The Other Psychoactive Salvias
Many quotes in this article are from persons who wish to remain anonymous. Others are from published reports on various newsgroups and forums. I have used no names accordingly.
It is not the intent of this article to discuss Salvia divinorum. That has been done elsewhere and at great length. Nor is it the purpose of this paper to discuss the fragrant and culinary sages that are known to contain thujone, the active principal in absinthe. Rather this article is meant to deal with the other tested and untested but potentially psychoactive species of Salvia plants. There has been much recent interest over claims of similar compounds to those in S. divinorum being found in other species of Salvias. The earliest record is to be found in Pharmacotheon (Ott, 1996, pg. 380) "Similar diterpenes such as salviarin and splendidin have been isolated from Salvia splendens and other Salvia species (Savona et al 1978; Savona et al 1979), and these Salvia diterpenes represent a novel class of psychoactive compounds."
Late in 1997 there began to appear references to Salvia splendens being sublingually active as an anxiolytic on various forums on the internet. When attempting to pursue these leads, contradictions were encountered that did not deter my quest, but gave me certain reservations. Through the good graces of a benefactor, I was able to obtain some S. splendens leaf in late 1997 about the same time I acquired some seeds. I posted at that time on two different forums (The Lycaeum and E.com trip reports forums) but did not save a copy of the posts and they have become unretrievable. The posts dealt with the smoking of Salvia splendens and how the effects were comparable to the last hour of a Ps. mushroom experience.
Others who tested Salvia splendens in various forms had varying degrees of success. While some thought that the experience was likenable to that of cannabis "...less than a similar sized bowl of "Cannabis Cup Mix" but worth trying again..." and "...kind of being high (MJ) without the confusedness..." others compared it to Benzidiazepines or anxiolytic substances "...yes, definitely calming...". Most of the remarks concerning tranquilizing effects were from those who used the leaves sublingually "When I took S. splendens sublingually...the effect was one of emotional numbing without intellectual dullness..." and "...I felt a relaxing effect in my head...the muscles in my arms had relaxed as well..."
Other comparisons were to smoking wormwood "...she thought that it was a gentle relaxant and found it quite pleasurable to read whilst under it's effects...when I mentioned that I noted a similarity with wormwood, she concurred..." Wormwood is Artemesia absinthum and contains thujone.
The various reports of differing effects are not unusual when trying to describe a new and hitherto unknown experience. People tend to describe the unfamiliar with what is familiar to them, and so each person coming from their own frame of reference can only use those terms they know. I have seen posts comparing S. splendens with GHB, beer and cannabis, valium and psychedelics in their last stages of intoxication.
The only thing some of the posts have in common is that there is a definite effect from S. splendens. Some have found combining it with cannabis helpful "...When some cannabis is smoked one hour into the experience the latter's effect is considerably potentiated, but with the clarity of the splendens evident..." while others have found it to be the opposite "...after an hour and a half of completely no-show, I was persuaded to try a small pipe of good, strong, but known quality bud. Bad Idea...whether the splendens affected the buzz off the bud or the bud in some way activated the splendens trip-I knew even before I put the pipe down it was going to be a bad one...I had a tendency to nod...as if my body was in two parts split by a V running from shoulders to just above the navel and joined by a hinge like a joint...I probably could have had an out of body experience (it certainly looked like it would have gone that way) if I had let the trip take over, but the thing was a bit too freaky for that..."
One person has reported on the usage of the combination of Salvia divinorum and S. splendens, stating that "...well over an hour and a half had surely passed when I got an idea that I just had to try. Splendens flowers, naturally dried. Three hits later I'm pleasantly fried. Is it synergistic? It surely must be.
Like an elongated divinorum trip, with a lower peak..." and "...I smoked five big hits of splendens flowers...then I immediately smoked one good hit of divinorum. I was rocketed into a slightly altered divinorum peak...the peak wasn't quite as intense as just divinorum, but lasted about an hour..." and "...after I came down off the divinorum I smoked some splendens and it brought my divinorum trip back almost to the peak..."
