Salvia Addiction & Abuse

Salvia Divinorum (Salvia divinorum drug profile) or the ‘diviner’s sage’ has been used in rituals, healing ceremonies and for medical purposes for centuries. Smoking the dried and crushed leaves provides short-lived but intense hallucinations, and is comparable to taking LSD (Lysergide) or DOB (brolamphetamine) (Drug profiles: glossary) and its use as a ‘legal’ herbal hallucinogen has become popular since the late 1990s.

Salvia induces short-lived, intense hallucinations, unfortunately, the toxicity of Salvia divinorum is poorly understood and has some uncomfortable and potentially risky side effects and addictive properties.

Street Names

Leaves of Mary, the Shepherdess, Shepherdess’s Herb, Maria Pastora, The Female, Sage of the Seers, Diviner’s Sage, Diviner’s Mint, Sally-D, and Magic Mint

What is Salvia Addiction?

Though the probability of addiction is considered low (Salvia: Extent of use, effects, and risks), it is fast becoming popular as a recreational drug amongst teens and young adults. As a psychoactive, Salvia acts on your central nervous system receptors inducing intense hallucinations and perception distortions. Considered the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen, with effects lasting from several minutes to an hour or so (Salvinorin A: A potent naturally occurring nonnitrogenous κ opioid selective agonist)
Other common effects are:

  • Hallucinations,
  • changes in vision, mood and sensations,
  • extreme emotional swings,
  • irregular heart rate,
  • increased breathing rate,
  • increased body temperature,
  • loss of appetite,
  • sleep disturbance,
  • panic attacks,
  • paranoia and psychosis episodes.
  • detachment from yourself, your reality and your surroundings, causing loss of perception between what’s real and what’s not.

These intense feelings and the removal from reality can be appealing and as with any addiction, there may be a chronic dysfunction within your brain that involves reward, motivation and memory that causes you to crave Salvia obsessively and without concern for the consequences.

Salvia Addiction VS. Abuse

Considered a Psychoactive Substance, it is illegal to give away or sell Salvia in the UK but not illegal to possess (Salvia | Effects of Salvia) and though there is a belief that Salvia is not known to be either physically addictive or to cause psychological dependence, there is a pathological pattern related to its use:

  • Impaired Control – this impaired control over how much Salvia you require as your tolerance increases, can develop after just a few doses of Salvia
  • Social or interpersonal impairment – Prolonged use of any psychoactive substance, including Salvia, may prevent you from maintaining family responsibilities and work or school performance.
  • Risky use – you may have continued driving whilst high, or if your job entailed operating heavy machinery, you may have thought you were capable of safely operating the machines as normal
  • Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when you haven’t been able to use Salvia.

How Salvia Addiction Develops

Salvia is more commonly used by teens and young adults recreationally, whilst someone may try it a couple of times and never need to try it again, your experiences could be so pleasurable that your need to recreate the ‘high’ becomes difficult to stop as addiction sets in.

Repeat Exposure

Without a doubt, having repeated exposure to any substance will increase the risk of addiction-forming, Salvia is relatively easy to acquire on the internet or even over the counter as ‘herbal ecstasy’ and its use recreationally means that it may be available at frequent hangouts and parties frequented by those most at risk.

Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions

Due to the way the effects of Salvia can mimic mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, there is a growing concern about the risks of psychotic episodes being triggered especially if you or you have a family history of mental health problems. Any existing mental health issues, childhood trauma, or family history of mental health issues has been linked to substance use disorders (Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population)

A Family History of Substance Use

Parental history of substance use disorder may have a genetic impact on your inclination to abuse Salvia, lowering your decision making qualities, increasing your mental health issues as well as increasing compulsivity and risk-taking behaviours. (Family History of Substance Use Disorders: Significance for Mental Health in Young Adults who Gamble?)

