About a year ago, as the drug salvia divinorum grew in popularity in California and New York, customers began asking Marianne Thibeault if she sold it at her downtown store, The Other Side.
In response to the demand, Thibeault indeed began selling salvia. Now, a half-gram of the organic herb sells for $32.95 at her store. One company she buys from promotes it as a sacred herb that will “turn your brain on.”
“I just know people are in a different world,” Thibeault said of the effects of using salvia. “Some people don’t like it. They don’t like the feeling they had. Others enjoy it. ... It puts you in touch with spirits. It’s going to bring you to the other side, not just my store, but the other side.”
Salvia, a mint herb native to Mexico, is described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a potent drug whose abusers experience hallucinations or delusional episodes that mimic psychosis. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers it a “drug of concern.”
Legal in state
But it’s legal in Connecticut and available for purchase for anyone 18 and older at smoke shops across the region. It’s also purchased online. A bill this past session in the General Assembly proposed restricting its use in the state, following the actions taken by 11 other states. The bill died, but the concerns remain.
“College students are using it,” said Michele Devine, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Action Council in Montville, a nonprofit group that addresses substance abuse problems in local communities. “We’ve heard some usage on the Navy and sub bases. It’s trickled down to some high schools in the area.”
Devine added, “I believe it’s an extremely, strong hallucinogen. It’s been compared to LSD, and the effects of it on someone can be disastrous and uncontrolled. It’s very scary, especially for youth, because they are the ones who seem to be experimenting with it.”
State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and the vice chairman of the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, said she and her colleagues are interested in learning more about it, having only just heard about the drug this past legislative session.
Rayallen Bergman, college prevention coordinator for the Southeastern Regional Action Council, said there’s relatively little research on the long-term effects of salvia. There’s no evidence, for instance, that it is addictive.
But high schools have approached his office for information. He held a workshop at Wheeler High School in North Stonington this past school year because parents had become concerned about the use of salvia among their children, but didn’t know much about the drug.
Devine said its popularity has been fueled by the fact that it isn’t detected by drug tests.
Jay Lantz, spokesman of Salvia Zone in Ithaca, N.Y., which sells to stores in Connecticut, said salvia benefits people when used responsibly.
He said the hundreds of YouTube videos that show teens and young adults using the drug are “enjoying themselves at home” and shouldn’t be used to persuade the government that salvia should be banned.
“The benefits are a better understanding of one’s self and communication with a higher power,” he said. “It’s not just something to get messed up on.”
Lantz said comparisons to LSD are unfair because the high off of LSD lasts hours longer. He said salvia is nontoxic and researchers are looking into its possible medical benefits.
Lt. Stephany Bakoulis of the Norwich Police Department said he is not aware of any instances where the use of salvia has prompted criminal activity.
Lorraine Arpin, owner of Cloud Nine Shoppe in Moosup, said she has been selling salvia for the last three or four years. She said she gets few repeat customers for the drug.
“We just tell everybody that if you want to experiment with it, make sure there’s two people. You don’t do it by yourself. You don’t drive.”
At a glance About salvia divinorum:
In 2006, about 1.8 million people 12 and older used the drug at least once in their lifetimes, with about 750,000 individuals who had used salvia that year, according to a survey sponsored by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Salvia is recreationally used to produce hallucinations. Users have described the effects as being similar to LSD and Ecstasy.
Salvia is widely marketed toward young adults who want to experiment with the drug.
Salvia divinorum leaves are most often smoked, chewed or mixed with a tea. When smoked, the high is quick and intense, lasting approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
An ounce of salvia leaves sells for approximately $30 on the Internet. A gram of the 5x strength, or about the weight of a plastic pen cap, is approximately $12, while 60x is approximately $65.
Using salvia produces the following effects: loss of physical coordination, visual alterations or visions, dreamlike state, sense of total confusion or madness, sense of flying, floating, twisting or turning, and tunnel vision.
Source: Southeastern Regional Action Council’s testimony before the General Assembly Feb. 13, urging the prohibition of salvia growth, sales, importation or extracts of the plant.
By ADAM BOWLES
Posted Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:12 PM