After experimenting with splendens, I became interested in other Salvia species that might contain active diterpenes. A friend sent me a reference to diterpenes in S. coccinea (Savona et al 1982) and I acquired seeds and germinated them. The following is from the Lycaeum Trip Reports forum, February 22, 1998: "Pursuant to reports of diterpenes in the aerial parts of the plant Salvia coccinea (Savona et al 1982). ½ gram of leaf material was prepared and used for pyrolytic assay. The effects may be compared to those of Salvia splendens. Firstly was noted a disinclination to move from the chair in which one was sitting. Colors and textures became more distinct, accompanied by a mental clarity. Music became deeper and more full, with nuances that had never been previously noticed in familiar works. The thought process seemed to have been given wings. Physical effects were basically non-existent except for the disinclination to move which may also be described as feeling made of stone, hence having no inclination to move in the first place. Where previously S. splendens had been compared to the last hour of a cubensis experience, this reminds the subject more of mescaline at a similar stage. Potentiation with cannabis at plus one hour was synergistic. Unlike S. divinorum, one can carry out "normal" activities under it's influence, although activities requiring concentration-such as typing-are somewhat hindered. The duration seems to be similar to S. splendens , but somewhat more stimulatory in nature after the initial onset..."
After the success with S. coccinea, I began to investigate other members of the Salvia family and I began aquiring and testing other species. I tested S. Argentia, S. plebia, and S. superba, all by smoking. All of the Salvias tested had similar effects.
A short time later I received in the mail a copy of Chapter 12 of "Phytochemistry of Medicinal Plants" edited by John T.Arnason et al, the chapter being entitled "Neo-Clerodane Diterpenoids from American Salvia Species" by Lydia Rodriguez-Hahn, Baldomero Esquivel and Jorge Cardenas which listed the following American Salvia species:
Neo-clerodane diterpenoids are the class of chemicals of which Salvinorin A is one example. Others in this class are Splendidin and Salviarin from S. splendens, Salvimadrensis and Salvimadrensinone from S. madrensis and Salviacoccin from S. coccinea.
Other reports came in from other forums and newsgroups regarding the effects of S. greggii, S. lyrata, S. farinacea and S. guaranitica, all of them positive.
Many of the Salvias on this list have not yet been tested, to my knowledge, and while so far no one of those tested has come close to the effects of S. divinorum, all tested have been found to be worthy of further study.
One more note: A compound known as forskholin extract, isolated from Coleus barbatus (=Coleus forskholii) also in the class of neo-clerodane diterpenoids and having a chemical structure similar to that of Salvinorin A was also tested in the above series of experiments and was found to be similar to smoking the flowers of S. splendens which are considered to be somewhat stronger than the leaves but otherwise alike in effects. The feeling of "clarity" was more noticable, also.
There is a report of use of a 5X extract of S. splendens leaf which states "Too much of a good thing can definitely put you to sleep. I only lasted about an hour, but the effects were distinctly stronger, more like cannabis, and like it, too much will put you right to sleep. It was more than before, but still nothing like the world shattering of S.d....I had a similar experience with the flowers a week ago. They seemed stronger than the leaf and put me to sleep" There are approximately 900 different species of Salvia. Only a very few of them have been tested and of those the great majority has been found active. The above list only represents a small fraction of the Salvia family; those from the Americas which have been chemically analyzed . For the most part these remain to be bio-assayed. There may be another Salvia divinorum out there still. The success so far can only be looked at as encouraging.
I have seen reports on various newsgroups and forums mentioning skullcap and other members of the mint family, such as the basils, as having psychoactive activity. This is another promising direction for experimentation, one which I hope to explore more fully as soon as possible.
In closing, let me state that it appears the mint family-which has more medicinal plants in it than any other plant family-has great potential for new and unusual entheogens yet to be discovered and the availability is such that anyone can be a pioneer in this field. Let me also state that I do not advise anyone to attempt to duplicate or expand upon these experiments unless they are a qualified researcher. To blindly go into the garden or anywhere for that matter and just break off and chew or smoke leaves from plants without first knowing the chemistry of that plant adequately enough is asking for a trip to the hospital or worse.