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Sage Wisdom
Salvia divinorum Branches Out

by Robert Campbell
The Resonance Project
Issue 1, Summer 1997


An intriguing member of the enormous botanical family Labiaceae (mint) has recently exploded onto the entheogenic scene. Due in part to a wealth of new information on the subject, as well as the legal availability of both dried leaves and live cuttings, Salvia divinorum has become a center of interest for a new breed of psychedelic explorers. Through knowledge shared on the Internet, by word of mouth, and in recent books, this humble, rare plant from the highlands of Mexico has been able to rapidly propagate itself throughout the entire world.

Salvia divinorum has been known by a host of other names through time, including Yerba de María ("Herb of María"), hojas de la Pastora ("leaves of the Sheperdess"), Hierba de la Virgen ("Herb of the Virgin") and most commonly, simply "Salvia." The English translation of the Latin name Salvia divinorum is also commonly used, with some referring to the plant as "Diviner's Sage" or "Diviner's Mint."

In Plants of the Gods, Hofmann and Schultes describe Salvia as "a perennial herb 3 ft (1 m) tall or more, with ovate leaves up to 6 in. (15 cm) and finely dentate along the margin. The (white flowers, bluish in old age) borne in panicles up to 16 in. (41 cm) in length, are approximately 5/8 in. (15 mm) long."

Account " ... A typical element of the Salvia experience seems to be spirals and recursions. During one song, I was in a kind of tube which wound into a spiral and became more and more complex in more and more dimensions. I was completely stuck in this thing and thought I'd never be able to escape. Then the song stopped, and I was free."

Traditional Usage Little is known about Salvia's traditional use as an entheogen. It has been suggested as the most likely candidate for pipiltzintzintli, an ancient Aztec shamanic preparation. Some researchers dispute this claim, believing that pipiltzintzintli is in fact Cannabis sativa. At any rate, the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico, are the only people known to use Salvia in curing rituals at the present time (with the exception of recent experimentation by Western enthusiasts).

In the autumn of 1962, R. Gordon Wasson, (famous for having brought the ritual use of psilocybian mushrooms into the public eye with his Life magazine article), and the noted chemist Albert Hofmann took part in an expedition attempting to secure a sample of the magical plant for chemical analysis. The Mazatec curanderas (shamans) who had helped Wasson find the famous mushrooms were again very generous, and introduced the plant to Wasson and Hofmann's party. After securing the leaves, it was agreed that a velada (divining ceremony) would be held. Hofmann presents the details of this ceremony in a wonderful essay entitled "Ride Through the Sierra Mazateca in Search of the Magic Plant 'Ska Maria Pastora.'"

It was not surprising that the ceremony was very similar to those involving psilocybian mushrooms that Wasson had previously participated in, as the plant and the fungi seem to be used almost interchangeably in divining ceremonies. The velada did not begin until late at night. Candles and copal incense were lit, and pairs of leaves were laid out for each participant, with the curandera judging the dose --six pairs for both herself and Wasson. Hofmann was ill, so he refrained from ingesting the leaves, opting instead to just take notes.

The curandera crushed the leaves with a stone metate, and the liquid was squeezed into cups. These cups were, as a final measure, bathed in copal smoke. Before consuming the potion, the participants were asked to make vows regarding their faith in the truth and holiness of the ceremony. The bitter potion was ingested, and, with the flames of the candles snuffed, the journey began.

The results of the velada were certainly intriguing enough to warrant further investigation by modern researchers. After 20 minutes, one member of the party saw "striking, brightly bordered images." During a later ceremony, the whole party, under the guidance of famed curandera Maria Sabina, took psilocybian mushrooms while Hofmann alone took a potion made of the leaves. Hofmann described the effects of the potion as a "state of mental sensitivity and intense experience." He did not, however, experience any hallucinations.

Account "I closed my eyes and lost all sense of my physical self. I roared through a void. I was surrounded by a space of myriad expanse, yet there was nothing there. I was exploding in all directions at once, expanding, twisting outward, yet there was nothing through which to be moving. I flew, I floated, I flourished. The dark matter sang with energy. Just as the abyss about me had a form, so its silence was an ecstatic polyphony. My senses rang with delight."

Modern History For some time the active ingredient in Salvia divinorum remained unknown. Because it bore no resemblance to any other known entheogen, researchers were baffled. However, thanks to many years of dedicated underground research, the primary active ingredient of Salvia divinorum has now been identified as salvinorin A (C23H28O8) --the most potent naturally-occurring psychedelic ever discovered, being active in doses as small as 100-200 micrograms. This is only a slightly higher dose than is required for LSD-25, which is considered to be one of the most potent psychoactive chemicals known.

