Salvia: The Legal Drug Every Parent Should Know

There is an old drug with a new audience that has lawmakers and parents very concerned.

Salvia divinorum, also known as S. divinorum, magic mint, Maria Pastora and diviner's sage, is a readily available, hallucinogenic, and legal drug.

It is native to areas of the Mazateca region of Oaxaca, Mexico and has been used for centuries by the native Mazatecas for medicinal purposes and to induce visions.

But in recent years it has migrated out of Mexico and onto the Internet. Some sites market it as a safe and legal high, readily available for around $20 per ounce.

While most parents are unaware of this member of the mint family, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has already flagged it as a "drug of concern."

Because this drug is not listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act, it can be legally obtained by anyone, mostly adolescents, seeking an alternative to marijuana or mescaline.

But the assumption that this herb, a cousin to common sage, is an alternative to marijuana could not be further from the truth.

According to the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research, the psychoactive component, Salvinorin A, is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen.

Salvinorin A is found in highest concentrations in the leaves, and in lesser amounts of the stems.

According to the DEA, it is most commonly chewed or smoked to get a high. When smoked, the high lasts for about 15 minutes, but chewing allows the active ingredient to mix with saliva, inducing hallucinations that can last one to two hours, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

Salvinorin A extracts can also be added to drinks, which produces a lesser effect than chewing, it is also sometimes vaporized.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center's website, "Immediately after ingesting the drug, abusers typically experience vivid hallucinations—including out-of-body experiences, sensations of traveling through time and space, and feelings of merging with inanimate objects. Some abusers experience intense synesthesia, an effect that causes the abusers' senses to become confused. For example, abusers may describe hearing colors or smelling sounds. The hallucinogenic effects generally last 1 hour or less unlike other hallucinogens like LSD and PCP. High doses of the drug can cause unconsciousness and short-term memory loss."

Although this cousin of sage has been around for centuries, there is very little research on the long-term effects of this herb.

No one is sure if this drug is addictive, although users have indicated that negative effects may be similar to that of LSD, including flashbacks and depression.

Because most adults are unaware of this substance, teenagers are being influenced by websites selling Salvia. Websites tout that it has no side effects, and while many pages have warnings and suggest adult-use only, it is still readily available for sale.

But that may not be the case for long. Australia has already criminalized this drug. Various states, including Louisiana, Delaware, Tennessee and Missouri have passed legislation placing controls on Salvia.

And if the federal government does not take the reigns in legislating this substance, many states have pending legislation to put regulatory controls on the sale and possession of this potentially dangerous drug.