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The Sacred Mysteries of Salvia Divinorum

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in this article
  • Introduction
  • Where does it come from?
  • Discovery by Western Researchers
  • What is in the plant?
  • How do you take it?
  • Regulations
  • Common themes and archetypal elements
  • Archetypal Symbolism
  • Conclusion

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.


Salvia is the most fascinating of all the plant medicines I’ve explored. The stories of people’s journeys often involve intense and sometimes frightening experiences, with the word ‘terror’ frequently coming up. What sets Salvia apart is its unique chemical compound, affecting the brain in a distinct manner. There are many recurring themes in the trips which we will explore in this article.

There’s a notable difference in approach between smoking the leaves and following the traditional Mazatec method. They say,

The plant doesn’t like to be burnt and will respond accordingly.

Following the traditional way seems to offer a milder trip, awakening internal insights for personal growth. In contrast, smoking it can catapult you into a different reality, shaking the very core of your being. It distorts time and the fabric of life, creating foreboding feelings and visuals.

Even seasoned psychonauts can be caught off guard, as testimonials suggest. The power of Salvia shocks and blows away even the most experienced trip-takers, leaving an indelible mark on their consciousness. It’s as if Salvador Dali invented a plant medicine — Salvia warps reality, leaving a profound impact. Many individuals are taken by surprise at its potency, often sold as a natural high with no warnings of what it truly offers. I have heard it described as the most powerful hallucinogen in the world, Salvia forces you to experience your reality through another dimension. One that induces a deep feeling of foreboding and often panic. Let’s dive into this weird world.

Where does it come from?

salvia divinorum

Salvia divinorum has a long history of traditional use as a medicinal and visionary plant in certain indigenous cultures in Mexico. It has been used by the Mazatec people, who reside in the Sierra Mazateca region in the northeastern part of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The plant has been employed by Mazatec shamans in their spiritual and healing practices. The use of Salvia divinorum by the Mazatec people predates written records, and it is considered an ancient tradition that has been passed down through generations.

Discovery by Western Researchers

Albert Hofmann and R. Gordon Wasson: Salvia divinorum gained attention in the Western world through their work In the early 1960s, Wasson and Hofmann visited the Mazatec region and were introduced to Salvia divinorum by a Mazatec curandera (traditional healer) named María Sabina.

Hofmann’s Isolation of Salvinorin A: Albert Hofmann isolated the psychoactive compound in Salvia divinorum, known as salvinorin A, and identified it as the active component responsible for the plant’s effects.

What is in the plant?

salvia divinorum

Salvia divinorum contains a variety of compounds, but the one responsible for its psychoactive effects is salvinorin A. Salvinorin A is a neo clerodane diterpene, and it is unique among known hallucinogens in that it does not act on the serotonin receptors like many other psychedelics. Instead, it interacts with the kappa-opioid receptors in the brain. The kappa-opioid receptors are distributed throughout the central nervous system, including various regions of the brain such as:

  • Cerebral Cortex. The outer layer of the brain, is associated with higher cognitive functions such as thinking, perception and decision-making.
  • Limbic system, Involves emotions, memory and arousal. This includes structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus.
  • Hypothalamus, Regulates various physiological functions including hormone release and the autonomic nervous system.
  • Thalamus, which acts as a relay station for sensory information.  Brainstem includes areas such as the periaqueductal grey matter, which is associated with pain modification and basic life functions.
  • Cerebellum, involved in motor control and coordination.

Apart from salvinorin A, other compounds have been identified in Salvia divinorum, although they are not typically associated with its psychoactive effects. Some of these compounds include:

Salvinorin B: Similar to salvinorin A,  is considered less potent by some and is considered a minor constituent in the plant. 

Salvinorin C: is another neo clerodane diterpene compound, though it is typically present in smaller amounts compared to the primary psychoactive compound, salvinorin A. Similar to salvinorin A, salvinorin C is believed to interact with the kappa-opioid receptors (KOR) in the brain.

Salvinorin D: A derivative of salvinorin B, it has been identified in trace amounts in the plant.

Divinatorins: Divinatorins, including divinatorin A and B, are diterpenoids found in Salvia, related to the primary psychoactive compound, salvinorin A. Though less studied, research suggests that these compounds may play a role in the overall chemical composition of the plant.

How do you take it?


Chewing Fresh Leaves

Traditional methods involve chewing fresh Salvia leaves. This is the traditional method used by indigenous Mazatec people in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Leaves are chewed to release the active compounds, and the effects gradually set in over a longer duration.

Quid Method

Dried leaves can be used in the “quid” method, where a stack of leaves is chewed, and the juices are held in the mouth without swallowing for an extended period.

