Salvia divinorum: from Mazatec medicinal and hallucinogenic plant to emerging recreational drug

Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Sep;28(5):403-12. doi: 10.1002/hup.2304. Epub 2013 Jun 23.


Salvia divinorum is a sage endemic to a small region of Mexico and has been traditionally used by the Mazatec Indians for divination and spiritual healing. Recently, it has gained increased popularity as a recreational drug, used by adolescents and young adults as an alternative to marijuana and LSD. Salvinorin A, the major active ingredient of the plant, is considered to be the most potent known hallucinogen of natural origin. This review surveys the current state of knowledge on the neurochemical, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacological properties of salvinorin A, the trends and motivation behind S. divinorum use, and the health problems among users of the plant's products. S. divinorum induces intense, but short-lived, psychedelic-like changes in mood and perception, with concomitant hallucinations and disorientation. Many websites have misinterpreted the limited existing research-based information on the side effects of salvia as evidence for its safety. However, data accumulated over the last few years indicate that potential health risks are associated with the use of S. divinorum, especially by teenagers, users of other substances of abuse, and individuals with underlying psychotic disturbances. Taken together, the data presented in this review point to the need for further basic and clinical studies to create a basis for the development of well-addressed prevention and treatment strategies.

Keywords: Salvia divinorum; hallucinogenic drugs; herbal highs; kappa opioid receptor; salvinorin A.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diterpenes, Clerodane / administration & dosage
  • Diterpenes, Clerodane / chemistry*
  • Hallucinogens / administration & dosage
  • Hallucinogens / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / chemistry*
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Mexico
  • Salvia*


  • Diterpenes, Clerodane
  • Hallucinogens
  • Illicit Drugs
  • salvinorin A