachment. Some individuals report feelings of losing touch with reality, as is common with hallucinations, making driving under the influence of salvia highly dangerous despite the fact that it is not considered a controlled substance.

Though salvia is commonly believed to be a “party drug” and is sometimes used in this context, it does not produce the recreational effects of alcohol and other drugs. It is marketed as producing a high similar to that of marijuana, but the reality is quite different. Daniel Siebert, a saliva researcher, states, “Most people who do it hoping to have just an interesting high find it confusing and disappointing. It’s not something that’s fun to do. It doesn’t have a stimulating effect. It doesn’t really have a euphoric effect.”

Effects of salvia

There are currently no federal laws regulating salvia, as it is not included in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, it is being monitored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a “drug of concern.” Since research is required to determine the drug’s potentially addictive properties and to examine the long-term effects of the drug, researchers are concerned that if salvia is classified as a controlled substance, it would slow down the research process. Despite lack of federal regulations, many state governments have regulated salvia use, including California. Selling or otherwise providing salvia to a minor is classified as misdemeanor in the state of California under Cal. Penal Code § 379, punishable by imprisonment and/or fines. Possession and use of salvia by a minor, however, is not illegal or even mentioned in California law.

Though there have been no known cases of death resulting from salvia overdose, the hallucinogenic effects of the drug can potentially have adverse effects on an individual’s mental health. As previously stated, more research must be conducted to confirm the effects it has on development.

If you or a loved one is struggling with salvia abuse and is experiencing any of these issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers dealing with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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