This allows for absorption through the oral mucosa and extends the duration of the experience.


Smoking dried Salvia leaves or extracts is a common method for faster onset of effects.

The smoke is usually inhaled deeply and held in the lungs before exhaling.

 However, the Mazatec people say that the plant does not like to be burnt and warn against it. 


Vaporisation involves heating Salvia extracts or dried leaves to release vapours without combustion.

Vaporising may be considered a more controlled method compared to smoking.

Tinctures and Extracts

Salvia extracts and tinctures are concentrated forms of the plant.

These can be consumed sublingually (under the tongue).

Sublingual Absorption

Some users place crushed leaves or extracts under the tongue for sublingual absorption.

This allows the active compounds to be absorbed through the oral mucosa.


For a period, Salvia was not explicitly regulated in many places, and it is available for purchase in some countries, both online and in certain physical stores. However, as its use became more widespread, concerns arose about its potential for abuse, safety, and psychoactive effects.

Being easily accessible and not regulated people had no idea of its powerful effects which led to it not being taken seriously and often ingested alongside other drugs and alcohol which often led to very bad experiences. 

Countries responded to the use of Salvia by implementing legal controls. In Australia, regulations vary by state, while Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, and Sweden classified it as a controlled or narcotic substance from the mid-2000s to 2011. In the United Kingdom, Salvia was made illegal for production, supply, and human consumption under the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016.

Common themes and archetypal elements

Dissociation: Users often report a profound sense of dissociation from their bodies or reality. 

Anyways I lost all awareness of existence. Everything I had ever known in my entire life vanished. ‘All my memories, experiences, insights, emotions, all vanished. All my knowledge of what the universe was, that time was, vanished. I ceased to understand that “existence” in itself existed.

Altered Perceptions of Time and Space: Time distortion is a common theme, with users experiencing time as slowing down, speeding up, or becoming non-linear. Perceptions of space may also be distorted, with a sense of entering different dimensions. 

I clearly remember all of the existence collapsing into a bright line immediately in front of me but stretching out to infinity on each side. Everything was lit by an incredibly bright light and surreally vivid. There was a loud rushing roar as the entire universe was collapsing and being pulled into the long thin line. I was acutely aware that all of existence was ending at that moment.

Encounters with Entities or Beings: Some users report encounters with entities, beings, or sentient presences. These entities are often described as otherworldly. It’s common to hear a voice telling you that

You’ve done it now and will never escape.

Something was grinding me into the cogs of the universe, and I could hear it talking! It was a woman’s voice, tinny and echoey and somehow familiar. She was screaming at me, but the tone in her voice was quite pleased.

“OHHHHHHHH, YOU WANTED TO COME HERE!” She cried, and I heard other voices join in, laughing at her joke, mocking me for actually wanting to be in this horrible place, for bringing it on myself. She told me that I was never going to leave and laughed at my feeble attempts to move around

Hallucinations and Visual Distortions: Salvia can induce vivid visual hallucinations.

I have vague memories of reality splitting open, taking me into a cartoon-like dimension. Eventually I come out in what I can only describe as a huge warehouse-like place. I was way out of my body, in a completely different world. Here my personality was moving along a vast conveyor belt land, amongst hundreds of other personalities, represented by faces on square panels. My instincts were telling me that this is where people go when they die.

Sensory Merging: Users may describe a merging of sensory experiences, such as hearing colours or seeing sounds. This synesthetic blending can contribute to the overall disorienting nature of the experience.’

Loss of Self or Identity: Some users report a profound loss of self or ego dissolution. This can lead to a feeling of merging with the universe or experiencing a fundamental shift in one’s sense of identity.

My entire existence seemed to be for the sole purpose of escaping this entrapment or at least making it less uncomfortable. As time became more and more real years passed as the pyramid slowly grew. I had neither identity nor hopes during those years, only a subconscious desire to unstick myself from this weight of reality.

Archetypal Symbolism

It seems that Salvia has its own unique set of symbolism. A common theme is a feeling of being mocked and laughed at by entities proclaiming that one will never escape the place or state they find themselves in, contributing to the overall intensity and challenging nature of Salvia experiences. I noticed that a good few take Salvia again hoping for a different outcome but find themselves right back where they were. In feelings more than thoughts. The feelings of the experience seem to have the most impact. Salvia appears to carry its distinct symbolism, and a notable phenomenon is that individuals often take it again, anticipating a different outcome, only to find themselves back in a familiar place. The impact of the experience is more rooted in emotions than rational thoughts. Similar to the lingering feeling after a dream, where the emotions are vivid, yet the specifics are challenging to articulate. People may hope for a shift in their Salvia encounters but the recurrence of familiar sensations suggests a consistent and powerful emotional resonance within the overall experience.

