Signs of Salvia Abuse and Treatment Options

People abuse drugs for many reasons. They may ingest a substance to cope with stress, alleviate mental health symptoms, or lessen the severity of chronic pain. But for a lot of people, getting high is a way to experiment and alleviate boredom. In recent years, the rate of people seeking out “legal” highs has increased. Now more than ever, people are well aware of the dangers associated with illicit drugs. But what may start out as a seemingly innocent way to have “fun” can become dangerous. Salvia is one of those drugs.

Products like bath salts, Spice, K2, and salvia are often sold in headshops and convenience stores. But if a substance is sold legally, then how can it be dangerous? This is a common misconception many people have about a substance that can be purchased in a legitimate store in broad daylight. But just because a substance is “legal,” does not mean it is safe. Abusing salvia comes with a range of risks and adverse side effects. 

What is salvia?

Salvia is a plant that is often marketed as a natural and safe herbal substance in stores across the U.S. The herb, Salvia divinorum, is part of the mint family and grows in Central and South America. The seeds, leaves, and stems of the salvia plant can be purchased in tobacco or headshops, where the plant’s byproducts can be smoked, processed into a drink, or chewed and swallowed. People may chew the salvia leaves raw, or vaporize the leaves and inhale the fumes the plant produces. 

Ingesting salvia can give someone hallucinations, and the plant is considered one of the most potent, natural hallucinogenic substances in the world. When someone uses salvia, they will experience both visual and auditory hallucinations. They will also experience distorted perceptions of reality, and they may also lose control over their body movements. In some cases, a person high on salvia will be overcome with fear and anxiety, causing them to have what’s known as a “bad trip.” People who have a bad trip are at risk of hurting themselves or others. 

Getting high on salvia will make someone lose track of time and also prevent them from knowing if they have injured themselves. Injuries can become more severe if someone gets hurt and then is unaware of the problem for an extended period until the drug’s effects dissipate. 

A high from salvia can start in as little as a few minutes after ingesting the drug, and last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Smoking or inhaling salvia vapors will give some the most rapid, but short-lived, high. Chewing or eating salvia will slow the drug’s effects, but the high may last for a long time. Currently, salvia is not listed as a controlled substance in the U.S., but there have been efforts to criminalize the herb. So far, Australia is the only country that has outright banned salvia and criminalized its manufacture, sale, and use. 

What is the history of salvia use in the U.S.?

In the early 1900s, refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution and turmoil in Central America immigrated to the United States and brought salvia with them. The first recorded instance of salvia use happened in 1938. At that time, indigenous people from Central and South America were using the leaves of the salvia plant to make tea and induce visions. In the mid-1900s, salvia was considered a less potent substitute for hallucinogenic mushrooms. 

In 2002, researchers discovered that the active chemical compounds in salvia impact the brain’s natural kappa opiate receptor (KOR) sites. These receptors regulate a person’s perception of reality. With this discovery, salvia was put into a category of substances known as KOR agonists. KOR agonists are thought to play a role in alleviating symptoms in schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. 

Who abuses salvia?

The people who are most likely to get high with salvia are adolescents and young adults. Mainly, salvia is used as a way to experiment with hallucinogenic substances. Rates of salvia abuse among teens have dropped to some of the lowest percentages in years. It is estimated that only one percent of U.S. teens have ever used salvia. 

What are the dangers of using salvia?

The long-term effects of salvia abuse have not been thoroughly studied. Currently, researchers do not believe that salvia is an addictive drug. However, salvia can cause a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure. Since it makes a person lose contact with reality, users are at risk of harming themselves or others while high on salvia. Researchers are also unaware of any instances of someone overdosing on salvia. But, public health officials are watching the drug closely and are monitoring it for any cases of overdose and fatal side effects. 

What can be done if someone is abusing salvia?

If someone is frequently abusing salvia, this is a reliable indicator that they may be trying to alleviate painful emotions or mental health disorder symptoms. In these cases, therapy and drug abuse counseling are strongly recommended. 

Mental health disorder symptoms and environmental stress are major risk factors for substance abuse. Because someone abuses a substance, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicted. But using drugs to escape reality is an indicator that something is amiss in a person’s life. Talk therapy with a trained therapist can help patients uncover their underlying issues related to substance abuse. Abusing a drug like salvia may also increase a person’s risk of turning to more harmful, addictive substances in the future. EArly intervention, however, is strongly correlated to positive health outcomes and the ability to maintain sobriety. 

Are you struggling with substance abuse symptoms? Substance use disorder is a severe condition that requires medical invention and ongoing care. Like heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes, addiction is a chronic disorder. But it can be successfully managed with outside assistance from trained and experienced clinicians. Please contact the addiction specialists at Windward Way today to explore your options for counseling and substance use treatment.