Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Magic Mint, the Internet, and Peer Associations: A Test of Social Learning Theory Using Patterns of Salvia Divinorum Use

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Magic Mint, the Internet, and Peer Associations: A Test of Social Learning Theory Using Patterns of Salvia Divinorum Use

Article excerpt

As new drugs are introduced into the market, it becomes the role of policy makers to assess the dangers associated with each drug and its potential to be misused by the populace. The focus of this research is to better understand how young adults learn about a new drug and subsequently engage in its use. Salvia divinorum is a plant species whose leaves contain psychoactive components. Its recreational use among teenagers and young adults has received increased media and policy attention. Several states have taken the initiative to ban this substance. Despite this legal action, little is known about why this substance has gained in popularity and what factors contribute to its use. Akers' social learning theory offers one explanation for why individuals experiment with drugs. We employ a sample of college students from a large public university to test Akers' propositions, finding support for his theory.


Effective July 1, 2008, the state of Florida banned the possession and sale of Salvia divinorum. Florida is one of twelve states that have passed legal prohibitions on salvia.1 One of the driving forces for the passage of these regulations are growing concerns over the prevalence of salvia use among teenagers and young adults and its widespread popularity on the Internet (Griffin, Miller, & Khey, 2008). These and other actions have been put in place even though very little is known about why teenagers and young adults are experimenting with Salvia divinorum. A better understanding of why individuals are using salvia can better direct policies and education/prevention programs. The more a policy or program is based on and informed by sound theory and research, the better its chances of having the intended effects (see Akers, 2005; Barlow & Decker, 2010).

The primary goal of this research is to test competing theories of drug use to assess which theory can best explain salvia experimentation. This research is important for several reasons. This is the first research to test Akers' social learning theory as it pertains to salvia experimentation. In addition, it assesses social learning theory relative to other explanations of drug use offered by other prominent social psychological theories as applied to drug use such as self-control and strain theories. This assessment can offer insights into influential factors in the etiology of salvia experimentation and thereby provide some theoretical and empirical background for policies or programs that could control or prevent initiation and minimize harms associated with the use of such substances.


Salvia divinorum is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) within a genus of plants (Salvia) that includes several therapeutic species. Early ethnobotany research found that the primary active component, salvinorin A, has a unique effect on Kappa-opioid neuroreceptors in the brain. Activation of these receptors results in a very intense but short-lived dissociative state (Prisinzano, 2005). At this point, no pharmacodynamic research suggests that salvinorin A has any substantial impact in the mesolimbic dopamine reward center of the brain. Activation of this system is endemic of substances of repeated use irrespective of their overarching effects on the body (e.g., CNS stimulant, depressant, etc.).

Salvia divinorum is native to the forest ravines of Oaxaca, Mexico. The consumption of this plant originated in the Mazatecan culture where its ceremonial use had historic ties to the traditional mystic religion and medicine practiced by its people (Wasson, 1962). In this context, the substance is ingested orally, typically by drinking a beverage brewed with the leaves of Salvia divinorum (Weitlaner, 1952).

The point in time when the use of the plant as a recreational intoxicant was first found in the United States is unclear. However, it does seem that transition to recreational use was gradual and began in the late 1990s. …

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