The Steamroller.  Quote Interbeing art

It felt like it was rolling across the earth Flattening and sucking everything under it. Like a cartoon from Loonietoons. My whole neighbourhood was being rolled up like a carpet.

Along with the steamroller comes a feeling of being taken away and depleted .It’s a very strong force that is all powerful and unstoppable.  

Zips. People experience the world coming apart by being unzipped. This often seems to induce a feeling of deep panic and terror.

The reality around me seemed to freeze. I went between realities. To the left of me near the door of my apartment,suddenly a zipper unfolds, literally a zipper in the fabric of reality

 The Book of Life  metaphorically represents the profound introspective experiences of Salvia divinorum. This metaphor captures the idea that under the influence of Salvia, individuals may feel as though they are flipping through the pages of their own existence, reexamining moments from their past.

Similar to the way a near-death experience is said to offer a life review, the use of Salvia is described as providing a kind of mental journey through time, effortlessly revisiting various moments and emotions. Childhood, in particular, is emphasised as a significant aspect of this introspection, suggesting that the psychedelic experience may allow users to vividly reconnect with the feelings and experiences of their youth.

The notion that Salvia can transport individuals back to any feeling or experience from the past underscores the substance’s reputation for inducing highly subjective and sometimes emotionally intense trips

The Shepherdess, encountered in Salvia divinorum experiences, is a symbolic figure, often perceived as a nurturing guide providing both protection and challenging guidance. Her symbolism is subjective, with ambiguous messages, leading to diverse emotional responses. Commonly associated with feminine qualities, she may evoke intense emotions and is often linked to natural or pastoral settings. Some see her as a spiritual guide or a representation of the Salvia divinorum plant, aligning with traditional shamanic practices. Overall, the Shepherdess contributes to the complex and varied nature of Salvia divinorum encounters.

Disrespect the Shepherdess at your peril 

Some accounts suggest that individuals who encounter the Shepherdess in their Salvia experiences describe a nuanced relationship with this archetype. According to some narratives, the Shepherdess may not always be receptive to being brought into a person’s trip. There is a perceived sense that if the individual is not approaching the experience with due respect for the plant properties, the Shepherdess may feel it is an invasion of her privacy.

In these accounts, individuals describe a scenario where the Shepherdess is forced to present herself within the trip due to the ingestion of Salvia’s molecules. If, upon arrival, she perceives the user as being in a state influenced by substances like drugs and alcohol, there is a reported sense of displeasure and anger on her part. The Shepherdess may respond by making the trip uncomfortable, expressing frustration, and potentially disrupting the experience.


Salvia Divinorum is no ordinary substance; it demands the utmost respect. Treating it casually can lead to intense and potentially unnerving situations. The time distortion element is crucial – what might be a few minutes in our world can unfold into what seems like hours to the participant.

Some individuals have reported experiencing Hallucinogen Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD) after a Salvia trip, underscoring the importance of approaching it with caution and reverence. To navigate its unpredictable nature, having a trusted sitter by your side is crucial due to the potential for unexpected physical reactions.

Selecting a secure and controlled environment for the experience is paramount, given the profound hallucinogenic effects. Salvia isn’t your typical party drug; it’s a sacred medicine. Misusing it can result in regrettable outcomes, given its unique and unpredictable effects. 

Salvia stands apart from other psychedelics, and its popularity hasn’t skyrocketed due to its unpredictable nature. Experiences vary widely. 

While some share incredibly positive and transformative experiences, claiming relief from depression and anxiety, the nature of each trip remains uncertain. Salvia demands respect, a thoughtful approach, and an acknowledgement of its sacred and transformative potential.

Debra Wilkinson | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective

Debra is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at: blog@chemical-collective.com

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21 days ago

It’s scary but so interesting

1 month ago

Too scared to try it 🙁

3 months ago

herb is herb, always nice comunication

Gita Adams
3 months ago

I thought i would share my thoughts about one of my best friends and teacher Salvia Divinorum or Aunt Sally as she is affectionally known by her seasoned Psychonaut students, who give her utmost respect after many years sitting at her feet , so to speak .to receive the what ever she has to offer. After having experienced the mired spectrum of lessons ,gifts, chastisements ,near death and death experiences ,time travel, Access to the Akashic Records ,visits to the many worlds in various contexts of existence from what is known , in the micro and macro cosmos, beyond anything that can even be put into words . Dear Aunt Sally my love for you knows no bounds , only you and i know the blessings you have bestowed on me. I give thanks again and again and yet again 🙏🏾❤️…….

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