Methods of Ingestion Salvia divinorum can be ingested in a number of ways. Tradition would have the practitioner drinking a liquid as explained above, or else chewing a quid of leaves for some time. Modern explorers, however, have stumbled upon other techniques which bypass the bitter taste and the length of time which the chewing must occupy. The first and simplest of these is to smoke the dried leaves. The psychonaut with more time and patience can prepare an extraction which is extremely potent, perhaps dangerously so (see precautions below).

Smoking seems to be the most effective and enjoyable method of using Salvia divinorum, and is particularly suitable for first-time users. If the reader is interested in taking the leaves orally or preparing an extract, resources for further research can be found following this article.

A Smoked Entheogen An ample dose for smoking Salvia divinorum is roughly two medium leaves, dried and crushed. These are loaded into a pipe (a waterpipe being preferred), and normal smoking procedure is followed. Although casually smoking the leaf is pleasant and will yield a mild psychoactive experience, experimentation has revealed a certain smoking technique which seems to be particularly effective at producing entheogenic results.

First, as with all entheogens, set (psychological environment) and setting (physical environment) need to be established. When using any psychoactive compounds for experimental or spiritual purposes, an environment approximating sensory deprivation always provides spectacular results. While the distortions of music, light, and other media can be amusing, they are quite trivial when compared to a breakthrough Salvia experience in a dark and quiet room. Some explorers find that a bathroom or walk-in closet are convenient chambers in which to perform the ritual.

One should keep in mind that walking after smoking Salvia divinorum is difficult at best, so cushions or a bed are recommended. One method to insure darkness and comfort is to smoke the leaf while sitting on a bed, and then lie down and apply a blindfold as the first effects are felt. It is advisable to have an assistant present to remove the pipe and flame source after actual ingestion occurs. Once a dark, quiet, and comfortable environment has been created, one is ready to smoke. A deep inhalation and even deeper exhalation help clear the lungs and prepare them for the heavy load to follow. It is imperative that the practitioner ingest as much smoke as possible in a single inhalation. With a slow but steady rhythm, the smoker should take the smoke deeply into the lungs. If you hold the smoke long enough, you should begin to feel the effects even before you exhale.

The Salvia leaf produces a relatively cool smoke, particularly when filtered through water, which does not seem to significantly diminish the potency. The smoking process will likely be enjoyed by all but the most sensitive of smokers. With correct setting, technique, and potent leaves, the single hit smoking method should be successful. However, those with a large body mass or resistance to entheogenic effects would do well to repeat the above procedure as many times as necessary. It should also be noted that many experimenters, especially during the first exposure to Salvia, have a difficult time "breaking through" and often claim that nothing happened.

Account "I had the impression of being in a lunar emerald labyrinth that self-crystallized before my eyes. There were not full blown entities, but there was definitely creature-like and organic movement. It was silent, a visit to the ice palace, like watching winter pass in fast forward, a self-transforming orchestra of icicle geometries. Extremely pleasant to the eyes - entrancing really. It made for a half hour of brilliant elation and then began to recede, melt away, like the gossamer layers of glaze on a fine oil painting diffusing one by one, until I was left with only the unrefined vague gestalts which all too often inhabit my inner world."

Duration of Effects Within 30 seconds of the initial inhalation, definite changes in the smoker's perception should be apparent. As the salvinorin A enters the bloodstream, the smoker will feel a humming and tingling which ripples in waves all over the body. The "peak" of the experience will occur within a minute, and typically continue for as long as two to three minutes. The sensation abruptly tapers off after this point, leaving one quite near baseline within seven to ten minutes, and completely back to normal within twenty minutes to a half-hour.

There have been no known reports of users experiencing pain or discomfort when using the plant as described above. However, it should be noted that in some cases the smoker may experience small headaches or moments of slight dizziness which can last the rest of the day. This is generally perceived as a feeling of slightly altered or enhanced awareness, accompanied by the presence of unfamiliar energies in the body and mind.

Walking immediately after smoking Salvia divinorum is not advised. Severe distortions of time and space are the hallmark of the plant's effects on the human nervous system. It may appear that one's vision or center of gravity is being sucked towards the floor, or as in one amusing case, towards a wall. An extremely curious explorer might simply wish to stand and take a step or two to verify this effect, but please understand that many have already found out the hard way that stairs are an inappropriate place to enjoy Salvia divinorum's effects.

A Precaution Driving or operation of heavy machinery should not be considered safe until at least an hour of recovery has passed. As always, exercise caution when sampling this plant, as it is capable of very powerful alterations of perception. Please be warned that this is the wrong plant to use in public or during recreational activities. As Salvia divinorum is currently not scheduled, some have suggested it as a likely Cannabis substitute. However, the two are certainly not interchangeable.

