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Salvia FAQ

Experts answer questions about salvia, an herb that some teens use for its hallucinogenic properties.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

By now, nearly every parent has heard about -- or seen -- the clip of 18-year-old Miley Cyrus, giggling and sounding confused and disoriented as she allegedly smoked salvia, an herb with hallucinogenic properties.

What do parents need to know? WebMD consulted experts in the field, asking them the questions on the minds of most parents.

What is salvia?

It's a perennial herb in the mint family, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is native to certain areas of the Sierra Mazateca region of Oaxaca, Mexico.

What does salvia look like?

Salvia, technically Salvia divinorum, has large green leaves, hollow square stems, and white flowers.

How is it used or taken?

Users can chew the fresh leaves, drink the extracted juices, or smoke the dried leaves as a joint. It can be consumed in water pipes or vaporized and inhaled.

Is it legal?

This depends on where you live. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 21 states have passed laws regulating or controlling the substance since 2006.

In California, for instance, where Cyrus allegedly used the herb, the law prohibits selling to anyone under 18 years old. Cyrus had already turned 18 when the alleged incident occurred.

When did this substance first come on the radar?

"It's been around a while, but it really came on the radar about three years ago," says Harris Stratyner, PhD, co-chair of the medical-scientific committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc.

He can't point to a single incident that triggered its use back then, other than young users were videotaping themselves and posting the videos on the Internet, where they were seen by other young people.

Where do kids and teens get it?

Salvia is widely sold online. Tobacco or smoke shops may also carry it.

What does it cost?

Prices range. Online, one company offers a "starter pack" for first-time customers. It includes an ounce of leaves and 2 grams of extract of two concentrations, for $43 (about $66 with shipping).

Another company sells a 1-gram vial for $11 plus shipping and tax.

What is the typical age range of users?

Charles Sophy, MD, medical director of the Department of Children and Family Services for Los Angeles County and a psychiatrist, says he has counseled children as young as 10 or 12, and even an 8-year-old, who used salvia.

Stratyner finds the typical range for users is about age 12 through college.

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