An introduction to the salvia dimension
I inhale some smoke. It comes from an old plastic bottle, an improvised bong. I feel the smoke inside my lungs, and the breeze outside, touching my cheeks, my arms. I fall on my back and the breeze embraces me, taking me to bed. The sound of the waves enchants me with their rhythm, from afar I hear the voice of a woman. ‘What are you doing here again?’ ‘Go back to the other place’. A boy by her side looks at me curiously. ‘I did not ask you to come today’. ‘Go back’.
The boy hides under her skirt while I feel the sand under my body. The waves, touching my feet. Circus lights appear atop, reality seems to bend over me diagonally. I pull myself up and with feet on the ground I am back to where it all started. The woman and the boy dissipate with the smoke around the room.
This is a small account of one of my last experiences with salvia divinorum: the divine herb of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Traditionally used by the Mazatec people inhabiting the region, who call it ‘xkà pastora’ or ‘hierba de Maria’ (Mary’s herb), salvia divinorum is a potent psychedelic used during ceremonies and healing procedures.
The Mazatec people have been using this herb for hundreds of years to treat illnesses from arthritis to inflammation, headaches to gastrointestinal problems and menstrual cramps to cystitis amongst many other ailments. To treat a ‘low mood’ or what westerners would call depression, a small pair of leaves is given to the sufferer. To treat alcohol addiction, an infusion with 50 to 100 leaves is administered, what is considered a very high dose of the herb.
During spiritual ceremonies, the Mazatec people sing special chantings and prayers and, in front of an altar in complete darkness, proceed with adequate rituals, which can last up to 5 hours. During the rituals, the healer may ask questions to the participants who then express their feelings and emotions out loud. It is common that during these rituals, the participants feel an extreme sense of calmness, alongside out-of-body experiences and visions of natural spirits. Some may even note a loving and gentle presence, who the Mazatec believe to be the goddess of plants and animals, Mother Nature itself.
Salvia in the west
The first western mention of salvia divinorum came from a 1930 anthropologist called Jean Basset Johnson, who was part of the first expeditions to the region. Robert Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann were the first to send samples of the herb for classification. At the time, salvia divinorum was classified within the section Dusenostachys. Nowadays it is known that salvia is part of the section Tubiflorae and its relatives are thyme, common sage, mint and basil, which are all part of the sage family. Psychiatrist and ecologist Sterling Bunnel was the first to bring salvia divinorum samples to the west by introducing them to the United States in 1962. The most common strain of the plant being distributed around the world nowadays has its origin on these very first samples brought by Bunnel.
Salvia divinorum is considered to be one of the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs, being about 20 times more potent than psilocybin, the substance found in hallucinogenic mushrooms and truffles. Smoking only about 200 to 500 ug of the salvia extract can already produce intense hallucinogenic effects.
Unlike other naturally occurring psychedelics which usually interact with the serotonergic neurotransmitters, salvia divinorum binds to a totally different kind of receptors: the opioid receptors. In fact, salvia divinorum is the first non-nitrogen containing molecule known to interact with such receptors and it is also the first molecule of its kind with psychoactive properties. The main responsible for the psychedelic effects is a molecule called salvinorin A. Other molecules present in the plant, however, may also play an important role in shaping the psychedelic effect.
Due to its entirely different mechanism of action, salvia divinorum has incited fascination from both scientists and psychonauts alike, who now have gathered numerous experimentation accounts. As it turns out, salvia divinorum can have very different effects depending on how it is consumed.
The Mazatec approach
Whereas the Mazatec have many different rituals involving salvia at different doses and with different settings. There are two main traditional ways of consuming it, both involving freshly picked leaves. One is done by slowly chewing the leaves for about 1 or 2 hours. The other, consists of a water-based drink made out of ground leaves. Both methods require a very large amount of leaves and are described to leave a very bitter taste, reason why most non-Mazatec people prefer to use different methods.
The western approach
In the west, people seem to prefer consuming salvia by either making a ‘quid’ or a ball of rolled-up leaves (fresh or dried) or by smoking either the dry leaves or a salvia extract.
