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Is Salvia Legal in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, Salvia divinorum is regulated by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This act controls the production, supply, and possession of psychoactive substances, including Salvia divinorum. While it’s not illegal to possess Salvia, selling it or advertising it for human consumption is illegal.

What is Salvia?

Salvia divinorum, commonly known simply as salvia, is a perennial herb in the mint family native to the cloud forests of Oaxaca, Mexico. The plant has broad, green leaves and hollow square stems, with white flowers that have purple calyxes. Traditionally, salvia has been used by the Mazatec shamans for its psychoactive properties during spiritual healing and divination ceremonies.

The primary active compound in salvia is salvinorin A, a potent kappa-opioid receptor agonist that produces intense, short-lived psychoactive effects. Unlike many other psychoactive substances, salvinorin A does not interact with the serotonin receptors in the brain. Users typically report vivid hallucinations, alterations in perception, and dissociative experiences. The effects can vary greatly depending on the dose, method of consumption, and individual sensitivity.

In modern times, salvia has gained popularity as a recreational substance, often smoked or chewed for its hallucinogenic effects. Despite its traditional use, the modern recreational use of salvia has raised concerns due to its powerful and unpredictable effects.

Laws Governing Psychoactive Substances in the UK

The UK has stringent laws regulating the use, possession, and distribution of psychoactive substances, primarily governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

  • This Act is the principal legislation for controlling drugs in the UK, categorising substances into three classes (A, B, and C) based on their potential for harm and misuse. Each class carries different penalties for offences related to possession, supply, and production.
  • While salvia is not classified under this Act, other psychoactive substances such as LSD (a Class A drug) are strictly regulated, highlighting the UK’s approach to controlling substances with significant psychoactive effects.

Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

  • Enacted to address the growing use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), commonly referred to as “legal highs,” this Act makes it illegal to produce, supply, or import any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect.
  • The Act defines a “psychoactive substance” as one that affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state by stimulating or depressing the central nervous system. The legislation includes exceptions for substances already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and medicinal products.
  • Salvia divinorum falls under the purview of this Act due to its potent psychoactive properties. The Act’s broad definition ensures that substances like salvia, which were previously unregulated, are now controlled to mitigate potential harm and misuse.

Together, these legislative frameworks ensure that the use of psychoactive substances, including salvia, is monitored and regulated to protect public health and safety. Understanding these laws is crucial for individuals and businesses to ensure compliance and avoid legal repercussions.

Current Legal Status of Salvia in UK

  • Production and Supply: It is illegal to produce or supply salvia in the UK. This includes growing the plant, manufacturing products containing salvia, or distributing such products.
  • Importation: Importing salvia into the UK for the purpose of human consumption is prohibited. This applies to both individual purchases from overseas suppliers and bulk imports for commercial purposes.
  • Possession: While the Act primarily targets production and supply, possession of salvia with the intent to supply is also an offence. Personal possession for use is not explicitly mentioned in the Act, creating a grey area, but individuals found with significant quantities of salvia may face legal scrutiny and potential charges.

Reasoning Behind Its Legal Status:

  • Health and Safety Concerns: The primary reason for regulating salvia under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is its potent psychoactive effects and the associated health risks. The effects of salvia can be intense and unpredictable, posing potential dangers to users, particularly those who are inexperienced or have underlying health conditions.
  • Public Health Protection: The legislation aims to protect public health by reducing the availability of substances that can cause harm. By controlling salvia, the government seeks to prevent misuse and the associated negative consequences.

What the Legal Status Means for Individual Users

The legal status of salvia in the UK has important implications for individuals who may consider using or possessing the substance. Understanding these implications can help individuals make informed decisions and avoid legal trouble.

  • Use and Possession: While the possession of salvia for personal use is not explicitly illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, possessing large amounts or demonstrating intent to supply can lead to legal consequences. Individuals should be cautious and aware that their actions may be subject to legal interpretation.
  • Potential Legal Consequences: Those found producing, supplying, or importing salvia with the intent of human consumption can face severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines. Even if personal use is not explicitly prohibited, law enforcement agencies may take action if there is suspicion of intent to supply.

Advice for Individuals Considering Using Salvia

  • Legal Risks: Given the legal ambiguities and potential risks, individuals are advised to refrain from using or possessing salvia. Engaging with substances regulated under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 can lead to unintended legal repercussions.
  • Health and Safety Considerations: Beyond legal risks, individuals should consider the health implications of using salvia. The intense psychoactive effects can lead to adverse reactions, particularly in uncontrolled environments. It is crucial to prioritise safety and well-being.

Implications for Businesses

For businesses operating in the UK, understanding the legal status of salvia under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is crucial to avoid legal complications and ensure compliance with the law.

Legal Risks for Businesses

  • Production and Supply: Businesses involved in the production, supply, or sale of salvia face significant legal risks. Under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, it is illegal to produce or supply any substance intended for its psychoactive effects, which includes salvia. Penalties for businesses found violating these regulations can include substantial fines and imprisonment for those responsible.
  • Importation: Importing salvia into the UK for commercial purposes is also prohibited. Businesses attempting to import salvia products or raw materials for resale or distribution can face severe legal consequences, including confiscation of goods and legal action against the company and its executives.

Guidance for Retailers and Online Sellers

  • Product Listings: Online sellers and retailers should carefully review their product listings to ensure no salvia products are offered. This includes checking third-party listings and user-generated content on their platforms.
  • Consumer Inquiries: When responding to consumer inquiries about salvia, provide clear information about its legal status and the company’s compliance with UK laws. Avoid any language that could be construed as promoting or endorsing the use of salvia.

Comparison with Other Jurisdictions

The legal status of salvia varies significantly across different countries, reflecting diverse approaches to drug regulation and public health policy. Comparing the UK’s stance with other jurisdictions can provide insights into global trends and potential future changes in UK law.

United States

  • State-Level Variability: In the US, the legality of salvia differs by state. Some states have banned it completely, classifying it as a Schedule I substance, while others have no specific legislation against it. This patchwork of regulations creates a complex legal landscape for users and businesses.
  • Federal Law: At the federal level, salvia is not classified as a controlled substance, although the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has listed it as a “drug of concern.”


  • Regulated Substance: In Canada, salvia is regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Its production, sale, and distribution are restricted, similar to the approach taken by the UK. Personal use is not explicitly prohibited, but commercial activities involving salvia are tightly controlled.

European Union

  • Varied Regulations: Within the EU, the legal status of salvia varies by country. Some member states, like Germany and Italy, have banned salvia, while others have no specific restrictions. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) monitors these differences and provides guidance to member states.

Australia and New Zealand

  • Strict Controls: Both Australia and New Zealand have strict controls on salvia. It is classified as a controlled substance, making its production, distribution, and possession illegal without proper authorisation.

Author – Julie Condliffe

Julie Condliffe is a four-time bestselling author, successful property investor and an award winning solicitor. She is the founding partner of Creative Legals.