Salvia divinorum, also known as Diviner's Sage, Magic Mint, Sally D, Ska Marķa Pastora, or simply Salvia (although the genus name is shared among many plants) is a powerful psychoactive plant, a member of the sage genus and the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It has long been used as an entheogen by the indigenous Mazatec shamans for healing during spirit journeys. Salvia divinorum is also used ornamentally, as it is a beautiful houseplant. The plant is found in isolated, shaded and moist plots in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is thought to be a cultigen, as no definitively wild populations have been found.
The Latin name Salvia divinorum literally translates to "sage of the seers". The genus name Salvia is derived from the Latin salvare, meaning "to heal" or "to save". The words salvation and saviour also come from this root.
The primary psychoactive constituent is a diterpenoid known as salvinorin A.
Salvia divinorum was first recorded in print by Jean Basset Johnston in 1939 as he was studying the psilocybin mushroom use of the Mazatecs in Mexico. R. Gordon Wasson later documented its usage and reported its effects through personal testimonials. Additional historical references are lacking. It was not until the 1990s that this plant's properties became widely known through the experiment and report of Daniel Siebert.
It is likely that Salvia divinorum has a longstanding relationship with humans. Wasson theorized that this plant was the mythological pipilzintzintli, the "Noble Prince" of the Aztec codices. However, this theory is not without dispute. The Aztecs were extremely knowledgeable in plant identification, and their records report that pipilzintzintli has both male and female varieties. Salvia divinorum, however, is monoecious, meaning it produces flowers of both sexes on a single plant. Skeptics of this theory report that the Aztecs would have known the difference between male and female flowers. Wasson gains validity, however, as a number of Aztec historical accounts engender plants in a metaphorical, rather than botanically anatomical manner.
Unlike other species of salvia, Salvia divinorum produces few seeds, and those seldom germinate. For an unknown reason, pollen fertility is reduced. There is no active pollen tube inhibition within the style, but some event or process after the pollen tube reaches the ovary is aberrant (Reisfield). Partial sterility is often suggestive of a hybrid origin, although no species have been recognized as possible parent species. The ability to grow indistinguishable plants from seeds produced by self pollination also weakens the hybrid theory of origin, instead implying inbreeding depression, or an undiscovered incompatibility mechanism. The plant is mainly propagated by cuttings or layering. Although (Valdes, et al) isolated strands of S. divinorum exist, these are thought to have been purposely created and tended by the Mazatec people. For this reason, it is considered a true cultigen, not occurring in a wild state.
All known specimens are clones from a small number of collected plants, two of which are in major circulation. The Wasson/Hofmann strain, obtained upon request from a Mazatec shaman in Oaxaca in 1962, and the Blosser ('Palatable') strain, obtained around 1980. The 'Palatable' strain is said to have a more acceptable taste than the Wasson/Hofmann strain, although most reports suggest that there is little difference.
Additional ‘commercial’ strains are in circulation, but all seem to be similar in potency, effect, and growth. - The numerous different names that can be found having more to do with marketing than with the formal identification of botanically distinct strains.
The active constituent is a trans-neoclerodane diterpenoid known as Salvinorin A, chemical formula C23H28O8. Unlike most other known psychoactive compounds, salvinorin A is not an alkaloid — it does not contain a basic nitrogen atom.
Salvinorin A is the most potent naturally-occurring hallucinogen known. It is active at doses as low as 100 µg. Recent research has shown that salvinorin A is a potent and selective κ (kappa) opioid receptor agonist. It has been reported that the effects of salvinorin A in mice are blocked by kappa opioid receptor antagonists. This makes it unlikely that another mechanism contributes independently to the compound’s effects. Salvinorin A is unique in that it is the only naturally occurring substance known to induce a visionary state via this mode of action.
Extraction and purification of salvinorin A should only be attempted by qualified researchers with experience in chemistry and the proper laboratory equipment. Measurement of safe dosages is difficult and requires a sophisticated analytical balance, due to the extreme potency of salvinorin A. This potency should not be confused with toxicity, however: rodents chronically exposed to dosages many times greater than those humans are exposed to did not show signs of organ damage.
Many other terpenoids have been isolated from S. divinorum, including other salvinorins and related compounds named divinatorins and salvinicins. None of these compounds has shown significant (sub-micromolar) affinity at the kappa opioid receptor, and there is no evidence that they contribute to the plant's psychoactivity. A thorough scientific review of the chemistry and pharmacology of this species is available.
Mazatec shamans use two methods of ingestion. Often they simply eat the fresh leaves by chewing and swallowing them. Sometimes they crush the leaves to extract the leaf juices, which they then drink (usually mixed with water). Reportedly, dosages vary from as few as 6 leaves to as many as 120 when using these methods.
Dry leaves can be smoked in a pipe but most users prefer the use of a water pipe to cool the smoke. The temperature required to release salvinorin A from the plant material is quite high (about 240°C). A regular flame will work, but the direct application of something more intense, such as the flame produced from a butane torch lighter, is often preferred.
Many people find that smoking the unprocessed dried Salvia leaf produces only light or unnoticeable effects, perhaps due to the large volume of plant material that must be smoked to produce psychoactive effects. However, responses vary widely. A concentrated preparation of Salvia leaf called Salvia extract, with relative strength suggested by terms such as 5x, 10x, 15x, 20x, 40x, etc, may be smoked in place of natural strength leaves; this reduces the total amount of smoke inhaled for a given dosage of salvinorin overall, and facilitates more powerful experiences.
Sublingually ingested tinctures constitute another form of prepared Salvia.
The traditional Mazatec method may also be employed. However, salvinorin A is generally considered to be inactive when simply ingested as the chemical is effectively deactivated by the gastrointestinal system. Therefore, the 'quid' of leaves is held in the mouth as long as possible in order to facilitate absorption of the active constituents through the oral mucosa. Chewing consumes more of the plant than smoking, and also produces a longer-lasting experience.