Salvia divinorum

Common names: Ska Pastora; Diviner’s Sage, Seer’s Sage, Shepherdess’s Herb; Ska Maria Pastora; yerba de Maria; Sally-D

Plant source: Salvia divinorum (leafy plant with purple flowers)

Legal status in Canada:

  • Salvia divinorum – currently legal and unscheduled, but under review
  • salvinorin A – legal, unscheduled

Price: $50-100 per ounce

Impact of use: Salvia is not known to be addictive, and does not produce withdrawal effects.


A short flight has brought me to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I’ll be working with Mazatec shamans to learn more about the hallucinogen salvia divinorum. For the first time since I began my journey, I’m a little more familiar with the effects of the entheogen I’ll be studying. Salvia is legal in Canada and can be purchased by adults over the age of 19 in many head shops. I haven’t personally partaken of this plant before, but in my teenage years I did sit with friends who were enticed to try salvia thanks to its legality and low risk of addiction or development of tolerance. The effects are also short lived, and likely a preferable experiment for those who might not want to check out of reality for most of a day, as is the case with many other hallucinogens.

The shamans I am learning from do not view the salvia experience as something recreational or experimental. For them, salvia is a bringer of visions during spiritual healing ceremonies. The Mazatec see salvia as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary (from which you can discern that aspects of Christianity have been combined with the traditional spirituality of the area).

Salvia is also used here as a treatment for minor ailments such as headaches, diarrhea, and as a diuretic.

Geographic origins

Salvia is native to the Sierra Mazateca region of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The date of onset of traditional, ceremonial use of salvia is currently not defined.

Botanical aspects and preparation

Salvia divinorum plants prefer shady, moist locations. To prepare salvia for consumption, leaves are usually dried and consumed by smoke inhalation. The fresh leaves can also be chewed.

Chemical constituents and neural action

The pharmacological activity of salvia divinorum is caused by salvinorin A, which is a trans-neoclerodane diterpenoid. Unlike most hallucinogens that affect the opioid receptors, salvia is not an alkaloid, and it is the only diterpene hallucinogen currently documented. Salvinorin A exerts its effects as an agonist for opioid and dopamine-2 receptors.


Many first time users of salvia find the experience to be dramatic and frightening. A quick glance through some videos depicting salvia use on Youtube provides convincing evidence of this. Nevertheless, I wanted to experience the spiritual visions described by the shamans teaching me. I was also comforted by the fact that the most intense effects only last between 5-15 minutes, followed by a period of lower intensity for approximately 20-40 minutes.

I was offered some leaves, which I was instructed to chew. They were bitter, and I felt some initial nausea. Almost instantly, maybe a minute after I had started to chew the leaves, I was no longer myself. It was as if my body and ego had dissolved into my surroundings. Time seemed at once to be at a standstill and rushing quickly, or perhaps it was entirely non-existent and meaningless. I couldn’t speak, and felt as if I couldn’t move, and perhaps would never move again.

Everything was a dream, or a nightmare. I felt like I was floating in water, and the people sitting with me were floating too, and then they became people from my past and I experienced some very personal memories, twisted out of recognition. As I came back into the world, I didn’t believe it to be real. I asked again and again for those sitting with me to confirm that this moment was not a dream.

For more info

To read interesting accounts of personal experiences with salvia, try the Experiences page on the website.


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