We Experimented with Salvia Divinorum Back in 2008


Recently, we came across an infographic based on a 2019 study called Consciousness and Cognition conducted by Tagliazucchi and his colleagues. The study aimed to determine which psychedelic drug most closely resembles a near-death experience (NDE). They analyzed over 15,000 reports of experiences involving 165 psychoactive substances and compared them to 625 descriptions of NDEs. Algorithms were used to identify similarities in the topics mentioned by both groups.

The findings indicated that while psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD exhibit similarities to NDEs, they did not rank first. Instead, ketamine was found to have the closest resemblance, followed by the plant salvia divinorum.

How does this relate to Richmond? Well in 2008, concerns regarding the safety of salvia led to legislation in Virginia that banned its sale statewide. Prior to this, salvia could be purchased in most convenience stores and head shops. Our staff had experimented with salvia before the ban and sought reader opinions. We issued a call for volunteers on Myspace and published an article in RVA Magazine Volume 4 Issue 2 in May 2008 but never online since this was before our website was fully operational.

Additionally, as we were digging around, we discovered that we had recorded the experiment on video, but never released it. Here is an edited version of that video, shot in our office at the time on Allen Street in The Fan neighborhood. We thought it would be fun to look back on that time.

Disclaimer: No one was harmed during the making of this article and/or video and we do not condone illegal drug use in any form. This experiment was done legally, at the time, and with consent from everyone involved.


Originally printed in RVA Magazine Volume 4 Issue 2 May 2008
Written by Al Harris

For countless centuries, Mazatec shamans of the Oaxaca region of Mexico have used a rare species of the mint family as a key to opening wide what Aldous Huxley dubbed “the doors of perception.” The plant, Salvia Divinorum, is perhaps the most potent hallucinogenic known to exist in the natural world. Smoking a small amount can induce visionary states, obliteration of ego, overlapping realities, distortion of time and space, and encounters with entities from other dimensions.

Until recently, salvia has been legal in most states and easily obtained over the Internet or at local head shops. Now Virginia has joined the growing list of states with salvia regulations on the books.

Beginning July 1, a law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Tim Kaine will go into effect that makes salvia a Schedule I drug, meaning possession or sale of the divine sage will be a crime. ed. note: It did pass and you can read it HERE.

Delegate John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, introduced the legislation at the request of “concerned law enforcement officials.” He believes salvia is a dangerous drug and considered the bill one of his health care priorities.

“I’m respectful of individual liberties and the tension between individual liberties and public good. I think what’s happening is this is becoming a drug that can be misused,” O’Bannon said.

Salvia’s effects usually last between five to 15 minutes and produce very little to no after-effects. O’Bannon, who has never used the drug, says the effects are similar to LSD, but salvia researcher Daniel Seibert of Malibu, California says that comparison really isn’t fair.

“It’s like saying a Fellini movie is like a Francis Coppola movie; they are both movies, but they are obviously different kinds of movies,” Seibert said.

Seibert started the Salvia Divinorum Research Center as an educational resource for people to find out about the plant. In his opinion, salvia should have some regulations, such as restrictions to minors, but says an outright ban of salvia is a “crime against nature.”

“When used responsibly at appropriate doses, for therapeutic reasons, in the appropriate environment, there is no evidence it is harmful in any way,” Seibert says.

Delaware banned salvia several years ago after the suicide of teenager Brett Chidester, whose parents claimed the intense experience induced by their son’s salvia use contributed to his death. She said in news reports that descriptions of his intense trip found in his diary led her to conclude that the drug fractured his fragile mental state.

Seibert says he has witnessed a full range of emotional responses to salvia over the course of his 20 years of research, from irritation to relaxation, but never suicidal tendencies.

“I would say anyone who has any kind of history of mental abnormalities or mental illness should probably not do salvia or any other psychedelic,” Seibert said.

So, is salvia really a dangerous public menace or a harmless plant that offers a fleeting diversion from reality?

We ask several first-time salvia shaman scouts to share their experiences with the so-called “shepherdess” and their opinion on the state’s new law.