To make a quid, you must form a ball or cylinder with the leaves. Once the quid is formed, you can start chewing on it very slowly, one chew every 10 seconds for about 30 minutes. As the substances are better absorbed through the oral mucosa, it is recommended that you keep all of the juice formed inside your mouth instead of spitting or swallowing it. Once you’ve finished chewing, you can spit all of it in a bowl. Watch out that it does not spill anywhere as the juice can stain carpets and other fabrics. 8 to 28 leaves are normally used for this method. If using dry leaves, that is the equivalent to about 2 to 8 grams. To avoid the unpleasant sensation of chewing on dry leaves, one may choose to first soak them in water for 10 minutes. It is also possible to alleviate the bitter taste by adding sweeteners to the quid. It is possible to enhance the effects of the quid by brushing your teeth and mouth and rinsing it with a bit of alcohol or a mouthwash containing alcohol and menthol. This will make the absorption of the salvinorin A easier. The effects of salvia usually start around the time the quid is spit out and may last from 30 to 90 minutes.
It is also possible to smoke salvia leaves or salvia extract. To do so, you will need a pipe or a bong. As the salvinorin requires high temperatures to vaporize, you should make sure that the flames hit the leaves directly while you inhale the smoke, a torch lighter should make the job easier. The first effects of the salvia should be felt almost immediately after smoking and it should last no more than 10 minutes, although some may experience the effects for a longer period. Salvia extracts have different potencies with higher potencies leading to more intense experiences. At Sirius, you can find extracts at varying potencies from 5X to 20X.
The effects of salvia vary drastically depending on the leaves or extract being consumed, the method being used, the setting and the predispositions of the person taking it. While the quid method tends to produce mild long-lasting effects and the smoke method tends to produce an intense short-lasting effect, one can never fully predict how the experience will be: every salvia experience is a unique experience.
In its most mild stage, salvia may give you a tingling sensation throughout your body and produce increased relaxation. As its effects become more potent, you might feel a sudden unsettling sensation and reality might seem a bit confusing and or amusing. Colours and textures might become more intense and you might experience some visuals. Salvia visuals tend to be very vivid and in some cases, it might be difficult to distinguish between the visuals and reality. Some may feel like entering through a portal towards different dimensions, some may even experience multiple dimensions at the same time. In its highest potency, one might forget about their identity and no longer be aware of their body. Touch with reality might be lost. In some cases, the experience is so strong that the person might not remember everything that happened while under the effects of salvia.
Before taking salvia, you should always make sure you have a sitter around, someone who is sober and can take care of you while you are under the effects of the substance. Some of what you experience might be scary and letting go will be fundamental if you want to have a nice experience. Even experienced psychonauts might be surprised by the effects of this plant which in no way can be compared to any other psychedelic substance, remember it is one of the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogens! While under the effects of the plant, you might lose control over your body, so it is important to make sure that nothing dangerous is left around you. For example, if smoking, make sure you use a lighter that turns off when you stop pressing, as you might forget you are holding it and drop it as you start experiencing the effects of the salvia.
Quick guide for those who don’t want to read everything
- Salvia divinorum is one of the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs. Even experienced psychonauts might be surprised by its effects.
- Salvia has been used by Mazatec people for hundreds of years as a ceremonial and healing substance.
- There are multiple ways of consuming the plant. The two most common ways are by chewing its leaves and by smoking either the leaves or the salvia extract.
- The effects of salvia may vary a lot depending on the leaves, the method of intake, the setting and the person taking the substance. In its most potent form, salvia can be very disorientating.
- It is fundamental to always have a sober person around that can take care of you while you experience the substance. You might lose touch with reality and lose control over your body. It is necessary to have someone around that ensures you are safe while you are in the salvia realm. Furthermore, if you panic you should have someone that can comfort you.
- Before consuming salvia, make sure that this is what you want and that you are in a good state to do so. Make sure to have good intentions and to fully prepare yourself for the journey.
- Salvia divinorum is not a party drug and should not be taken lightly. It has been used for many years for ritualistic purposes and this should be kept in mind when consuming it.
- Once you start feeling the effects of salvia, try to let go and enjoy the experience to its fullest. It sure will be a unique journey.
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