Salvia has been used for thousands of years by the Mazatec shamans of Mexico for divination, healing, and vision quests. As with many other psychoactive, ceremonial substances, such as peyote, salvia is also used recreationally to achieve hallucinations. Many states have begun to outlaw salvia due to studies finding several short- and long-term health risks associated with its use, including the high potential for abuse and dependence. So, is salvia addictive?

Transform Your Life Today
Talk to Our Recovery Specialist

Call Now: (877) 855-3470


What is Salvia? Understanding the Substance

There are over 1,000 types of salvia plants, however, salvia divinorum is a salvia species that contains psychoactive compounds and is becoming increasingly popular as a hallucinogen. The primary component of saliva, salvinorin A, acts on kappa opioid receptors in the brain, eliciting power alternation in thinking, mood, visual perception, and behavior.

The salvia leaves are either chewed, made into a tincture, smoked in cigarettes, or inhaled through water pipes. When a person swallows it, the gastrointestinal system deactivates salvinorin A, so users will chew leaves, holding its juices inside the cheek to allow the body to absorb the psychoactive components. Salvia Intense effects begin within a few minutes and last for 20 to 30 minutes.

How Salvia Affects the Brain and Body

The psychoactive compound, Salvinorin A, found in saliva activates kappa-opioid receptors, similar to when opioids are taken. It can cause hallucinations, dizziness, and visual disturbances. Researchers have found that its high is similar to LSD and mescaline but can also reduce pain. Unlike these other hallucinogenic drugs, salvinorin A does not bind to act on the specific serotonin receptor system, which may not cause a euphoric state when using salvia.

Effects of salvia on the brain can include:

  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Synesthesia, such as hearing colors or smelling sounds
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations, including seeing bright lights, strange shapes, or vivid colors
  • Altered perceptions of surrounding and distorted reality
  • Cartoon-like imagery
  • Feelings of detachment or “out of body” experience
  • Recollection of memories
  • Contact with entities or other dimensions
  • The overall sense of uneasiness
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Anxiety or fear resulting from a “bad trip”

Some of the effects of salvia on the body include:

  • Motion sickness
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Skin flushing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Chills from lowered body temperature
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Nausea  

There is also a possibility for a hangover or comedown period following salvia use. Saliva users have reported feeling physically tired, mentally exhausted, and heavy-headed after the initial effects have faded.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Salvia Use

is salvia addictive

Salvia effects begin quickly after use and last for less than 30 minutes. The person can experience frightening or distressing hallucinations, fear, panic, or anxiety which can put the user in dangerous situations that can cause them to harm themselves or others. It can also cause debilitating, uncontrollable laughter as well. Salvia can affect body temperature regulation leading to chills, fever, or sweating. Short-term effects can also cause changes to coordination, digestive upset such as nausea and vomiting, confusion, and irregular heart rate.

In addition, repeated saliva use can pose several long-term consequences, a mental state in which the person has a profound sense of unease or dissatisfaction. Smoking salvia can lead to lung disease over time. Users who repeatedly smoke salvia may notice shortness of breath and in more severe cases lung cancer may occur. Individuals can also experience flashbacks and like other hallucinogens, can lead to developing mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.

One study found that salvia use can have negative effects on learning and long-term memories. Use over prolonged periods can have a potential for substance use disorder. It is unclear whether salvia can be addictive in similar ways to other substances, individuals can develop a psychological addiction to the high it produces.   

Understanding Addiction: Can Salvia Be Addictive?

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite negative consequences. Individuals can also develop an addiction to activities, such as gambling or shopping. There are many reasons why addiction begins. In the case of drug addiction, substances can change the way you feel and lead to physical and/or mental changes from using. Feelings are often enjoyable, which can cause a strong urge to use the substance again.

Salvia is not considered addictive, as users are unlikely to develop a chemical dependency on it. Individuals can become addicted to the effects of salvia and develop an urge to feel that high. Problematic use of hallucinogens like salvia can lead to substance use disorder. Long-term salvia use can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, stomach upset, sleep issues, emotional lows, and drug cravings. Withdrawal symptoms can cause relapse as the individual attempts to relieve them by using again. These effects will start within a few hours of last use and only last a few days.

Signs and Symptoms of Salvia Dependence

  • Salvia dependence signs and symptoms are similar to those of other drugs, including:
  • Needing greater amounts of salvia to obtain the same high.
  • Unable to decrease or stop use.
  • Cravings for salvia.
  • Continuing to use the drug despite physical, mental, or emotional problems.
  • Neglecting obligations, such as work or personal responsibilities, because of saliva use or recovering from use.
  • Interpersonal problems from using salvia.
  • Spending large amounts of time thinking, obtaining, using, or recovering from salvia use.

Health Risks Associated with Salvia Use

Short-term health risks associated with salvia use include the risk of dangerous situations because of hallucinations. The person may not be in control of their behaviors or surroundings which can lead to harming themselves or others. There is also the risk of developing persistent psychosis and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), leading to ongoing hallucinations, visual disturbances, and flashbacks. Individuals can also develop ongoing memory, speech, and learning issues. Teens and young adults can be especially vulnerable to long-term health risks as their brains are still developing.

Treatment Options for Salvia Abuse

While salvia is not considered an addictive substance, salvia abuse is possible among those who use it frequently. As with other addictions, it can be quite difficult to stop on your own. With repeated salvia use, the brain can develop strong connections between use and cues associated with them. These triggers, such as people, places, feelings, and things can remind the person of the high and make them want to use it again. Professional intervention is often needed to reduce the risk of relapse and achieve long-term recovery.

Treatment options for salvia abuse can include medical detox, inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment options. Depending on how severe a person’s salvia abuse is will determine what level of care is needed. Inpatient treatment will provide the most intensive form of care. Individuals can fully separate themselves from outside triggers and fully immerse themselves in their recovery journey. Outpatient treatment options are a great step down from inpatient care, helping the patient slowly reintegrate back into their daily life with the tools and support needed for successful recovery.

How WhiteSands Treatment Can Help with Salvia Addiction

WhiteSands Treatment offers effective, compassionate salvia addiction treatment that aims to get to the root cause of substance dependence for long-term recovery. We offer all levels,including with individual and group therapy, 24/7 onsite staff, comfortable accommodations, and our unique life skills program. WhiteSands goes beyond the required industry standards. Patients will complete their program with the skills and tools needed for long-term recovery along with ongoing support for the healthy, drug-free life you envision.

If you would like to learn more about our programs or are ready to get started on your journey towards recovery, please give us a call at (877) 855-3470 to speak to one of our addiction specialists.  

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.