Yale Researcher Examines Subjective Effects Of Salvia Divinorum For Science

By John Lavitt 04/03/15

Scientists are finally researching the subjective effects of the commonly legal drug.

Salvia Divinorum

While administering the powerful psychoactive plant salvia divinorum to test subjects, a Yale researcher examined the drug’s subjective affects. Commonly known as salvia, the psychoactive plant elicits visions and other hallucinatory experiences in users. Still legal in most states, wacky videos of people smoking salvia have become common on YouTube. With this latest study, scientists are finally examining the subjective effects of salvia.

Native to the cloud forest in the isolated Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico, the green leafy plant grows in shady and moist locations. Part of the Sage family, the plant is known as Diviner’s Sage or Seer’s Sage by Mazatec shamans. Christian converts for centuries, many of the plant's local names allude to the Mazatec belief that the plant is an incarnation of the Virgin Mary.

While working at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, Yale researcher Peter Addy decided to study the effects of the drug. He had 30 participants smoke salvia in a relaxed setting in his lab. Quick and intense in the beginning, the most pronounced initial effect is the suddenness of the high. Addy described how, “When you smoke salvia it’s like flipping a switch—everything is normal, and then immediately everything is different…When you smoke salvia, you’re having an experience whether you want to or not.”

The results of the drug on the participants were mellow, strange and a little bit wild. Addy sat with each person while they smoked a pre-prepared sample of the herb. After the 10- to 15-minute trip, he talked with them about their personal experiences. Some people claimed to access new dimensions while others believed themselves to be separate entities from their bodies.

Although the experiences were quite disparate, one common thread that ran through most of the trips was that salvia changes a person's interoception—the body’s sense of its own physiological conditions—while altering the user’s sense of reality. “I was blended in with the air around me,” wrote one woman.

Unlike many hallucinogens, salvia does not appear to affect levels of serotonin in the brain and has little affect on dopamine receptors since it is a k-opioid agonist. As a result, studies suggest salvia might also have real potential to treat addiction. In animal studies, it appeared to reduce cravings for substances like cocaine. Given the short and subjective nature of the study, Addy believes more medical research needs to be done.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.