There is a plant that gives the same kind of effects as LSD, can be purchased online and is legal in most U.S. states. Sounds pretty scary right? Meet Salvia Divinorum, commonly referred to as Salvia, the Sage of Seers or Magic Mint.
A lot has been reported on the herb that derives from the mint family, but it is time to get the facts straight. Salvia, like most drugs, can be smoked, chewed, inhaled and ingested through a liquid form. The plant, which is commonly grown in Mexico, is slowly making its way across the border to the U.S. Its use is popular among college and high-school students who are looking for an out-of-body experience that, in most U.S. states, is 100 percent legal. In fact, it has become so common that it can be purchased easily online and in most head shops throughout the country.
Greg MacVarish, dean of students at DePaul University, does not seem to think that Salvia is as popular among college students as the media makes it out to be. "I definitely think the press makes Salvia a lot more mainstream then it really is," McVarish said. "We have had no cases of Salvia use at DePaul and I am not aware of any cases at other local schools. But most of DePaul's students live off campus so it is possible that students here use Salvia." Limited use at DePaul could also be because Salvia was made illegal in the state of Illinois last year, a decision that MacVarish supports.
While Illinois has made Salvia illegal, it is not the only state to do so. Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Virginia have all made Salvia a banned substance. The phenomenon of Salvia use has spread so quickly over the entire globe that many other countries have made its use and distribution illegal. Susan Carr, the deputy chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has said that the U.S. has been aware of the plant for several years. "Only recently has the active ingredient Salvinorin A been isolated and research on the abuse potential of the substance been published."
Due to the limited amount of research regarding Salvia's long- and short-term effects, the DEA has been unable to ban the substance in the U.S. This may soon change; the DEA is working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to control the substance. "The DEA has completed its review and has requested HHS to provide its evaluation," Carr said. "The DEA cannot move forward with control until HHS responds with its scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation."
While Salvia use is a relatively knew phenomenon for the U.S., Mazatec tribes in Mexico have been using the plant for hundreds of years. They smoke the plant for shamanic visions and, in lower doses, remedial purposes. The DEA has said that Salvia has no medicinal purpose that they are aware of.
The DEA has reported a few studies that describe what users may experience while taking the drug. "Psychic effects include perceptions of bright lights, vivid colors and shapes, as well as body movements and body or object distortions. Other effects include dysphoria, uncontrolled laughter, and a sense of loss of body, overlapping realities, and hallucinations." Carr stated that the effects are "similar to LSD, DMT and psilocybin mushrooms."
A DePaul student, who requested to remain anonymous, described his experiences while on Salvia. "I thought the room was filled with ducks and I couldn't stop laughing," he said. "I absolutely could not function." Its effects can also be seen on countless videos uploaded to YouTube, where users record themselves "tripping" on the herb. Although many reports speak of the drug's effects lasting hours, the DePaul student disagreed. "After taking one hit, the effects hit me within 15 seconds and lasted about a minute and a half."
Jesse Ortega, who works at a local head shop on Belmont Avenue, Egor's Dungeon, believes that Salvia will eventually become illegal in the U.S. "From what I have heard it is a pretty powerful plant," she said. "I even have a friend who knew someone that went to a mental institution after smoking Salvia." Egor's Dungeon sold Salvia before it was made illegal. Ortega said that even though the drug is illegal, people still ask for it. "About five or six people call or stop by everyday asking if we sell it, usually college-aged kids anywhere from 18 to 23." Ortega herself has never tried Salvia and does not plan to. "Many of my friends have done it and say they would never do it again."
Possibly the most alarming fact regarding Salvia is how easy it is to purchase. In states where it is not illegal, Salvia can be found in local head or smoke shops. Reports have said it is relatively cheap, but another college student disagrees, "It's expensive. Depending on how strong of an extract you buy, it can be $40 for a gram." The user said, "Compared to what you pay for other drugs it's really not worth the price." A gram of the plant will typically last the user a few days at the most. Compared to marijuana, which is generally $5-10 for a gram, Salvia is certainly the Cadillac of drugs.
Along with its in-store availability, Salvia can also be purchased online as a "legal alternative to controlled hallucinogens." Sites such as Salviasupply.com, Azarius.net, and Salviadragon.com all offer the plant for anyone willing to dish out the dough. However, this could all change in the next few years. While the DEA is currently working on banning the substance, several other states are also in the process of forming bills to make Salvia illegal.
In the meantime, the most important thing to be aware of is that the drug does have strong effects when smoked in high doses. "I know a lot of friends that drive while smoking weed," a Salvia user stated. "But there is no way you would be able to do that while on Salvia. People need to know what to expect before trying it."
Issue date: 5/29/09
Section: Up Close