Typical Effects of Smoked Salvia Salvia divinorum, like all entheogens, has different effects on different users. Still, some common themes present themselves. One of the most striking features of a breakthrough Salvia experience is the distortion of linear time. Sometimes, it seems as if one simply escapes linear time altogether and finds that all temporal coordinates are randomly accessible instantaneously. Visual distortions are also reported, but they tend to be vague, slippery, and ambiguous.

Many users report contact with hyperspatial entities, spirits, or intelligences, but the nature of these entities is rarely constant across different experiences. On the contrary, it seems the plant uses the personality of the explorer to present its message. Some have found that Salvia transports the practitioner to a state of meta-consciousness which seems to be both ancient and familiar --possibly a reflection of the state which one experiences before birth and after death. It has been noticed that the distinction between the mental and physical becomes rather fluid after ingesting Salvia. The mind seems to be made of physical fields which can be manipulated like muscles. By experimenting and flexing these mental muscles, one will eventually become adept at navigating through the Salvia dimension.

Another persistent theme in Salvia trips is that of rotation. Several explorers have reported a feeling that is similar to the lateral rotation which excessive alcohol consumption brings about, yet not as nauseating. At times this rotation has been so powerful as to form an "edge" somewhere inside the body. I have at times even felt this edge scraping along the roof of my mouth. While startling, these effects are generally not unpleasant. Another common observation in many Salvia trips is that some kind of tube or flexible tunnel appears which leads away from the explorer like a hallway. Some have related these tubes to spokes on a wheel, others as doorways to alternate dimensions.

There don't appear to be any long-term physical or psychological side-effects from smoked Salvia divinorum. It is over quite quickly, and many smokers have, in times of anxiety, successfully aborted a deep Salvia trip by just sitting up and "shaking it off." In fact, as the Mazatec suggested to Wasson, the correct attitude of acceptance and faith seems imperative in being able to make contact with the plant's deeper essence. `

Account "When I exhaled, I received a flood of colorful visions, swirling patterns of light against a dark space-like background. This swirl formed a tunnel, which led from somewhere in front of me to "behind" my eyes. By thinking about it, I could move my perspective a little bit. My peripheral vision and imagination were filled with what seemed like two beings. One was old and male, one was young and female. They were encouraging me to look straight through the tube and align my center of vision with it. They were saying 'a little to the right, comeon, don't wait until you are dead to see this. It is great!'"

On Breaking Through As mentioned earlier, many people attempt to smoke Salvia divinorum and fail to achieve any noticeable effects. One can only speculate as to why this occurs. It is certainly possible that smoking technique may be responsible for the success some enjoy, yet as the technique is so simple this is not very probable. It is more likely that the Salvia experience is simply a very fragile trance, and those who are more open to it are likely to experience deeper effects. It is possible that prior exposure to novel psychic states aids in the attempt to access the Salvia dimension, yet several seasoned explorers have nonetheless reported failure. It seems that as with Cannabis, many people simply need to "learn" to receive the effects by performing several attempts, usually achieving success after four or five.

It is also suspected that some leaf samples are either less potent to begin with, or that they lose potency when not stored properly. Upon securing some particularly potent leaves and realizing their effectiveness, they were shared with several people interested in the plant's effects. After being informed of proper technique, a nearly uniform success rate was achieved, with several of the experimenters reporting utter amazement at the power of the plant.

Conclusions and Further Precautions Taking into account the frequency of "hit or miss" experiences reported with Salvia divinorum, it is not surprising that it has remained relatively unknown for so long. Many have speculated that Salvia is not psychoactive in any way, but that it merely acts as a placebo. Others have argued that Salvia is only mildly psychoactive, and that its effects are usually exaggerated. However, with the successful isolation of salvinorin A, Salvia's psychoactivity can no longer be doubted.

The effects of pure salvinorin A are quite intense. When smoked, the amount of salvinorin A that would fit into a glob on the tip of a needle could easily put a grown man into near catatonia in seconds. The effects fade within minutes, but since such a small amount is needed to produce such an enormous effect, many are wary that some under-cautious explorer will overestimate the necessary dosage. Although no lethal overdoses have been reported from Salvia or salvinorin A, many still fear that widespread distribution of pure salvinorin A will inevitably lead someone into an overdose or a bad accident. Let us hope this is not the case. Salvia divinorum makes a lovely house plant, and is currently perfectly legal to both cultivate and possess. Your respect for the plant and its responsible usage will ensure that it stays this way.

The accounts of Salvia divinorum ingestion were taken from the Lycaeum Trip Report Archive, which can be located at http://www.lycaeum.org. Note that these reports are taken out of context, and the serious researcher would do well to read the originals in their full form.

Robert Campbell is an ethnobotanical explorer specializing in collecting information regarding hyperspatial entities and intelligences. He can be reached by e-mail at: mantid@neuron.net.

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