Salvia Divinorum, is perhaps the world’s most misunderstood plant. This plant has unique therapeutic potential, different from other psychedelics. This fact is not known to most people however, because the plant is generally incorrectly used. To start with, we have to consider what we know about Salvia. We tend to know Salvia as an intensely frightening drug trip, used by groups of teenagers and immature adults who want to laugh at their friends.
It goes without saying, this is not the kind of Salvia experience I am referring to here as uniquely therapeutic. The most common use pattern of Salvia is that people smoke some Salvia, notice it doesn’t work, smoke a much stronger extract, find themselves frightened and never touch the plant again. This happens, because Salvia is a drug to which people are sensitized, rather than desensitized. If you drink alcohol, take pain killers or do anything along those lines, you’re familiar with the desensitization, that leads you to need ever larger doses, to get the same effect. Salvia behaves in an opposite manner: The more often you take Salvia, the more sensitive you become to the drug.
In contrast to this dysphoric frightening experience that tends to be the most common experience people have with Salvia, there’s another way to use Salvia. Consider the case study, of a 26 year old woman, who would chew Salvia from time to time, as she found it causes remission of her depression. Another example is found here. There’s also a study that was done in Salvia users. In this case study, 25.8% of Salvia users claimed to have effects that lasted beyond 24 hours. Of these users, 46.5% reported an anti-depressant effect. In contrast, 4% reported a worsened mood. Similar figures are reported for changes to self-confidence. This is probably not a representative sample of Salvia users however, as those who had a bad experience are less likely to participate in a survey.
Nonetheless, we can conclude that Salvia Divinorum can be thought of as a niche antidepressant, effective for some people. Studies in animals tend to arrive at the same conclusion, with one noting that “it appears that salvinorin A, given acutely, at very low doses, produced antidepressant-like effects whereas, when repeatedly administered at high doses, it is pro-depressant”. Salvia Divinorum is a plant that can benefit people, when taken in low doses. The fact that Salvia Divinorum might not have antidepressant effects for everyone, is insufficient reason to pass over the plant. Depression is a multifactorial disorder and may have to be addressed in entirely different ways in one person versus another person.
The very high doses people take to have frightening experiences, lead them to miss out on the genuine potential this plant has. Traditional use of Salvia consist of chewing on and ingesting the plant. Modern use tends to consist instead of smoking very high extracts of the plant, to have experiences that defy explanation. The most effective method to consume the plant for therapeutic purposes however, appears to be by chewing the plant and keeping the plant material in your mouth, where the active substance is readily absorbed. Upon ingestion the Salvinorin A is rendered ineffective in our digestive system, whereas by smoking the plant, the effects become very intense and brief.
Another question that needs to be considered, is whether the uniquely dysphoric effects of Salvia Divinorum people report can be attenuated. Cannabidiol is an effective anxiolytic and anti-psychotic substance in Cannabis, while Lavender and Valerian are effective at reducing anxiety too in people. What we need right now are studies that investigate the effects of Salvia Divinorum when taken by people as part of a cocktail of different substances. Some plants may interact poorly with each other, but others could very well help make Salvia Divinorum a less unnerving experience.
I have personally recently started cultivating Salvia Divinorum. My goal differs from most cultivators however. Salvia Divinorum is a plant threatened with eventual extinction, because of its struggle to reproduce sexually and its low genetic diversity. My hope is to discover whether I am able to cross Salvia Divinorum with its close relatives within its own genus. The best candidate for this goal would be Salvia Venulosa, based on genetic distance. However, Salvia Splendens is a fine candidate for this project too. Bot Salvia Splendens and Salvia Divinorum are part of the same subgenus, according to most botanical classifications. Hybridization between species of plants within the same genus is a very common phenomenon. Salvia Divinorum carries 22 chromosomes, just like most strains of Salvia Splendens appear to carry.
There are various contradicting claims that can be found on the internet, in regards to the apparent infertility of Salvia Divinorum. Some claim that the main issue growers run into is the fact that the plant needs complete darkness during the night to flower, which is something that shouldn’t be a problem for me to achieve. My hypothesis for the infertility of Salvia Divinorum is that the plant suffers from self-incompatibility, as a result of the fact that all the remaining plants of the species are genetically very similar. Hybridization with a related species might theoretically solve its problem, leading to the ultimate restoration of fertility in the species. For now however, I plan to focus on learning how to take good care of my own cuttings.