AGE 24

EFFECTS: Feeling of heaviness, sweats, mild laughter, relaxation, warmth, distorted field of vision, slowed verbal response, separation of ego from physical self, spatial distortions

“The corners of my vision are all going wawawawawawa, but that’s about it”

Second dose administered 8:53 after initial dose

“For a minute there, it felt like who I am, or everything that makes up me, went back a foot, and I could still see through my eyes but everything was very removed and it was kind of curving around. It continued to feel that way but my field of vision came back.”

What was your emotional state during the salvia experience?
“Felt very clear, clarity of ‘I shouldn’t have done this.’ It wasn’t a feeling of dread or anything, it was like I feel sweaty and I shouldn’t have done this.”

How did the actual experience compare with your expectations?
“It was kind of a let down in that I had heard a lot of people say crazy things, that they’ve been on their beds seeing spirits from beyond, and this was not like that.”

Would you try salvia again?
“Yeah, possibly. I don’t feel a need to buy some salvia, and that’s what this weekend is going to be.”

Do you think salvia should be banned, regulated, or left legal?
“Left legal. I don’t think that’s something the kids are going to be saying, ‘Let’s go smoke the salvia!’”

TOTAL DURATION: 16:30 minutes

The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008

AGE 20 

EFFECTS: Laughter, fidgeting, tingling sensation

“I felt a little tingly, and my hands were moving, I felt funny, but it wasn’t anything crazy at all.”

Second dose administered 5:00 after initial dose.

“I couldn’t stop staring at the spot there, it was kind of getting bigger maybe, but I couldn’t tell.”

What was your emotional state during the salvia experience?
“I felt good.”

How did the actual experience compare with your expectations?
“I think I heard more than it actually is.”

Would you try salvia again?
“Yeah I think so.”

Do you think salvia should be banned, regulated, or left legal?
“It’s going to regulate itself. I think making it illegal is not going to stop people from trying it.”

TOTAL DURATION:  10:00 minutes

The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008

AGE 25

EFFECTS: Warmth, distortions of physical self, laughter, externalized dia- logue, heavy sensation, perception of moving lines, physical manifestation of music

“I feel like my head is turning sideways, like I feel like my jaw is coming in right now.”

Second dose administered 4:00 after initial dose

“I was looking at this area a lot, and for a while I could see lines outlining all the dresser, the weight, the fan, and it was kind of moving like this, sideways.”

What was your emotional state during the salvia experience?
“I felt good for a while.”

How did the actual experience compare with your expectations?
“Not as crazy as the stories I heard, I’ve heard people say they time traveled and stuff like that. Maybe they just smoked more than I did.”

Would you try salvia again?
“Yeah, in the future.”

Do you think salvia should be banned, regulated, or left legal?
“I dont think 15-year-old kids should be doing it. The thing is now I’m coming down, with weed you are high for longer, with this you come down so easily. In the privacy of your own home I think it would be totally cool, I wouldn’t operate a vehicle on it. I’m not surprised they are going to make it illegal, they don’t want people to have fun.”

TOTAL DURATION: 14:00 minutes

The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008
The Salvia experiment by RVA Mag 2008

AGE 24

EFFECTS: Warmth, heavy sensation, bodily distortions, internalization of self

“It feels like my feet aren’t attached, like there is a big gap between my feet and my knees. I feel like I’m more in it, I feel like I’m really inside myself, physically and mentally.”

What was your emotional state during the salvia experience?
“I’m like ‘what the fuck?’”

How did the actual experience compare with your expectations?
“I don’t know what I expected.”

Would you try salvia again?
“Yeah, in the right situation or setting, then again maybe not. Not because it’s a bad feeling, but it’s intense.”

Do you think salvia should be banned, regulated, or left legal?
“I don’t think it should be banned, maybe regulated like everything is regu- lated. I couldn’t see myself smoking and going to work or something.”

TOTAL DURATION: 9:00 minutes

Researchers R. Anthony Harris and Al Harris
Footage shot by Ben Muri

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me

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