A new study of salvia has found that hallucinogen kicks off an unusually intense and short-lasting high, with no obvious ill effects.
While the study is small and can't vouch for the safety of salvia, the results lend some hard science to the current legislative fray around the substance, which is criminalized in some states but not regulated federally.
"A lot of folks don't know what to do with this," Discovery News quoted study coauthor Matthew W. Johnson, an experimental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, as saying.
"So we were trying to study this thing that is really uncharacterized under any formal conditions."
Johnson and his colleagues recruited four volunteers who had used hallucinogens such as LSD or psilocybin in the past. Over 20 sessions, the participants inhaled various doses of highly purified salvinorin A or a placebo while researchers monitored their vital signs and queried them about their experiences.
The effects of the salvinorin A were remarkably strong, consistent and fast-acting, peaking about two minutes after inhalation, and nearly disappearing by 20 minutes.
As doses increased across sessions, volunteers reported stronger and stronger hallucinations, which included cartoonlike images, revisiting childhood memories and contact with an entity.
"With this drug, at its peak intensity, people describe popping out and visiting a completely different world. Some people say it seems like another dimension or maybe the spirit world," Johnson said.
"They report these very profound experiences in these highly altered states of consciousness."
The researchers saw no changes in blood pressure or heart rate, even at the highest doses of salvinorin A. But because the study used a small number of healthy volunteers, it can't make broad statements about the overall safety or the long-term effects of the substance.
The research has been published in an upcoming Drug and Alcohol Dependence paper.