Salvia divinorum - Herba de Maria

Salvia Divinorum is a Mexican herb that has been used in shamanic practices among Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico, and possibly by other peoples before them, for centuries.

But you may well know it as the drug that teen-popstar Miley Cyrus recently smoked and it left her a little giggly?

Despite Miley’s attempts the herb has a lot of potential as a medical drug. The ancient herb was traditionally used by the Mazatecs and other native cultures for problem-solving, healing ceremonies and the treatment of diseases, such as diarrhoea, rheumatism, headaches and anaemia. Also known as ‘ska Maria Pastora’, or the leaves of the Virgin Mary, the herb has also been linked with psychoactivity, with the potential to work as an anti-depressant.

While the initial research on the anti-depressive qualities of Salvia divinorum are mostly anecdotal, recent research has shown that the majority of patients that try the herb report reduced scores of quantitative measures of depression, as well as lasting benefits. Many patients described those benefits as mood enhancement, increased relaxation and self-awareness.

Some patients reported “psychospiritual” results from taking the herb, particularly from larger does, with intuitive insight and nature mysticism all reported, although these results are rare.

What is Salvia Divinorum?

It is technically a perennial herb in the mint family that is native to the Sierra Mazateca region of Mexico. It has large green leaves with square hollow stems and white flowers. The drug has been controlled in several states in the US since 2006, but in most states, such as California, it is only illegal to sell the drug to someone under the age of 18. There is a lot of misinformation about the drug, particularly as a result of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, which has led to some campaigning to make the drug entirely illegal, despite its clear potential for medical value.

How to use Salvia Divinorum?

Traditional Mazatecs would chew on the leaves of the plant, but you can also drink it as juice. Some people smoke the dried leaves in a pipe without tobacco or through a water pipe. Scientific evidence has revealed that Salvia (as it is most often called) has a very low risk for addiction abuse and no risk of toxic effects or overdose.

What are the real benefits?

Scientists have only just really started to focus on understanding the herb’s true medical properties. In 2002, it was identified as a candidate for the treatment of pain, addiction, eating disorders, depression and even HIV. It could also be useful in the development of drugs for psychiatric medicines for diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and even Alzheimer’s disease. These discoveries lie partly in one of the main ingredients of the herb, Salvinorin A, as well as in a number of other chemical compounds that researchers have discovered within the herb.

Studies continue to take place, with the latest study this year at Yale University revealing the drug’s potential to treat addiction, alongside evidence that the drug had successfully reduced cravings in animals for substances like cocaine.

Further research is still needed to establish the true effects of Salvia divinorum – stay tuned for updates on the wonder herb.

By Charlotte H.