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Salvia FAQ

Experts answer questions about salvia, an herb that some teens use for its hallucinogenic properties.

What are the effects and how long do they last?

''It's a hallucinatory experience," says Sophy.

Users feel giddiness, he says, along with some disorientation. In the widely circulated video of Cyrus allegedly using the herb, she is heard giggling and expressing confusion.

The effects can be felt, Stratyner says, for an hour or up to two hours. It's sometimes used in combination with other substances, such as alcohol.

Loss of physical coordination can occur, Stratyner says, as well as a variety of responses, such as a feeling of floating, or a feeling that you are lost in a tunnel.

''Salvia is very similar to other psychoactive substances," Stratyner says. "It cannot be considered a party drug in a sense. In essence people usually under the influence of salvia don't interact a lot."

A typical scenario, he says, is for a young person to use it with a friend and have the friend film the salvia use, then post it on the Internet.

Is salvia dangerous? Is it addictive?

"It's something to be concerned about. It activates opioid receptors in the brain," Stratyner says, but different opioid receptors from the ones activated by heroin, for instance. "It's very dangerous. Because of the hallucinogenic properties you don't know what's going to happen. We would consider it a hallucinogen like LSD or mushrooms."

"It has the potential to be addictive physically," he says. And it can be psychologically addictive, he says.

For many users, salvia use is a phase, Sophy says. If a young person has no serious family or personal issues, he says, ''a kid will typically do it once or twice." But a child with issues, he says, will be more likely to stick with it as a bandage against their problems, to not feel the pain.

Side effects can include dizziness, lack of coordination, and slurred speech, according to the DEA. But Stratyner says experts are still studying other side effects, such as cardiovascular effects.

Has its popularity peaked, or will salvia use pick up since a celebrity was allegedly caught using it?

"I think it will go up," Stratyner says.

Salvia has made inroads in the teen population, according to the latest “Monitoring the Future Survey,” released Dec. 14 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan.

In its 2009 survey, the researchers found that 5.7% of 12th-graders said they have used salvia in the 12 previous months; in the 2010 survey, 5.5% said they did. So use does not appear to be growing, the researchers say. This year, 3.7% of 10th-graders and 1.7% of eighth-graders admitted to using salvia at least once.

The DEA has termed it a ''drug of concern," but it is not controlled under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

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Reviewed on December 15, 2010

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