My North Shore pal held out a tiny plastic bag containing a greenish-black granular substance she had confiscated from her 15-year-old.
"What is this?" she asked. "Hashish?"
As the author of Bud Inc.: Inside Canada's Marijuana Industry, I'm her idea of a drug expert. Not wanting to let her down, I hesitatingly fired-up a pipe with images of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty dancing in my head.
Immediately, I was on another planet -- audio hallucinations, vibrant colours, vivid three-dimensional visions, a dissociative state of mind . . . .
I realized that Mr. Expert had just done one of the stupidest things in the world: This was no cannabis product!
My big concern was how long I was going to be part of the landscape speaking in tongues. Thankfully, the overwhelming Magical Mystery Tour effects lasted only a few minutes.
It was Salvia divinorum, the diviner's or seer's sage and a craze among young people who refer to it as Magic Mint, Sally D or Lady Salvia.
Forget psilocybin mushrooms or the peyote cactus, Salvia reputedly contains the most potent, naturally occurring psychedelic on Earth.
Such was the local buzz about Salvia, the teen told me later. She and four friends purchased a package of plant extract and had planned to try it out.
I'm glad her mum spoiled the experiment.
Along with the Beatles, a long time ago I tried LSD and, during a trip to Peru, I once consumed the Amazonian hallucinogen, ayahuasca, so I realized what was happening when I melted into the floor.
Used ceremonially by Oaxaca's Mazatec Indians, when smoked, Salvia induces an almost instant altered reality a la Carlos Castaneda.
Its opponents warn the Mexican plant is cheaper than pot, stronger than LSD, faster acting than crack and -- here their united voices rise in falsetto -- LEGAL!!!
Kids can mail-order it. There is a raft of material on the Web and myriad videos of users on YouTube.
LSD was legal once too and the parallels are obvious: If you stumbled upon someone under the influence of either LSD or Salvia, you would think they required psychiatric intervention and care.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration labelled Salvia a "drug of concern" in 2003 and, since then, more than a dozen states have outlawed it with punishment for possession ranging from a modest fine to prison time.
More are contemplating a Brett's Law, the name given these statutes that grew out of a campaign launched after Salvia was blamed in the 2006 suicide of a 17-year-old Delaware student.
As with marijuana, I think criminalization is the wrong approach, but Salvia and its sudden suburban accessibility is something we better think about.
One of the reasons that Salvia has flown under the anti-drug radar is it has a very recent history.
Western ethnobotanists, the Serpent-and-the-Rainbow crowd, brought attention to the plant -- a.k.a. 'the herb of Mary,' 'the leaf of prophesy' -- in the early 1990s. Their work, like that of the early LSD researchers, attracted those who were into exploring altered states of consciousness.
Daniel Siebert, who runs the Salvia Divinorum Research and Information Center, has become the plant's Timothy Leary promoting it as a "philosopher's tool."
Still, only in the last decade has commercialization created concentrated Salvia-extract products that exponentially increase its psychotropic potency and are available on the Internet.
That's brought a much wider audience -- including teens -- and greatly upped the societal ante.
Whatever it may be, unlike alcohol or pot, Salvia is not a social drug -- it does not necessarily enhance any experience and it can render the user delusional.
As a parent, I say steer your kids away from it and tell them it's an experience they can do without -- watch some of those nightmares on YouTube.
After all, who really wants to end up barking like a dog?
Surprisingly, the 15-year-old asked her mum for the bag back, arguing stridently that Salvia was legal.
Maybe she was hallucinating -- but that wasn't going to happen even in her wildest dreams.
"As for you," my pal said turning to me, "forget American Beauty -- this was more like Dumb and Dumber."
December 14, 2009