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    Signs & Symptoms of Salvia Addiction

    Signs of Salvia addiction are very similar to the signs evident in other addictions:

    • Drug-seeking behaviour
    • Irritability, when you haven’t, had Salvia
    • Secrecy around your use of Salvia, as well as denial of any dependence forming
    • Personality, behavioural and emotional changes such as increased anxiety, depression and sadness

    Diagnosing Salvia Addiction

    The NHS recommends that the DAST-10 (Drug Abuse Screening Test) assessment (Policy for alcohol referral pathway/clarify services between CAT & DAS services) and CAGE questionnaire (CAGE Questionnaire: Questions, Scoring, Variations, and Accuracy) be used by your medical provider or chosen treatment centre to diagnose addiction.

    You will be asked the following questions:

    1. What substance(s) are you using? Including other drugs or medications
    2. In what quantities?
    3. How frequently?
    4. By what route (smoking, injecting, swallowing)?
    5. How long have you been using for?
    6. Do you recognise this use as problematic?

    The Dangers of Salvia Addiction

    The effects of Salvia can occur quickly, within a minute and can range from mild to intense, they may be frightening depending on how strong the dose is. Some of the common short-term effects are:

    • uncontrolled laughter
    • mood and emotional swings
    • difficulty concentrating
    • dizziness and lightheadedness
    • lack of coordination
    • slurred speech
    • a sense of detachment from self and reality (not being able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined)
    • hallucinations and changes in visual perception

    Long term use can lead to breathing problems, injury and psychosis

    The Impact of Salvia Addiction on Family

    Addiction doesn’t only affect the person using the substance, the effects are felt by the whole family. This can lead to the impaired attachment between parents and children, emotional distress, unmet developmental needs, legal problems and financial hardships. Even though the use of Salvia is generally amongst teens and young adults, this doesn’t mean that the risks to the family unit are any less. (The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice)

    Salvia Use in Teens

    Hallucinogenic substance use, as a whole, in teens has grown, in 2020 the growth has been on a consistent upward trend (Stats & Trends in Teen Drug Use with Interactive Chart | NIDA for Teens) especially if the substance can be used as a vaping mix.

    The negative impact of hallucinogens (including Salvia) on brain growth (Drugs and the Teen Brain | NIDA for Teens), mental health and socio-economic outcomes for teens is concerning as teens are particularly vulnerable to psychosis because of the over-activation of the opioid receptors in their developing brains.

    If you suspect that your teen or a teen you know is using Salvia especially habitually, please contact us, rehabilitation treatment that is started sooner rather than later has a better chance of long-term recovery.

    Substance Use Disorders and Employment

    The effects of Salvia on your mental state can impact your employment, there is a risk of injury to yourself and colleagues if your use is becoming an issue during work hours. It is also illegal to drive or operate heavy machinery whilst high according to UK law and you may be prosecuted if caught.

    Salvia Use in Pregnancy

    Not enough is known about the use of Salvia during pregnancy and breastfeeding to determine the risks to a developing foetus, but the effects of Salvia leaves a pregnant woman at risk of causing injury to herself or her child. (Salvia Divinorum: Health Benefits, Side Effects, Uses, Dose & Precautions)

    Is Salvia Addiction a Disease?

    Addiction is a chronic disease and is diagnosable as a mental health illness (DSM-5), used repeatedly drugs such as Salvia can cause changes in your brain that are lasting and may lead to relapses. (

    Getting Help for Salvia Addiction

    If you suspect that your use of Salvia is becoming uncontrollable, contacting a treatment centre specialising in addiction as quitting cold turkey may not be advisable. Since addiction is about more than the substance, therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Definition, Types, Techniques, Efficiency) are effective for treating addiction to dissociative substances like Salvia.

    Unfortunately, there are no FDA approved medications to treat Salvia addiction and since more research is needed on how tolerance and withdrawal from Salvia may affect a person, if you are using Salvia as an escape from your reality, you will need proper medical assistance as found in a private rehabilitation facility to ensure your detox and underlying mental health issues are treated safely.

    The NHS offers addiction treatment but the waiting lists may be long, if you are concerned about your dependency on Salvia and require urgent admission, contact us 24/7 and we will assist you with finding a treatment centre best suited to your needs.

    Jason Sheirs
    Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
    Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.