Minnesota lawmakers are looking to add another drug to the list of targets in the war on drugs. A bipartisan bill (HF 484) is up for consideration in the Minnesota House that would make Salvia divinorum, frequently called Salvia, a Schedule I controlled substance in Minnesota, making sales and possession of the plant a crime. Ironically, the plant that would be labeled an illegal drug is showing promise in the medical community as a potential treatment for drug addiction.
A largely Republican slate of legislators have signed on to a bill to make the drug illegal. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead authored the bill. The lone DFLer, Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights, joins Republican Reps. Steve Smith of Mound, Paul Marquart of Dilworth and Tony Cornish of Good Thunder.
Salvia has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of southern Mexico and only recently has it come into use in the United States. It’s closely related to garden variety salvia species.
Most users of the legal herb smoke it. Rupert Cartman, 22, of Minneapolis, said he’s tried it a few times. “I didn’t get much out of it… by itself that is.” He bought a big bag of it when on vacation in south Florida. “I smoked it, and it tasted really gross…and then I got a little light headed, so I lay down on the ground and it sort of felt like I was floating,” said Cartman. “It wasn’t like a marijuana high at all. It was like a catatonic feeling with a little bit of floating.”
Most users report that the high, which lasts about five minutes, has a dissociative effect — a feeling of being outside one’s body. Some people report hallucinations, but nearly all say the experience was as brief as it was profound.
“I don’t think all narcotics should be legalized by any stretch of the imagination,” says Cartman. “If Minnesota wants to prohibit something far more harmful than Salvia, they should ban fast food and alcohol first.”
And the quest to ban Salvia is something that is beginning to concern the medical community. The active chemical in Salvia, Salvinorum A, is novel, meaning scientists haven’t seen anything like it. It’s a kappa opioid receptor agonist, which means it acts on a part of the nervous system that controls addiction. Salvinorum A also has a low toxicity unlike other kappa opioid receptor agonists, and for that reason, scientists hope it might be a breakthrough not only for treatment for addiction but also for illnesses like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia where the same receptors may play a role.
Thirteen states have already banned the sale and possession of Salvia and the federal government is exploring making the drug a Schedule I substance. Minnesota’s proposed law would make possession of Salvia a crime punishable to up to 41 months imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine.
The push to prohibit Salvia comes at a time when Minnesota lawmakers are considering repeal part of the prohibition of another plant, marijuana, because of emerging evidence of therapeutic medical benefits. Will Minnesota be having the same debate about Salvia 20 years from now?
By Andy Birkey
2/5/09 8:46 AM
The Minnesota Independent