What Is Salvia, and Is the Psychoactive Drug Still Legal?


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Feb 22, 2020
If only salvia could speak, maybe we’d know what the hell happened after we smoked it.

When people hear the term “salvia,” they may think of a number of things. Some will no doubt be immediately transported back to memorably awful college experiences. Others may fondly recall the popular (if questionably helpful) YouTube tutorials posted by Erik Hoffstad, who once taught us the joys of “Gardening on Salvia.” Unquestionably, there are also those who just remember that one time Miley Cyrus smoked some.

To fully understand this plant, however, the first thing to know about Salvia divinorum is that people have been using it for hundreds of years.

Indeed, in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, Mazatec Indians have relied on Salvia divinorum for centuries. For them, this psychoactive herb from the mint family was given a place of honor at ceremonial events.

Though the Mazatec prefer to extract the juice from crushed leaves to consume in a tea, other options for ingestion include smoking or chewing the plant’s leaves. In some cases, salvia may also be taken by means of a tincture. Today, salvia is commercially available in some parts of the world, though laws differ among states within America.

Before you pack a pipe or reach for a dropper, let’s review the effects of salvia and then examine its complex legal status.


What Are the Effects of Salvia?

Regardless of the consumption method, salvia’s appeal in all cases is the altered mental state the plant can provide users, which comes courtesy of its star ingredient: salvinorin A. When activated, this diterpenoid (a term that refers to a chemical compound composed of two terpene units) induces brief, intense visual hallucinations. Experiences can vary wildly from user to user, though they generally last for less than 20 minutes.

Salvia is thus not advisable for individuals skittish at the prospect of an unpredictable psychoactive experience. Speaking to Newsweek in 2015, Yale University researcher Peter Addy put it bluntly: “When you smoke salvia, you're having an experience whether you want to or not.”

The one generally unifying sensation associated with a salvia high is interoception, which essentially equates to our internal awareness of the state of our bodies. Simply put: people on salvia often report feeling different in their own skin, a sensation that may equate with euphoria or terror depending on the consumer.

What is quantifiably known is that salvia is widely regarded as one of the most potent naturally-occurring hallucinogenic drugs on the planet. That is vital information to keep in mind when evaluating potential dosages. Another thing you’ll need to know too: salvia might be illegal where you live.

Is Salvia Still Legal in the US?

Unfortunately, there is no one-word answer to this seemingly-simple question.

The truth is that it is currently up to each state to decide if they want to enact a law banning or permitting the use and sale of salvia. The reason stems from an absence of federal guidance, given salvia essentially exists in a no man’s land in which it is neither medically approved nor federally banned.

Instead, states have approached the topic on their own terms. The result is a bit of a mess. Salvia is outright banned in 29 states, as well as in the territory of Guam, though it’s important to note that all laws governing the sale of salvia are relatively new. The oldest effort by a state to ban salvia dates back only to 2003, when two lawmakers failed to get a bill outlawing the plant through Oregon’s senate.

Subsequent efforts to restrict salvia in Oregon have failed, as well, leading the state to be one of the few in which salvia is still fully legal today. Meanwhile, other states have opted for a middle ground.


In California and Maine, salvia is legal, but sale to minors is prohibited. Both Maine and Maryland further restrict the possession of salvia to those ages 21 and older. Georgia is one of five states (along with Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) where salvia is legal but not for consumption. In those states, you can possess, cultivate, and sell salvia, but strictly for “aesthetic, landscaping, or decorative purposes."

Case in point: be sure you check the latest on your state’s laws before embracing the short-but-potent mind odyssey the plant can inspire.

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