The Mazatecs believed that Salvia had magical powers and that spiritualists could travel to heaven and communicate with God and other religious figures when taking it.
"It was used for thousands of years in Mexico, not as frivolously, but in a more religious and cautious way. It was used occasionally, they had no problems with it," said DerMarderosian.
In the 1960s, the plant was not widely known in the United States, but this is when it was first brought to the attention of western ethnobotanists.
"Once it came here, it was more prevalent in psychedelic communities," said Prisinzano.
As a result of limited research and little data, there were some unclear reports made about the psychoactivity of Salvia, according to Butelman.
The psychoactivity of Salvia was confirmed in the early 1990s. It became very popular in the states, mainly due to its being legal. The increasing popularity of the Internet allowed the plant to be sold commercially. Although there was an increasing scientific interest in Salvia at this time, the careless usage of the drug also began.
"It’s not going to be safe in all situations, said Butelman. "Uncontrolled use will probably lead to problems."
Salvia has positive, neutral and negative effects on its users. People may experience all three kinds of effects while they’re smoking, while some only experience one type.
Some positive effects include a dreamlike experience and heightened insight. Neutral effects consist of a change in consciousness, the feeling of entering an alternate reality and a sensation of pressure or wind.
The negative effects, which are often the most intense, include strong feelings of panic or terror in the user.
"It produces disphoriaâ€”which is the opposite of euphoria," said McLaughlin. "It’s been tested in animal models, and I can tell you that they hate this drug and will do a great deal to get away from it."
Each letter of Salvia represents one of the six stages of the trip many users experience.
According to Chris, Salvia is like Zen. It teaches the mind to get to a quiet state of nothingness, and changes a person’s ability to think and perceive. People tend to lose reality.
"The experiences one has on Salvia are out of this world. Literally," said Chris.
The first stage is called â€˜subtle effects.’ When this stage is reached, many users feel extremely relaxed. They know that something is happening, but they cannot quite say what it is. It is the mildest level of Salvia, and can be used for meditation.
The experience that electrical engineering major Thomas* had could be considered the first stage of Salvia.
"It didn’t really have much an effect on me," the Northeastern University sophomore said. "I felt pretty chill, but that’s it. I saw some people do some crazy shit when they smoked it though."
The next stage is called the â€˜altered perception’ stage, during which users pay close attention to colors around them and also may have a greater appreciation to music. There are no visions or hallucinations during this stage. Also, people who reach this stage have trouble rationalizing a situation.
When Stephanie* tried Salvia in her dorm, she remembers thinking to herself after one hit, "Where am I? Why am I here?"
â€˜Light visionary state’ is the third stage of Salvia. Many users will see things, but only with their eyes closed. They might see objects, patterns or designs. Apparently, at this stage the person will not mistake these images for reality.
After Stephanie* took that first hit, her friend told her to try it again.
"That’s when it really hit me," said the freshman in the school of general studies at Northeastern. "I turned around from the window and free fell backwards onto the floor. I guess I was just like feeling the rug and staring at my friends, but I didn’t see them, I saw crazy things– like my parents dragging me away saying I was on drugs and this woman dressed in orange. It was definitely a trip."
Stephanie was experiencing the fourth stage, or â€˜vivid visionary state.’ During this stage, seemingly realistic scenes can occur and voices can be heard. Everything is three-dimensional. The user won’t be completely disconnected with reality if his or her eyes are kept open. There is a chance one will enter into a surreal atmosphere or scene. If the user’s eyes are closed, he or she may believe what they are seeing or feeling is really happening.
"The hallucinations can be anything. It depends how mature the person is," said DerMarderosian. "You could end up harming yourself because your sensory system is disturbed. Who knows, you can end up electrocuting yourself."
Steve*, a Northeastern University sophomore civil and environment engineering major, said he had a very unpleasant experience with Salvia and vows never to smoke Salvia again. After he took a hit, he looked down and saw that his legs turned into his bed posts, his feet cinderblocks.
"I tried, but there was no way for me to move my feet," Steve said.
When he looked around this room, he did not recognize his surroundings, and a sense of fear came over him. He believed he saw a cartoon-like house with a station wagon in the driveway.
"Three dancing shapes came out of the house, a circle, a square and a triangle. They had legs and arms; they kind of looked like stick figures. They were like dancing back and forth singing some weird song," he said.
These shapes apparently asked him to get into their car, but because he believed his feet were cinderblocks, he could not move to do so. His friend, who was sleeping on the floor during this entire time, suddenly yelled, "What the hell are you doing?" and brought him back to reality.
Steve had apparently picked up a fan that was in the window and threw it at his friend. Only then did he realize the house and the shapes were only hallucinations.
"I looked down and saw that my legs were back to normal," he said. "But I had a throbbing headache and my clothes were drenched in sweat."