“Is this shit ever going to do anything to me?” I asked.

I tried to step out of the metallic Volkswagen Beetle as the solar system spiraled around the vertical axis of my tunnel vision. Plumes of a red orange cloud began enveloping my hippie spacecraft until I realized we were plummeting through Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. The journey here was instantaneous. Five minutes before, I had been surrounded by the Viet Cong and engaged in an epic firefight beneath the rainforest canopy.

Apparently I had spoken too soon.

That was my first trip on salvia, way back in high school in my buddy’s vine-infested backyard. Back then, I had never even heard of the salvia plant, or Salvia divinorum as its known in the scientific community, and I hadn’t the faintest idea about its psychedelic effects. We just picked up a gram of 25X on Telegraph Avenue, sprinkled some on top of a bowl then snapped away. And the best part – this shit was legal.

While my knowledge of salvia’s past has slowly evolved from ignorance into a database rivaling Erowid’s vaults, I still haven’t found much solid research on the currently legal drug. While the herb is only native to the Sierra Mazatec area of Mexico, the history of the psychotropic Salvia divinorum, and the psychoactive effects its active principle salvinorin A, can be accurately dated back to the early 20th century when scientists documented the medicinal and visionary properties claimed by the area’s natives. In 1938, anthropologist Jean Johnson wrote that native Mazatec shamans used the plant’s psychological benefits to find lost objects, chewing the leaves for extended periods of time to absorb the principle – the most powerful natural psychoactive known to man – into the bloodstream.

It is not known how long the Mazatec have been using salvia in this manner, but it is rumored that the drug first made its way to the United States in the early 1960s. Yet, while the Mazatec would chew the leaves of the salvia plant to get their fix for extended periods of time, the most common form sold nowadays in American head shops comes as an extract of the plant ranging in potencies. Since salvinorin A does not chemically resemble any other known controlled substances like cannabis or hallucinogens, the United States Congress has yet to ban the drug nationally – despite Missouri’s statewide prohibition and New York’s recent, yet futile, attempts to ban it.

Smoking the extract usually results in short periods of hallucination, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour, and has been used as a successful antidepressant for some. The actual effects range from person to person, even from trip to trip. Since it requires a large amount of salvinorin A to be absorbed into the bloodstream in order to experience the hallucinations, users can have widely different experiences if they do not inhale enough of the vaporized principle or if they exhale the smoke before it can be absorbed by the lungs. I witnessed this firsthand the other night, when our trio of journalistic journeymen discovered these alternate realms of reality.

“Why are you laughing?” Nick spurted as he lay prostrated on my bedroom floor, still clutching the pipe he had just recently hit. He spouted something about the room closing in on him, his mind converging on the vanishing point of the surrounding objects bending into oblivion.

Mark and I couldn’t stop laughing. While Nick was babbling something about voices repeating inside his head, Mark was hearing sound reverberations on the couch and I was enthralled by an evil skateboard protruding into my subconscious, whispering a dark warning to stay the fuck away. At least I retained some traces of common sense though – I knew I couldn’t skateboard to save an ounce of weed. Nick was tripping balls imagining that Mark and I were divine Sirens luring him into a permanent hallucinogenic state. I had been there before, though. I couldn’t relate completely with Nick’s analogies, but I understood the sudden burst of power he was under. I understood that you have to accept anything your subconscious will throw at you. So if you want to try salvia, stop by I.V. Deli Mart to pick some up. Trust me, you’re in for one hell of a ride, but only if you hold it in long enough.